**UPDATE JANUARY 2018**
|Currumbin Wildlife Refuge - Coolangatta, Queensland, Australia|
May 2017 (Mark ~2.5)
I scoured the internet for hours, posted questions in the moms group I belong to on Facebook, texted friends, and consulted my Magic Eight Ball.
Travel with a toddler? The number one answer: Don't do it!
|Traveling with babies is tough, but how else can you get a picture like this?|
In my brief experience, I have discovered (so far) that there is an age that is extremely difficult to deal with - at least it was for us. From about 14 months to 22 months was not good for traveling. In our experience, doing pretty much anything during that time frame was a challenge (and continues to be - terrible twos in full force here).
In the 14-22 month range, Mark was mobile, curious, headstrong, and would not listen to anything we said. Running away was a fun game. This time frame also involved either extreme clinginess or extreme independence. Mark either was clinging to our legs and begging to be picked up or was running away at full-tilt.
|This was a trip to AZ to visit my SILColleen at around 17 months old - we were lucky to have family to help on this trip!|
You can imagine that this wasn't the ideal time for trips.
While I am by no means an expert, we've chalked up a dozen long weekend road trips and three week-long vacations involving air travel (two domestic and one international) in two years with our son Mark, so I wanted to share a few things that might be helpful for other folks traveling with small humans. We also traveled to Australia (about 48 hours travel time including layovers) while he was 2.5. I will add my updates in this font.
Mark's first "trip" was to New York to visit family when he was three months old.
|Here we are at the Residence Inn Long Island Islip, which is our favorite place to stay while visiting friends and family in the Deer Park area.|
Here are some travel suggestions to maintain your sanity. Good luck, we're all counting on you!
1. Maintain Your Usual Schedule, If Possible
Kids thrive on routine and still need their sleep. We are all grumpy when we don't get as much shut-eye as usual, and this is especially true for kids. They're in a new place and their schedules are all up in the air. Staying on schedule is easiest from birth to three months, as kids can nap anywhere, and in these early months, there is no such thing as a schedule anyway.
If you're traveling by car and your destination is less than four hours away, try to plan naptime for the middle of the trip. If you're traveling by air, for the love of God, don't wake them up early for a flight. We immediately regretted our early flight to Miami (which I was so proud of saving a ton of money on). The trade-off for saving cash on our flight was a cranky 15 month old who we woke at 3 a.m. for an hour + long drive to the airport, the usual fun check-in procedure, and security. He put up with all of this until we got on board. He cried for what felt like the entire flight. To my horror, I discovered that we were those people on the plane.
|The best baby on a plane is a sleeping baby|
It was so bad that the flight attendant gave Jay two free bottles of vodka with his Bloody Mary mix.
Determine if adjusting to a new time zone makes sense for you and your child. The general rule of thumb is that it takes one day to adjust to each hour of time difference. If you're taking a long weekend in Paris (lucky you), consider sticking to your usual time zone for activities, if at all possible.
If your trip allows you to adjust to local time, live like our ancestors did. Wake at sunrise and start winding down at sunset. Make sure that you and your kiddo are exposed to as much natural light as possible. It will help you adjust more quickly.
I've always heard that you should stay up until 8 pm local time to best adjust to a new time zone. For adults, a 2 hour nap on arrival afternoon (hell, you're on vacation - nap each day!) is also fine, as well as up to a 3-3.5 hour nap for your kid. Wake them at least 3 or 4 hours before their local bedtime though so that they can eat dinner and try to get settled in.
Here is an update from my time in Australia: There was a 14 hour time difference, and he actually adjusted to it better than we did. Our first day there, we let him take a 3.5 hour nap. We also hit the playground and got outside right away. Kids are incredibly resilient and adaptable. Although you should check with your pediatrician before doing this, we also got some melatonin gummy vitamins - 1 mg each. We bit one in half and gave it to Mark about an hour before "bedtime". Make sure that you put the top on all the way, because he did get in to them at one point and ate about 4 of them. I'm happy to tell you that he survived and he slept GREAT that night.
2. Prepare for Passport Issues
|Ready for Mexico|
If you're going to try the photo yourself, lay your baby outside on a white sheet or blanket. Preferably on a cloudy day, where you get enough light for the photo, but not enough to cause shadows.
I found this post to be the most useful for getting a passport photo for Markface.
Ultimately, the lovely woman who works at our local post office took Mark's photo while he was laying down on an old mail bag. When in doubt, ask USPS what to do. They're experts!
Also, don't forget - kid's passport photos expire after 5 years, so you need to keep a close eye on Passport expiration dates. Most countries require that your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your planned return date. Check to make sure that you have all of the necessary information from the U.S. State department before your trip, and also check with the country you will be visiting to see if there are any travel visas to secure ahead of time.
Australia has an electronic visa system - see if the country you are traveling to has one as well. Prepare to check this at least 2-3 months ahead of time!
3. Keep them occupied
This is the name of the game on planes, trains, and automobiles (and boats too, I'm sure). A kid occupied with a new toy or game is going to be less likely to annoy those around them, especially their parents.
When you think of traveling with your child, think like a bride on her wedding day.
A favorite toy, stuffed animal, or blankie- perhaps even something that you haven't let them have in a while that is comforting to them. Break it out if you sense they are about to lose their shit. If you have to resort to a pacifier even if they've given up the habit, do it. It's also good to have a pacifier, bottle, or sippy cup for them during take off and landing in an airplane. Kids have tiny Eustachian tubes that are more prone to getting blocked than ours. This is also why they are more prone to ear infections. Speaking of which, if it looks like that might be happening before your trip, try out Wally's Ear Oil. You'll thank me later.
Kids love something they've never seen or played with before. Have something new and available before they spy something that someone else has that they want. Download some new apps on the phone or tablet. Some inexpensive suggestions: pipe cleaners with beaded fluff balls, stickers, dollar store junk wrapped in wrapping paper, a Tupperware container full of random objects, yo-yos, invisible markers with coloring books, masking tape and duct tape too (just in case you get desperate - also good for childproofing your destination). Whatever you don't mind losing.
Ask friends with kids their saving grace when it comes to traveling with their kids. Then ask to borrow it. A good travel stroller? An ergo carrier? An iPad or Tablet? Think of what can do the most good and take up the least amount of space.
Blue is for blueberries. Stopping meltdowns from happening in our house usually involves snacks. Bring pouch applesauce, blueberries, or raisins. Mandarin oranges. Cereal bars. Bring something low in sugar to stop them from bouncing off the walls, but also something that they might consider a treat.
I can't tell you how we survived all of our travel to OZ, but we did. I think that the pipecleaners with the fluff balls were the biggest hit. He also liked things with magnets. Oh! And those fun toy airplanes that they sell at the airport are awesome too. There was another kid with one on the plane and I thought that Mark was going to steal it from him.
4. Be Prepared, but Don't Overpack
This may come as a surprise to you, but people populate the entire world. This means that at some point, they were babies. Inexplicably, people continue to make other people- there are kids all over the world. You probably don't need to bring your entire stash of diapers. Bring plenty of diapers to get you through the travel day and the next day or two (you never know what delays you'll encounter with air travel). Chances are good that there will be a place to buy diapers where you are going. They might not be your chosen brand, but they will be fine. Exception: Bring swim diapers as those might be harder to find.
|One of the many places that I fed my kid was at this lovely restaurant in Cancun overlooking the lagoon|
We found diapers (aka nappies!) to be cheaper in Australia than they were at home. They definitely have them everywhere!
5. Don't Give in to Fear
It's okay to take a break from your kid(s) on vacation. Go to the spa. Go out to dinner. Take time for yourself (and your significant other).
As soon as I start planning for a vacation, I start the Google search for a babysitter. It never fails that when I begin my search for a babysitter or sitting service, I see posts like this:"I can't see how safe it would be, leaving a child with an unvetted stranger."
I don't advocate that you leave your child with an unvetted stranger. Instead, I suggest that you do some research and meet the sitter ahead of time and/or ask for references. Most hotels also have a go-to babysitting service that they recommend, and they nearly always come with background checks.
We've used babysitting services in Cancun, Outer Banks, NC, and Key West. We even found a sitter on Craigslist for Key West. She gave us references and we met her at her day job when we got down there. Sitter City and Care.com are other resources to utilize.
|Sunrise with Markface in Buxton, NC|
When we go to Australia next year, we are planning to use Busy Bees. I will report back after our return.
I'm not saying that child abductions don't happen; they certainly do. However, your child is most likely to be abducted by someone they know. 82% of abductions are by a family member, often a parent. Less than 1% of all kidnappings are by strangers, and the majority of those are likely to happen near your house. It's much easier to abduct a kid in ways other than posing as a babysitter online and risking detection and leaving a paper or telephone trail.
If you're still feeling anxious about leaving your kid with a stranger, think of vacationing in a place that has childcare available.
We did not end up using Busy Bees in Australia, as right before we left I was unable to make contact with the person there. I did however find a sitter in the Gold Coast area called Heaven Sent Help and they really were heavenly. Our sitter was a fantastic Kiwi named Colleen and she ended up watching Mark probably 3 or 4 times during our week in Coolangatta. She was phenomenal and I am still in touch with her.
In Bargara, which is a coastal town near Bundaberg, I found our babysitter using Facebook. Yes, I know it's crazy. I haunted Facebook and creeped on a number of pages until I found Curdy's Kids Care. Zoe is the owner and at the time that I met her, she did not have a lovely website like this. :) She was PHENOMENAL and I felt completely at ease leaving Mark with her. I think that he may have had more fun with her than Jay and I did going out to dinner and diving the Great Barrier Reef.
ONE MORE UPDATE ON TRAVEL TIPS -- HERE IS MY BONUS TIP!
If you have a long layover (5+ hours), may I suggest a Day Use hotel? It sounded super sketchy when I first heard of them, but I am now a firm believer. Gone are the days of sleazy pay by the hour hotels. Now you can book a luxury hotel room for a partial day! We used Hotels by Day for our long layovers at LAX and booked a Marriott for around $85. It was just what we needed to grab a shower and a nap, especially on our way home. Even better, these hotels are usually near the airport and they have shuttle pick up. Other Day Use websites are DayUse.com and Between9and5.com.
Obviously this list is not all-inclusive. This is very much a work in progress and I am planning to add on to this list (perhaps even make it a devoted page on the site) as I have new ideas.
How about you? Please share your own tips and tricks of traveling.