This seems like a timely thing to post about as we settle into our new digs in La Quinta, California for 10 glorious days of rest, sun, and as much relaxation as is possible with three kids under the age of four.
I mean, really, this photo says it all. Travelling with kids is a f*&k ton of work. From planning on where to go, when to go, what to pack to the actual travel itself. It’s an immense amount of work, completely worth it, but a lot of work. Though, if you had asked me this morning at 9am when we were running around like maniacs trying to get our van packed up, the children in the car with empty bladders and full stomachs and make sure we didn’t forget anything critical I would have likely had a different opinion.
We don’t travel extensively or to any exotic destinations (unless you consider California exotic, which you very well may if you’re from eastern Canada). Our big vacations these days consist mostly of heading back east to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia (which is an epic journey from where we live) to visit family, and to Palm Springs, California to get some much needed sunshine. I personally find travelling by plane much more stress inducing and requiring more organization than when we travel by car (camping, or over to Whistler to visit my parents) because you basically have to carry what you pack and, as witnessed in the photo above, this literally means carry what you pack for your family of five. We’ve been traveling with our kids since Henry was four weeks old and over the years have gotten it pretty dialed in. Despite this, it can still be an incredibly stressful undertaking.
Yesterday’s departure rated as one of the most stressful to date. We were leaving from Vancouver, as Hagen and I had been over attending a conference and we figured it was easier and cheaper to fly directly from Vancouver to Palm Springs than from Victoria. Our flight wasn’t leaving until 12:30pm, which is a very civil flight time, so we were feeling relaxed and like we had lots of time to get organized. I mean, we were already packed so we just had to re-pack what we had brought and throw it in the van. Ha! If only it were so easy. I mean, literally we did just need to re-pack. We had a handful of items we were leaving behind (winter boots, jackets etc.) but other than that we just had to pack up what we had brought. So why does it take so long? Scrounging the house for the beloved new train that Johann has somehow already lost, convincing Henry that yes, he does need to wear socks as it’s actually cold out in Vancouver this morning, making sure we have the chargers of our iPhones, iPads, apple watches etc. And whilst doing all of this keeping a baby happy, fed and toddlers in check.
Vancouver had an uncharacteristic dump of snow the night before we left so the back-yard of our AirBnB had a good 6 inches of snow in the back yard. We sent Henry and Johann out to play in the snow while we got packed up. They came back in in their boots and winter jackets and we got them changed into their running shoes to get ready to hop in the van and head to the airport. Hagen went out to get the van cleaned off and I was feeding Wil. Henry decided to open the front door and told me there we just going to ‘wait on the porch’ for Hagen. Minutes later they are knee deep in snow and soaking their feet – exactly what we were trying to avoid – in slush. Sigh. Deep breath. Keep calm and parent on.
We manage to load our wet-footed children into the van, get Wil fed and bundled up and check-out in time – well 30 minutes behind our desired departure time of 9am – but still lots of time to make our 12:30 flight, right? Then after driving two blocks, Johann announces he needs food. NEEDS FOOD. And everyone knows a hungry toddler is a hangry toddler. So I unwrap a Z-Bar and toss it back (they sit in the very back seat of our Odyssey). Of course it falls to the floor and neither Henry or Johann can reach it. Johann’s desperation for food escalates, and we decide to pull over so I can hop out and hand him a snack to end the hanger. So we pull over, I open my door and immediately step into ankle deep ice cold slush. I was NOT impressed. Immediately got back into the van and declared my attempt to feed Johann over. Hagen took over as I was in no shape to deal with any more hanger and toddler irrationality. I felt badly, but I just had zero patience: perhaps the fact that I hadn’t had a long stretch of sleep the past few nights, coupled in with the stress of travelling and my ice cold soaking feet. We’re lucky that we can often balance on another out; when Hagen is feeling on the edge, I can step in and take over and when I’m at the end of my rope, he can sense it and calm Dad takes over to let me catch my breath and regain my patience.
We navigated through the snow covered streets of Vancouver, passing by the snow-naive drivers going 30km/hour (who also likely didn’t have snow tires) and made it to the YVR Park’n’Fly. Then my darling husband made about 6 trips from our van to the Park’n’Fly building, loaded our five bags, three car seats and one travel crib onto the shuttle and then out of the shuttle, onto his back, shoulders and luggage cart to get to the West Jet counter. We had checked in the night before, but had been given seats apart (why do they do that when you are traveling with toddlers?!) but managed to get it sorted with the agent. But man, even just checking in is a lot of work! You have to print your own baggage tags, tag your bags, print your boarding passes and then carry your everything over to the belt to go through the xray machine etc. I mean, when you’re traveling solo with just a carry on, or even if you’re checking a bag, this is pretty efficient. But when you’re travelling as a family of five with three little ones who can basically do nothing for themselves, it’s an incredible amount of work. Fortunately once we had our bags checked they rushed us through security and we managed to get through pretty efficiently. There wasn’t much of a line up through customs so we made it through without a hitch. So despite numerous hiccups we made it through the snow and slush, onto the shuttle and through check in, baggage drops, security and customs with almost an hour to spare! We got ourselves some coffee and smoothies and then made it to the gate.
The flight itself was pretty unremarkable. It’s a quick flight (especially compared to flying across the country to PEI!). Wil slept on and off. Henry and Johann were promised iPADs which they only get when we fly so spent most of the time playing games and watching videos. We arrived on schedule, all bags, car seats and baby paraphenelia arrived with us! The only hitch – the rental cars were on hold status or something random like that – WTF? I was assured it didn’t happen often, which wasn’t really that reassuring to me, but we got a coupon and our van was ready to go about 40 minutes later so we loaded in, strapped in our three patient but exhausted boys and headed for In’N’Out burger for dinner. It was early to bed for H&J, I fed Wil then we headed out to Trader Joe’s to stock up on some food for breakfast, came home, watched the final olympic men’s hockey event and we called it a night.
So all that being said, we have learned a lot over our four years of traveling with children and we have learned a few tips and tricks to make even the most stressful travel days worth it. And waking up in California to sunshine, having fresh coffee and avocado toast and working out by the pool makes the long day of travel 110% worth it.
Ten Fifteen Tips for Travelling with Tots
- Scrap the overly ambitious departure times – This might work for some, but we’ve had one too many 6 am departure time (yes, departure time). We learned that kids, despite how exhausted they may be, don’t nap on demand. We flew to PEI for my bff’s wedding when Henry was 19 months and Johann was 5 1/2 and had a 6am departure. We left our house around 4:15am and were really hopeful that they boys would sleep for part/most of the flight. Johann slept most of the way, Henry LITERALLY cried half the way to Toronto. Bless Hagen who carried him up and down the aisles relentlessly.
- Cut the carry on – I used to pack SO many toys for our kids on the airplane and they would literally play with something for five minutes then ignore it the rest of the flight. I also used to buy new presents for the flight – a new school bus, race car etc. So now we pack one or two toys each (a train and a paw patrol character), a few books, water reveal colouring and a tablet/ipad.
- STOP JUDGING PARENTS FOR USING SCREENS – I agree that they need to be regulated and kept to a minimum, but travel trumps any rules we have. Travel is incredibly stressful, and we expect a huge amount from our kids. So for everyone’s sake, give them a screen. There are tons of great educational games out there now. Henry’s favourite game is Endless Numbers. Johann loves building car puzzles. I honestly have no qualms letting them play these games as much as they want, Keeps everyone happy: kids, parents and fellow passengers.
- Pack smart snacks – Our kids need to eat regularly, and although they are pretty good when it comes to eating they are actually pretty good, you won’t always find food that is healthy, that they’ll like and that will fill them up while you’re traveling. We pack fruit, nuts, granola bars (home made and z-bars), cookies, cut up veggies (cucumber, carrots, snow peas etc), seasme snacks, goldfish (kids love them!), fruit snacks etc. And bring water bottles! Kids are always thirsty (especially if you feed them goldfish) and guaranteed they will spill whatever drink gets served to them on the plane in those flimsy plastic cups. Plus packing your own stuff saves you $$!
- Prepare for the inevitable – Diaper blow out, potty accident, spilt apple juice etc. It’s going to happen. It just is. So pack extra clothes for everyone (shirt, pants) yourself included (at least a t-shirt). I won’t say who was the culprit, but poor Hagen was left covered in toddler urine on our flight back from Halifax last summer. He let it roll off his back (he’s a doctor, ‘urine is sterile’ was all he had to say and moved on). I don’t think I would have been as graceful about it.
- Gate check what you can, when you can! – I mean, why not? We gate check our stroller and car seat for baby. Especially if you’re going to be doing lay-overs. Gives you a place to hang your bags/tuck your kids bags as they will inevitably not want to carry them, and a place for baby to snooze.
- Wear your baby! – Even though we gate check our stroller and car seat, I always bring a carrier. For infants I would bring my ring sling (easy to slip on and off) or Tula carrier, toddlers the Tula. Even now both Henry and Johann love being carried! So when baby needs a nap, toddler is melting down, or you have a 1km trek from one end of the airport to another – wear your babies!
- Baby wipes, baby wipes, baby wipes – Carry at least two packs of these, even if kids are out of diapers! They can be used to clean up the inevatable spills, clean hands before snacks, wipe down tale trays etc. Youll never regret packing wipes.
- Bring medicine! – The worst is when you’re traveling and someone gets struck with something nasty. Dear Henry gets motion sickness so we try to always have some Gravol on hand. Get migraine headaches? You’ll be miserable if you’ve packed your triptan on your carryon and one comes on mid-journey. I got hit with a terrible gastro in the middle of the night after my BFF’s wedding on PEI (picture me breastfeeding a five month old while my husband holds a bowl out for me to puke in). We hadn’t brought any Gravol, and there are no 24h pharmacies on the island so we had to phone my (incredible) father in the middle of the night who managed to go by the hospital ER and pick some up for me. Never again will I travel without Gravol.
- DO IT. HAVE FUN. LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS – Honestly, traveling is stressful, but just do it. It’s always worth it in the end. Remember a lot of what happens (flight delays, missed connections etc) is out of your control so sit back and go with the flow. Kids feed off our energy, so the more agitated you are, the more agitated your kids will be. Have fun. Remember you’re spending quality time with your kids even when you’re miserable, and watching you deal positively with stress will likely wear off on them. And the memories you create on vacation are priceless.
I could go on and on but I do think these are some of the key things we’ve learned (well that and get Nexus cards…..so worth it!!!!). I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have – I’m definitely not an expert but have earned lot over the past four years and more every time we travel! And have you children that are older, wiser and capable of carrying their own bags? I’d love any advice you have to send my way. Us mama’s got to stick together 🙂
So we are actively on vacation and I thought of a few more key tips for travelling with tots/little people:
11. Don’t pack a ton of baby gear – rent it! Travelling with babies means travelling with a ton of gear. Car seat, stroller, travel crib/pack’n’play, etc. Fortunately most popular destinations have places that you can actually rent some of this gear from. When we are in La Quinta we rent from DesertBabyRentals. We’ve had great luck with them over the years renting bouncy chairs, baby bath tubs, high chairs, etc. It cuts down the stress and keeps you from having to lug a ton of gear from Point A to Point B. And when it comes to clothes just make sure to book a place with a washer/dryer and you can wash and rewash as much as needed!
12. Invest in a travel crib – So yes, I did just say don’t pack it, rent it but I say travel cribs are an exception. Henry was a terrible sleeper as an infant (and I blame myself for some of this as I had a ton of anxiety round sleep) so when I was planning on being away for 5 weeks with him on the road visiting family out east I decided to make the investment. I did quite a bit of research and settled on the Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light Not cheap, but so worth it. Great reviews, packs and unpack easily, comes in it’s own bag that you can easily check on an airplane (with a bit of room to stuff extra items) and super lightweight. I actually started napping him in the crib before we left to get him used to it (he was bout 8 months at the time) and he slept like a dream in it. When little Johann came along we started traveling when he was barely three months, and Henry was only 17 months so still sleeping in the Baby Bjorn (and did so until he was just over three years old!) so I started looking around to see what else was out there. I came upon the Guava Family Lotus Guava Family Lotus Basinette and Crib and decided upon that. It’s perfect if you start traveling with an infant as you can use the basinette, then once they start sitting up on their own transition them to the crib. We’re using it while we are on this vacation for little Wilhelm!
13. Stick to your routine – So obviously being on vacation requires flexibility, but in general I think toddlers really do best with routine and schedule. They are still learning how the world works and knowing what comes next gives them some form of comfort and sense of control. And please understand I mean ‘routine’ in the loosest sense of the word. For us this means reading/playing with the boys when they wake up then breakfast as a family, get organized and some sort of morning outing (which is heading across to the pool these days), back home for lunch as a family, the another outing, then home again for quiet time, family dinner, bath and bed. This can involve some planning ahead, for example for us our kiddos still have a bath on most nights so we always make sure to book a place with a bath-tub. Keeping the routine consistent helps keep the days flowing as smoothly as they can with toddlers on vacation 🙂
14. Spell each other off – When we first had kids, I am embarrassed to say I judged other parents who needed to take time away from their kids. HA WHAT A ROOKIE MOVE THAT WAS. We all need time to ourselves to recharge our batteries, remember who we are outside of being a parent and to unwind. For both Hagen and I that is exercising, so we make sure that we build in a little time each day for one another to get some exercise in. Plus, being on vacation it’s nice to do something special – for me that’s heading out to get a mani-pedi, for Hagen it’s doing an extra long run – so again, we make sure to make this happen for one another.
15. Plan your meals – when we travel we are usually gone for two weeks at a stretch. It’s such an effort to plan, pack, travel etc. that we want to make it worth our while but being away for two weeks with kids can be tough if you’re not organized ahead for food and end up eating out. It can get expensive and unhealthy. Hagen and I are transitioning to a plant based diet (more on that on another post) so it’s even more important for us to plan ahead. I do most of the planning and cooking these days so sat down, researched some healthy but simple meals to make and did a big grocery shop with Henry and Wil in tow to buy what we need for the week.