Making traveling with kids less crazy

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I recently went to Germany for one week with my husband. When I'd tell people about our plans I was countered often with, "You're not taking your kids are you?" I pause and think to myself...why not?

I definitely knew what I was up against. The timezone adjustment was going to be tough. Germany is six hours ahead. When it is six in the evening where we live, it is 12 midnight over there. We weren't going to be going there long enough to be adjusted fully and by the time they'd really be, we'd be back home. So, what does that mean when it comes to outings and experiencing new things? Sofia, my two year old, like others her age, aren't that cooperative when they are tired. Joaquin, my six month old, I was most concerned about waking in the middle of the night thinking that his day has started (3 am German time is 9 am ours). And when he is awake and not doing anything, he yaps away. He is NOISY. Therefore, he was going to be the alarm clock that is set at the wrong time and he doesn't have a snooze button.

Another thing: all the stuff you have to bring when you're a parent. I try my best to be minimalistic, but after the car seats and strollers, that is four large items you have to bring besides your baggage. I borrowed what I could from friends we have in Germany, but it's still lots to lug around.

Sure, taking young children to far away lands isn't convenient, but signing up for parenthood is asking for your life to never be convenient again. But why do I bother? Do they even remember anything? I take my children everywhere I go because:

1) My parents did. When I was young, I traveled to the Philippines (24 hour flights) every four years. The first time I went, I was under two years old. That means my mother HELD ME on her lap for the duration of those flights (definitely many connecting flights -- to save money). Do I remember anything from that trip? No. Was it worth it? Definitely. I have family members who know me, and I grew to know them. I have a comfort of flying. I get VERY excited about going to the airport. And because my parents took me everywhere I knew they loved to be with me...even if I was a pain in the butt. I know that this is a big chunk of why we're so close today.

2) To create memories for our family. If I don't take my kids anywhere how will we have any family memories? Shared memories build closeness that I know that my growing family will enjoy in the future. Every good thing takes work. It's an investment in my family that my husband and I are making now.

3) To get them traveling. If I don't start now, I never will. Traveling is so important, much like reading is. Traveling and reading has your mind considering ideas that you never thought of before. But unlike traveling, reading is only considering theories. Reading doesn't have the substance that traveling does. Traveling has you experiencing something new. Touching, feeling, interacting... Experiencing new things helps me become a person that deals with change well, and if I can deal with change well, then I can become a better person. To be the best possible version of myself as I can be. If I don't travel, I don't throw myself into new situations and I will always just live with whatever I am comfortable with at home. The times that I have felt most conflicted whether to go or not, those are the times that have been the most rewarding. I do this for myself, so I do this for my children.

But, I am not a fan of torturing my children just for my ideals. A few things that really helped us make the most of our days:

Strollers/carriers. To deal with my eldest being tired mid-day, we bought a convenience stroller that reclines way back so she could nap while we were sightseeing. At home we are pretty against her being as big as she is still using a stroller, but we had to be realistic. We'd just have a big ball of tantrum waiting to explode if we didn't have it ready for her to use. On one of the day trips, she slept a full hour in the stroller while we shopped.

To navigate crowded streets, using one less stroller made it easier. For my youngest (6 months), I wore my baby using a mei tai carrier my friend made me. Just make sure you wear good shoes 'cause the extra weight can really do a number on your knees and back if you're not careful...especially on all that cobblestone. The carrier was especially handy at the airport. Instead of pushing my infant in a stroller, carrying him in a carrier meant my hands were free so I was able to help my husband push a second luggage cart. We had nine large pieces to bring across the Atlantic. And we made it!

Exposing to sunlight. I decided to see what others knew about traveling with children across timezones and I found on Travel with Your Kids that helping them get as much sunlight as possible helps their bodies adjust. It really did help. Almost immediately they adjusted...the first night they both woke at around 4 am, but went right back to sleep.

Buy what you can once you get there. Diapers. Geez, those things take up a lot of space. To save luggage space, I decided to buy diapers once I got there. I was fighting to try to make everything fit. I was really stressed about making all that we had fit into the VW Golf that we were going to be renting once we got there. So one thing that really did help to keep the luggage space down was to only bring 24 hours' worth of diapers and just buy them when we got there.

Candies and other things to eat. For those moments that just really need your kid to behave but they've got nothing left, make sure you have candies in your purse/pocket. At home I really limit my two year old's sugar intake 'cause she sure is active enough. Too much sugar and she gets scary. The purpose of our trip was to attend a wedding of a friend of ours. The whole wedding was in German. It was one-hour long. It was during nap time. All those factors really were ingredients to a meltdown. I had to be prepared. I brought along a single serving box of cereal (like Corn Puffs) and sugar-free candies. When she started getting restless, I'd give her the corn puffs one by one. This avoids her spilling them all over the church floor, and keeps her occupied. This kept her settled for a while longer. I saved the candies for when nothing else will work.

Plan to do stuff they'd enjoy doing. I have to accept that my children might not enjoy the Hauptstraße (shopping promenade) as much as I will. But Sofia would love the Wildpark (a kind-of zoo). Sure, it seems obvious to include activities that the kids will enjoy, but I am a human being, I am selfish and I just want to do what I want to do. Alternating things that they will enjoy with things that are more adult-centred really helps to balance the holiday out. You don't feel like you went all the way to Germany to see animals that you could see at the zoo at home, but then you don't feel frazzled because your children hate you. It's amazing when I remember that my children are people too.

In the end, I've just got to accept that my children are only two years and six months old. They're children. They're going to cry. They're going to be tired. They're going to be messy. Just do the best I can to prevent what I can, or be prepared for when they are. Keep a loose schedule. I had to accept that if something we had planned was just going to make them unacceptably miserable, we just had to forego it and go with another plan. By doing this, we had a great holiday, made an investment in some friendships we really wanted to keep, we got to introduce our children to people who mean something to us and we came home with experiences that were just amazing.


One thing that I forgot to add that helped us a lot, which is one of the best things that made sure happen was seat selection on our flight. When you've got kids, the risk of getting anywhere late is quite high, and to check-in for your flight to only find out that you can't sit together is stress that no one needs! We flew with Air Transat and since they are so discounted (we flew for probably half the price of Air Canada) seat selection costs another $20 per person per way. However, they tipped me off that if I signed Sofia up for their Kids Club that she got seat selection for free. So after I selected our seats, I signed her up and got my money back. It was definitely worth the extra $80 for all of us that when we checked in for our flight that we knew exactly where we were going to sit. On the flight there, I booked early enough that I scored the front row seats in economy. And this is awesome because they were able to provide me with a bassinet that my six month old could sleep in ... especially awesome since this was an overnight flight... and even more awesome that he slept the entire flight. What was not so awesome was that I had a coffee before boarding the flight and coupled with the anxiety and excitement of preparing for a trip made me sleepless the entire flight. By the time we got to sleep in Germany, I had been awake for 33 hours. That's something NOT to do.


  1. Klingt wie eine wunderbare Reise! Ich höre Flüge nach San Francisco sind billig.

  2. I absolutely love that your whole family went. Even if they don't remember (but I'm sure Sophia will!) you created such an amazing family memory.

    My mom took us to Swtizerland when we were really young - loved it. Same reasons, our family over there gets to see us/feel a part of our lives.
    We all went a few times between the ages of 2 and 8.


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