Just this evening, Rusty and I were talking about our vacation plans…and although I am counting down the days, I still feel a small shiver of cold fear in the pit of my stomach when I think about a long car ride with 3 children. Despite the IMMENSE amount of planning and strategies that we parents engage in to prepare our kids (and ourselves!) for travel – it is possible! Cassandra and her husband traveled from continent to continent with a toddler – and lived to tell about it! Here are some of her tips!
** Post by guest blogger Cassandra French **
Before our daughter was born, my husband and I were fairly confident that we would be traveling a great deal. For us, that meant learning how to travel safely and efficiently as a family. We wanted our children to be capable of transition, and we wanted to learn how to better foster in them the ability to be ‘at home’ in whatever situation or circumstance we as a family find ourselves in.
Over the course of her short life, our daughter has traveled to at least seven states and lived on two continents. Needless to say, we have all learned a lot…whew! I thought it might be helpful to share a few of the things we have learned in the process, in the hope that it might make you and your family a bit more prepared before you take that next long trip or make that next move. At the very least, you might be able to arrive with a bit more of your sanity in tact!
-If travelling with infants, or non-potty trained toddlers, be sure to pack 18-24 hour’s worth of diapers and wipes in either the diaper bag, or, if flying you may opt to stuff the extras in your carry on. While your suitcases may be aptly supplied, there is no guarantee that they will arrive at the same time (or even in the same place!) as you. Having at least an 18-24 hour supply will usually give you enough time to scout out the nearest diaper depot once you’ve arrived.
-An extra set of clothes, for yourself and your child/children. Again, as with diapers, you never know when you’ll see your luggage next. And whether traveling by train, plane or automobile, it’s much easier to pull a clean shirt out of the diaper bag than it is to dig through three suitcases.
-An impromptu first aid kit:
-Plenty of snacks- not only for the kids, but for the adults as well. Traveling in and of itself can be tiring. Add the extra bags, car seats, strollers and the constant vigilance of traveling with children, and it can be downright exhausting! While airport food and mini-marts along the toll road can be convenient, the prices are typically inflated and the food nutritionally deflated. Be sure to pack healthy, simple options, such as dried fruit and nuts, a PB & J for the road, whole wheat or multi grain crackers, fresh fruit that can be easily eaten while traveling such as apples or bananas.
A note on food safety and travel: If possible, try to avoid allowing younger children to eat while in the car, particularly if you or another adult is not able to clearly see them. Should the child choke, your ability to respond while driving is significantly reduced, placing them in danger. Additionally, never feed an infant while in their car seat, whether feeding them pureed table food or milk/formula via a bottle. Again, should the infant choke, the amount of time it takes to remove them from the car seat and get them help increases their risk significantly. Flying, however, might be the one exception to the rule. For infants especially, the change in pressure when taking off and landing can be very painful for their ears. Since you can’t necessarily tell an infant to ‘plug their nose and blow out’, or give them a piece of gum to chew, getting them to swallow by offering a bottle can help their ears to pop, alleviating the pain. Also, avoid snacks that pose a choking hazard to young children, and try to avoid “new” foods for your child. The last place you want to discover a food allergy is in the middle of your week-long family vacation, or on an airplane flying over the Atlantic.
-Infant food and milk on planes;
-A list of emergency contact numbers, including contact information for your child/children’s pediatrician, and any other health care provider involved in your child’s car. For long distance, or long-term travel, it is also a good idea to carry along a copy of your child’s health history, including vaccination status, allergies (both food and medication), most recent height and weight, any past hospitalizations and/or surgeries, and any medications your child may be taking.
–Toys. My husband and I prescribe to the ‘less is more philosophy’ when it comes to toys for our daughter. That being said, when flying from the US to the UK, we did give her a new toy immediately prior to boarding the flight. Because it was something she had never seen or played with before, it occupied her attention, and made at least the first portion of the trip exciting for her. That being said, choose wisely! Though your son or daughter may be the next big hit in the community drum circle, other passengers might not necessarily appreciate their musical talent as they bang on their new toy drum. Try to find small, easily stowed, age appropriate toys perfectly suited for ‘quiet’ play. The mom with her two sleeping children four rows behind you will thank you!
-In addition to choosing your toys wisely, exercising a bit of wisdom when planning your departure time can save you hours. If you plan to fly, try to fly through the night, when your child is most likely to be asleep anyway. And if at all possible, book a direct flight. If you are flying with an infant under the age of one, most airlines will only allow you to purchase a lap ticket, meaning your infant will be flying on you or your spouses lap. In that case, packing an extra blanket or pillow to tuck under the arm of whoever is holding your (hopefully) sleeping child is worth it’s weight in the carry on. A few airlines, however, will allow you to purchase a separate seat if you specifically request it, particularly with young infants. You can then install your own car seat into the seat of the plane, making the ride more comfortable as well as safer for you and your infant.
-If you are driving to your destination, the same principle applies. If possible, plan to drive through the night while your child is asleep, or at the very least, aim to start the trip toward the beginning of nap-time (for kids who still nap). If you travel during the day, plan to stop often, both for diaper changes and feeds as well as a few minutes of much deserved play time for the kids.
Be fairly warned that while the travel itself can be stressful and tiring, the most difficult part usually happens once you’ve arrived. Upon arrival, you and your spouse will likely exchange weary smiles with a sigh of relief that the journey is over. That’s when the battle sets in. Baby jet-lag might sound cute, but believe me when I say there is nothing cute about it. You have worked hard to get your child onto a consistent schedule of naps and bedtime, but now their world is turned upside down; and subsequently, so is yours. Be patient – not only with your child, but especially with yourself. Try to re-establish the same routine you had prior to traveling. Go through all of the same pre-nap, pre-bedtime steps your child is used to, and just like with everything else in parenting, be consistent. It took nearly two weeks for our 10-month-old daughter to adjust after crossing five time zones; but nonetheless, she did. In the meantime, if at all possible, try not to plan too many activities for the first week or so upon arrival. This allows the flexibility and freedom for both you and your child to adjust to the new environment without feeling pressured to be anywhere at any given time.
Not only can a difference of time zone affect your child’s ability to sleep, but for some children (our daughter definitely falls into this category) changes in their physical surroundings can be enough to throw them off. Try to surround them with familiar things; whether that means bringing their favorite blanket to tuck around them at night, or a particular wall hanging that has been in every room they’ve ever slept in. This is a good rule of thumb to follow even on short to mid-sized family vacations. The last thing you want to find when scoping out the nearest beach is a tired, cranky, off-schedule child. Packing a few extra comforts from home might just make the transition that much easier.
Most importantly, relax!
-Children are emotional geniuses, and they can pick up on when their parents are anxious and stressed, or cool, calm and collected. And if there is one thing my husband and I have learned over the course of many travels with our daughter, it gets easier. With every trip, be that to the market down the street or a trans-continental trip, you will learn how to pack for your family’s specific needs, and your children will learn how to adjust more quickly. And in the end, it’s all about the journey anyway- so be safe, and enjoy the ride!
This post was linked to Homestead Barn Hop at The Prairie Homestead, Welcome Home Link Up at Raising Arrows, The Homesteader Blog Carnival at The Morris Tribe, Seasonal Celebrations at Natural Mother’s Network, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways at Frugally Sustainable, WLWW at Women Living Well