Our Editor-in-Chief serves up some of her “Rules to Live By” when she’s traveling with her family.
Having carted the kids on trips from Mumbai to Guatemala to Michigan (and next month, Paris!), both with my husband and solo, I have come up with a few nuggets of wisdom that can help any traveling family.
1) Preserve Your Relationship with Your Partner – Make a Plan: When my daughters were three and fifteen months, my husband and I thought it a brilliant idea to travel to India for my best friend’s wedding. With the kids. We just couldn’t stomach leaving them for two weeks to go so far away (I sometimes still wonder what we were thinking, c’est la vie; we all survived). So, armed with malaria pills, a plethora of snacks, and every vaccination imaginable, we made the twenty-four hour journey to Mumbai. There are always stressors when you’re corralling small children out of their (and your) comfort zone – and don’t get me started on the jet lag. So, write down a packing list well in advance so you can add and subtract things before the trip. You never want to bring more than you need, but, take it from me, buying diapers in a beach town in India can be tricky. Also, divide and conquer: Decide which of you will corral which kids, who will do the diaper changing and potty breaks on the plane, and how you will handle each outing before you leave the hotel/beach bungalow/tent/igloo. Trust me, if you manage expectations together, when your baby throws up all over you, her, and the Ergo, in the back of a bus in standstill Mumbai traffic, you’ll know exactly what to do (and, hopefully you’ll have a spare sling folded up in the bottom of your handbag to get you through).
2) If You’re Flying, Board Last: I know this is controversial; I narrowly escaped a maelstrom of judgement and criticism for suggesting this in a Facebook comment. Yes, young families have different needs than that nattily dressed first class business traveler, but I firmly believe that the less time on the airplane for my children the better, so I haven’t been personally irritated by the fact that fewer and fewer airlines are providing early boarding for families. Think about it: if you’re two years old and you have a five (or six, or seven, or twenty-four) hour flight ahead of you, the less time spent in that claustrophobic, germ-infested tin can, the better. Overhead bins fill up quickly on increasingly crowded flights, so I try to pack everything I need in a backpack that fits under the seat so the overcrowding doesn’t become an issue. If I have too much carry on and I’m not traveling solo with the kiddos, my husband and I split up and one of us boards at the regular time to snag space in the coveted overhead bins and the other brings the kids on last. I want to create a movement of prepared families who board their flights at the last minute. This can be a thing!
3) Bring Snacks: This may be self explanatory, but I can’t stress it enough. Until you’ve driven halfway across the country with your kids in the backseat begging for sustenance after they’ve torn through in two hours what you thought was an acceptable amount of food for the entire fourteen hour trip, you may not understand the voracity of this issue. Pack more food than you ever thought you would need. Pack as if you’re heading to the desert for two weeks. And, most importantly, pack something for yourself as well. There are only so many mini boxes of organic raisins a grown up can stomach. And Cheez-Its at the gas station don’t count as lunch, even when you’re on a road trip.
4) Do NOT take the Red Eye!: As Robert DeNiro said to Robin Williams in Awakenings, “Learn from me!!” When planning a trip to Seattle and the San Juan Islands a few years ago, my husband and I thought it made perfect sense to take the red eye back to the east coast. With a one year old. On our laps. “She’ll be tired!”, we said. “She’ll cuddle up on our laps and we’ll all drift off into a peaceful slumber!” “It will be so sweet!” We congratulated ourselves on our smarts and ingenuity. And then we boarded the plane. Our little bundle of joy started screaming and didn’t stop until we were taxiing to our gate at JFK five hours later. Sometimes you have absolutely no alternative, but if you have a choice, pick any other flight than the red eye when traveling with a child under the age of 4. Trust me on this one.
5) Enjoy Yourself, Be Brave, and Travel Often: Traveling with kids is stressful. It’s also pretty freaking amazing. The joy on my seven year old’s face when she woke up with me at 5am to watch the sunrise over a volcanic lake in Guatemala will stay with me forever. Plus, traveling with your kids from a young age fosters flexibility, patience, cultural competence, and a sense of adventure. Who can argue with that?
Mollie Michel is a South Philly resident and a Philadelphia public school parent. A recovering non-profit professional, Mollie is also an experienced birth doula, Certified Lactation Counselor, and the mom of two awesome girls and a sweet pit bull named Princess Cleopatra. In her spare time, she is usually trying to figure out how Pinterest works, training for a(nother) half-marathon with her dog at her side, or simply trying to keep up with her increasingly wily daughters.