Today I will travel with my children and our family dog to visit a friend in Illinois. This is not the first time I have traveled on my own with the kids nor will it be the last. While I feel both a mixture of anxiety and anticipation when I am about to travel without the companionship of my husband, I also feel a sense of joy, strength and accomplishment.
My travels in the past have included flying on my own with our infant daughter from New Hampshire to Illinois, taking the Mega Bus while 7 months pregnant with our 18-month old daughter, driving 500 miles round trip with our 10-week old and 2-year old, and driving round trip to Washington D.C. with our preschool-age children. I list these out and feel pride in knowing I can handle whatever comes my way, especially since there are plenty of times when I feel inadequate or insecure.
Thinking about what has made these trips successful, I’ve come up with a list of what has worked for our family. Use what you’d like and discard the rest!
- Plan for the trip to take longer (by at least a couple hours) than what your trip-planner has scheduled. Life is about the journey, not the destination, right? Knowing that you probably won’t leave the house when originally planned, plan for necessary adjustments to your schedule. Need to arrive at the airport for a flight? Plan to leave 2 hours before you actually need to- that way if you find yourself “running late”, you’re actually probably close to schedule!
- Borrow or buy items to make your trip easier, even if you might not necessarily use the items when you’re not traveling. Do you usually make your baby food? If traveling with homemade baby food stresses you out (how much do I take, how do I store it?) then buy prepared food or ask if your host would mind stocking up with some of the basics you use to feed baby. With older kids, having new-to-them activities, games or books to use in transit can be a great way for your kids to be engaged during long hours in the car or on an airplane. Cloth diaper but wondering how to manage the laundry aspect while away? Find a solution that works for you and won’t create added stress- disposable inserts for covers or disposable diapers may be something you “invest” in for the time you’re away.
- Make sure you have the necessary electronics’ chargers with a backup set of directions and a map in your car. I love our GPS gadget, but if for some reason it didn’t work or I forgot our charger, I’d be lost. Literally. Make sure you have the necessary chargers for your GPS, phone and/or computer in addition to a set of directions and a map. Being lost while vacationing with your partner or friends is one thing (kind of romantic, carefree) but doing so with your children while you’re in new territory is another.
- Talk with your child(ren) about your expectations for the trip. While this may not be necessary when traveling with a 6-month old, it definitely has value when your child is older. Some kids really benefit from knowing what to anticipate, so you might want to explain what the next few hours (or the day) will hold for them. If your child is old enough, you might include them in planning your activities. Also, you may want to tell your child what you expect from them in terms of behavior. At a rest stop and about to head into the bathroom? Explain beforehand what behaviors you would like them to have to make the bathroom trip safe and stress-free.
- Don’t forget the simple pleasures! Traveling means getting out of your comfort zone and getting out into the world. This can be both exciting and stressful. Don’t overlook the simple pleasures that can turn the trip from being a chore to being a delight. Neighborhood parks, libraries, and other community centers can be a source of free entertainment for you and your child. Stopping for a special treat (ice-cream, farm stand produce, postcard souvenir, etc.) can be a great surprise for your child. It may mean extending your trip by another half an hour, but sometimes that break can be just what you and your child(ren) need!
- Rethink your travel goals. Before kids, you might have traveled quickly (no stops unless you’re out of gas or peeing your pants) and filled your vacation agenda with activities, tours and day-trips from dawn until evening. With children, your travel goals will look much different, at least for a while. Vacations are no fun if everyone is stressed out and the children are over-tired. Sometimes traveling with kids means skipping out on the afternoon planned activities so you and your children can have some downtime. And sometimes it means pushing through a day’s worth of fun activities because you don’t have many other options. Whatever your situation, be flexible and be ready to change your plans if necessary.