Traveling With Children, Part 12: Things I’ve Learned

Unless you’re new to this blog, you know that the title of this entry is nonsense. After all, I’ve written four entries to date, and not one of them has addressed the topic of traveling with children. Have no fear: you’re not crazy. The simple explanation is that, in my head, I have composed numerous essays on this subject over the past six years; in fact, this might be more like Part Twenty.

Our children, as it happens, have traveled extensively. I don’t mention this to compete with anybody; some families certainly travel more than we do, and I’m cool with that. And I certainly don’t intend to brag; the bragworthiness of having well-traveled kids is dubious at best. We just have a husband and father who has racked up enough frequent flyer miles and hotel points – and made enough friends in other states – to vacation all over the place, and sometimes to let us tag along on his business trips. This, in addition to visits with out-of-town family members, means that packing for a trip has become as natural, for me, as going to the grocery store.

My first few mental essays on this topic were decidedly dark; cautionary tales that, if made available for others’ consumption, would have driven new parents to schedule staycations for the next eighteen years, and to call their extended families announcing that Thanksgiving and Christmas would take place at their homes until their babies were in college. Vomit, diaper disasters, kid-hating fellow passengers, puke, ear infections, acute sleep deprivation, barf, and endless hours of listening to the tortured screams of a child begging to be released from the carseat, characterized our first few years of car and airplane travel. Before 2007, I loved traveling; by the end of 2007, I was sure I would hate it forever.

Fortunately, I was wrong. In recent years, our children (now six and four) have developed into much more tolerable travel companions, and I no longer dread every night away from home. Still – big news flash here – it is not the same as it was Before Children. Hence, I present to you, in the hopes that it will aid you in your own vacation plans someday, my most recent iteration of Things I’ve Learned.

1. Bringing The Kitchen Sink
I used to pride myself on packing light. As with every other aspect of my life, motherhood has taught me humility in this area. I suppose that’s a good thing. Regardless, the fact is that kids need more than a few outfits and your basic toothbrush/underwear/pajamas trifecta. Without toys, books, and/or games for the hotel room downtime, the entertainment will be either YOU…or SpongeBob. Oh, and one outfit per day? Not gonna cut it. Somebody is guaranteed to fall in the mud, have a spaghetti accident, or throw up at some point during the trip…more than once. Bring plenty of clothing.

(P.S. If you’re visiting someone’s home – especially if that someone has kids or grandkids – these issues are significantly less pressing. They will most likely have toys and – better yet – a washer and dryer that won’t require you to convert the remainder of your vacation budget into quarters. Because of this, I actually get excited about doing laundry when we’re traveling).

2. Bladder Shrinkage
At home, your children might be capable of drinking 32 ounces of apple juice and then playing Wii for six hours straight without a trip to the potty, but the moment you load the last suitcase into your car, their bladders will begin shrinking. You will make friends with the airport toilets, the airplane toilets, and every soggy, decaying rest stop toilet on the interstate. Even if they “went” before you left. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, they will schedule their *ahem* longest potty visits for mealtimes, usually at the moment when your waiter has brought the food to your table. Or for when they’re dripping wet, covered in sand, and wearing a one-piece bathing suit.

There is nothing you can do about this. Except to prepare. Carry wipes at all times, and learn to protect your children from the Automatic Flush Toilets of Death. (Hint: cover the sensor).

3. Shifting Your Paradigm
You don’t need me to tell you that “vacationing” with kids will be less relaxing than when there were just two of you. Aside from the fact that parenting is hard work, there’s also the fact that kids don’t know how to relax. They don’t see the point.

This used to depress me, but as my kids have gotten older, I’ve realized that they DO know how to have fun. We are currently wrapping up a vacation in Puerto Rico, and every day the beach and poolside are strewn with twentysomethings wearing sexy bathing suits, languidly working on their sexy tans, so they can don their sexy cocktail dresses in the evenings and drink, dance, and gamble until they pass out. This description has never fit me, which I guess is an advantage, but honestly, it’s much more FUN to race up and down the waterslide dozens of times a day, to play Connect Four and table soccer in the shade, and to splash in the waves while my kids scream with delight. (They really do scream).

Sure, I admit to feeling a trifle envious of the vacationers relaxing by the water with a good book, or running on the beach every morning, but it’s about adjusting your expectations. Some day, I might be able to do that again; meanwhile, it’s amazing to remember how I used to smile as I’d watch adorable children giggling and playing on the beach with their families…and to realize that I now have adorable children of my own.

4. What Happens in Vegas
Here’s something I took a long time to understand: a week or so of bad habits won’t ruin your children for life. Having disparaged SpongeBob in Item One, let me now say this: you can buy back some relaxation time if you’re willing to let your children chill with some mindless TV. They’re most likely getting an abundance of fresh air and exercise, forming wonderful memories, and strengthening family relationships, and some extra screen time won’t destroy that. Meanwhile – and here’s the perk for you – this is a perfect time for you to grab a book, some knitting, or your favorite gadget, and head for the balcony. (Or a quiet corner of the room). Everybody will be happy, you will feel at least a little bit like you’re on a real vacation, and when the trip ends, you can reteach the good habits you’ve worked so hard on at home. (Sounds easier said than done, but it’s not as hard as you might expect).

5. Pedicure Damage
Because I knew my feet would be exposed all week, I gave myself a pedicure before we left. Three coats of sparkly fuschia nail polish seemed sufficient, and I didn’t pack the bottle because of my aforementioned penchant for packing light. It turns out that extensive swimming and playing in the sand chips away nail color much more efficiently than my 99-cent nail polish remover. So take a lesson from me and pack the 0.5-ounce bottle of nail polish…just in case.

I’m not sure how to relate that to traveling with children. Consider it a bonus tip.

Our next trip isn’t planned yet, but it can’t be far off. When it happens, I expect we will all learn new things, because it changes a little bit every time. Meanwhile, happy travels. Watch out for those automatic-flush toilets.

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5 thoughts on “Traveling With Children, Part 12: Things I’ve Learned

  1. Something I’ve started doing is bringing a book (last time it was The Hobbit) and reading aloud while my husband drives. As it turns out, not a lot of people can read in the car without getting sick, but if you can, this is a excellent choice.

    • That’s a fun idea! We’ve done books on CD before, and the kids have enjoyed that, but reading aloud would a way to mix it up. I wonder what my stomach will think.

      • It also gives you an opportunity to brush up on your various accents. I read the dwarves in a Scottish/Itrish accent (I’m not good enough to differentiate between the two). Gollum turned out to be a challenge. Do you remember the albino in “The Princess Bride”? I choked like him the first few times I tried to do Gollum. Haha.

  2. Coming to the post rather late, but it’s spot on for the tips you give, Kirsten! Our kids are not nearly so well traveled as it sounds like yours are, but these pointers ring very true! Those automatic flush toilets can be deadly, or so I surmise from our kids!

    • Thank you, Sarah! I wouldn’t want all those horrendous traveling experiences go to waste 🙂 (Just kidding…many of them have been delightful…aside from those stupid toilets).

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