A few weeks ago I broached the topic of traveling with kids with a group of friends. I started by explaining that I had been considering a trip to London with my boys, who would be 1 and 4 by then.
“Europe sounds great…just me and my husband, without kids,” replied one of girls.
“Have you ever traveled with kids that young?” asked another.
“Maybe you should wait a couple of years. Ya know, work your way up to an international flight with kids.”
“Yeah, I think there is a great zoo in the cities your boys would like!”
By the time the conversation was over, I felt my dreams had been deflated. I had basically been resigned to stick to the sidewalks when it comes to traveling with children. That’s how I felt, anyway.
I’m an open-minded person, so I didn’t necessarily shut out my friends’ opinions and feedback. They had more experience than me, but I still refused to believe that I need to wait until my kids are potty-trained and in their teenage years before taking them on an adventure with me that’s more fun than Target. In fact, my husband isn’t a fan of traveling with the little ones either, but it never stopped me from visiting my dad in Orlando, my brother in Chicago, or my cousin in New York when my oldest was 3 months, 5 months, and then 18 months. Some of these trips I even took alone!
When I was a kid, my parents did not have much money to splurge on things like expensive clothes or theme parks for my siblings and me, but some of the best memories I have with my parents (both before and after their divorce) are of our road trips. Flights for a family of 5 were not cheap, so we packed the van, some PB&J sandwiches, pillows, and embarked on 15+ hour drives to New York, Virginia, and even California. We also traveled to Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Canada as we got older. I remember having a great time at waterfalls and restaurants, in hotels and on beaches, and I want to give my kids the same opportunity.
So what’s the hesitation these days to not travel with the burden of kids?
People consider children a burden. I can understand how some parents may decide it’s best for them to not risk a flight where their son screams non-stop or a Disney trip where their daughter might get lost. The stress may not be worth it for them, and to each their own. Yet, when it comes to my kids, I don’t consider them a burden. Sure, I get annoyed like any other sane person would when my son throws tantrums because he doesn’t want to sit in his car seat or whines over a snack we left at home, but that’s just life. And I’m an adult; I can handle discomfort and understand life isn’t perfect. For the most part, I actually consider my son my little buddy. Therefore, my perspective on traveling is slightly different than the average parent’s position.
When we travel, I get excited wondering if he will enjoy a new airport or be thrilled to visit a family member he hasn’t seen in a while. I’m entertained by the challenge to impress him and find cool things for him to do. Will he like his first pair of sunglasses? Will he know what he’s supposed to do at a strawberry-picking farm?
At the end of the day, he might be more tired than usual so he’ll resist sleep for a bit, but he’s happy. And that extra hour of trying to put him into bed is well worth the many smiles I saw on his face earlier. I’m not scared of the extra effort, if the reward is bonding time with my child as I watch him to adapt to new scenery and explore interesting activities.
When we were stuck in a 6 hour delay at JFK when my son was 18 months old, I did not panic. I read him books and played with his toys. I offered to push him in his stroller to see the gift shops, then allowed him to walk outside the stroller to see people on the other side of the terminal. He spilled his snacks on the ground, but I hustled to clean them and told him it was okay. He fell face-first on the carpet, but I distracted him by having him look out the windows. In the plane, a young girl talked with him for a few minutes until we took off, and during the plane ride, I brought out games until he fell asleep.
In Chicago, when he cried until 2 a.m. and neither my mom nor I could figure out what he wanted, I rocked him, walked him, and tried plenty of other options before he wore himself out. We tried to feed him and let him play in the tub full of water to calm him. My sister and mom were losing their minds because they wanted to sleep, but I understood this came with the territory of being a mom so I turned the television on to a cartoon show in hopes that it would grab his attention and make him forget that he was bored (or overheated?), and he snuggled in my arms eventually.
Life doesn’t stop when you have kids; it just becomes harder, and you shouldn’t have to put the things you love (like traveling or eating at restaurants or going to movies) on hold until your kids are no longer kids. I would rather share the joy with my boys.
That’s going to remain my attitude as my son and his brother get older. There is always something new to see or somewhere new to go, and it can be miserable if you start off with that notion or it can be fun if you plan ahead, take the unexpected with a brave face, and constantly remind yourself how much your children are learning. The trip always ends, but the magical memories they form with their small minds and imagination will stay with them for years to come. And the bonding experience of teaching your kids how to travel and be part of different worlds…well, that’s just priceless, and I hope more families start to see it this way.
I don’t see London happening next year, because I don’t know if I can afford it, but Lake Tahoe, we’re headed your way soon!
Note: Even kids can earn miles on frequent flyer programs, so if you want another way to save up for trips, sign your yourself and your child up and eventually cash in on a free flight! I personally use Delta since they offer a lot of non-stop flights, but I’ve heard others are great, too.