Our family has traveled a lot together. I mean a lot. We took our toddlers to Slovakia, Austria, Hungry, and then Poland– all on one trip. When they were a bit older, we brought them along to India twice for a mission trip and research for our book. While these were phenomenal trips, trust me when I say that there is nothing glamorous about traveling with small children, and there is no place like home.
If you are a parent with small children, you know how important all their special “stuff” is to them. Special blankies, special socks, special teddy bears…you know you cannot leave your driveway without them without a nuclear fallout coming from your tiny tots in the car seat behind you. Packing and repacking all these special items becomes a full time list making job, and you know you have to check it once, twice, three and four times before you leave on your trip.
On one of our trips, we were traveling with about eleven other adults and our two small girls through the hills and side winding roads of Poland. I had done such a great job of packing juice boxes and animal crackers in their own suitcase for our trip, knowing they might be hard to come by in a place we didn’t really know. Maddie had her special blankie affectionately named Stringy because of all the strings she pulled loose over the past four years of every night of her little life. Our two year old Whitney was busy entertaining the van load of adult friends with little else to do than hang on for dear life as we drove the winding roads.
Then it happened. Maddie looked at me and said “I don’t feel good.” Immediately, our driver sensed the tone in the “I don’t feel good” and pulled to the side of the road. But it was too late. There was already vomit all over her lacy white shirt and all over Stringy. So we did what any good parents would do in a foreign country. We dumped the lacy white shirt on the side of the road in Poland. I feel so bad for littering in the beautiful nation of Poland, but, we were out of options. We were about to pitch Stringy to the hills until there was a loud pitched wail from a heart broken four year old. Someone dug out a bag, and we stuffed Stringy in it to be dealt with later. Guess what memory is the only memory our girls have of our Eastern European trip? The vomit and the lacy white shirt being tossed out on the side of the road.
A year later, when we had forgotten how difficult travel with young children is, we took a family vacation to Disneyland. The Magic Kingdom. Our hearts were racing with anticipation as we drove up, up, and up to the top tier parking level. The girls grew more excited at each character sign they saw. “There’s Mickey! There’s Ariel!” shouting together, while my pregnant self took yet another sip of the anti-nausea medication. Then, sullenly, “Daddy, when we stop? My head spinning”, from our sweet red headed three year old Whitney. “Just ahead sweetie…as he looked at me with deer in the headlights look. We both knew what was happening. I threw off my jacket and threw it on to her lap just in time for her vomit to spatter all over me, the jacket and her big sister. I am not joking when I say that one second later, big sister took one look at little sister and took her turn vomiting on my jacket and her little sister, and all over the rental car.
And this, my friends is the only memory our girls, now 14 and 12, have of our first magical trip to Disneyland. All that money, travel, time…all for one memory of vomit covered clothes.
While we have had too many mishaps such as I have mentioned, we have had countless memorable moments as well. While traveling with small children can be challenging, I’d like to encourage you and say that some of our best family moments have been on the road.
Here are six things we have done to keep our sanity while on the road with young kids:
- Have an anchor. Everyone, including mom’s and dad’s need an anchor to home. Something that will bring the comfort of home to wherever you are and whatever you are doing. For me, it’s peanut butter. For Maddie, it was Stringy…until a whole bag of her clothes got swiped somewhere in London and Stringy went missing forever. (Insert sad, dramatic music) We always try to put a glorious spin on Stringy’s demise — “At least he met his end in London, not in some random garbage dump in Indiana.
- Pack light. Keep it simple. You can rely on your wits to get you through a situation way more than you probably think you can. There is nothing worse when you are traveling than trying to juggle a thousand toys, books, movies, etc. while trying not to lose your children in airport security or on the luggage carousel.
- Let go of your need to control everything. Rides will be late. Blankies will be lost. Sleep will not come as you hoped. Let it go. It’s all a part of the experience. Your life will be fuller and richer for the memories you are making along the way.
- Easy Does It. Don’t over schedule your family’s daily activities. They (and you) will need probably more rest away from home compared to normal. Schedule rest time, or a day off from vacation while you are on vacation. Regrouping and getting everyone on the same time clock will ensure many more happy days of travel.
- Meet your own Needs. Take a little time for yourself every day. Even if it means waking up before the little ones. Make your coffee. Step outside and breathe in strength for the day. You’ll need it, and you can be a better you to your family if you are centered and strong.
- Remember, There’s no place like home. Traveling is great fun. But honestly, there will be about three things your children remember from those epic trips. And those memories won’t be those you’ve spent hours calculating and dreaming up. Home is comfort, a place of rest and peace. Home is what they will remember most of all.
This post appears in the March 2013 edition of The FAMILY Magazine of Michiana