The Traveling Parent Manifesto

Posted on
Jan 30, 2012

Today’s post is by my dear friend Angela. She’s guest-blogged for me once before, and since then, she’s had a kid, started freelancing, launched her own site, and hopped around the globe a bit just for good measure (I suspect she spends her free time trying to crack the secrets of massive nutrinos).

Fortunately, Angela has decided to share some of her wisdom with the rest of us slackers. Here are her tips for any traveler who wants to see the world with their little one along for the ride. (And yes, she manages to make it all look easy. She has a sickening knack for that sort of thing.)


Hear ye, hear ye, all brave parents venturing into the great unknown with offspring in tow! I’ve been there and back … and lived to tell the tale. Here are the convictions I brought home as souvenirs. If you’re a fellow jet-set mom or dad, I humbly offer them up to you.

Let us remain strong in our conviction to give our children the experience, education, and memories that only travel can bring.

Live long and travel! (That’s for you, Geraldine.)


We’re as exhausted as she is. We're just better at not admitting it.


  1. Recognize that travel doesn’t necessarily mean “relaxing” any more.
    Long gone are the days when we could go out for a late dinner and drinks, sleep in until noon, sightsee, and do it all over again. Now we have people relying on us—people with minute-by-minute needs. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t still carve out relaxing moments.

    Sunset cocktail, anyone?

    For instance, each evening at 5:00pm, my daughter and I would have a “sunset cocktail hour.” I’d pour her a sippy cup of milk (and me a glass of wine), and we’d lounge on the deck, enjoying the view together. What started out as a way to keep her sated before dinner while I took a breather became one of my favorite memories of the trip.

    You simply need to get creative. Relaxation is still possible, even if it’s no longer prevalent.

    My villa-mate shares a rare restful moment with her 3 month old.

  2. Ignore the naysayers.
    My husband and I were committed to taking our daughter to St. John, a pilgrimage of sorts. It would require two 5-hour flights each way. That was out of our hands. Our first flight was a red-eye. That was out of our hands. We simply hoped beyond hope that our 18-month-old would be tired enough to sleep. Unfortunately, that was out of our hands, too.

    She is the one who will not be tamed ...

    As soon as we sat down on that first flight (our daughter was happy and quiet at this point, mind you), the person one up and over in 26E—a petite, black-haired witch of a woman—repeatedly peeked from beneath her sleep mask to give us the stink-eye. Let me tell you: That doesn’t do much to calm your nerves when you’re already edgy about your toddler’s upcoming 12+ hours of travel.

    This isn't what her mask said. But it should've been.

    Two hours later, when our child was screaming bloody murder, wouldn’t you know it: 26E leans over and starts offering suggestions of what we should do. Then I jumped over my husband, ripped off her mask, and crammed it into her pursed, thoughtless little mouth.

    Okay, I only did that in my head. But the lesson is: There will always be naysayers. People who balk at the idea of you taking a trip at all. People who grumble on the airplane. People who roll their eyes at the restaurant. Ignore them all. Or smile. Or shove something down their throat. But whatever you do, don’t let them deter you.

  3. You can do more than you think you can.
    It was the last day of our trip, and I found myself swimming with a car seat in the ocean. Yes, you heard me right. See?

    When I envisioned a family trip, this was definitely not a part of it.

    Our daughter had puked on the winding road to the remote beach. We pulled over, and my husband’s trigger-happy gag reflex threatened to double our troubles. I sat, horrified, staring at my daughter for a few frozen seconds, during which I formed a plan. The coup de grace of this plan? A half-mile hike to and from the ocean for a morning car seat swim. Half an hour later, we were having fun in the sun—and a good laugh. The only evidence of our challenge was a car seat drying out on the beach, much to the hilarious astonishment of passersby.

    When it comes to traveling with a newborn, infant, toddler, child, teenager, or any combination of the above: you CAN do it. We saw a couple 5- and 7-year-old boys and 2-year-old twins. Those poor parents were outnumbered 2-to-1! And guess what? They were STILL having fun. You’d be amazed what you can do when it’s required and what can turn out to be fun (or at the very least funny, if only in retrospect).

  4. Cheer each other on.
    Leaving the beach after the car seat incident, a darling older woman placed a hand on my elbow (contrary to Geraldine’s Florida encounter, this is still a kind gesture). Then she looked me in the eyes, and said, “You’re doing great.” I needed that. And when a kind stranger goes out of their way to tell you that, you believe it.

    You don't need to be this ecstatic about it. Just a little pat and "good job" will do.

    Similarly, on the first plane home, even after sitting next to our crying, over-tired baby for hours, our seatmate assured me, “You guys are doing a great job.”

    Wow. So much relief, power, and confidence transferred through such simple words. Going forward, I’m going do this for other parents, too. The effect has much more potential for positive results than the sleep mask glares of Miss 26E.

    Remember to cheer on your spouse, too. Just knowing someone is in the same boat and sees and appreciates all you’re doing can make a huge difference on your outlook.

  5. Be flexible.

    Our (almost criminally) adorable travel-mates.

    We rented a house with two other sets of parents, friends of ours, each with 3-month-old babies. In case you don’t have kids and don’t know this (or have them and have forgotten), infants and toddlers are on completely different schedules. Infants sleep and eat every two hours or so, and all they require for a bed is two arms. Toddlers, however, are conscious of certain expected times for food and sleep. They’re also far less likely to doze contentedly while a parade of cruise-ship-bound snorkelers flap past your beach tent.

    Miracle upon miracle, Szaba sleeps! Baby Faris shows his support.

    Granted, we did our best to make our daughter comfortable, but we weren’t willing to sacrifice rare vacation experiences to get her back home in her Pack ‘n’ Play at 11:00am. By being flexible and sticking with our group of friends on beach days, my husband and I could take turns, one watching her while the other checked out a bale of sea turtles with a snorkeling buddy, for instance.

  6. Recognize that flexibility has consequences.
    As good as a child may be, there will be moments when all this flexibility catches up with them: a meltdown at a late dinner, a “Get this sand off of me!” tantrum on the beach, you get the picture.

    Moments before Szaba’s fancy restaurant meltdown. Notice the look of parental survival mode creeping over my husband’s face.

    Contrary to what you may feel in that moment—heck, you might be tired, grumpy, and hungry at that point, too—your child isn’t trying to ruin your vacation or make things harder for you. It’s simply their way, as human beings who can’t personally make sure their needs are met, to communicate what their needs are. They have no choice but to depend on us as parents (even to their own annoyance at times). Keeping calm is the best tool in your arsenal. They can sense frustration, and that only makes things worse. Remember: You’re on vacation! Meet their needs as best you can, take a fresh look at the beauty all around you, and carve out some happy time (alone or with your spouse) to regroup and reset.

  7. Downgrade your cleanliness standards.

    If you knew what was happening in this picture, you wouldn't think it was so cute.

    This one is a hard one for me, I’ll admit. But when your child is writhing on the airplane floor in a sleep-deprived fit and finds—and then, oh god, proceeds to eat—a cookie she dropped hours before, there’s not much you can do but go with it. When your child decides it’s funny to scoop up chlorinated, bug-speckled pool water with her shovel and drink it, it’s already done. Go with it. Sure, it’s gross, and you’d never catch me doing those things, but they’re kids. They’re clueless. They’re resilient. They’ll live. And you’ll save yourself a lot of unnecessary stress by resigning yourself to that fact.

  8. Give your electronics a vacation, too.

    "Words With Friends" ... over the Intenet ... with friends right beside you.

    Sure, it’s tempting to keep that camera poised for the next scrapbook-worthy moment or to text your Facebook friends each vacation play-by-play. But if these devices are your focus, you’re missing it. If you don’t live in the moment now, when are you going to? Realize, revitalize, relax. Step away from those battery-powered temptresses. Embrace the rarity of this fleeting moment. See the joy on your baby’s face when she’s learning to kick in the pool. Hear the creak of the hammock, rocking in time with the ocean waves. Feel the sun on your skin, igniting old hopes and shedding light on new ideas. Witness what it is to be alive, and be thankful for it all.

    All the work was well worth it for a few moments with my baby like this.

  9. Congratulate yourself on a job well done. 
    Being a parent can be tough. Traveling can be tough. Put the two together, and you have a daunting challenge. BUT IT’S WORTH IT. I would even argue that it makes you a better parent. So get out there! See the world! Don’t be afraid. You and your child are destined for many amazing, funny, gross, and unexpected things out in this great big world of ours. Life is a pilgrimage, and vacations are some of the most memorable, triumphant moments along the way.
  10. Start planning the next trip.


Want to learn more about Angela’s trip? Read her full post about tips for visiting St. John on!

Leave a Comment

  • catcat

    My eldest is 6 now, veteran of many plane trips. Our main rules are:
    Prepare ahead of time for plane trips (new toys, books, sleep)
    Always try and no sleeping if the kid is awake- even if it’s for the entire 10 hour (overnight) flight to Germany, seeing you trying makes everyone else on the plane feel slightly better and seeing you ignore or sleep through shenanigans seriously enrages people. Ignoring sometimes works with kids, but this is not the time for that tactic.
    Regular rules are off- give them the long-denied sugar, play/walk/exercise before and after each plane – regardless of schedule).
    This satisfies 95% of the co-travelers. The other 5% will never be satisfied. Relax and have a good time. Kids will lead you to good times, that’s what they do.

  • Lovely! Traveling with kids is so much work but it’s really worth it. Lowering your cleanliness standards really is key (we had a similar car seat incident on Hawaii”s Big Island). As for electronics…turn them off at the destination, absolutely. But after two 10-hour flights with a sleepless toddler while I was 8 weeks pregnant I am never setting foot on a plane with my daughters without our iPad. Hitting “autoplay” on The Cat In The Hat app during hour 9 kept us from having to call in the air marshall for restraints.

  • Janet T

    On the last leg home Atlanta to Portland, OR, my husband and I found ourselves seatmates with a 7 year old girl. Her parents were seated in front of us with a baby and toddler. While I was amazed at how little attention they seemed to pay to her, and that they slept thru much of the flight, I realized she was pretty self possessed for seven years of age. We had a great time with her once she decided she wasn’t going to be shy……….
    Having traveled with our own kids, you have to have iron willed determination that you are not going to let other people’s dirty looks rule your life. Great post, thanks for sharing.

  • Beth

    Great advice. We took our 14 month old to Croatia, and had a fabulous time. I think having to slow down made us appreciate things a little more.

  • Pingback: St. John Souvenirs « My Castle Heart()

  • A wonderful post, thanks. I’ll be sharing this!

    The cleanliness rule REALLY is true.

    And yes, you can survive anything. A couple years ago we were in Thailand and Malaysia for a couple months. My three year old was sick. The toilets were squatters, the toilet paper was a hose, and there was no soap… Oh yeah, and I was very pregnant.

    We have three sons: 9, 5, and 20 months and will be in Ecuador for another two months. It’s 30 hours of travel from Alaska…but it’s totally worth it. My kids are learning Spanish and experiencing a wonderful culture. The beaches are fun, and the fruit is always fresh.

    So often people think adventure ends with kids. No way!

  • Ramsey

    For item #8, Give your electronics a vacation, too, just to be totally fair, we were playing Words with Friends with each other. It’s certainly more convenient than hauling a Scrabble box around. Full disclosure: I’m the overweight balding guy eating a banana in the foreground crushing the two opponents to my right 🙂

  • Great advice. And there are people who would leave their kids behind, can you believe it?

  • We keep doing halfway-around-the-world trips, and the good has far outweighed the bad. I have to remind myself about your Conviction #8 and that even if I don’t have photographic evidence of every little moment, the trip still occurred.

    I would also like to give a public shout out to the kind lady sitting next to my son on the plane. With 3 kids, we couldn’t all fit in one row, so my oldest was by himself in front of us. Part way through the flight, I looked up to see his seatmate waving desperately at me. “Your son is throwing up!” Thank goodness she handed him the barf bag in time.

  • Great article. Gave me hope for when my fiancé and I have kids that we will still be able to travel just as much as we do now.

  • Danielle

    Thanks for this. I particularly relate to point #1.

    As soon as we changed our idea of vacation in general, and realized that to a little kid relaxing isn’t their notion of a good time, we became more in sync as a family.

    Practice makes perfect for us. We’ve taken our daughter on tons of trips and the first few, including a 12 hour flight to Israel were painful. As time goes by we now have our travel routine down, and she appreciates the uninterrupted attention from mom and dad.

    We’ve tried all kinds of techniques to be considerate of our fellow travelers, like having my husband sit in front of my daughter while she was in the seat kicking phase, timing flights as close as possible to nap times, and unlimited use of the iPad for her.

    When we get to the boarding area of a plane I see the people literally cringe when they see us coming and the prayers begin that we are not seated by them. We’ve been lucky enough for the most part that when others see us trying and making an effort to not be disruptive, other travelers around us appreciate it.

    It’s only a matter of time anyway on flights before adults start acting like children over things like overhead bin space and that usually takes the attention away from us!

  • RiderWriter

    Ah, yes, those heady days of traveling with small children. We never took any flight longer than three hours, but three can be PLENTY when things are not going well. My kids *generally* were quite well-behaved, other than the unfortunate day when Son had an ear infection. Since his father and I also happened to have them, the three of us were ALL crying, the adults just not as noisily as the infant. 🙂

    The worst thing we ever encountered traveling with the kids was actually a fellow traveler, a businessman. When I politely asked if he would switch seats to the other aisle seat – I mean, literally across the aisle from where he was sitting, 2.5′ away – so I could sit next to my daughter, he acted as though it was the biggest inconvenience he had ever incurred in his entire existence. He also felt the need to mutter, loudly enough so my husband heard him three rows away, “Why can’t you just leave the damn kids at home?!” while flinging himself and his one (1) carry on, a briefcase, about in a tremendous production. I was MORTIFIED and furious to boot. My husband says he came the closest he’s ever come to assaulting someone.

    Now, why this person would have preferred to sit next to a 2-year-old instead of another adult is beyond me. Second, I was able to take a bit of revenge because although for the rest of the flight I pretended my head simply didn’t turn to the right (where he was sitting, 2.5′ away) I had little Son on my lap and had to nurse him. I’m sure the public nursing (although I was extremely discreet) did far more to discomfit him than the glares he’d incurred from his fellow passengers. Oh, yes, people were PISSED on our behalf, let me tell you. His incredibly rude behavior did not go unnoticed. I still had to practically restrain Hubby from belting him at the luggage carousel as well…

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