10 Things I Learned About Traveling With Small Children – Taipei 2015

Some families are just naturally good at traveling together.

Some parents are perfectly happy to share a room with a man from Norway who clips his toenails onto their son’s pillow.

Some families can eat street sausages on dishes washed with rain water runoff from a roof.

Some parents have flexible children who stand quietly in customs lines, eat whatever and whenever (happily) and love to walk for hours just to find that one last temple…

We are not this kind of family.

what?

Really…who is?

I have never met a family who traveled perfectly together.  Don’t let those amazing Instagram pictures fool you…after that mom took that shot of her son hugging his sister next to that waterfall, the sister broke out into sobs because she didn’t get to go to the carousal she wanted and the son refused to walk any farther unless snacks were produced…IMMEDIATELY!

ahhh, see how cute these two are? Guess what happened right after this shot. Yep, she screamed at him to get off and shoved him. He ended up smacking his head on the floor and crying until I took him to bed. But they look like they're hugging!!!
ahhh, see how cute these two are? Guess what happened right after this shot. Yep, she screamed at him to get off and shoved him. He ended up smacking his head on the floor and crying until I took him to bed. But they look so sweet…like they’re hugging!!!

In my limited experience as a teacher and a mom, I’ve noticed that most kids like things they can count on. They like familiarity: the same bed time routine, the same classroom routine, the same old, nasty blanket he drags around, the same movies (over and over), the same books (over and over), the same friends, the same school, the same foods even!  My daughter would be happy to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for every meal.  Why?  Because she KNOWS she loves it!

So for most kids, traveling is not a natural thing. They are in an unfamiliar place, sleeping somewhere they don’t know, eating things they’ve never seen around people they do not recognize.  It is overwhelming (even for me)! *Disclaimer: Are there those kids who came out of the womb loving to travel? Yes, I’m sure there are.  Please tell me what you ate during pregnancy to get that!!

For most of us, traveling with kids is hard work.  It takes a lot of trial and error, a lot of flexibility and understanding; it takes persistence and TRAINING.  And every parent I’ve talked to who braves the odds and travels with their small children says the same thing:

DON’T GIVE UP!

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Kids learn how to travel by actually traveling (go figure)!  So get out there and train them to try new things, to be culturally aware, to see how people worship, to watch people eat and work and talk.  Train them to be patient (with other people, with YOU, with cultures, with themselves!), to be entertained by small things, to watch people and notice things.

worship at Longshan Temple
worship at Longshan Temple

OK, so there was my inspirational section…now to the practical part.

So we just had our first family-of-FOUR-traveling-to-a-different-country experience.  We went to Taipei, Taiwan for Memorial Day weekend.  We thought this little hour and a half plane ride hop would be perfect for our first real adventure.  And it was exciting and stressful and…educational!

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Here are 10 things I learned about our specific family during this trip so that our next trip will be MUCH smoother. You may or may not worry about these issues when you travel, but these are our lessons that we learned this time (and I’m sure there will be more next time too).  Maybe they will give you something to consider if you’re thinking about traveling with small children, or maybe they’ll just make you grateful that you don’t have to worry about any of this! And I really hope this doesn’t sound like a downer post because really, we loved the adventure!

1. Get a “new” toy for the plane ride.  I go to the thrift store before we leave and I look for a cheap toy that I know will entertain Little E for a long time.  She is imaginative, so it doesn’t take much.  For this trip I got a whole bag filled with Polly Pockets and accessories (probably $150 worth of stuff) for $8.  She has never had them before and honestly, it was the best decision for this trip.  She didn’t want the iPad, she just wanted her “princesses.” When her brother needed a nap in the middle of the day, she happily sat down and played with them.  It was great.  Coloring books, balloons and bubbles work well for traveling kids too!  Little E took two balloons out to dinner from our stash because she wanted to give them to some Taiwanese kids.  Good thing she did because there was an ENORMOUS wait to eat at Din Tai Fung’s after we left and she made a little brother and sister who had a two hour wait ahead of them so happy!!

see those balloons?
see those balloons?
the wait at Din Tai Fung's when we left
the wait at Din Tai Fung’s when we left

2. Plan food around the sites we intend to see or visit.  Some families can go and just eat whatever they find in the area.  But that’s not us.  With allergies and gut issues, we have to prepare our meals (and our tummies) a bit better! Setting out, knowing what food is in store is a must for us (apparently) because almost every day we would wing it, get somewhere being hot, tired, overwhelmed and “hangry” and end up not finding a place we could all agree on or whose lines were short enough.  That’s another thing…have at least 2 or three back up places in case you can’t find the first one or if it’s too busy!

This was actually our 5th choice for our final dinner. Choices 1-4 were on the same street...which we couldn't find!
This was actually our 5th choice for our final dinner. Choices 1-4 were on the same street…which we couldn’t find!

3. Pack lighter! No matter what it takes…pack lighter!  My husband was a pack mule this trip and it did not make for a happy affair.  Now, most of that was because little G is allergic to everything and so we had to pack and carry all his food for 5 days…but really, we could’ve done without some of that stuff.

4. Have rainy day back up plans. Rain is bound to happen when traveling and a little rain is just fine, but a dumping will need to be planned around.  Think along the lines of science museums and exploratoriums.

We ended up at a mall. But all the play lands for kids were as expensive as going to Disneyland! Really? $30 to jump in that pit of plastic balls?
We ended up at a mall. But all the play lands for kids were as expensive as going to Disneyland! Really? $30 to jump into a pit of plastic balls?

5. Don’t scrimp on lodging!  We are not college kids backpacking through Europe!! Both Adam and I have a tendency to be frugal so we cut corners a lot.  But we discovered on this trip that coming “home” to a moldy, tight, windowless apartment in the middle of a nasty part of town after a hard day of traveling (and let’s be honest…bickering) was not relaxing…and that’s what we need when touring a city; an oasis to come back to.

This is Little E's "what is going on in this bathroom?" face. You can wash your hair while peeing! Nice.
This is Little E’s “what the what?” face. You can wash your hair while peeing! Nice.

Also, we have to pick a place that is close to a park.  That way, if we don’t have a “kid-friendly” activity planned for EVERY DAY of the trip, they at least can have their own fun when we get back to the hotel.

Da'an Forest Park.
Da’an Forest Park.

6. Allergy cards!! I never thought I’d be the epi pen toting mom, but I now am!! Little G is allergic to dairy, peanuts, eggs, soy, peas, and a few other things.  Although he is still only eating mainly baby food and nursing, there will come a time when I’ll need to order food in a different language for him…yikes!  So I found the coolest thing!  There are these packs of cards you can get in various languages (you pick which languages you’ll need) that say what you’re allergic to and you just present them when ordering food!!  GENIUS!! The company is called Select Wisely and the link for that is here.  My friend, Caylee, just returned from India where she had 2 severe cashew allergy attacks…these cards would’ve really helped!!

7. Use my ergo as a child seat. When a child seat is not available (often in Taiwan), I would put Little G on a regular seat and buckle my ergo around him and the chair to hold him in.  Figured that one out all on my own 😉

8. BYO creamer and (Starbucks) VIA.  Sounds so lame, I know.  So American!  But when your kids get up at 5:30 and NO coffee shops are open until 7:00, what’s a girl to do???? Plus, I am off dairy because I’m still nursing Little G and finding a good nondairy option overseas is a bit tricky.  It can be done, I’m sure…but do you really want to spend your first few hours of a trip searching for nondairy creamer?  BRING IT! (Oh, and for those of you who are ready to write in and say “use coconut milk or oat milk or almond milk” I’m here to say, “for me, they don’t have the fat content I need to make my coffee just the way I like it. Tried it all, sadly”)

9. Bring capri pants, crocs and headbands for rainy weather! I thought about this one hardcore before we left. Capris, shorts, skinny jeans and leggings won’t drag in puddles like normal pants and jeans do.  Crocs (for kids…or me) dry out overnight and wash up fast! and headbands hide that “rain hair” which is especially bad when you have bangs! I even had headbands for Little E and a buff for G!

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Headwrap!

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10. Until I get used to my camera ins and outs, use automatic while traveling.  I did get an evening to myself (Adam stayed in the apartment with the kids for an hour) to walk around our neighborhood and take pictures the way I wanted: composing and adjusting and taking my time.  But with kids (one of which I was wearing most of the time) and rain, and going inside to outside quickly, it would’ve been better if I had stuck with a program on my DSLR, rather than try to do manual the whole trip. I kinda missed the fun of just BEING in some of those locations because I was concerned about how they would look on film!

So there.  Hopefully that will help us on our next trip (Seoul for Thanksgiving!!).  And maybe it helped someone else out there.

IF YOU HAVE MORE TIPS, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE COMMENT BELOW AND GIVE THEM TO ME!!!!!  WE NEED ALL THE HELP WE CAN GET!

Blessings,

erin

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11 thoughts on “10 Things I Learned About Traveling With Small Children – Taipei 2015

  1. This was great. I will definitely be visiting this post again when we do more travelling with our 3 year old. We went to Osaka and Kyoto for 3 days in April and I definitely planned to see and do much more than we actually ended up doing. I think the lesson I learned was to cut down your list of must-see places significantly, and just enjoy seeing a couple of things, and enjoy rest time.

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    1. I completely agree, Rachel! Running everyone ragged just makes for unhappy kids, moody parents and the things you get to see are not nearly as special when everyone is in a foul mood!!

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  2. Definitely agree with you about routine & kids and definitely about packing lighter, Matt and I take 1 pack for the 4 of us and 1 carry on (which is our as diaper bag, camera bag, snacks & entertainment!) I love it because both Matt & I can take turns with the pack and then we both have our hands free to wrangle kids if need be! I have loved traveling with our girls and hope we get to do lots more of it as they grow older. I try to think back to our trips and possibly the most unpleasant was when we visited Malaysia on our way to New Zealand, we were all jet lagged, and it was SO STINKIN’ HOT, coming from an English winter to hot humid Kuala Lumper we were just not prepared for it in the slightest, it was also here when the NZ earhthquake happened and I couldn’t get hold of my family for a while so it was just a stressful time all round! Now Matt & I tend to take turns sleeping on long haul flights, even though we both love to stay awake and watch movies, we realize that sleep, however little it may be, is important! I am so pleased that you already have plans for your next adventure!

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    1. Oh NO! That trip sounds so stressful! I am so thankful for your encouragement! You are definitely my hero when it comes to traveling with kids, Hannah! Hopefully we can get our baggage down to one…someday! 😉

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  3. I read about a dad whose son napped across India because every naptime he laid him on a certain side, placing his arm across his lovey. Bam. Naps. Not sure it was that flawless, but in my mind I’ve vrrn scheming this with Cedar. Great tips!! Keep figuring it out for me! 🙂 love the ergo tip and restaurant bag tip I saw on your other blog and special new toys. Genius!!

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    1. Oh Yay, Nicole!!! I’m so happy you found something useful in all my ramblings! As far as napping goes…it’s whatever with Gideon. That whole laying him on his side with his arm around a lovey sounds divine, but totally not where we are with G. My kids have minds of their own and will nap ONLY when the right set of circumstances are going on. That’s my own fault though because I set a routine for them early. Which works great at home, btw! Man, I miss you guys!! I can’t believe you have a baby!!! Seems like just last week you were kind of flirting at the climbing gym together and now here you are living in Africa with a BABY!!! You are amazing! I wish we could get down there to visit you…

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      1. Oh yes. Let’s be clear. Cedar does NOT do that. Hah or anything close to it! But it’s a dream, right, eh? Routines do may time at home better! lol it DOES seem like a short while ago that we were at the rock gym. Wow. Life seemed so much more simple then! But I looked up to you then and still do! Gonna message you! Hehe

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