Congratulations on your prospective first adventure with your little one(s)! You are the real MVP, juggling work and parenthood, so it is understandable if the decision to travel with your kid(s) came with some apprehension and nail-biting.
Traveling with children is a hassle and maybe a great deal overwhelming even for the brave of heart. Depending on the number and age brackets of the children, you may be dealing with a unique set of challenges for each one but, with adequate planning and knowledge, you can cruise through that all-important journey with your kids. There are lots of things you can do to make it a pleasant trip, and we will get you through the most important ones here.
Before your trip
- Book as much as you can in advance. While spontaneity might have been a ‘thing’ on your trips as a couple or a single person, this will not work with kids. Considering how far you are going, what you are planning on doing there, the available modes of transportation, arrival and departure times, number and length of layovers, how many days you would spend and your budget, you should pre-book your flight(s), accommodation(s), location entry tickets and any other thing that will keep your young companions fed, entertained and happy. You do not want to gamble with arriving at your desired destination, and you are turned back while the kids are having a total meltdown in the car.
- Get the kids involved in the process. Infants and toddlers are portable, and you can pretty much take them everywhere as long as they are comfortable and maintain their routine as much as possible. Create many opportunities for exercise and downtime for them to refuel their energy like a pool, park, or playground. If you have teenagers and/or school children, let them choose several activities and attractions that are of interest to them. This sense of ownership will keep the kids excited and interested in the trip, even when there are awkward moments. Older teens may also be allowed an hour or two to explore on their own… Just maybe
If you are traveling with other adults, make sure you discuss and assign chores and responsibilities to each person, so everyone knows what they are doing, especially as regards minding the children at all times.
- Make provision for special needs or medical emergencies. If any of the kids have a particular obligation or serious allergy condition, you should invest in an identity bracelet or card detailing the disease, treatment, and contact information in the language of the destination location. Always keep a first-aid kit close by and make a note of the nearest hospital to where you intend to be. If the trip is overseas, make sure you see the doctor and discuss your plans and get the necessary vaccinations at least two months before you travel. In malaria-endemic countries, you should carry insect repellent, insecticide-treated nets, and antimalarial medication in different forms.
- Prepare appropriate documentation. Countries that require visas for adults may also need the same for children so speak to their embassy in your country to know the requirements. Parents with adopted children, single parents, or a lone parent traveling with a child may encounter some delays in countries battling with child trafficking and overseas adoption issues, so you need to be prepared. The standard documents that can help in such cases are the child’s adoption papers and birth certificate, an attested letter of consent to travel signed by the other parent and your marriage certificate.
- Pack smart. Though you may survive if you forget an item or two, your kids might not do too well without that favorite toy or blanket, so you need to assemble everything you are sure they will need. Some of the basics include toiletries, socks, underwear, pajamas, shirts, pants or shorts, one complete formal outfit, cold-weather gear like gloves, sweaters, jackets, hats, sunny weather or beach gear like a sun hat, swimsuit, flip flops, walking shoes. Something that can efficiently sort the items of multiple family members is fabric containers or packing cubes. Giving each person a specific number of cubes not only keeps their things together, but it minimizes the content to be most essential, keeping you within your anticipated luggage limit. Remember to uniquely brand everything, so they are easily and quickly recognizable to avoid cases of mix-ups or items being left behind.
For toddlers and babies, you will need to factor in a hand-held travel cot and stroller which can serve the dual purpose of a bed, in lodging that doesn’t provide such as well as when you are on the move. You do not need to carry all the diapers and wipes you will use for the entire trip when you can get them in a store around you, except you are going to an area where you are not sure of what you will get. Oh and remember the baby sling and sterilizer!
On the trip
- Carry cabin essentials. These items have saved quite a few parents/guardians from breaking down in tears from the tantrums being thrown by their children. One thing that is a number one priority is that one item that comforts that child, it is a must-have! If it is a pacifier or toy that will need sterilizing, bring more than 1 in case it ends up on the floor at some point. Carry sanitizers, wipes, electronic gadgets and headphones, art supplies, low-sugar snacks, diapers, a change of clothes, and a plastic bag for soiled clothes.
- Dress for ease and speed. Temperatures during trips can shift quite unexpectedly so, keep the kids warm in comfortable layers of clothing that do not have buttons, zippers or laces. Pull-ups are your best bit of apparel, especially if you are still potty training and slip-on footwear make clearing airport security a breeze. Remember to keep items like water and snacks for children under 2years old that will get flagged close, to avoid scattering luggage around during scrutiny.
- Stay safe and secure. Seating young children long the aisles is a no-no because in curiosity they may reach across as a cart is passing by and get hurt or reach into a cart and catch a case of hot water/beverage burns. Also, never allow your kids to go to the bathroom without shoes – not everything on the floor is water! Another neat safety trick is to let children handle their carry-on bags. This way, children gain a sense of responsibility; stay pre-occupied with carrying it along, and they can easily be identified in a busy terminal.
At the destination
- Take public transportation. Where convenient, ditch the car-hire service and use the boats, subways, trains, trams, rideshares, public bikes, etc. This is especially fun if the kids have never been on that type of transportation before. If the stops are being called out in a different language or accent that is also fun. Looking at the places and people in their natural environment, will give them a different view of the city and keep them amused for a long time even after they get back home. It will also save you time and money!
- Don’t even think of hotel hopping. You may be a member of numerous loyalty programs and want to maximize them but, unless you are going to a completely different part of the city or location, you are better off staying in one place. Not only will you have to pack and unpack all your stuff each time you move, but you will also soon have some very uncomfortable kids on your hands that will not be able to relax because they are always on the move.
- Stay flexible. You do not have to pack activities into every waking moment of the day on your trip. You need to allow for some downtime where you and the kids can take a nap or stroll around the city, watch movies, read a book, or just lay in the grass.
Always maintain composure and expect the unexpected because no matter how much preparation goes into a trip, something will go wrong – if it is not an illness, it is a delay of some kind. Your attitude during these unforeseen circumstances will affect the children with you, so you have to focus on staying positive and happy.
Traveling with kids may pose a unique set of challenges, but it is not impossible to achieve success. Not only do you know where your kids are and get to spend some quality time with them in a new location, but the kids themselves get to learn hands-on principles of patience, self-confidence, trust, adaptability, and responsibility. So, while they get to see the world for all its similarities, you get to build a stronger family bond.