They say having children changes everything and they certainly change the way we travel. That is not to say that travel with children is not pleasurable or possible, but as a family you learn what works each time you venture out the door on a new adventure.
We love to travel with our children and that has become a major part of who we are as a family. Each year we anxiously wait for the Christmas holidays when schedules are slower, work holidays have been decided and we can anxiously plan our new year of exploration. To us, traveling is such a rich and wonderful experience that it seems only natural that we would want to share those experiences with the most important people in our lives. But when planning long trips, we recently learned a few valuable lessons that might help other families.
We had dreamed of visiting Ireland ever since we moved to Switzerland and finally, this year, we decided it was time to make that dream a reality. We researched, we planned, and we scheduled, all the while believing this might be our only opportunity to visit the Emerald Isle and we wanted to make the most of the experience.
Mistake number one – we were overly ambitious. The first three nights and four days of our journey we stayed in a different hotel and visited a new city. We did the suitcase shuffle, drove endless miles and made our way around that small island despite our children who didn’t really appreciate the constant hurried pace and the “on the go” mentality.
Lesson Number One:
Our children preferred to be in one location allowing them to settle in, and get familiar with their surroundings. When they spent each night in a new hotel and each day for countless hours in the car, they felt, as did we, rather unsettled. Duly noted – one location with many day trips.
Lesson Number Two:
The car took some getting used to – despite our best efforts to make the children comfortable in the car, they simply were not used to car travel and took a few days to settle in for long journeys. We did bring their favorite music; neck pillows, blankets, snacks and favorite sleep things, but nothing but time helped ease their restlessness in the car. Next time, we might plan shorter drives to make for happier campers. Also, it is important to note that many children get carsick when they are not accustom to car travel. Plan accordingly.
Lesson Number Three:
Allow time each day to let the children be children. We had so much to see and do: museums to visit, beer to taste, scenic drives to meander, landscapes to hike, harbors to picture and meals to savor, but our children too had ideas of what they wanted to see and do. After a couple of days we quickly realized that a couple of hours at a playground, at a beach, visiting a carnival made for very happy children. We now made a habit of pulling off the road whenever we saw a playground, lingered longer at a beach they we might have done had we been on our own, but happy children make for happy adults and to be fair, this was their holiday too.
Lesson Number Four:
Routines – our children thrive on routines. They typically know what to expect on any given day. We have found that maintaining some sort of routine while on holiday allowed for a smoother day and night. The first few days we were all over the place – meals were random, baths were hit or miss and bedtime became late nights all too soon. We quickly realized that setting a bit of structure to our days and mostly nights made for a much happier family.
Lesson Number Five:
Traveling with children can be messy. Oh, my, we used to be such neat, respectful travelers when it was just my husband and myself. We had a policy of leaving each room neat and tidy and never made a peep after hours, but now that we have two young children, all bets are off. We have been humbled on more than one occasion by situations that were totally out of our control. We have been speechless, apologetic and embarrassed, but through it all we have come to realize that children will be children whether you are in your home or someone else’s. Children will be sick, drinks will be spilled, babies will cry at the most inopportune times, beds will get wet, but through it all the experiences and memories are what make us long for more journeys with our children.
When we look back, some of our fondest memories took place on the road when our children were less than perfect and we, were less than perfect parents. All we can do is learn from the past and look forward to a bright future of endless travel. After all, this world is beautifully vast and our children are as eager to explore as much as we are.