“What do you mean you are taking your children to Jordan?”
It was a comment I heard often when I spoke of my recent trip to the small Middle Eastern country, bordered by unrest.
At just 5 and 3-years-old, my boys have been on more planes than many adults. Travel has always been a part of my life and I was not about to let marriage, a mortgage and a family get in the way of my passion.
Despite my changing priorities - an epic full moon party on a Thai beach, baby in tow, hardly tops my bucket list, and there is no way a toddler is going to let me lay by the pool with a good book all afternoon - it doesn't mean that I am no longer able to travel and share my passion with my growing family. It just takes some special planning.
Tackling the packing list
We were fortunate to take our first overseas trip from Vancouver to London when our oldest was 10 months old. It was our first trip with a baby and you should have seen the luggage!
Our 9-day honeymoon to French Polynesia a few years earlier included a suitcase for me and a suitcase for my husband. Mine was filled with shoes, dresses, bathing suits and what I now consider enough for a month.
Now, our packing list with an infant meant that all that room was going to be used up by a little person wearing tiny clothes! Gone were the six pairs of shoes, replaced with a small can of formula, two days of diapers, a few cans of baby food, and a box of rice cereal.
And that's not all...not even close. My carry-on no longer held the latest magazines, a pack of M&Ms, headphones and a book. Instead, a baby carrier, a receiving blanket to breastfeed modestly, assorted puffs, yogurt melts and mum-mums, a sippy cup, a day's worth of diapers and two changes of baby clothes left no room for mom.
Did I mention the car seat we packed? We were renting a car and after spending weeks Googling and reading rental car horror stories, I was convinced we needed to bring our own.
Now that I have probably freaked you out entirely, the prepping and the planning and the worrying was the worst part! Our 10-month-old did great! He slept on my lap on the plane, he was happy to sit on my knee as we rode the double-decker bus around the streets of London, and was content to sit in a high chair while we enjoyed a beer at a local pub.
Actually, infant travel is...
Sometimes the struggle of just getting out of the house in the morning with an infant seems almost impossible. Now consider the thought of being stuck in a flying aluminum tube for multiple hours, dealing with recycled germ-filled air, staying in unknown hotel rooms, navigating local transportation, and experiencing a foreign culture and food. Does it sound absolutely intimidating?
Actually, travel with an infant is pretty good! Why? They do not have opinions about what they want to see, they are content to be held by mom or dad, and as long as they are fed and clothed, they are as happy as they are at home!
Practice makes proficient
Now that the boys are 5 and 3, we have travel and packing nearly perfected! Yes, we still need more than just a backpack, and our destinations are ones the whole family will enjoy, but we make the most of our travel choices. I would love to spend a few weeks (or more) travelling Europe, but that will wait until long stretches of bus and train travel is easier. Little kids do not do well being cooped up day after day.
Pick your paradise
We often venture to beach destinations on non-stop flights, such as San Diego or Hawaii. They're places where we can have fun in the sun, enjoy the water and relax together. However, these vacations are not solely the result of our kids' inability to sit still on an airplane for hours on end. Rather, they're about the realities of having a mortgage and jobs back home.
Our vacations do not currently involve multi-day hiking, biking or extreme adventures. But that does not mean we do not explore exotic places. I just returned from a whirlwind week in Jordan with the boys, and although there was a bit too much car travel for their liking, we all survived the almost 24 hours of travel. They were able to ride donkeys in Petra, explore the desert in the back of a 4x4 truck, and try local eats, such as falafel and hummus. As adults, we marveled at the ancient cities. Sure, there was a lot of history that the little ones did not fully comprehend, but we are able to interpret and share with them the parts they could grasp.
Travel Wisdom From Real Globetrotting Parents
Here's what other globetrotting parents have to say about travelling with little ones:
“Travelling with infants and toddlers compared to pre-kids, means being more prepared. We don't wing things as much, creating packing lists and pre-planning more details. On the flip side, since kids are unpredictable even with the best planning, travelling with them so young also led to us be less anxious when things didn't go as planned. There's no better moment to "go with the flow" than when travelling with infants and toddlers.”
- Carrie Anne Watson-Badov, Toronto Ontario
“Once our first child came into the picture, my wife and I were determined to continue our tradition of adventure travel. It became our challenge to find ways to share those experiences with our son. The logistics did change, big-time. For instance, we are avid hikers, so we invested in a great kid-carrier so that we could include him. We also spend as much time teaching our kids to snorkel and ski, as we do the activities ourselves. Now that our two boys are older (3 & 5), we open our travel locations to their suggestions. They come up with crazy and amazing ideas, and we want to encourage their own taste for adventure.
- Kevin Wager, Brampton Ontario
“It's been lots of fun doing touristy things that we were too cool to do pre-kids. Now that our children are older, we realize we were much freer when they were smaller, because with school and activities being more demanding, we are now among the masses, squeezing everything in during summer and school holidays!”
“It was easy to travel with babies before they started walking. They would be happy napping in a stroller or being in a baby carrier. When our kids started to walk, we had to do more adjustments and we would always make sure the kids got ample time to move around and play.”
- Kari Marie Svenneby, Toronto Ontario
“For our family, we found that the best way to travel with our baby was to stick to our schedule, even if that meant missing out on the night time scene of a town. A happy baby meant a happy mom during the day.
When travelling with toddlers, we make sure to add in at least one kid friendly activity each day. It can be as simple as finding a fountain to play in, playground, or other space for your kids to just be kids, not travellers.”
A final word
One of the things that I have realized about travelling with kids, is that there are kids in every country. There are diapers available (almost) anywhere. There are snacks that your kids will eat (even if it takes a few tries); there are places to run and play; and there is a way to make your holiday enjoyable for your kids and yourself. That being said, there is work involved. I am not going to say that travel is a relaxing walk in the park, but neither is parenting. Once you are a parent, it does not matter which country you are in. Rested, entertained and fed kids will be happy almost anywhere!
Do you globe-trot with your young children?
Tell us your best travel wisdom - comment below!