Traveling with Kids: Practical Tips
We have been traveling a lot before and after kids. Many trips are necessary just to visit our families, in Romania and Germany. Just days before my first boy turned one month, we were already on our way to Alicante by train for a conference. And with the second one, he flew for the first time at 5 weeks old (to Fuerteventura for holidays). In some days, we will be traveling again to Italy for a family reunion so I was thinking about what are some must haves when we travel to keep kids more or less busy and the family happy.
However, I must say, no matter the planning and preparation, traveling with kids can be stressful. But besides the things I’m going to talk about below, I have to highlight that your attitude about traveling with children is essential. As much as possible, try to be more flexible and adapt to the new context. Kids are also agitated because they are in surroundings that they don’t know, they have a different routine and they may be even missing having their friends around.
Attitude towards holidays
I hate to start like this, but it goes in line with the previous idea about having the attitude of ‘we are all together, on holiday, and we are going to have fun.‘ If it’s a family holiday, let it be about family and not about you spending more time on social media! Holidays are the best moments to stay away from your phone. Enjoy your kids and play with them! Take the opportunity to talk and reconnect with your partner!
I think many frustrations for parents arise when they are actually busy with their own phones and don’t want to be bothered by their kids or partner. However, if social media is so important to you, you can first reflect on why it is important (maybe an addiction there? maybe you want to run from your own reality? here you have my story why I dropped social media). Secondly, schedule time for it when kids are sleeping or watching their TV.
Explain the Plan in Advance
Depending on the age of the child, explain the schedule for the day in advance. I’ve been doing this with my kids from their very first moments of life. However, I understand that for some people, it’s difficult to truly ‘communicate with their baby.’ A colleague of mine told me that he didn’t directly engage in conversation with his children until they started talking themselves, around 2 years old. (So many conversations lost and never to be recovered!)
Returning to the point, you know your kid better, so adjust to their personality and attitude. I can’t generalize because I only have my own experience. However, I did read in many books that kids love to know in advance what’s going to happen so they have a sense of control. Janet Lansbury also agrees with this.
My 5-year-old behaves exactly like this. It’s true that since he was very small I have been telling him what we are going to do next, in the next few hours, and the next day. Sometimes this can have a secondary, unwanted effect because of the excitement that the next morning he will fly to his grandparents; he may not rest well overnight or he might even want to cry a bit. However, I always felt that talking to him was very beneficial.
Prepare MANY Snacks and Water
MANY snacks, as healthy as possible, based on the preferences of the kids, BUT still with not too much sugar. The sugar will keep them more alert, agitated, and it will take longer for them to fall asleep for naps.
I’m not obsessed or a maniac about healthy food. However, I never give my kids McDonald’s or donuts. That’s easy because we don’t eat these things either. I always joke that I grew up in post-communist Romania, so I didn’t grow up with McDonald’s (nor Barbie, nor Disney princesses, etc.). In terms of food, I think I’m in the middle ground. I do let my older one have ice cream, or a Kinder egg, or muffins, cookies once in a while. Its true that it depends on the context: during summer holidays at a resort hotel, I think he had ice cream every day. But he also had tons of watermelon, apples, peaches, etc.
So, what we almost always take with us: bananas, apples, any other fruits that we may have, grapes, pears, strawberries, blueberries. Besides fruits, we like whole-wheat biscuits, homemade pancake/tortitas (American pancakes without any topping), corn puffs, cereal sticks, yogurt pouches and lately milk with straws. And believe me when I say I put plenty of them; all in the backpack that it’s always with me. So I can grab anything fast avoiding stressful moments of “where did I put that banana?”
Extra advice: have some extra empty plastic bags for trash!
Take Books, Crayons and Paper
These simple items can be a lifesaver, especially when kids need to stay put, as in airplanes or cars with their seatbelt buckled (always!). It may depend on the child, but for the older one books are the best! He adores books, he can spend a lot of time only watching the images. If you are a German speaking family, you must have Tiptoi books! They are amazing: there are special books made to work with a pen that “reads” the book. The child can place the pen wherever he wants on the book and the pen is “talking” according to what the book is about. Even I love the Tiptoi books! Unfortunately they are mostly in German and only some in English.
Depending on your child’s age, consider grabbing a magazine featuring their favorite characters, like Spider-Man or Peppa Pig, Ninjago or (nowadays) SuperThings. The novelty alone might keep their eyes and attention on the a magazine for a while. Be prepared that you may have to read the stories or the instructions for the games.
Crayons and paper can be used everywhere: in the car, train, airplanes, park, in the bed and so on. I always take them with me even when going out to a restaurant with friends and I plan to keep my kids around the table at least for some minutes.
Pay attention to be crayons, not markers, and take with you the sharpener. The best version for paper is a block with white pages so the paper stays together. We also tried A4 white pages but they get messy.
Maybe too obvious, but I have to mention the always-neccesary, always-needed wipes. What would we would without them? Have them close to you, so in case of emergence you can grab one fast. I used to put them in the backpack with the changing small bag but I realised it was making my life complicated when I needed one. Now, we have the wipes package outside of the backpack on top of it, you can easily see it in the stroler. Wipes are good for anything: cleaning noses, faces,hands, clothes, even your own clothes, clean the cup etc … you got the point!
Have a Scarf, Blanket or Jacket
For me, the easiest option is to have a big scarf. I find large, chunky scarves both stylish and very practical. Depending on the age of your kids, but somehow they always end up using my scarf.
- If you are still breastfeeding, it’s perfect for covering yourself if you find it necessary so you feel more comfortable. I did it because I didn’t like my full breasts being too visible to the world, especially to friends or family.
- When I was breastfeeding, I used it many times to protect my little one from the sun. I’m super cautious about sun exposure, especially since I live in a city with 300 sunny days a year (Valencia, Spain). During the summer, letting a very small baby be exposed directly to the sun for 10 or 15 minutes while eating could seriously damage the skin.
- Cover the kids and yourself when the AC is too cold; for example, on airplanes or buses in Valencia. It’s funny, but during the summer in Valencia, it can be 38 degrees outside and only 20 degrees in the buses. It can get really cold. The same may happen in the airplanes.
- Use it to shield from the sun while sleeping in their stroller; or as a pillow when the older one sleeps on the “sofa” made by two chairs.
- You can use the scarf to cover your child as to replace a wet or extremely dirty t-shirt.
- We may use the scarf as a blanket to sit somewhere, on the grass, sand, even benches.
- Last but certainly not least, my older one loves using my scarves for his stories and characters like Dracula, pirates, and anything that may (or may not) have a cape. Check out the proof below for some of these suggestions! 😌
We always carry for kids Nurofen, paracetamol and band-aids. During the winter, I also bring the nasal aspirator, and maybe VapoRub baby. And since my second boy is prone to bronchiolitis, I also carry “Ventolin“. However, luckily, we rarely have to use medicine during holidays. After an incident this summer when my kids were stung by several wasps, my doctor recommended having a corticoid cream with me too.
To make a long story short: Nothing severe happened, but for a few minutes, I really thought I was living a nightmare. My older one came out from the place he was playing screaming and crying, and I didn’t know what had happened. After some seconds, the younger one too. The little one had only 2 stings, but the older child, 5 years old, had many stings, including around the ear and mouth. So, after an hour from the incident, he looked like a monster with his ear and lip super swollen. The next day he woke up perfectly. We did give him some medicine that the doctor told us, so my husband had to look for a pharmacy at 21 in the night…
Pack also the intention to have a great time
To conclude, I am so grateful for all of my holidays and the times we’ve traveled with our children. Some of my favorite holidays are actually the ones when I already had kids. If things get too intense, my partner and I remind each other to let things go, be more flexible, and enjoy the moment. Really, with intention enjoy the time! If enjoying the moment means that the older one will have ice cream every day, so be it. If it also means that they can watch TV twice (and not just once) during the day, so be it. If it means we stay in the room because the children look too cozy there to go out, no pasa nada (that’s fine!), we will stay inside.
We are more rigid with two things: no mobile phones or tablets for our kids and sleeping program. More about these things in the future!
(Long) P.S.: If your kids are used to strollers and enjoy them, feel free to use them as much as you want and need! Just because it’s a holiday, it doesn’t mean you have to carry your child everywhere. We still bring both strollers, and I can’t tell you how fortunate we are that we sometimes get to have lunch just the two of us adults while our children are peacefully sleeping in their strollers. And as for dinners, or after-dinner drinks? Almost every night during the last summer holidays. To those who might comment on it… you can simply offer them a nice smile while you savor some quiet time with your partner.
Noah enjoying his new SpiderMan magazine and of the left side, my scarf is covering Oliver’s stoller while he’s napping (in Denia, Spain).
Enjoying after-dinner drink and conversation at the beach, during our summer holiday in Huelva county, with both our boys sleeping in their strollers! You can do it too!
Enjoying dinner and after-dinner conversation with both our boys sleeping in their strollers: Noah 4 and a half and Oliver only 6 weeks old in Fuerteventura, 2022. (P.S.: I hope you’ve noticed the scarf too)
If you have a moment, tell me about your own successful tips when traveling with kids!
I’d love to know them!
Hugs from sunny Valencia, Andreea