For more than two years, we imposed a travel moratorium on our family: no traveling more than 45 minutes with kids unless absolutely necessary. This wasn’t a step we took lightly. We both love to explore new places. In fact, our kids were already pretty well-traveled by the time we imposed the moratorium. Each had logged more than 20 flight legs before they hit 9 months old – at which point we stopped counting. Yet, after repeated scream-filled car rides (including one memorable screaming-to-the-point-of-puking episode that covered the inside of our car with half-digested cheese and milk on a 100+ degree day halfway into a 3-hour road trip) and a few 90-minute torture chamber experiences at 35,000 feet wrestling with a toddler who threw punches like Muhammad Ali and screamed like Annalisa Flanagan from takeoff straight through to landing, we decided enough was enough.
It’s only been in the past year or so (after our younger one turned the corner on 4) that we’ve been brave enough to try traveling with kids again. Since re-entering the world of family travel, we’ve taken about a dozen trips (mostly plane, a few car). Mostly it’s been great, but we’ve learned a few things the (very) hard way:
1) Sleeping arrangements are king We foolishly thought that, since our kids share a room at home, sharing a room with us on the road wouldn’t be a problem. Especially since they’re now early elementary-school-age and normally sleep through the night just fine. Wrong. The hands-down worst nights’ sleep we’ve all had in years have been the nights our whole family has shared a traditional 2-bed hotel room. There must be something about knowing we’re only 3 feet away that makes at least one kid’s eyes pop open and mouth emit a whiny howl every time someone rolls over or a floorboard creaks. After trying just about everything, we discovered that the only thing that works is for B to lie motionless in bed with them, while their heavy half-asleep heads rest on the very spot on her shoulder that compresses a nerve, sending shooting jabs of pain down her arm. If she moves even a millimeter from that position once the kids are snoozing, little eyes pop open, little mouths howl, and we’re back to square one.
So we now actively seek out sleeping arrangements that have the feel of two rooms in one. AirBnB, when available. Or hotels with junior suites – a larger room physically split into two (bedroom and living room) by the bathroom or a half-wall or even a door. Yes, it costs a little more, but it is so worth it. Because, after all, trips are no fun if everyone is tired and crabby the entire time.
2) Playgrounds still matter We’ve trekked our kids across acres of wooded forests, climbed hundreds of stairs to summit historical buildings, wound our way through miles of city streets, and explored immense museums the size of multiple city blocks – sure they would be wrecked tired and crash hard at the end of those days. They didn’t. And not because we carried them. For the most part, they walked – although there were plenty of loud objections and frequent meandering detours to explore something that caught their eye. If anything, though, on “big-walking” days they were more wound up, more hyper, and more resistant to bedtime than usual. It wasn’t until we spent the morning at a site-seeing-worthy playground on a recent trip that it hit us. The adult-wearying, end-result-focused physical activity was great, but it didn’t give our kids the creative, kinetic outlet they get from scrambling aimlessly around playgrounds and interacting with other kids. Both types of outlets are important for family sanity. So now we’ve made a commitment to work playground visits or playdates into all future trips. Fingers crossed, it will make bedtime easier, too!
3) Someone will get sick. No matter how hard you try to prevent it. Strep. Colds. Stomach bugs. You name it, it’s felled at least one of us on just about every trip we’ve taken this past year. It doesn’t matter whether it’s hot or cold outside or whether we are exploring the great outdoors or germ-infested “please touch” museums. It doesn’t matter how meticulously we wipe down airplane and hotel surfaces, wash or sanitize our hands, or mind where we eat. It’s also not always the same one of us who gets sick, either (though D seems particularly prone). Nothing throws a monkey wrench in enjoying travel (other than, perhaps, sleep deprivation) as much as a family member getting sick on the trip. So we’ve taken to traveling with a small pharmacy, and trying to remind ourselves that this, too, shall pass.
And, yes, tantrums still do happen. Only not as much. And ipads can (but don’t always) help.
Have you traveled much with elementary school-age kids? What tips do you have for us?