This is the second post in a series from guest blogger Jessica Menon over at Gypsy Momma. She’s a well-seasoned traveler and she brings her expertise on family travel to us here on the Onya Baby blog. We hope that her tips will help make your holiday travels sail more smoothly.
Minimizing Stress of Holiday Travel with Little Ones
December tends to be a high time of holiday family travel, and traveling with your children in tow can add a whole new level of challenge to your trip. After countless international flights and road trips in numerous countries with our little one in tow, we’ve learned a lot about minimizing stress of travel with little ones – especially around the holidays.
First, when it’s possible, we try to travel “off season.” This might not always be a workable option, and sometimes you just want to spend a holiday with far-flung family. But sometimes it’s nice, and a lot less stressful, to visit family a week before or after a holiday when traffic and airports aren’t as hectic. It can also be a lot less expensive, too! Then we use the holiday itself to enjoy a peaceful, quiet, and relaxing time home with our little nuclear family, which is completely stress-free.
Whether flying or driving, we always make sure to lighten the load and be judicious in what we pack. Minimizing the amount of “stuff” that we are packing, hauling, checking, re-packing, and digging through goes a really long way in making travel less stressful. Here’s what we do to lighten the load with little ones:
- Leave the stroller behind. We opt for a baby carrier. We still use it our Onya Baby Outback with our (almost) two year old. We rarely use a stroller, anyway, and find that it’s much easier traveling through airports, going on walks, etc. using a baby carrier. If you must bring a stroller, opt for a lightweight, compact umbrella stroller.
- Leave the bulky crib behind. We have co-slept with our daughter since birth. Sometimes she sleeps in her own bed these days, but often ends up in bed with us. It makes traveling a lot easier without bulky/heavy cribs to pack or check. If you must use something for a separate sleep space for baby or toddler, you can ask if your family/friends/accommodation have a crib or bassinet that meets safety standards. Otherwise, opt for a portable lightweight bassinet for babies under 6 months, a GoCrib for babies/toddlers of any age, or for those older than 18 months the Shrunks inflatable toddler bed which our daughter enjoys, especially for naps.
- Leave the car seat at home. Opt for a Ride Safer Travel Vest for little ones three and older- it can easily pack in a carry-on, and gives kids more space in the back of the car. If you are flying to your destination and then renting a car, you could consider renting a car seat as well, although sometimes rented car seats can be a little sketchy. Does anyone in your family have a safe car seat that could be used when arriving at your destination?
- Pack smart. For our four day trip we used just one suitcase for my husband, my daughter, and I. That included clothing for us all, a shared toiletry bag, toys, an inflatable toddler bed and blankets, and one set of kitchenware for my toddler. We each had a packing travel cube for all of our clothing (four days worth with 2 outfits per day for my toddler). I also packed a small container of powdered laundry detergent in case we needed to do laundry, but we didn’t. In our toiletry bag we brought just the essentials, and these days my husband and I both just use our toddler’s baby shampoo/body wash, so we only have one small bottle of wash to use for the three of us from head to toe. We also all share her baby lotion. It makes for a lot less bottles to pack, and my hair is super soft these days! Then it’s just toothbrushes, toothpaste, a minimal amount of make-up, and of course a thermometer, children’s Tylenol, and teething relief (just in case). Packing smart, and light, minimizes hauling, and if flying domestically where each checked bag can cost $20 and up, it can save a lot of money.
- Streamline the diaper bag. I combine everything we need in the car/ airplane cabin (e.g. not checked or in the trunk) in one bag with immediate essentials, which includes snacks we’ll need for the duration of the trip, diapers and wipes, a few toys, a Kindle Fire and my lap top. That means we travel with one suitcase and one diaper/ carry-on bag for two adults and one child.
- Only bring the essentials. If you are traveling anywhere in the first world, if you really need another box of cereal or a second box of band-aids, there is a high likelihood that you’ll be able to find it pretty easily wherever you are. Bring only the bare essentials, and if you really must have something that we didn’t bring we go out and buy it. But usually we never do have to go out and buy something.
Next, we like to make the packing, organizing, and prep period a fun and engaging one, which tends to minimize everyone’s stress. I have involved my toddler since she was at least a year old in the packing process, and now – at two – she knows the drill. She gets to pick out her toys she wants to bring, as well as clothes. It’s a fun way to start talking about the trip, building excitement about the trip, and keep a little one engaged and feeling helpful instead of getting annoyed. We have done it the wrong way, mom and dad are flying around the house in a frenzy telling our toddler to stay out of the way, which inevitably leads to tears and melt downs. I’ve learned that preparing enough in advance and allowing time and patience for involving her in the packing process goes a long way to save sanity for all of us.
We also plan our travel around nap time. Oftentimes, the car or airplane engine humming does wonders to keep her asleep. Planning car and plane travel to depart before nap or sleeping time is one of the best ways we have found to make travel less stressful with our little one. She gets to rest well, we get adult time, and we have less time stuck in a moving vehicle of some sort that lends itself to boredom.
We also like to buy or make a new toy/activity that can be given to a toddler or small child mid-trip if things start to get boring. Something new to explore can be a great source of entertainment on a long trip for little ones. We wait to present the fun new “thing” whether it’s stickers, markers, or a magnifying glass, until she is just about ready to lose it out of boredom.
Lastly, we have leaped off our high horse and accepted that toddler television programming isn’t necessarily the worst of all evils, and isn’t going to make our daughter an unmotivated couch potato. She recently has become obsessed with Dora the Explorer, and we have happily loaded up numerous episodes onto the Kindle Fire. That means for the 1.5 hours she was awake for the car trip this past weekend she watched Dora. She was happy. We were happy. And she surprised us by counting to 10 in Spanish over the weekend, which we didn’t teach her, so it must have been Dora that did. She still is a ball full of curious delightful energy. The Kindle Fire has seriously been a sanity saving grace for traveling on long plane and road trips with our toddler. You can only get so far singing “Wheels on the Bus.”
The holidays are wonderful because they really can be just about gathering with the people we love, being thankful for all the joys and blessings in our lives, and nourishing ourselves with really yummy food. So when I do find myself getting stressed over traffic, packing, or another source of holiday family travel stress, I take a deep breath and re-center myself with a reminder of what really matters: my family enjoying peaceful, quality time together. I am thankful for having wonderful friends, family, and a spirited and energetic toddler to spend my holiday with. The rest of it really doesn’t matter.
Jessica Menon is a mom who travels internationally for work frequently to places such as India, South Africa, Paraguay, Nicaragua, and Jordan with her toddler and pregnant belly in tow. For more tips on traveling near and far, check out her blog, gypsymomma.com. You can find information on traveling pregnant, with babies, newborns, and toddlers, from health and safety tips and packing/ airline travel information to tips on successful breastfeeding on the go and balancing work with parenthood. You can also find her on Twitter and on Facebook.