Many of the advice columns out there in relation to traveling with children tend to offer advice for somewhat older kids. Like, from four or five years old and up. There are a few doling out ideas for younger children, but I think the dearth of articles geared towards young children/toddlers/babies is due to the lack of parents bringing out their young kids, which in turn is due to the fear those parents have of being able to even travel with infants. We’ve done it several times, and can testify to its possibility.
We now have two kids, and our oldest, Shiloh, has already been to 14 countries; ten before she turned one year old. We’ve taken her from North Carolina to Singapore three times (that’s as far as you can travel around the globe before you start coming back again), most recently with the addition of our one-year-old, Judah. And we’ve been on road trips with them. We have been there, and want to dole out some advice for how you too can venture out with the young ‘uns, worry-free.
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your lifespan? None of ya, so just relax. Parents, who previously were likely a little more carefree, very often find themselves awash with apprehension when faced with the prospect of bringing your young child along with you in a cramped metal tube full of hundreds of other people and recycled air. Will my baby scream bloody murder for four hours? Will s/he vomit on a stranger? Or down my shirt? What if s/he has a blowout crazy poop explosion diaper and all the bathrooms are occupied? My toddler is a ball of perpetual energy. How can s/he ever be contained in my lap in an economy seat?
And those are just the concerns for air travel. Add on the concerns many parents have about travel itself at the destination. Food that’s safe, illnesses the kids could get, getting around safely, etc.
Deep breath. First, get perspective from the fact that you are by no means the first or the last parent to take your young child overseas. Not by a loooooooong shot. Others have done it, and you can too.
This is just general life advice, but it applies well to the fear of travel: don’t let the fear of the unknown hold you back. You can still get on that long-haul flight and go to Spain with your three-month-old. Things might get a little stressful, but everything’s going to be fine. You just need a little extra preparation, both psychological and practical.
Modify your expectations
I was going to title this section “lower your expectations”, but that sounded like too much of a buzzkill. But the truth is, you’re going to set yourself up for disappointment if you set out with a super rosy, optimistic schedule of things to see and do. Gone are the carefree days as a backpacker or weekender, where you can punch up your own itinerary and check everything off, while still having unscheduled adventures on the side. Now you have to plan around feedings and naps. It’s far from impossible, though. It just takes a little more prep. Best to come up with a practical set of objectives, allowing enough time for child-related variables (which WILL come into play), and shoot for child-friendly places. Your itinerary will likely be a pared-down version of what you would have done as a group or couple or by yourself. That’s just how it is. But forget about being bummed that you don’t have time for as many buddhist temples or European castles or whatever. Enjoy your new kids. And enjoy the fact that you get to enjoy your kids while also enjoying temples and castles that most other people don’t get to enjoy at all, kids or not.
A little preparation and anticipation can go a long, long way. Packing for an overseas trip can be tricky, but it can also be easier than you might think. See my post here for a more detailed packing list. Packing well is a big key to comfortable travel with young children. Do this part well and the rest becomes much easier.
The good thing about traveling with very young children is that they really don’t care what they do, so long as they’re fed and can nap. In that sense, they might be the best travel companions you could ask for. If they nap easily in the stroller or baby carrier, and are not picky eaters (or are exclusively bottle- or breastfed), then you can actually have a good amount of flexibility. And taking them traveling before they can crawl or walk is a great way to take advantage of their immobility to see the world and explore a little before they can walk and tear your house apart when you step into the other room for a minute. There are a lot of people – ourselves included – who see the pre-crawling era as a great window of time to travel. Infants are self-containing.
Try to plan for activities that can easily accommodate small children. Think stroller-friendly. Yes, it marks a few things off the list, but a lot fewer than you might think. Unless you’re visiting a rugged nature park or ancient ruins with a ton of stairs, it’s usually pretty easy to get around with babies. Pretty much all cities, towns, and villages are still navigable, and that’s a substantial number of places still in play right there. Lots of other sights are doable as well. Just do a little bit of prodding to see if the things you want to see are frequented by families. If so, add it to the list.
Kids are the same here or there
Whether you’re at home or on the road, kids generally behave the same, and need the same things. As long as you are prepared, you can handle them. Babies are going to cry at home or in Turkey. They will spit up 10 times a day at home or in Costa Rica. They will nap a lot at home or in Fiji. Their behavior is constant, and as long as you are prepared to both anticipate and manage it, you can take them pretty much anywhere and do nearly anything. And you get the added bonus of showing off your mega-cute progeny to the entire world. So get going.