Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ultimate List of Travel Tips from an AP Mom

Passport (110/365)
Photo credit swimparallel on Flickr

We love to travel.  And of course, wherever we go, our kids come, too.  Our seven year old has traveled throughout Europe, Mexico and Puerto Rico.  Our youngest was only 11 days old when we took her along with a group of students to Puerto Rico for a class we were teaching.  Most things about traveling with kidlets are common sense.  However, there are a few things that we didn't hear about much from others--things like breastfeeding and travel or how to work hotel beds when you have a family bed at home.  Here are our time-tested travel tips for gentle parents:

Packing before the trip.
Heh. Despite a number of lists, I am usually frantically throwing things into the suitcase the night before, only to discover that a couple of the items I planned to bring need to be washed.  However, there are a few things that I always pack in my diaperbag or in the kids' backpacks for easy access:
     * A blanket for each child (really helpful when the AC is too high, or they need to snuggle with something that smells like home)
     * A couple of surprise toys to unwrap.  I find a couple of inexpensive items from a place like Dollartree.  If you can wrap them in tissue paper or something, that adds tremendously to the fun!  Stickers, tiny note pads, sock puppets, or a soft, squishy ball are some of our favorites.
     * Snacks.  We get really cranky if we need to eat, and there isn't always something available that is OK for our food allergies, not to mention the exorbitant prices. I usually make a batch of our favorite granola cookies the night before we go anywhere and take them with us.
     * A change of clothes, for you and the kids.  Accidents happen, whether it is lost luggage or illness, and the last thing you want is to be traveling in a confined place in vomit-covered clothing.  This is the voice of experience talking.  :(
     * A wrap.  I love babywearing in general, but wraps are my lifesaver while traveling--I can comfortably carry a kidlet (I even wind up wearing a preschooler on a long day of walking sometimes!), they provide cover for breastfeeding, and they can even serve to keep someone warm if we enter into cold AC.  Strollers are usually more trouble than they are worth for us.
Wearing my 3 year old in Puerto Rico.

Body comfort.
     * Regular food, drink, bathroom breaks.  It can be surprisingly difficult to eat, drink or even use the bathroom when you need to do so.  If you are uncomfortable, though, it is going to affect your attitude, and this is true for kidlets and parents alike.  If your little one is getting cranky, stop and think about how long it has been since you have had a snack or taken them to the restroom.
     * Breastfeed regularly if you are nursing.  Make sure that you are nursing as often as you would at home.  Especially if your nursling is also eating solid foods, you may get so busy that you go longer than you normally would between feeds.  Not only do regular breaks for nursing keep up your supply, they also can fend off illness and provide you with a lovely moment to relax and breathe amidst a whirlwind of activities.  My one case of mastitis happened in Europe thanks to decreased frequency of nursing and a slightly small bra from vacation laundry issues.  Not fun!

Sleeping arrangements.
     * Schedule down time, especially the first evening.  Chances are good that the night before your trip, nobody got much sleep.  Plan ahead and reserve a quiet evening and the chance to go to bed early that first night so that you will be able to fully enjoy the next day.
     * Adjust the beds.  If you typically have a family bed, sleeping arrangements in a hotel can be a challenge.  I have learned to request a crib from the hotel, even though no one will sleep in it, so that we can place it against the bed and make it safer.  Another trick is to sleep sideways with the smallest one next to the headboard.  It doesn't quite work for someone as tall as my husband, but I can curl up just fine that way without worrying about my little one falling out of the bed.

Emotional well-being.
Obviously, the whole point of a vacation is to have a good time, but unfortunately, real life still happens.  People get stressed out, grouchy, problems arise, and we get frustrated.  There are some ways to minimize that, though:
     * Beware your triggers.  Is there a particular thing that sets you off?  An uncomfortable family relationship?  Trying to get everything done?  Whatever it is, notice it, and make a special effort to take care of yourself.  If you feel your stress rising, take a moment to breathe and to nurture yourself spiritually in whatever way you need to let those feelings go so that you don't lash out at our family.
     * Adjust your expectations.  It is easy to get an idealized picture of what the trip will look like, and then be very disappointed when the flight is delayed, the kids want to go home after one or two activities, etc.  Live in the moment and let go of preconceptions.
     * Remember that you are "getting your money's worth" as long as you all have fun.  Don't feel the need to march through every exhibit or ride every ride once you or your kids have hit the saturation point.  Relaxed, happy memories of a few highlights are much better than a blur of many tense ones.
     * One on one time.  As wonderful as all the family togetherness is, if you can find a way to schedule one on one time with your kids, it can go a long way towards satisfying emotional needs.  Similarly, if you can find a way for any introverts in the family to recharge with a few moments alone, it will be more than worth it once you do something together again.
    * Remember, if your child's behavior is less than optimal, that they are going through the stress of unfamiliar surroundings, difference in routine and probable disruption of sleep patterns, and possibly exposure to food allergens.  Give extra grace.
     * Don't parent for the crowd.  It is so easy to feel pressure to respond more harshly to unwanted behavior so that we will look like we are in control.  How you respond to your child's behavior is a much more important reflection on you than whatever behavior they are demonstrating!

I hope that wherever you travel with your family, you will find joy in nurturing the close relationships you have already formed and creating happy memories!  What are *your* special travel tips?  Please share them in the comments!


Kelly said...

Awesome tips Dulce - thank you!

We definitely intend to travel as a family - I've flown twice now with Bean and we're taking an 8 hour road trip at the end of the summer to visit family, so I'm collecting any advice I can on this topic!

I really like what you had to say about not parenting to the crowd - the first time I flew with Bean she was 4 months and I was so stressed that she might cry the entire plane ride and people would hate me.

I made the conscious decision to not care what other people might think and it really, really helped (especially when she did cry for most of one plane ride!). My focus had to be on comforting her rather than being tense or embarrassed, which has worked so well and is something I will repeat to myself on every trip we go on!

Adrienne said...

Thank you! I'm bookmarking this for future reference. We are taking a trip in August with our little guy who will be 9.5 months then. I'm a little nervous as we've done nothing more than little weekend trips with him so far, though those have been fine. A plane ride and whatnot is going to present new and different challenges. :)

Young Mom said...

Thanks! I should print this one for the car when we go on our annual trip to visit family. Even though I want to see everyone, it is stressful. Actually this year I'm not looking forward to it at all. :(

dulce de leche said...

Thank you all so much! :)

Kelly, I loved the other links you had! Our trips are usually with a whole group of students, and it is very hard sometimes to let go of my pride and focus instead on meeting needs. I appreciate your story--what a great example!

Adrienne, plane rides are definitely challenging, but for me, breastfeeding has helped more than I can say. It usually puts them right to sleep.

Young Mom, many hugs to you! That sounds like a rough trip. I hope everything goes as smoothly as possible. <3

Melissa said...

Thanks so much for this post! I'm on my way to India (25 hr flight) with 18mo DS. He's been on many plane rides, but this is by far the longest. Thankfully it is broken up decently between flights and layovers. I'll definitely be using some of your tips! I've transitioned mostly away from using a moby wrap and now use a Boba for my DS as it's easier to get him up and down out of repeatedly and easy to back carry with. Would you still recommend bringing a wrap of some sort?

dulce de leche said...

Thanks so much, Melissa! Honestly, whatever is easiest to get in and out of and most comfortable gets my vote. :) I always have to get a sleepy baby out of her wrap during the airport security check, and that is never fun. I hope that you have a wonderful trip! <3

The Smiths said...

We've traveled a couple of times with DD--never overseas though, I'm jealous! Just this last trip, I discovered how wonderful a fitted sling can be, especially in the airport. There are no bulky rings, long straps, (my favorite carrier is my mei tai) or huge expanses of fabric to fold while over dirty floors. It folds up very small and is easy to pop on and off to hold a baby or toddler. I was amazed at how much it simplified things. We do usually take our wonderful Maclaren stroller, but it usually ends up holding all of our stuff and it's free to transport on the plane!