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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!