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The Truth about Traveling with Children
Part II: The Difficult Years (9 – 24 Months)
By Tim Braheem
Most people agree that traveling is a wonderful experience. When it comes to traveling with children, however, the response isn't always so positive. If you read my first article, The Truth about Traveling with Children: Part I, you know where I stand. Does traveling with your kids require forethought and planning? Absolutely! Is it potentially one of the most rewarding experiences one can have as a parent? Without a doubt!
As I stated in my previous article, traveling with little ones is never easier than within the first nine months of their lives. You may be at the mercy of their schedule but, by planning ahead, you can avoid disaster and mitigate everyone's stress. Once they reach 9 to 24 months, however, things start to become more challenging.
During these months, children go through many changes. Early on, they're beginning to crawl but cannot yet walk. On the one hand, you have a child who's mobile enough to sneak away. On the other, their overall lack of mobility means you have to either carry them or place them in a stroller.
At about 12 months, your child's language is beginning to form but not to the point that they can tell you what they want. This inability to fully communicate is not only frustrating for all parties involved, it's also one of the major causes of the tantrums which frequently take place at this age.
Between 12 and 24 months, your child is most likely moving from 2 naps down to 1 per day. This wreaks havoc on their "schedule" and produces some of the most abject crankiness you've seen up to this point. To make matters worse, your child is also in the middle of cutting teeth. For most, they'll be cutting molars, the most painful part of the process.
I know that this seems like a lot of bad news but trust me, there's a lot of good news to come. I'll start by saying it's during these rougher years that you, as a parent, can groom your kids for a lifetime of traveling. For my wife, Anna, and me, we took this opportunity to look for various solutions which would allow us to follow our passion without excluding our children.
Packing and the Plane
A pricier alternative that provides quite a big bang for the buck is a portable DVD player. Since DVDs pack easily, be sure to bring a few old favorites as well as a movie your child hasn't seen yet. There's nothing like a double feature to make the time pass quickly.
In the spirit of catering to your child's schedule, it is of the utmost importance that you bring along plenty of snacks. Crackers, juice, and fruit top our list as they are always with us for any flight. However, given the current state of homeland security and corresponding FTA restrictions, it is advisable to check with your airline regarding which liquids are currently permissible.
When it comes to packing your child's necessities, you should place more emphasis on clothes than on baby food, diapers, and wipes. The latter can be purchased almost anywhere in the world, even en route from the airport to your hotel. Bringing them in abundance only adds weight to your suitcase. Clothes are a different story. Kids get dirty quickly and bringing more clothes means doing less laundry. Before I forget, be sure to stay at a hotel with either a laundry facility or service.
Another item you must be sure to bring along is a quality stroller. Whatever you do, don't make the mistake of bringing a smaller "umbrella" stroller in place of a larger model with sturdier wheels and more features. Many streets in Europe, as well as other destinations, are made of cobblestones or similar materials. The flimsy wheels on most umbrella strollers simply cannot handle anything but perfect terrain. Other features to look out for in a stroller would be a seat that reclines, a cover to shade your child from the sun, and plenty of storage for everything from necessities to souvenirs.
It's important to note that bringing along a well-equipped stroller is going to make your life a whole lot easier. Not only will it cut down on diaper bags and backpacks, it will transport your child in comfort and provide a suitable spot for them to nap. This will allow you freedom of mobility, as opposed to being holed up in a hotel room waiting for them to awaken. You should use your stroller throughout your trip, up until the point you board your plane. Then, fold it up and check it at the gate. It will be waiting for you outside the plane's hatch, upon your arrival.
If not for our stroller, many special moments shared by my wife and me would never have happened. We've taken four-hour excursions through the Louvre in Paris and several power walks along the beaches of Hawaii. We've gone on afternoon shopping sprees through Rome and even enjoyed a wonderful multi-course dinner in New Zealand. On every one of these occasions, we've had a sleeping child in tow and a great stroller to keep them comfortable.
Your Destination Equals Your Destiny
At the top of my list would be cruises. Just like your child, cruises have a very regimented schedule. The problem is that these two schedules very rarely match up. When my son, Trey, was 9-months old we took a cruise to the Caribbean. It was easily the worst travel experience we have ever had.
Another problem is that a ship's cabins tend to be on the smaller side, and, with kids in tow, they don't really allow for relaxation or privacy. However, I would like to say that when Trey turned 4, our family had a very good time on a cruise to Alaska. At this age, he was able to partake in the on-board kid's club which was a great adventure for him and gave us a chance to enjoy the ship's other amenities.
Regarding kid's clubs in general, as long as your child is still in diapers they will not be allowed in. If the kid's club is a factor in your choice of destination, your child will need to be potty-trained in order to make use of it.
Something else you should probably avoid is any destination that is excessively hot. Your child will be most comfortable in weather that's between 75 and 80 degrees. Lastly, stay away from big cities that aren't conducive to walking.
In terms of positive destinations, beaches with moderate weather are a wonderful choice. Kids love the beach, and that's one reason my family really enjoys our trips to Hawaii. The islands are all about kicking back and relaxing, just how a vacation should be. We always book a room that's close to either the beach or pool. This way we can make our way back and forth with ease, for everything from necessities to naps.
Great walking cities, especially ones with nice parks, are another great choice of destinations. One of my favorite memories is watching my children (5 and 2 at the time) roll down the grass hills of Killarney Park in Ireland. The best part about a trip to the park is that it's free! A close second would be wearing out your kids through physical activity. They have a blast and then nap like angels while you and your partner get to do a little sightseeing.
Wherever you choose to go, be sure to plan your day around your child's schedule. In terms of the trip itself, you may want to think about adding a day or two to your vacation. Because bringing your kids on vacation means everyone moves at a slower pace, the extra days will give you just enough time to do all the things you want.
A Few Last Tips
Hiring a babysitter while on vacation can be very helpful. Most large hotel chains can provide you with a list of reliable babysitters prior to your arrival. I would suggest interviewing several candidates via phone and reserving the services of whomever you choose. My wife and I have used babysitters in Paris, Hawaii, Rome, as well as on cruise ships, and never had a problem.
Lastly, be sure to bring along multiple pacifiers, blankets, cuddly toys, or anything else that may provide comfort to your child. I'll never forget the day I walked two miles to retrieve my daughter's lone stuffed animal, inadvertently left on the roof of the Duomo in Milan. Divine intervention was on our side, and the giraffe was still there. Needless to say, the remainder of our stay in Italy was magnifico.
In my next article, we'll examine vacationing with children who are 3-5 years old. Until then, I wish you and your family the happiest of travels.
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