American writer, Robert Benchley once said, “In America, there are two classes of travel: first class, and with children.”
Sure traveling with kids definitely has its challenges, from remembering to pack their bedtime lovey to throwing off naptime schedules to figuring out how to handle a picky eater in a hotel room. However, the rewards of family bonding, cultural encounters, and global awareness greatly outweigh the challenges, in turn creating unforgettable trips and memories that last a lifetime for kids and parents alike.
Around here, we don’t think it's ever too early to become a traveler. But it's one thing to say you're taking the toddler to Thailand; it's another thing to figure out how to do it — and get them to like it. So how can you show your kids the world — and create flexible, curious, intelligent, well-rounded individuals in the process? For now, focus on the fun. They’ll have time to hike the Great Wall of China and/or explore The Louvre in Paris when they’re older. If you focus on the fun now, the love of travel will be quick to follow.
When I look back, I smile at the advice I gave some friends of ours a few years ago: “start traveling as soon as possible – before that precious bundle of joy knows any better”. Babies get used to what they’re used to. I smile because I’m glancing over at my tantrum-throwing toddler in the backseat as we’re getting ready to board a 12-passenger plane from Wichita, KS to Grove, OK. And now I know to add to the end of that advice: “and understand that you won’t always be able to make them happy”. (Although, a lollipop always seems to do the trick in our case).
If you want an excited explorer, don't take him/her on The Bataan Memorial Death March.
Travel is supposed to be fun. But for a toddler, three art galleries and one guided tour through a museum, is just NOT fun. Art is everywhere. From streetcorners to local parks and cafes. There is a way to engage and teach without overloading. Get your toddler excited about the upcoming vacation. Show them pictures online of the giant bathtub (ocean) or the characters from Madagascar 1, 2, and 3 (to prepare for a safari ride). Moderation is key when cultivating a traveling toddler.
If you’re flying across the country, pick an overnight flight. Most little ones will sleep through the noise of the plane. If you’re taking a red-eye, allow an extra day for jet lag when flying west to east. A happy child-traveler is an amused, well-fed, rested child.
Never let your toddler see you sweat.
If they sense your uneasiness in the customs line in Tokyo, your fear of the change in cabin pressure on a long flight, or intimidation towards your dinner plate in Africa, they will no doubt pick up on it, in turn raising their anxiety level. Teach your children to go with the flow. Be the most enthusiastic traveler your child has ever seen. Resilient travelers are made, not born.
Try starting at the gift shop.
Let your toddler buy something from the local shop to add to their souvenir collection. I’ve come to realize that when I start at the gift shop and get the buying experience out of the way, my children have always been much more focused. That tin metal airplane my son bought from the toy museum in Prague was the best $20 we’ve ever spent. For me it’s always a Christmas ornament for the tree. A happy mom is a mom that gets to spend money. Okay … maybe that’s just my mantra. But still. It works.
Drop the “we’re suppose to do this” mentality when traveling with the little ones.
Slow down, get down to their level, and take your time. Answer all their questions. Keep with “routines” not “schedules". Through laughter, adventures, discoveries, and quiet moments as a family, your toddler will soak in as much as opportunity allows him/her all while helping you increase your appreciation for your toddler’s imagination.
Once you’ve returned home, keep the spirit alive.
When your toddler states: “thank you” after you’ve given them their sippy cup, reply with “de nada” / ”you’re welcome” upon returning from your recent trip to Mexico. Dance like the hula girls did in Hawaii. Create a scrapbook to record your toddler’s travels and include pictures and momentos that s/he picks out and remembers from the trip. Our children are sponges and you’ll be surprised by how much they remember from the family vacation(s).
The world is a massive multi-ethnic, multi-culture, colorful, beautiful mix. Let the world be a teacher and you the instiller. The sooner your child gets to see that, the more curious and intrigued s/he will be to travel further. Because as Walt Streightiff once said, “There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.”
Amanda is a freelance writer and blog owner of "The Procrastinating Mommy" - a PR friendly family blog. She is a self-proclaimed addict to travel and has no intention of going into recovery for it. The more she sees it, the more she wants to see what else is out there. Follow her on Twitter for more tips and techniques on traveling with a toddler as well as her personal rants and raves about her life: @Amanda_AKA_Mom