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The Truth about Traveling with Children
Part I: Infants (0-9 Months)
By Tim Braheem
For many couples, traveling is a wonderful opportunity for adventure. Taking vacations around the globe brings them closer together as they share new experiences. Then, one day, their first child is born. While they are ecstatic about the new addition to their lives, thoughts of exotic vacations seem to fade away quickly.
"It's too much of a hassle, let's just stay home." "We can wait until the kids go off to school, and we'll travel when we retire." "I don't want to spend the money, they won't appreciate it." "My kids will never be able to make it, the flight is too long. We'll just stay home for the summer." Do you or your friends ever utter these phrases? Do you have a desire to see the world, but feel that you're limited as a result of your parental restrictions?
A Little Background
Over the next several months our travels continued, including Costa Rica, London, and Turkey. We even went on safari in Kenya where the Masai Mara presented us with the Big Five (lion, water buffalo, leopard, elephant and rhino) up close and personal. Did I mention we were addicted? Then the day came.
"Honey, it says that I am!" "Oh my God, we're going to be parents! I can't believe it!" Our son, Trey, was officially a seed in my wife's belly. Our lives were sure to change. What will be different? Well, for one, we can't go to nice restaurants anymore. Movies are not an option. We better call Linda, our travel agent, and let her know that we won't be booking any more big vacations.
Then we thought about it and realized that travel was our passion, and we didn't want to give it up! That is when we made a pact. A pact as sacred as our marriage vows. We will travel with our children. They will see the world with us. Children are resilient and will adapt to the environment that they become used to. Would this turn out to be true or the delusion of two young, myopic adults?
Trey is now seven and Olivia, our second child, is now four. If you open Trey's United States Passport, you will see that he has visited a number of places including New Zealand, Italy, Croatia, Greece, France, Ireland, Spain, Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, and the Caribbean! Olivia's resume is not quite as robust, but she is not far behind. While there have been occasional bumps in the road, the joy that these adventures have brought to our family has been immense.
I'd like to share with you some of the essential strategies for successfully traveling with children. It's my hope that you will take the plunge and learn, as we have, that it's not only possible but also very enjoyable.
This first article will discuss traveling with infants. In future issues, we will discuss travel tips for ages 9 months–2 years, 3–5 years, 5–7 years, and traveling with two children!
Traveling with Infants
Planning Your Trip
Cruises are not a good travel choice when vacationing with an infant. When Trey was only eight months old, we embarked upon an eight-day cruise to the Caribbean. This will go down as one of the most difficult and least enjoyable trips as a family. Problem number one is the nature of a cruise. Cruises have a regimented itinerary which tends to conflict with your child's routine.
I had grand ideas of our day trips in St. Martin, Barbados, and Antigua. We would get off the boat at 8:00 am and come back aboard in the late afternoon. You've already heard me state it, and it bears mentioning again, surrender to your infant's itinerary! The weather was warm, the crowds were loud and large, and we simply had no options since we were off the boat and our cabin was miles away. We were trapped, and it wasn't fun.
Cruises also don't afford you with the most spacious room accommodations. Having a little elbow room with strollers, cribs, and children's toys never hurts in assuring your comfort.
Should you choose to ignore my advice about avoiding cruises, a tip would be to secure a babysitter as soon as you get on the ship. Babysitting is typically provided by moonlighting waitresses or cabin maids. We've had great success with this practice. It's important to use the same sitter every night, so be sure to mention this up front to ensure your child's comfort.
For that matter, most reputable hotels have babysitting services that they work with and, if you call in advance, the front desk will typically fax you a list of candidates who you can contact and interview. Once again, we always try to get the same person for the duration of our vacation.
For the benefit of your sitter and your peace of mind, we would suggest that you have dinner at your hotel or somewhere very close for the first evening. This will ensure that you'll return at a reasonable hour in the event that the sitter or your child needs your assistance. We've used sitters for our children on over fifty occasions and have never had a bad experience.
Get them up on their normal schedule, and make your way to the airport at a measured pace. Remember that traveling with a little one will take you longer when you factor in the stroller, diaper changes, and periodic feedings.
Speaking of diaper changes and airplanes, here is a critical tip for you. Upon boarding the airplane, be sure to ask the flight attendant WHICH bathrooms on the plane have changing tables!
I will never forget the predicament I encountered with Trey on a flight to Hawaii. He was three months old, and we were in a standard bathroom with no changing table. While attempting to change his diaper on the only flat surface available, we suddenly hit a solid stretch of air turbulence. I'll spare you the details, but the results were not pretty!
Our children were addicted to their pacifiers when they were infants. Be sure to bring enough pacifiers along with you on your holiday. Nothing would ruin a good day more rapidly than Trey or Olivia crying for their "binky" that was left on the plane, on the beach, or in the restaurant. Make sure you bring extras.
Trust us on one thing for sure, don't go cheap on your stroller! For starters, it takes virtually the same amount of effort to travel with a standard model as it does with a rickety little umbrella fold-up. Certain locations, such as Europe, "scream" for a stroller with sturdy wheels because of the old, cobblestone streets.
Other helpful stroller add-ons include: a covered top for shade; a cup holder; an eating tray; the ability to recline the seat back for naps; and lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a basket down below to function as your travel shopping cart, camera bag, and backpack! We often joke about the fact that we will still use a stroller, even when our children don't need one, for many of these same reasons!
I will never forget the day we had in Paris with Trey, when he was a little guy. We were able to spend four hours at the Louvre and take a nap under the Eiffel Tower together due the versatility of our four-wheeled friend and our knowledge of when his nap hour was likely to occur.
This same practice can be applied to meal times as well. For example, if your child goes to bed at 7:30 every night, then schedule dinner for 8:00. Take a long walk with the stroller, perhaps window shopping in the fresh air, while they doze off at their regularly scheduled time. Select a quieter restaurant to ensure that your baby does not wake up. (We all know how tough it can be to get them back down!) Also, make sure that you have an extra bottle handy for any late night snacks. We would often cover the stroller with a baby blanket to ensure that the lighting was dim enough for proper rest.
In conclusion, vacationing with infants can be a very pleasurable experience. Hopefully, these tips will enable you to continue your love affair with travel as your family grows! In my next column, I'll be providing travel tips for children ranging from 9 months to 2 years. Until then, happy travels!
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