When asked to talk about family travel at a recent Kaiser Health Fair, my mind spun immediately to Christmas 2011. We were in LA, visiting family, but staying at a hotel (which will remain nameless). The day we arrived, my then 4 year old Kai came down with the stomach flu, which of course spread to our then 5 month old Nikko, myself, and my husband. I had spend three consecutive days without sleep, helping each person in my family shuffle between the toilet and the bed, or cleaning up baby barf from the sheets. Even worse, without knowing it, our holiday gift to our families, our friends, and just about everyone else we came in contact with was a bout with the stomach flu. Needless to say, the awesome Kaiser docs we talked to numerous times throughout our sickness gave us confidence that this bug would pass. And it did. But not after the worst night: when my husband was basically sleeping on the bathroom floor of a tiny hotel room.
I am not even going to talk about the smell.
In the morning, our family rallied around the pool to try and eat some breakfast kindly brought over by grandpa. The two kids and I, still with queasy stomachs, decided we were ready to go for a swim, hopped on the elevator to get our suits. Somewhere between the third and fourth floors, the elevator jolted to a stop. As calmly as a queasy-stomached mom stuck in an elevator with a 4 year old and 5 month old both at the edge of a stomach flu could, I hit the emergency button, and was told that since it was Christmas day, the elevator repairman would not be able to be there for a bit. An hour later, the repairman was lost and the firemen arrived to break us out of the elevator.
I don’t tell you this story to scare you off of travel, this of course could happen at home. But I tell you this because inevitable things are going to go wrong on a vacation, as they do in life, but that should never sway you from experiencing the great big world with your children.
As you might have noticed, I am a big promoter of traveling with kids. Nothing is better at creating interesting humans who are global citizens than travel. My children have stayed in more hotel rooms than most grown ups I know. As a family we have visited Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Hawaii, Nevada and we are about to hit up Japan this summer.
Hitting the road with kids can be done in a healthy, safe, fun, and educational way. Here’s how.
Embrace the journey. When you are in the thick of the meltdown, encounter a delayed flight, or are stuck in traffic, it is hard to remember that this is part of the journey. These moments can often be the most memorable part. Your kids just want to be with you so take advantage of the close quarters to find a fun game or activity, to sing, or to talk about what you see. For example, when we were stuck in the elevator, we sang every song we knew, told stories and played charades. Kai remembers the experience as an adventure; I hold it close as a challenge I survived. For more on Airplane Tips with Toddlers, click here.
Lower your expectations. As adults we think we have to see and do everything. But kids don’t know the difference. You may miss riding bikes all the way across the Golden Gate Bridge, or skiing Squaw Valley for ten hours straight, or hammering through 16 hours of Disneyland, but at least you will all be in decent moods. Every day schedule unplanned time, or find time to relax. For them it is all good, and all over-stimulating. Try to break up the day and leave some time for everyone to recharge.
Also you must sleep. A lot. I cannot stress the benefit of getting plenty of sleep. And get some exercise every day. The best way to explore a new destination is to put on some walking shoes and huff it through town. Alternatively, you can really get to know a new locale by planning an adventure vacation (ie: kayaking Molokai, skiing the Alps, hiking Kilimanjaro)—your kids will learn so much and have fun.
Find teachable moments. Your children are learning about the world and vacations offer an educational glimpse into the lives of others. Sure, you can (and should if you have time and money) volunteer at a Thai orphanage, or clean up tsunami debris, but on a simpler level, you can also introduce your children to new types of food, teach them math by having them help with currency exchange, learn key phrases in another language, or jump into a pick up game of soccer with the locals. Even better, give the kids the guidebook and let them plan one of the travel days. Let the kids document the trip by allowing them to take photos (when you get home, they can help with the scrapbook).
Turn off devices as much as possible. There is nothing that ruins a vacation more than hearing about some work issue that you can do nothing about at the moment. Let your vacation be a holiday from the pressures of being on call 24/7. If you must stay in contact, schedule one time a day to check email, texts, etc. Be diligent. Your children, and your mental health, will thank you.
Finally, I cannot encourage you enough to have fun! Traveling with kids lets you open your eyes to the world in a fresh way. Enjoy it. Enjoy them. I have so many memories of my children that have only been accomplished because we were on the road, from seeing my child ride an elephant, or swim with sea turtles, to being able to pronounce and spot a humuhumunukunukuapuuaa. At the end of the day, even the rough times create family memories. But the good memories outshine even the most cherished ones from home.