7 Tips and Tricks for Parents Traveling With Littles

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We recently returned from an epic family vacation to London and Paris. We brought along our children: Little Guy (age 3) and Tiny Guy (age 1) and, not only did we survive, but we actually enjoyed our time together. Here are a few reasons why our trip went as smoothly as it did:

1. Bring help.

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I don’t know why we didn’t think of this sooner, but having a helper along for the ride can make all the difference when you’re traveling with young children. We brought our family friend, 14-year old Jillian, on this last vacation and it was amazing. Incredible. Fantastic. Really, really wonderful. Not only was she an extra set of hands and eyes while we were navigating busy cities, but she was also an at-the-ready babysitter. Having a helper allowed us to have extra hours (sans-children) every day to explore and to go out for grown-up excursions. Ask around, and you just may have a friend or grandma or auntie of your own who will happily accompany your family for free room and board!

2. Allow routines to be broken.

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When we are at home, I am a strict routine follower. When we are traveling, though, I make allowances. We try to keep to a rough schedule, but the nature of travel is that things are just…different. So, we encourage our kids to nap in the stroller instead of in their beds and we also allow a bit–ok, a LOT–more screen time than we would at home. It’s all part of the adventure, right?

3.  Choose family-friendly lodging.

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We love, love, love airbnb.com for family lodging. We were able to find 3-bedroom apartments with full kitchens (saving us loads of time, money and stress at meal times) and laundry facilities (because little kids require laundry duty even on vacation) for less than most 2-star hotel rooms in the cities we visited. Our apartments didn’t have pools or spas or room service, but they sure were more comfortable for our family–and, in the end, that’s all that really mattered.

4.  Make time for the kids.

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I was tempted to pack a million excursions into our travel itinerary, but I managed to hold myself back (a bit) so we could make some time for the smaller half of our family. Time every day where we just hung out and did kid stuff. Travel can be rough on little ones, so I tried to make sure there were downtimes for the kids (and kids-at-heart) to just be kids.

Otherwise, you just might start to go a bit crazy…

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5. Pack the right gear.

There are a few baby items that we had with us on this trip that I could not have lived without. First, this little pop-up travel crib tent by Sun Essentials:

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Our little guy loved his tent and the only reason he looks sad in the photo is because I took him out of the tent to take his picture. There is a blow up mattress that zips into the bottom of the tent, so it’s actually very comfortable and cozy. And, the best part is, it folds down into a little bag that you can stuff into your suitcase.

Another essential travel item is a great baby transportation device. We had an Ergo baby carrier and a double Phil and Ted’s stroller–both of which we used every single day. When you are spending hours and hours wandering around every day, it’s helpful to have a good way to get your kids from point A to point B. It’s also very helpful to have a buff husband who can carry said stroller down to undergound subway tunnels and up to the top of the Eiffel Tower on his back.

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6. Keep a close watch on valuables.

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This is Mimi. She is my 3-year old son’s best friend and, I recently discovered, the woman he hopes to marry some day. He loves her dearly. And we nearly lost her forever. We had Mimi with us one night as we were walking around London. Somehow baby brother got a hold of the monkey and, without any of us knowing, he threw her right out of the stroller onto the dark street. An older woman literally chased us down through the streets of London just to return Mimi–I think she is my guardian angel because I seriously would never be able to live with myself if we lost Mimi in a foreign country. Lesson learned: keep a close watch on your valuables.

7. Splurge for some extras if it makes your life easier.

We had the option of traveling to and from the airports on public transportation. You see, we could have taken the above-ground train to the M8 subway to the M3 subway to the 216 bus and arrived at our apartment 3 hours later. Or, for twice the cost, we could have a guy meet us at the airport baggage claim and drive us (and our 5,000 bags) to the front door of our apartment in 30 minutes. We chose the guy at the airport. And do you know why? Because it is never worth it to drag two children under the age of 3 and 5,000 bags through 4 modes of public transportation just to save a buck. Never. If you can afford a family vacation, you can afford a taxi. Just do it. The kids may even enjoy the ride.

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So, there you have it. Travel with little kids is possible, maybe even enjoyable. I wouldn’t trade this trip or the memories we made together for anything.

Well, except for maybe a quiet week on a secluded beach in the Bahamas. Sorry, kids, looks like the next vacations is just for Mommy and Daddy 🙂

* For more practical tips for traveling with kids, read my posts on pre-travel arrangements, getting through the airport, and surviving your flight

How I Trick My Kids Into Doing What I Want Them To Do

I have this fantasy that some day I’ll wake up and my kids will just do what I ask them to do. Happily. Without running away or throwing an angry screaming fit about it (You want me to stop what I’m doing and wash my hands before lunch?! These sweaty sticky hands?! These grimy little hands that are busy throwing a basketball into my hoop for the 10,000th time today?! How dare you!!!). But, until that day, I’ll just trick them into obedience. Here are some of my favorite ways to throw them off guard just enough to make them do what I want them to do.

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Deception:
When I’m brushing David’s teeth or helping him floss I’ll say something along the lines of, “I bet I can open my mouth bigger than you!” or “Can you roar like a lion?” or “Can you make your mouth as big as a wide-mouthed frog?”. Then, when he’s got his mouth gaping open, I’ll rush in with the toothbrush and get the deed done.

Reverse Psychology:
“You can’t smile for the camera. Don’t do it! Noooooooo! Don’t you dare smile!”. And he smiles.

Say What?
When David is getting too loud my first inclination is usually to get louder. But what actually works better is a whisper. I’ll start whispering random things to him in an “excited whisper”–like what I’m saying is really important. He usually catches on after a few seconds and starts trying to listen to what I’m saying. The cutest thing is that when I’m whispering he always responds in a whisper, too. Now we’re having a whisper conversation instead of a shouting match!

Give them “choices”:
“Do you want broccoli or green beans with your dinner?” versus “Do you want vegetables with your dinner tonight?” (because, duh, no they do not want vegetables with their dinner tonight–but that doesn’t change the fact that they will get vegetables with their dinner tonight).

Make it a game:
When we have a particularly messy house (OK, we have a particularly messy house by about 4:00 every day) we’ll play “secret scrap” (or, in David’s case, “secret ball”). I’ll find a secret item that he has to find and put away, and if he does he gets a prize (usually a sticker or a hand stamp).
*Note: I don’t actually have a secret item in mind when we start the game. I just wait until I’m satisfied that things have been cleaned up and I tell him that the last thing he put away was the secret scrap.

Distraction:
The other day David was having a temper tantrum in the car (this happens quite often–you know, if I don’t sing the correct song or I don’t sing it in the correct way or I quit singing songs or I sing them too loudly or…).  I just shouted over the top of his protests “Look! A schoolbus! What color is that light over there? Hold your breath through the tunnel (really just a freeway overpass). How many square signs can you find?”–and I just kept going until he started answering my questions. Then he wanted me to ask more questions. So I did. And he answered them. Temper tantrum: over.

Competition:
David doesn’t have any older siblings and Jacob is still too young to be any competition yet. But David has an older cousin who he looks up to and adores. And sometimes I use that to my advantage: “Guess what? Cousin Noah uses a spoon and fork at the dinner table. He doesn’t even throw food when he’s at the table! In fact, I happen to know that cousin Noah keeps his face and shirt clean when he’s eating!”. Now David wants to use a spoon and a fork better than Cousin Noah and keep his face and his shirt cleaner.

Encourage them to exert their independence:
David is two-and-a-half, so feeling like a “big kid” is kind of a “big deal” these days. I’ll say things to him like, “Wow! You’re such a big boy now–I bet you can even help do the Velcro on your shoes like a big boy!”. And, you know what, usually he can.

Now, these are some handy little tricks of the trade, but they do not work 100% of the time. Even with those odds, though, I’ll take any help I can get!