Three Principles For Traveling With Kids

The other day we talked about why to travel with kids. Today we’ll focus on how ….. in three easy steps.

Okay – just kidding – there aren’t three easy steps! I wish there were – but every kid and every trip is different. However, we can give you three easy principles that really do make traveling with kids much smoother:

  1. Simplify as much as possible
  2. Plan intentionally
  3. Relax & enjoy the journey

Not too bad right?

Simplify As Much As Possible

Shockingly enough, Anthony and I actually still take the same size suitcases now that we are traveling with J as we took when it was just us. Airlines have not gotten more generous with their luggage, so we have had to learn to pack more creatively than before. For me this means that my wardrobe on trips has gotten a lot more streamlined (boring) as I now pack so that everything matches everything else. I’ll explain how we pack another, but for now we’ll just say that when I am traveling I end up wearing a lot of black. It also means that we have had to get creative with how we keep J entertained. Kids need a lot less than I thought they did.

We have also learned to simplify our schedules quite significantly. Before we had kids we moved through trips at a pretty crazy speed. We took red eye flights, we slept in airports, we would hop from country to country, sometimes hitting up to nine cities on a two-week trip, taking full advantage of legal stopovers, multi-city mileage awards and airline delays. Taking an overnight train ride in order to not pay for a hotel was not a big deal. When we tried to keep this same pace with a baby, we realized that maybe we had been a little ambitious and could stand to scale it back a bit and simplify there as well.

Our tastes are another thing that have simplified. While we love to fly Business Class and stay in five star hotels, we realized quickly that it is actually easier to travel together with a small child in economy and there are fewer potentially breakable things in a three star hotel.

Plan Intentionally 

When I was single and traveled regularly, I was pretty spontaneous much of the time. My suitcase was regularly a disaster because I would leave at the last minute and just throw everything in sight into it. This made for a bit of a scramble every now and then on the road – I would occasionally open my suitcase and find that nothing matched. This was no problem because if I forgot something, I would just buy another one (I became an expert at bartering in China). It got better when we got married – there was always someone to double-check me before I left the room, but we still managed to forget stuff (contact solution still seems to escape me) and we’ll just say we were good about saving money by never having enough time to browse in the airport shopping areas.

None of these tactics are a good idea with children.

You can’t count on baby wipes being available at any random store (luckily the basement grocery store Singapore Changi Airport has a great selection) nor can you count on being able to find your child’s size pants if you randomly lose them (or he makes a mess of them). So we calculate carefully and make lists. We check off the lists. We know better than to arrange a tour during naptime now. We also know that we have to arrive at least an extra fifteen minutes early for the random clothes change that is needed when the sippy-cup lid comes off the drink that you gave to placate your child before you get on the airport bus.

Much to our surprise, it has actually gotten easier to travel in many ways. Probably because the last-minute panicking has really been cut to a minimum.

Relax & Enjoy the Journey

We used to do a lot of working vacations. We were in grad school, or I was grading or we needed to check email for work. We would also try to do and see everything we could most of the time. We didn’t spend very many days just relaxing on a beach somewhere. Now we do. Nap time is actually a great time for us all to relax and read a book or just hang out.

Things never work out exactly as we plan them. That is just the nature of travel. We can’t always anticipate exactly what a place is going to be like, no matter how much research we might put into it. Stuff happens. Flights get delayed. One of us gets sick. Even places that we have been to many times can be unpredictable especially if you haven’t been there in a while. Drivers forget to show up. It happens. You roll with it. Don’t panic.

We arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka late in the evening and our hotel had forgotten to send someone to pick us up. J was a baby and we didn’t want to upset him. We didn’t have a cell phone so we were able to nicely ask someone to make a few phone calls for us and we eventually arrived at the hotel just fine. J watched everything with wide eyes. The next morning we ate amazing curry on Negombo beach and watched the massive waves crash up on the shore. It was an incredible place.

Negombo Beach, Sri Lanka

Negombo Beach, Sri Lanka

Ultimately, many issues will arise on your trip that you can’t control. We plan the best we can to minimize those issues, but they will still happen. How we respond when they happen makes a huge difference. Remember why you are traveling and resolve to enjoy it even when things go wrong. Most of our issues that involve traveling with children have been resolved by adapting our planning and attitudes to these three principles. Traveling with a child has gotten a lot easier and has taught us a lot. I’m glad we have pressed on and kept going despite some of the small inconveniences.