As we made our way through security for our flight to Minneapolis, Brian and I looked at our carry-on’s and laughed at how much things have changed over the years. Our bags were stuffed to the brim with toys, books, and snacks to keep the kids occupied during the 4-hour flight, and the only personal items we had were our wallets and water bottles. No magazines to flip through, no neck-rolls to help us sleep. We’ve taken a few trips with our kids and there’s no way around it: it’s a lot of work. Traveling with kids is the farthest thing from relaxing. We’ve learned a few tricks along the way that have helped to make travel as smooth as possible for all of us.
SKIP THE STROLLER.
We brought a stroller along, thinking it would help us keep Levi contained and easy to push through the airport. We used an umbrella type stroller and planned to check it at the gate. To our surprise, it seemed to add more complication than value. Between the airport shuttle and baggage check, Brian ended up pushing a luggage cart with one hand and the stroller in the other, while I was pushing a second luggage cart and holding Harris’ hand. We had to collapse the stroller and send it through the scanner at the security checkpoint, which meant an extra stressful moment getting Levi unstrapped while trying to rush through the line, with what felt like a hundred irritated travelers waiting for us to hurry up and move along. After Levi was out of the stroller, he would have nothing to do with sitting contained, so we ended up just holding him and pushing the stroller full of our carry-ons. We were running super late for our flight back, so we decided to check the stroller with our other bags and didn’t miss it at all. It felt that the convenience wasn’t worth the added hassle. I think we would have been better off with something small and lightweight that we could stash in a carry-on bag when not needed, and would allow us to have both hands free to deal with baggage and older children. Next time, we’ll opt for a ring sling or Ergo baby carrier instead.
PACK LOTS OF SNACKS AND ACTIVITIES.
I had to think creatively about how to keep the kids occupied. We had long car rides and flights on this trip, and I knew that I’d need much more than just a laptop to keep Harris busy. Levi isn’t really into shows yet anyway, so I had to come up with things to keep him satisfied for all of it. Harris is a great traveler, and he did really well with a couple of Richard Scarry books, some coloring books and a couple trucks and tractors. Levi is a bit young still for toys and games, so we had to get a bit more creative. We brought some lift-the-flap board books and lots and lots of snacks and milk. On both travel days, Levi’s main source of nutrition was from endless bottles of milk and crackers. We gave him a dose of Tylenol at the beginning of the flight to help with the pressure change, and then let him drink and snack as much as he wanted. We spent about half of each flight in the back with the flight attendant, standing or walking around. I’m not going to say that it was an easy flight, or a happy one, for anyone in the back 5 rows of the plane. In fact, with two molars poking through, Levi spent a large portion of the flight home in tears. At the end of the day though, everyone else on the flight probably would have complained about the flight anyway (No leg room! No in-flight movies!), and then they’d go along with their lives with no harm done. We all made it, and we are all still thriving.
GIVE YOURSELF TIME. LOTS OF TIME.
Each time we travel, this idea is reinforced. Back in the days before children, we could saunter into the airport exactly one hour before our flight and be perfectly fine. Now, our walking pace is set by our 3-year-old, we have twice the baggage to haul, more stops for snacks, bathroom breaks, and for a little toddler to stretch his legs. Every single thing we do takes longer. We have to leave the house earlier to get to the airport on time, and we will take longer to reach our actual destination. We’ve learned that a travel day is just that, a travel DAY. That’s what we’re doing, and we’ll be at it all day. We’ve learned to just embrace it, live in the moment and enjoy an adventure with the kids.
KEEP THOSE EXPECTATIONS LOW, AND EMBRACE HUMOR.
Vacations before kids can be very relaxing. Vacations with kids are never relaxing. As a wise friend told us early on, you don’t vacation with kids. You take trips. This has certainly proven to be true for us. If we expect to be able to rest, relax, enjoy the scenery, a meal or a conversation, we will end up thoroughly disappointed and frustrated. We’ve learned that the best way to have a good trip is to keep our expectations very low. To celebrate the times when things do go well, and to not be disappointed when there are surprises along the way.
Instead of feeling stressed about hauling mountains of gear around us, we’ve learned to laugh at ourselves and crack jokes about how ridiculous we look. Instead of feeling frustrated that we’re stopping on the side of the road for an outfit change when that bathroom was just too far away, we give each other high-fives for working so well as a team on this crazy adventure we’re on.
Most of all, I’ve learned to let things flow, to let unexpected things just roll off, rather than stress me out. I’ve learned to celebrate the good things, and not get anxious when things go awry. If I can keep a joyful spirit, everyone around me responds with a happier tone as well, and the whole family is better. If I can let things just flow, everything seems to be smoother. I’ve learned that although a trip away with kids is a hundred times more difficult, life, in general, is infinitely richer because they are in it. I got to see the lake at sunrise with my kids, while it was misty and still and quiet, while everyone else was sleeping. I got to swing in the hammock alone while Levi slept, and everyone else was across the lake in the other cabin. I got to see the light of joy in my son’s expression, as he felt the wind on his face, swinging on the tire swing with his cousin. My kids help me stay present. They help me to feel excitement and wonder anew. They help me to get outside of myself, off my phone, and into the real world I’m living in. They help me to stay energetic and active, rather than retreating into self-absorption and self-indulgence. So while vacations have certainly changed in some major ways, the whole of life is better because I get to share the adventure with them.