Last week I wrote about some advantages of traveling with a young child. This week, I’ve posted five of the most useful things we’ve learned as a family on how to make traveling less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone involved. So, let’s just jump right into it, shall we? These are in random order, some theoretical and psychological and others super practical which, as always, I hope you find to be of some help 🙂
1. Invest in a good stroller/baby carrier/baby backpack with ‘leash’
We’ve used all of the above and they’ve all come in very very handy. When Sesam was very little we carried him in a baby carrier and that was really quite convenient and straightforward when traveling. I used one from an Australian company called hug a bub* which is basically six meters of fabric that you tie around yourself so you ‘wear’ your baby. It worked really well for the first year and then I felt I needed a bit more structure as Sesam got heavier. We switched to a Baby Björn and used that until he was about two. Baby Björn was good in terms of structure but it’s a bit of a pain because it takes up a lot of room and doesn’t really ‘travel’ well. You can’t really fold it and put it away neatly so it get a bit annoying, taking it off, trying to store it in small spaces and putting it back on while in transit.
*I am not sponsored by, nor do I represent, any of the companies I write about. This is just my own personal experience with these products…
You’ll need to have a good travel stroller that is equal parts durable and equal parts foldable/collapsable. None of those light and flimsy strollers would have survived the streets of India and where have you. At the same time, taking the bigger, smooth ride of a stroller we use at home in Helsinki was also pretty much out of the question. Too bulky and cumbersome to pack and transport. We’ve been very satisfied with the City Mini stroller by Baby Jogger. You can fold and unfold the stroller with one hand (totally excellent!), the wheels are able to manoeuvre well and you can lean the seat back so your kid can take a pretty decent and comfortable nap there.
The most recent addition to my arsenal has been a little giraffe backpack with an attachable tail which I can take a hold of while Sesam wears the backpack. I was hesitant at first to go there since there is this idea that you have you child on a leash which is humiliating and degrading for them, but honestly, I feel very comfortable with the decision to use it. Not only does Sesam feel a sense of responsibility by carrying some of his own toys and having a bag of his own (thereby learning the lesson that we all must pitch in and help by carrying our own belongings) but I just got really tired when he would run off in a crowded public area. And we are in crowded public areas a lot! So I gave it a go and can say that it has made getting from a to b smoother and more peaceful on my part. He’s also bonded with his little giraffe friend 🙂
Sesam points out some graffitti in Porto
2. Don’t compare what your child can or can’t do with other children
l’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of this one. Especially when you see younger children sitting in their own chairs, eating on their own and there are no issues (negotiations, pleading, bribery) to speak of. Especially when you hear of parents saying, after reading the bedtime story, they’ll kiss their cherubs goodnight, get up, close the door behind them and leave their children to fall asleep on their own. Man, I can tell you that it’s been challenging on the road for Sesam to learn a toddler’s ‘basic’ skills. There needs to be a certain sense of consistency and repetition in order for kids to begin to take things on and when you are on the road, at least in my experience, much of the work (feeding, putting him down to sleep) is, by default, parentally involved. In this case, you must cut yourself some slack and know that travel adds a certain amount of upheaval to daily home life. Even though you may get tired as a parent doing much of the work you know your child is potentially capable of doing on his or her own, realise that your child is also getting an invaluable education through travel. He’ll learn how to feed himself. He’ll learn how to sleep on his own. He’ll learn everything he needs to learn. It may not be on a schedule that is in line with other toddlers who have more stable, stationary lives in one place, but in the end, kids get to where they need to be. It’s not a race nor will it ever be so inhale, exhale and take it easy. I speak this very much as a guide on the side rather than as someone who is out in the clear. This is an ongoing reality for me 🙂
3. At airports, use family lanes, find a children’s play area, make use of the airport strollers, ask for help (especially if you are traveling solo with kid(s))
Nowadays many airports have amenities with families in mind. Some airports have lanes for families so that you don’t have to queue in long lines with squirming children to clear security. Helsinki Vantaa airport is one of them (score!). The usually progressive, family-oriented culture of Denmark sadly lags behind, as to Norway and Sweden. So disappointed was I in the chaotic and thoughtless queuing system at Copenhagen airport that I asked to speak with someone in charge about this situation. It didn’t do much good. The airport representative patronisingly made a show of listening to me and that he would ‘raise the issue’ at the next meeting. Uh huh… I tried on our behalf families, I really did! To be fair, they do have a separate family line during peak holiday season, but for this mama, that’s simply not quite helpful enough.
If there are children’s play areas, these can be your salvation, especially if you have a long layover. The best one we’ve been to, to date, is at London Heathrow airport. There’s a huge diaper changing room with large sinks and lots of counter space. They have three different play areas for children of different age-ranges. Large, soft, squishy things for the little ones to roll around on; a climbing frame and tunnels and slides for bigger kids; and a separate room with a TV and a billiards table for the tween and teenagers. They have a room with all these weird, dreamlike lights so that your kids can sleep in there. There’s a little kitchen space so that you can warm up your kids’ food and breastfeed in peace. Seriously, it’s on fleek! Other places pretty much consist of play spaces with some chairs or benches for parents or child-minders, but still, kids are much happier travellers when they can let off some steam and move around. Take advantage of these services. Some airlines and airports also offer strollers once you’ve cleared security which you can use within the terminals. The same kind of aforementioned stroller that wouldn’t survive India generally does very nicely at airports so do make sure to nab one when you can. Lastly, ask for help, especially when you are the only one traveling with your child. I know it might feel a bit weird asking a stranger in a plane to watch your kid while you go to the bathroom. If this is the case, ask the airline hostess for help. That’s what they’re there for, your comfort and safety and it’s important that you speak up if you need to take a mini-break even for just a few minutes. Your child needs you to be in good condition so be sure to take care of yourself throughout the journey and ask for help when you need it. I’ll never forget how fellow commuters gallantly offered to help us carry Sesam in the stroller up and down the labyrinthian stairwells of the London Underground. It’s enough to warm your heart really.
4. Keep some sense of a general routine but don’t sweat it too much
Travel means getting to sleep at odd hours and waking up at even more bewitching ones so this means that a regular bed time is pretty much not going to happen. The thing is, kids are so adaptable that it doesn’t take more than a few days for them to get into the swing of things, even with jet lag. The idea is to try and keep some general sense of when things should get done but do yourself a favour and throw out this sense of a strict schedule. Seriously, you don’t need the added pressure. Sesam tends to be a night owl and he generally can sleep in quite comfortably in the mornings. Naturally there are times when the evening and night get long with him still up but on the flip side, I can generally get my yoga practice in (or part of it at least) come morning time. Oftentimes I feel that when we are back home, as a culture kids in Finland tend to wake up early, eat early and go to bed early and you know what? That’s okay. It’s also okay to do things a bit differently and establish a routine which works best for your family’s lifestyle.
5. Find parks and playgrounds; keep the activities as child-centered as possible; hang out with families with similar-aged children
While you may not be going to museums, art exhibitions or other cultural delights a city may have to offer, another good way to learn about and witness the culture of a place is at parks and playgrounds. For example, in Copenhagen, we saw more daddies at the playgrounds with their kids than anywhere else. We also noticed that dads will very comfortably get a beer and sit on the street patio of a restaurant while minding their children. The best playground we went to was when Sesam just at the beginning of his toddling stage was in northeast London. We got to see a rich cross section of community life in that particular neighbourhood and let me tell you, there’s something about hearing a Russian grandmother speaking to her grandchild, about chatting with one mother from Uganda, about watching Muslim-British kids play football with second-generation-‘from-the-islands’ British kids that makes this whole Brexit phenomenon a bit dismal. Buuut that’s a whole other can of worms…
We’ve been traveling pretty much continuously with our two and a half year old since he was just two months old. The first year or so was pretty straightforward, especially when he still wasn’t too mobile. On planes and other forms of transport, Sesam stayed on my lap quite comfortably, eating and sleeping. It gets a bit trickier when they need to move around, cannot sit still at all and don’t yet have the attention span to do seated activities. I’d say there was an extremely stressful and exhausting time at about 15 months when we were chasing Sesam up and down airline and train aisles. It gives me chills just remembering how awful it was. On this point, I can only offer a huge virtual hug along with my deepest sympathies and say that it does and it will get easier. As a seasoned traveler, Sesam knows the drill and the routines so well now that he is a bit older. Travelling with him has become so much smoother and I can delight in how much he enjoy’s his trips.
All right my dears, that’s all for now. Next week, I’ll post on the wonder and joy of daycare and life at home.
Until then, sending so much Om & ❤ your way…