Traveling with a toddler
The one question I get the most often from readers is how do you travel so much with a child, have fun and still stay sane? Each trip our family takes together I learn a little more about myself, but also what works and what does not in our current phase of life. Of course every toddler is different, but what might work for one certainly will work for a few others too.
So here are the basics:
Time and time again we sit down at a restaurant and I think to myself, "How is this going to go?" Now that Jasper is older the worst thing he does (aside from throw things) is yell at the top of his lungs "I want to go home!" It does not matter if we are some place he enjoys or not his "go- to" phrase when he is tired of waiting or done with his meal is he wants to go home. There is nothing which makes me feel worse than to hear my child repeatedly say for all the world to hear how he wants to go home. In an effort to avert this type of behavior we have an arsenal of tricks we like to use to keep his attention from the time we order our food to the time it comes or worse yet to the time he decides he is done with his meal.
First and foremost we have been blessed with an amazing eater. Jasper loves food and more importantly he loves to interact with others. If we have a friendly waiter/waitress and a basket of bread or a bowl of chips and salsa in front of us he will systematically work his way through the bread or the chips while repeatedly saying "hello" to our waiter whenever they walk by. Jasper is a charmer and if I had one word to describe him I think it would be friendly. Jasper has the amazing ability to see those which society in general ignores whether it is the person who refills your water or the person who picks up your recycling. In Jasper's eyes everyone is equal and worthy of the same warm and enthusiastic greeting. Jasper has shown me how being friendly to strangers has opened up a new and exciting world full of endless stories and meaningful interactions.
Our meal time arsenal isn't fancy, but includes the following:
- Colored pencil crayons (over the years I have discovered crayons break and colored pencils need sharpening) And both situations are frustrating for everyone involved. Colored pencils are nice because they are larger a little harder to loose under the table. Crayola Twistables are the perfect cross between a crayon and a colored pencil and might just be my favorite discovery yet.
- Little plastic toys. Even though Jasper loves cars, what do cars do? Roll away! I can only bend over or reach under the table so many times before I am tired of picking up a runaway car. Little plastic dinosaurs are inexpensive (should we loose them) and have been a wonderful diversion from cars and trucks. Since they have legs and not wheels they do not roll away.
- Small pads of paper. Jasper loves to color and ask us to draw things, so a fresh pad of paper is something I always try to keep on hand.
- Food. I figure as long as Jasper is still sitting in a high chair I can bring whatever food I like into a restaurant without getting the evil eye or judgement from others. I have brought everything from an avocado when he was younger to yogurt melts, cereal, food packets and granola bars. Out of respect to the restaurant I prefer to bring things which aren't too messy, but if Jasper is asking for a food packet he will pretty much get whatever he asks for.
One thing to note: I have strong feelings about NOT handing over my phone as my first line of defense, but I will be the first to admit when nothing else works letting Jasper aimlessly browses the photos on my phone or watches his beloved Peppa Pig. The phone is something I will resort to in order to buy a little more time, but is usually our last resort. I don't let allow Jasper to sit and watch television at his leisure at home, but if we are out at a nice place and nothing else works it can buy us some time.
If we are only going to be out of town for a long weekend then we typically forgo his nap on Saturdays. Six days a week I am revolved my life around his schedule, so I usually give myself permission to skip his nap one day a week so we can have a little more fun. However, if the weather is extra lousy or we have nothing really going on then I am happy to head back to the hotel for a couple hours so he can rest. Of course it is totally up to Jasper but the days of him passing out in the ergo or in his stroller while we are out and about are almost nonexistent.
Treats, treats and more treats!!
I know there are a lot of psychologists out there which might warn you against using food as a reward or a bribe, but in my experience I have found there is nothing which can turn around a cranky mood better than an ice cream cone or a basket of fresh strawberries. Treats needn't be unhealthy, but when you are on vacation they should be plentiful. Also, treats help keep everyone's mood and energy level up which is the key to a great day in a new enviroment.
If we decide to pay a visit to a museum or see a local sight we typically use a tag team approach. One of us will enjoy looking for awhile and then we will switch. We usually don't get to see everything or get as much out of it as we would without children, but having Jasper with us is important to us in this phase of our lives.
When it comes to Jasper I consistently over pack. I know I can buy him clothes no matter where we go, but they can be both expensive and difficult to find depending on where we go. Rather than cause myself undue stress I always bring along at least two pairs of shoes, a couple extra pairs of socks and a couple extra pairs of pants and shirts. This way I have allowed for the inevitable spill, misshap, fall etc. It is not as though he cannot walk around in a dirty shirt, but even though he is a child I like him to always look better than I do. He is valued and I always want him to both feel and see that.
For longer trips I only bring the maximum diapers I can fit in the outside pocket of his bag. Since Jasper does not have any skin sensitivities, I know I can always pop into a grocery store and buy more. However, the key is to buy more diapers before you run out. I can distinctly remember when we were in Norway I think we had one diaper to our name and we were standing in the grocery store aisle trying to decipher which size he needed. A brief moment of stress was felt by us all.
For shorter trips I bring along a soft fabric bag filled with books and a few small cars and trucks for Jasper to play with. I always want him to feel at home wherever we go and I think bringing along a few familiar items goes a long way in doing just that.
We are blessed to have a child who likes his sleep as much as his parents do. From day one Jasper has been sleeping on his own either in a cosleeper, a bassinet or a crib. At home he sleeps in his own room in his own bed. With sleeping in general he is not too particular about anything. If we are staying in a typical hotel room where there is a significant size bathroom we will put his portable crib in there. If the bathroom is not big enough to accommodate his crib we will put him in the hallway of our room. Ideally, Jasper has his own space, but when this is not possible we improvise. We consider ourselves fortunate because he can and has slept all over the place. In his short life he has stayed at well over fifty different hotels, houses or rentals.
Travel time: car, plane, train or boat:
If we are moving and there are interesting things to look at then Jasper is going to be engaged and interested. Jasper has spent a lot of time riding on ferries and on trains and as long as there is a variety of visual stimulation he is happy. If we are stuck in traffic (usually in the car) Jasper might start to get frustrated he is stuck in one place. We try to reserve a variety of fun music for him when we are in the car and often will let him listen to Peppa Pig over the radio. Although I do not like him watching television, I don't mind him listening to his favorite television program because I think it allows him to use his imagination in a different way (like the equivalent of listening to a book on tape.)
When all is said and done it will always be the moments between the moments we remember the most. The hour we spent on the top of the Oslo Opera House was one of my most treasured moments from our trip. It started raining and I actually had a piece of glass embedded in my foot which made it hard to be mobile so I was just enjoying watching my boys run free.
My biggest advice is not to be deterred by a cranky toddler, a fussy baby or a stressed out partner. Just like at home there will be good days and bad days while traveling. Flexibility is the key to having a good time, not perfection. Looking back the frustrating moments are the ones we can later laugh about and the good moments are the ones we will always treasure.
In case I am leading you to believe traveling with children is a piece of cake and that we do not have our moments. Here are a few photos which show otherwise....
It is just plain hard to get a family photo these days. Strangers aren't always patient and we usually forget to bring our tripod.
Here we are stuck on a sightseeing boat in Iceland and Jasper is not having any of it. I enjoyed photographing the glaciers while Cameron tried to tame our angry little man. In this photo I especially love the man using a selfie stick completely oblivious to our plight!