Some of us have been fortunate to spend part of our lives as nomads, roaming the globe in search of life-changing experiences through travel. Then, suddenly life changes when kids arrive, along with the incorrect assumption that these adventures must cease. While dealing with differences in language, culture, time zones, and food bring their own challenges, adding our little travelers to the mix brings with it an unpredictability requiring extra thought.
As adults, we’re well aware of the benefits of travel; relaxation, an increased global awareness, and helping us find purpose to our lives, to name a few. But, how many of us have realized that travel benefits kids as well? Traveling with kids allows us to strengthen family bonds, provides kids with new experiences, and also prepares them to function as global citizens in the 21st century.
Now, traveling with a young kids is no walk in the park, and is enough to give even a seasoned traveler like Jessica Nabongo the shakes. Fortunately, having traveled with two kids under three to locations such as; Ibiza, Kampala, Porquerolles, and Cork, we’ve been through the battles, and want to share some valuable tips to make your travels a success.
As with most things, a large part of winning lies in the planning and prep stage before you even leave your house. And, these tips will hopefully help you embrace the change, allowing you to focus on ensuring your little ones absorb every ounce of culture they can.
Here's some tips we’ve learned from our baby/toddler travel experiences:
1. Research, Research, Research
Since you’re no longer solo backpackers, researching the trip is a crucial element for success. There is much more information readily available to us since the days of Lonely Planet guides, and I encourage everyone to take full advantage. You'll want to research everything from whether or not your hotel has baby cots to investigating kid-friendly activities available at your destination. There are essentially two basic approaches; pick a destination with the knowledge it provides enough activities to stimulate your kids. 2. Pick a destination knowing there aren't a wide variety of kids activities, but you'll compensate for this. And, remember, kids with nothing to do and idle time will quickly become bored, turning a holiday into hell.
2. Arrange plane tickets and meals ASAP
Once you’ve purchased your tickets make sure you log in and choose your seat locations, and meals as soon as possible. If you require a cot for your kids during the flight, remember that seats are limited and you’ll want to reserve them early. If you or your kids have any food allergies/requirements it's also the best time to arrange special meals with the carrier in advance.
3. Create a plan of what you want to do
If your kids are old enough this is a great activity to get them involved. Including kids in the planning stage of the trip will provide them with a sense of ownership, and also can help build an air of excitement leading up to the trip. Again, the research we suggested in point #1 should provide you with a list of historical sites, restaurants, museums, beaches, etc. of places/things to do. Once you’ve created your list of ‘must-do’ activities you can then make sure you’re fully prepared to properly enjoy them (e.g. going to spend time sailing around an island, make sure you bring anti-sickness pills if required.)
4. Visit a travel doctor, GP, or other specialist for a consultation
If you’re traveling overseas, it’s advisable to book an appointment with a specialist at least eight weeks in advance of travel for a vaccine consultation Depending on where you’re traveling to, what activities you plan on doing, and what vaccinations your kids already have, will determine vaccinations you may need to obtain. **Malaria medication** If you’re traveling to areas where malaria is a risk, we advise asking your doctor options, and paying attention to potential side effects. On a recent trip to Kampala, we had to stop anti-malaria medication a few days in because it was causing our daughter to have nightmares.
5. Give yourself an extra week for packing your luggage.
I don’t know anyone in the world who enjoys packing. However, when you’re traveling with kids you’ll find your luggage increases ten-fold, and it’s not because of the adults. What this means is that you should give yourself an extra week on top of your usual schedule to ensure you don’t miss anything. The last thing you want to be doing is packing last minute, and risk missing something you need to try and locate in a foreign land.
6. Hire a private van or shuttle to get to/from the airport
This is a luxury, however we’ve found so much comfort in using the service we may never go back to driving to the airport ourselves. Dealing with two kids in the car can be difficult, and having the freedom to handle the kids while someone else is driving makes things so much easier. We’ve also found that the last thing you want to do after returning from a long-haul flight is jump behind the wheel of your car to embark on yet another journey.
7. Arrive at the airport an extra 1 ½ - 2 hours earlier than required
One can never anticipate the number of accidents, bathroom breaks, and diversions you’ll encounter once you arrive at the airport with kids in tow. Our first airport experience culminated with us sprinting through the departures terminal like Usain Bolt! Not only was this extremely unsafe, but we almost missed our flight as well. Worst case scenario is you find yourself with extra time on your hands. The calmer you are as parents, the calmer (hopefully) your kids will be.
8. Bring toys/activities to entertain your kids before and during the flight.
Kids have short attention spans, and you’ll find that they easily lose interest in activities you present. Make sure you bring a wide selection of activities to keep them preoccupied before, during, and after the flight. We’re not talking about two, or three toys, but upwards of 5-10 activities or toys to keep their attention dependant on the length of the journey. Anticipate having an unhappy baby at some point during the flight, and remember that toys/activities are your protection from things going haywire.
9. Walk the aisles
Kids aren’t used to be confined/restricted for long periods of time, and if your kids are walking or crawling they will be even more antsy. Be prepared to walk up/down the aisle of the plane from time to time to break up the monotony of constantly sitting down. Walking also tends to settle young babies who are struggling to sleep in a new environment.
10. Know the exact route to your destination when you arrive
Finding your way to your final destination can sometimes be as straight-forward as jumping in a taxi directly to the hotel. However, other times you may have multiple connections, buses, and ferries that may/may not run throughout the day/night. Make sure that you know the particulars associated with your journey to ensure you don’t wind up stranded with your family.
BONUS: HAVE FUN
Hopefully, you’ve reached your final destination in one piece, and are now ready to have fun and enjoy the holiday. With all the research and planning that you’ve done, you should have a full itinerary of memorable activities to experience with your family.
Remember that we’re dealing with kids who can be extremely unpredictable. There will be good times and bad times during the holiday, but this has no reflection on you as a parent. The best thing is that we are providing our kids with opportunities to be global citizens ready to embrace the world’s cultures.