You walk down the aisle of the plane to your seat; 16D, the bulkhead seat with the bassinet of course, and plop down four bags; the cooler bag of bottles, a tote with the five favorite Dr. Seuss books, a diaper bag, and one with a change of clothes for the inevitable spit up or blow out. You had to check your own bag with a book and headphones, but you won’t need these anyway. You planned the flight perfectly; it boards right before normal bedtime. As you set your baby down on the bassinet for bedtime that should last the full flight, you silently congratulate yourself for pulling this off. You’re not going to be the person who brings a crying baby onto an overnight flight. Then… disaster… You realize you forgot to bring Sophie right as your child begins to stir and sniffle. It’s going to be a long flight. Parents who fail to plan, especially for a long trip, should plan to fail.
Preparing for a trip with children, whether infants, toddlers, or teenagers requires considerable planning beyond just what to bring. You’re going to need to do the most research you’ve done since those late nights in the library before your college finals. At least now you’ll have the internet and won’t be distracted by the study group at the next table over. So grab some coffee because you’re going to need to do some post-bedtime studying to get ready. You’re going to need to figure these out.
Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about the destination – Drake
The poet laureate of Canada must be talking about traveling without kids. For parents, planning ahead teaches you about the destination. If you’re only learning about it while on the journey, you’re in for some surprises. Surprises mean trouble. Take time to plan ahead. Research not only your destination, but the transit options, restaurants, and even local cultures. Getting denied at a restaurant isn’t the best time to learn that a certain culture doesn’t tolerate children at dining establishments.
We have clearance, Clarence. Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor? – Airplane
The plane ride may be the part you think most about as a parent. How will you deal with a screaming child? What toys and entertainment do you need to bring? How will you get formula through security? These are the obvious parts. You also need to plan ahead for the logistics. Different airlines have different rules about the bulkhead seats and bassinets. Some offer it as a regular seat booking, others charge the premium upgrade, and some just won’t let you book it. We found that some hold the seats as first come, first serve seats for whichever parents get to the gate first. This sounds like madness to me and is clearly worth paying a bit more to have it guaranteed. Others told us that the seats could not be guaranteed, while the same airline later told us that we could book it no problem as that row is held for parents and doesn’t require additional cost. Do your research online for the airline, but be prepared to call, sometimes multiple times to get the answer you want. Don’t forget about the price of the ticket and luggage as well. Some airlines, but not all will only charge a small, often 10% fee for children who can sit on your lap and even give a free checked bag for international flights, while other may charge full fare. You will probably gate-check the stroller, but with a child, you probably have more luggage than you did before becoming a parent, so take this cost into account. Also look for flights that line up with bedtime, normal naptimes, or mealtimes. During these times you know you at least have a chance of getting your seatmate to sleep or calm. A flight isn’t a good time to impose new rules or schedules on children. If not sleepy, try to save feedings until takeoff and for landing as the sucking / chewing will help equalize the pressure in ears.
I’m at the hotel, motel, Holiday Inn – Pitbull
Mr. Worldwide may have exquisite taste in colored linen trousers, but don’t trust his hotel accommodation choices with kids. It’s easy to assume all hotels will be accommodating to children, but many are totally unprepared. Sure, you can probably get away with a temporary bed or divider in a regular bed, but you need sleep, your kid needs sleep, so you need to do better. At least find a place that can supply a bassinet or a pack and play. Location is also important as you don’t want to schlep all the way across town to see the sights. You’re probably not going to need the best equipped fitness center. Pushing a stroller is your workout for the trip. You’ll also probably need to call to confirm the pricing rules and make sure you reserve whatever bedding is available.
You make me want to roll my windows down, and cruise – Florida Georgia Line
Taking a cruise can actually work out very well with children. Cruises let you see lots of new places, while keeping a fairly well defined and stable schedule and a consistent spot for sleep each night. You can grab food whenever you need at the buffets or dining rooms. On a scenic cruise, you are in a new place everyday when you wake up, even when your kids wake you up super early. Before you cruise, it’s worth a call to the cruise line to confirm the rate for kids and get set up with whatever bedding you need. Some cruise lines charge full fare for babies which is ridiculous. Make sure you’re getting a reduced fare. Many of the shore excursions may also charge full cost for a seat even for tiny kids. Try to find those with different prices or ones that are bus or boat based which often don’t charge for children under a certain age. A set time for dinner is a good idea to make sure you have a regular seat, but be flexible if you can’t make every night. Some nights the buffet is your friend.
Oh the places you’ll see! – Dr. Seuss
The two main factors to research in sights and activists are cost and logistics. For the most part, you’re not going to want to pay full price for any attractions for any child, and for those under 4, almost everything should be free. Check on ticket prices online and make reservations ahead where possible as you’ll likely save money and might miss out on some attractions otherwise. Logistics are also critical because you’ll probably be carting a stroller around constantly. Outdoor activities are great in nice weather, but you might need an indoor backup too. City walks and walking tours are perfect to see the city and keep kids calm, engaged, and tire them out. Remember you’ll be pushing a stroller or carrying them though, so you might want to skip that ten mile hike. Bus tours might be good to keep them calm as well, but remember that you will be stuck on there, possibly with a crying child for a while.
We were on a break! Ross Geller
Before becoming a parent, you probably planned days around meals, when you’d go out, or show times. As a parent, plan around naps. Meals are important too, but a bit easier to cram in while on the move. Naps cannot and should not wait. Miss nap time and your day will be ruined. Hit it just right, and you might be able to get something you want in, like a museum or show. Just be prepared to bail if they wake up screaming. Make sure you get in a few breaks too. You’ll probably be on your feet for most of the day and pushing around a human being for a good portion too. Grab some coffee and take a seat, find benches, and take a load off when you can. Playgrounds can work well for this. So can coffee places or even bars where you can get a drink, sit down, warm up or cool down, and even get your kids fed if needed.
The measure of intelligence is the ability to change – Albert Einstein
If you take one principle with you for a trip with kids, let it be flexibility. Before kids, we were planners down to the minute for our trips. We would calculate exact driving times, leave buffers of no more than five minutes between activities, and schedule exactly how much downtime we’d have. Without kids, this can work, but with them, it’s a recipe for frustration and disappointment. Make a plan, but leave some buffer times and time to relax. Include breaks between tours and activities. Plan to stop for drinks and food more often than you might think is necessary. Be ready to change plans too when needed. The minute you see a yawn, find a place to get settled for a nap. Especially when dealing with jet lag, be ready with food and for frequent naps. The key is to observe and adapt. Enjoy the location and sights, but don’t miss warning signs from your children.
You can travel and have a great time with small children, you just need to plan ahead and be prepared. Do your research ahead of time and make a plan. Document this plan and do your best to stick to it, but be ready to change when needed. Kids can react in unique and interesting ways to new sights and time zone changes. Make sure you get as much set up in advance of your visit as possible because once at your destination, you don’t want to have to worry about logistics. Call ahead, many places may be more helpful on a call than their websites would be. Put in the legwork ahead of time and you’ll have the whole vacation to relax and enjoy the special time with your children.