Monday, November 25, 2013

Tips for Traveling with babies/toddlers - 2013 Edition

This was originally published on my personal blog on August 6, 2013.

Just because you have a baby or toddler (or three) doesn't mean you can't get out of the house and have fun anymore. It may take a little extra work and planning, but it is possible to travel with small children and have a great time.

Here are some tips that Brandon and I came up with after taking our 3 kids - who are all under the age of three - on our adventures this past year. Things we've done include an interstate move, a 5 day road trip, several day trips to areas of interest, and two overnight camping trips.

It Gets Easier
Let's start off on a positive note - vacationing with kids gets easier over time. Sure vacationing with toddlers is still no walk in the park, but trust me it is much less work than vacationing with babies. Over the course of the last year all three of my kids have started sleeping through the night. They also all gave up binkies and bottles. And my son learned how to walk. It's so easy to pack for them now that I only have to remember to bring clothes and diapers.

But You Still Need To Admit That It Will Be Hard
This was rule number 1 from the 2012 Edition of this post. And it's still a very important rule. You're bringing along a small person who isn't very much help - even though they think they are. If you are expecting sunshine and rainbows the whole time you are in for a big disappointment. There will still be crying, and tantrums, and fights, and sleep deprivation. The trick is to expect those things. They are a normal part of life - they don't go away just because you left the house. What is different is the setting.

I look at it this way, we could either be home and dealing with a difficult child moment. Or we could be on an adventure and dealing with a difficult child moment. At least by doing something new there is a higher possibility of creating a really cool memory.

Beware the Pre-and Post Activity Meltdowns
Here is a little warning that goes along those same lines. I don't know about you and your kids, but my kids always seem to go a little nuts during the hours leading up to something fun. Maybe it's because they can sense the excitement in the air. Maybe its because they feel overlooked while my husband and I rush around doing last minute packing. Whatever it is, the kids always seem crankier and clingier right before we do something fun. It's almost enough for me to say, "Well if that's how you are going to act then we won't go." (I haven't said it yet, but I am always tempted.)

Also, whenever we get home from an adventure the kids always get really whiny and spend a lot of time crying. I refer to it as "the detox."  I'm sure it's just because they are worn out/dehydrated/overstimulated, but it still is annoying. I usually think dark thoughts like, "we are never taking you kids anywhere again if this is how you will act afterward." But I forget all about it within a few days and start looking up new places to visit.

What makes it worth it, is the fun we have between the crankiness. The morning of the day we took the kids to SeaWorld the kids were driving me crazy. We ended up just putting them in the car so I could finish packing up the stuff we needed for the day. If we didn't have tickets for that exact date I might have scraped the whole thing. But once we got moving they calmed down. And they were great the whole time we were in the park. The highlight of the day was when we were splashed by a whale during a show. The girls have talked about that moment EVERY SINGLE day since then. Totally worth the 30 minutes of crankiness in the morning.

Find Free Things To Do
One way to avoid getting grumpy about your kids being grumpy is to do free things. That way you aren't out any money if thing go south in a hurry. And kids have short attention spans. The last thing you want to do is pay an arm and a leg for something only to have your kids spend less than 5 minutes enjoying it. I love to do a google search for "free things to do in ____" and see what comes up.

Kids Under 3 Years Old Get Free Admission to Most Places
If you can't find anything truly free to do then take advantage of the fact that your little ones won't cost anything to participate. I love that we can go on a family outing and only have to pay for Brandon and me. It makes going places with the kids in tow worth all the work. It also makes it worth the risk of the kids not liking the activity.

When we were in San Antonio we went on a boat ride on the river that runs through the city. The kids didn't really like the boat ride and it was kind of a crazy 20 minutes, but hey, they rode for free so who cares?

Move at Their Pace
There is an exception to the short attention span thing - little kids love doing things that we adults find super boring. I've lost count of how many piles of rocks my son has had the time of his life playing with. It is so tempting to say something like, "come on kids, lets get going. We have something really fun to do." When the twins are already having a lot of fun pretending to cook food on a tree stump.

So don't get so caught up in scheduling a bunch of activities that you forget to just enjoy the moments that happen. (This applies at home as well as on vacation.)

Do Things That Your Kids Will Enjoy
There certainly is a time and a place for teaching your kids to love the things that you love. I'm all for that, but don't forget to do things that they enjoy too. This is a family vacation after all.

I'm not a huge animal lover, but my kids are. I know that a trip to the zoo will make their month. So in the last year we have gone on 4 trips to zoos and that's not counting SeaWorld.

You probably won't be able to do everything that you want to do and still have functioning kids and brain cells by the end of the day. Make sure you know what is most important to you and your kids and make it happen. Then have 2 or 3 other activities that you can do if time and tempers permit. If there are things that don't make the list at all just save them for later.

I really wanted to go see a cave while we were on vacation in March. But every tour I looked at cost at least $19 per person and lasted over an hour. My son wasn't walking yet and would have had to ride in a front pack. Neither my husband nor I wanted to pay that kind of money to lug that kind of weight around - plus keep track of the girls. So going in a cave got shelved for the time being.

Build the Hype
In the days leading up to our adventures I always tell the kids a little bit about where were are going and what to expect. If we have to drive a long way to get there I will tell them that too. I let them know if we will be staying over night. And most of all I try to get them really excited for what we will be doing. I love to show them the websites for places that we plan to go. Zoo websites are especially fun because they usually have videos or live feeds of their exhibits. I don't know how many times the twins wanted to watch the penguin webcam that Sea World has on their site.

Bring Water
Nothing will ruin your fun faster than a dehydrated baby (or adult for that matter.) Make sure you and your kids drink lots of water. And don't just assume there will be drinking fountains around that you can drink out of. Little kids have a hard time drinking out of fountains (but they love playing with them.) Also you'll want water handy at all times, not just when you happen to be near a fountain.

Bring Sunblock and Bug Spray
I know skin cancer is a big problem and all, but my main motivation for putting sunblock on my kids is that I don't want to deal with a sunburned baby. Yes it's kind of a hassle to slather it on 3 kids and keep track of who has been covered and who hasn't yet - but I always tell myself that it's better than trying to doctor a sunburned back while travelling.

Bring Caffeine
My husband and I aren't big caffeine drinkers. But we've learned that we usually need a Dr Pepper when we are going on extended trips with the kids. There are just too many late nights and early mornings when new places are involve. Sometimes we are smart and buy the Dr Pepper when we are grocery shopping for food to bring on the trip, but usually we realize we NEED it and end up paying a premium price at some gas station.

Bring Fun Food
Food is one of my favorite ways to splurge. It's also a really cheap and clutter free way to make the kids feel special. For the Fourth of July my husband and I bought some root beer in cans for everyone. The girls thought those cans were so cool. Every time we talked about going to see the fireworks the girls would say, "and drink root beer!" Now the girls have added "go see fireworks" to the many little games they play. They re-enact everything we did that night. Including drinking root beer.

Plan Simple Meals
While we are talking about food let me tell you that you need to make your meals as simple and as fast as possible. Save the elaborate stuff for when the kids are older and can help.

Powdered Milk Travels Well
This doesn't apply to me right now (hallelujah), but powdered milk is my secret weapon. Instead of bringing regular milk and trying to keep it cool all the time I just pre-measure powdered milk into the kids' bottles. Then when they need milk I just add water, shake, and voila - milk. It's basically the same concept as formula. In fact, I put the powdered milk into an old formula can and just used the same scoop. I even used the same 1 scoop to 2 ounces of water rule that applies to formula. It probably made really milky milk, but the kids never complained.

Diaper Wipes Are Great
One day in the distant future my kids will be out of diapers. Even then I plan to still carry a pack of wipes with me. Those things are amazing. They clean up everything - even sticky marshmallow and chocolate s'more goo.

Have a Back-up Bag
I always pack my diaper bag (I recently discovered that I like using a back pack when we are on adventures) with enough diapers, wipes, snacks, whatever to last the day. That's the bag that goes with me EVERYWHERE. Then I have another bag with more of everything that stays in the car. I replenish the diaper bag with supplies from the bag up bag as needed.

Bring Toys
The kids all have their special babies and animals that they like to have around. I'm getting pretty good at doing a mental checklist that goes something like this, "okay I have my 3 kids, 1 monkey, 3 bears, and 2 baby dolls." I also will grab random toys from the toy room so the kids will have things to play with in the car.

I do set some boundaries though. The kids know that the three stuffed rabbits "like to stay home." And when we get out of the car we usually leave all the toys inside. (There are exceptions to this though, as evidenced by my daughter's big bear in all the pictures of us at the capital building in Austin.)

Take Pictures
As a final word of advise. Make sure you take pictures of your fun (and even the not so fun) moments. You and your kids will love looking at them afterward. My camera is always in the diaper bag, and the battery charger is usually in the car. The kids expect to have their pictures taken a lot. When we get home we download the camera and the kids point to their pictures and talk about what they were doing.

And that's what it really all boils down to - making memories. I know that one day my kids won't remember all these crazy things they did when they were not even 3 years old. But Brandon and I will. And we will be able to look back on these years and know that we had a lot of fun and did some really cool things with our little family.

Want more tips for vacationing with little kids?  Read these:

Tips for vacationing with babies - 2012 edition

25 Travel tips for Roadtrips with Pre-schoolers

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I would love to hear what you think. Did I get it right, or was I dead wrong? What was your experience like?


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