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.)
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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?
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).
- 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.
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.
- Be flexible.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
- Downgrade your cleanliness standards.
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.
- Give your electronics a vacation, too.
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.
- 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.–
- Start planning the next trip.