Thursday, October 4, 2012

Traveling with Children

I have heard many people talk about putting off traveling while their kids were small or while they had kids at all. Traveling with children IS challenging:
-You DO have to plan everything in advance if you want things to go smoothly,
-You DO have to be flexible to changing those plans,
-You DO have to go slower and break things down into more manageable chunks for little ones, and
-You do get glared at by other people when the kids get tired and cranky and cry... but it enriches life in so many other ways that we think it's worth all of this to travel with children. Along our journeys, we've come up with a few common sense tips that (sometimes) work for our family.

-Always pack snacks. We usually brought a bag of fruit and sandwich makings when we drove the morning in the car to get to our next destination. Since Talia both fills up and gets hungry very quickly, this worked well to keep from stopping and spending money every time she got hungry.

 -Travel during the baby's nap time whenever possible. Elias is still taking a morning nap, which worked great with our road trip across Spain and Portugal; we drove all morning and the car noises helped him stay asleep. Usually. Then there are the occasional times it was raining and we couldn't find our destination and he was screaming. We recommend packing earplugs and investing in a GPS...;) No, actually, you have to remember to be flexible and willing to go slower and take more breaks with little ones so that they can enjoy the trip too.

-Pack a variety of things to do. When the baby wakes up we tried to make sure he had something to play with. Talia has a backpack with magnet games, books, colors, and a fold up paper dollhouse. Occasionally she is allowed to use the Reading Rainbow application on the iPad. Elias likes listening to the stories read out loud too. Eventually, even if you dole out the entertainment sparingly, they'll still get bored and get to learn how to make life interesting. Talia usually does this by making a very creative mess. For example, during one experience where she discovered her own entertainment, I looked in the back seat and noticed she had ripped a napkin into a million pieces to create clothes for her fingers to make them into puppets. Her puppet show was pretty funny and it wasn't difficult to vacuum it all up and at the time it was better to focus on the creativity than the mess.

 -Burn energy whenever possible. When we did stop for gas, food or to walk around, we tried to pack as much activity into those times as possible. Elias is able to walk if I hold his hands and Talia likes to run around; sometimes we race. Stairs are great. We try to sit as little as possible when out of the car.

 -Plan the trip in manageable chunks. No matter how well-behaved your children are, they still have a hard time being calm for long periods of time. Elias still needs to nurse, Talia needs time to get energy out if she's going to sleep at night, so 4-5 hours is about as much as they can take in the car at a time. (Me too!) We tried to plan our trip where we could spread our traveling out over time instead of huge monster trips in the car that took whole next day to recover from.

-Maintain a sense of humor. Like most aspects of parenting, traveling with a good dose of humor smooths so many things. Ben and Talia are always making up funny songs or playing with words and comparisons. When the baby cries and Talia kicks the back of the seat for the 15th time, sometimes we just have to laugh and remember they will not be little forever. Well, we do our best...

Traveling brings to life so many sights, languages and cultures that kids read about. If reading opens their world to ideas, how much more potent are experiences that are set in all sorts of different contexts? Having the experience of traveling as a basis for learning widens their ability to understand what they read and hear about and reestablishes many things they've already learned. One of the most important lessons we see our kids learning along with us is how people, while different in many ways, share many things in common all over the world. The world is bigger than one city, one experience or one culture but yet smaller and more connected than many are ever able to realize. Traveling lets our kids see which things are cultural, and which things are moral in any context. Racism and stereotypes are not as easily held in the mind of a person who has traveled, especially a child, because they have seen first-hand how different cultures have done things just as well or better than others; they discover more than one way to do many things. I do believe in absolutes, and that a child is able to see them more clearly with a broader world view.

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