Travelling with Kids
Photography by Gabriel Campagne.
When my children were young I toured the country with them in tow. The first tour through Europe and the US was the one with the learning curve. After that it got easier. The backstage list went from 12 beer for the band to milk and fresh fruit. One promoter even supplied toys and a playmate for the boys. Of course that only reinforces my belief that I meet the nicest of people at my shows. So here are a few things that I figured out during my traveling that will hopefully help you avoid something unpleasant on your trip. The best part of traveling with kids is that you don’t make meals, you don’t make beds, you actually have time sitting and talking with your children on the plane or restaurant and if you are prepared it can be enjoyable. If you are not it can be many different kinds of nightmare. Remember the number one rule, it is up to you to provide, food, clothing shelter and something to do.
It beats vacuuming.
I took my children on tour with me from the beginning. I wasn’t about to leave them at home and since I was not independently wealthy I just packed my bags and bags and bags of stuff and headed out. We travelled all over North America, to China, to India, and Europe. It wasn’t long until I figured out (by trial and error) how to prepare so that it was more fun. Luckily my children were the kind of kids that liked travelling and I wanted to keep it that way. I decided that it had to be pleasant or it would be difficult for all of us. Now obviously if you are travelling in exotic locals there are some good sites that will give you specific details as to what you need.These are just some general ideas that made my touring life easier, a few of the things that worked for me when travelling with my children.
Fortunately I had done lots of travelling before I had kids so I knew what I was heading into, and it helped me prepare for travelling with small humans.
Now every child is different and for every one of them there are things that make them happy, make them not feel out of place, and things that help to make them think they are having the time of their lives.Most of these needs are simple and you know the things that work for your child. I like travelling with my children. I actually find I have more time with them when I travelled. I don’t spend time cooking meals, making beds or dealing with the many tasks that a home involves. We have time to sit together, on an airplane or in a restaurant, and if I am prepared, it’s a pleasant time.
Survivor has nothing on us.
What I realized early on is that as the mom I had to provide the three basics; food, clothing and shelter. Take care of these things and everything goes alot smoother. If a child is hungry, they are miserable and unreasonable. If they are uncomfortable because they are wet or tired, they are miserable. When they are miserable, you are miserable. If you or they are exhausted then patience runs thin.
When travelling, first stop and see if you can accommodate your child’s schedule.This will depend on the age of your child. See if you can get a flight or travel arrangement that is at the time of day that they are at their best or ready to sleep. Pack a little pillow for them to snuggle up.
Most things will take longer with small children.
The walking will take longer, the stops will be more frequent and the time they can sit is shorter. So start by taking that into consideration. Start earlier to where you want to go. Leave more time to get to the plane. Leave earlier on your drive and stop more often. When you stop let them move and run and get tired. At any age they need to move, for that matter so do we. When I drive from Montreal to Toronto, I pack a lunch or grab a take-out, and go to a picnic stop where we can run around a bit and play a bit of soccer for 15 minutes. It improves the trip a hundred percent. And god knows by now I can spot a Macdonald play land sign from 40 miles away.
These things are not always possible but the good news is travelling a little slower is in fact more pleasant.
The bag to end all bags.
Now I get to the nitty gritty. I used to pack a diaper bag when they were small and I still take a carry on bag with me now. I didn’t consider it a diaper bag, I considered it a life support system. For starters, if you are going to travel for more than 1 hour , throw out that little diaper bag and buy a sports bag with many little pockets. My basic rule for travel is ALWAYS PLAN FOR DIARHEA.Yes, this gets back to my food, clothing and shelter rule. Life does not always go to plan. Pack extra diapers, extra everything.
When they were babies I always carried extra baby clothes in a zip lock bag and on the international flights, I carried a spare t-shirt for me. As they grew older I carried a zip lock bag with a pair of pants, underwear, socks and shirt. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to use them. It makes all the difference to them and you (and the people next to you) if the pants with poop on them or spilled milk ,where they have thrown up or any number of disasters have been ziplocked away and the clean clothes are on the job. Children are in unfamiliar places and this can make things happen that would not normally happen. They get embarrassed too if things go wrong and the sooner they forget about those things the better. I could do the add for Zip lock bags. They keep things dry, organized and it is easy to pack. You can see in a glance what is inside. They double as garbage bags and can zip away things you don’t want to smell in a car. I would pack with the big Ziplocks too. It kept socks together, and different articles of clothing together and when they are little you want to spend as little time as possible searching for things.
It goes without saying that to avoid disasters, all drink and food should be zipped.
Also travelled with my firstaid kit in my bag complete with thermometer. This is especially true if your child has any health concerns or allergies. If your child gets sick while travelling, you might need things like tylenol in a hurry. If it happens in the middle of a 5 hour flight or at 2 in the morning in a hotel, you can’t just head out looking for a drugstore. You might not use them but when you need them, you need to have them close at hand and easy to find in the dark. I never leave them in the suitcase either. How often have the bags not arrived? I remember one time, on the way from Winnipeg to Montreal we were held on the runway in Toronto because of a storm and finally after midnight they let us get off and told us to come back tomorrow. I was there with my infant son. All our luggage was still on the plane. Thankfully I had extra clothes, diapers, a blanket and all I would need. There was another woman on the same flight that had a baby the same age and she was frantic. She had no more diapers left, no milk or juice or formula. She had planned for a four hour flight. They told us to find a bench to sleep for the night. Fortunately I found an Air Canada employee (a guardian angel) who by hook or by crook got us a hotel room when there were precious few to be had. We talked them into getting the carseats out as they were obvious. Needless to say, I split the diapers, gave her one of my extra sleepers, phoned the hotel and got the bar (because the restaurant was closed by then ) to put aside two glasses of milk for us when we arrived. Thank heaven for extra packing.
My diaper bag was organized so that everything I would need in a hurry was in an outside pocket and always the same pocket. I had a soother pocket, a Kleenex pocket. I had a wet washrag pocket and when they got to the bottle stage, I had all those things close at hand. I could locate them without looking. I had a pocket with a flashlight so I could find it in the dark in the hotel room after the baby was asleep and then I could find things without waking the baby.
These are a few things that over the years I found invaluable.
- A flashlight.
- Tape. I could hang a piece of paper over the window in the car or a hotel room. Or hang up the latest art work on the car door or hem a pair of pants.
- Two clothes pegs. With these you can clip a small blanket over the top of a crib so that the light doesn’t bother the eyes or make a shade in the sun, or clip clothes to dry on a hanger. They were used more often than you could imagine.
- A ball. I had one that you blew up with a straw and it could collapse.This simple toy had a lot of play in it at all ages.
- A small travel kettle for the longer trips. There is only one international one that is approved for use in Canada. It has a small filter for coffee but the little kettle was great. I could make a cup of tea or soup and in the days of little babies, I could sterilize soothers and bottles and toys not to mention sterilize water. Many a time I had a quiet cup of tea at the end of a long day too. When we toured China, I would make soup in the room.
- A bottle of water. Water changes from place to place and it helps to have accessible water for drinking and other purposes at all times.
- A cup with a lid that closed for me to have hot things. When they are little it is so easy to be bumped and spill.
- When your children are little a folding stroller that can go on board the aircraft is essential. You can fill it with your bags if the little one wants to go with you or walk. Also ask for help. If you are travelling alone practice these phrases ” can you help me to the next gate? Oh porter porter…”
Have things for your child to do. They cannot sit there for hours and do nothing. Children are human activity centers. This can be your time to tell them stories or read them things. Think about getting as much play for the size of item. Smaller toys are best and toys that can do more than one thing, and obviously toys that can be played with while stuck in a car seat or on an airplane. Paper and crayons are good. Finger puppets etc. Also noisy things are going to drive you crazy in a small space. Go for the silent ones. Never take things you can’t stand to lose. Don’t take the priceless toy and if you are taking the favourite toy make sure you have a prominent place for it and that is the first thing you locate when you move from one place to another.
When my children were small, I would pack a small thing that they had never seen and I would save it for a moment when they were getting to the end of their rope and I needed a bit of extra good will. When my children were small I had a Pustefix bubble bear that you could squeeze the stomach and the wand would pop out and then you could blow bubbles. This passed endless hours in hotel rooms and I am sure they were rechristening the rooms as Guy Lombardo suites by the time we left.
More tips for airplane travel.
I did a lot of travelling on airplanes in the early days, and I realized soon that there were steps to take from the moment I booked my ticket. First get seat selection if you can, get it forward because the back of the airplane is often loud and the seats don’t recline. On international flights if your children are small, ask for the bulkhead because they sometimes have a bassinet that clips in . If not, that little bit of leg room is wonderful for letting them stand up and move around a bit. If a meal is served you can order a kids meal that may be more enjoyable for your child. The basic rule of packing the on board bag or diaper bag is always pack a lunch and something to drink, because they never feed you when your child is hungry. Sometimes they do not feed you at all, or what they feed you is something your child cannot eat. Have healthy snacks too because the temptations at an airport are all of the junk food variety.
Bags and more bags.
Speaking of bags, when they are little there are always the extra things that go along, seats, diapers, a travel bed or stroller or you name it, depending on how long you are going to be away. We used to pack them in a huge.hockey bag (how Canadian). It held a lot of stuff and kept them all together, and when you arrived you could fold it up until the next flight.
These are just some things to think about when planning a trip with children. Of course if grandma can come along too your worries are over.