Before kids, travel was one of those things people warned us about. You know the "You better enjoy it now because you won't be able to after you have kids" warnings. Right up there with reading and being on time (both of which I still accomplish). While it's true that our travel is different than before we had kids, it is not true that having kids makes travel impossible. In the first year of my first son's life we traveled to Ottawa, England, B.C. and Saskatchewan. In subsequent years (and one more child later) we have revisited some of those places and added Cape Breton, PEI, New Hampshire, and New York to the mix. We've done car trips, airplane trips and train rides. We've been in hotels, tents and relatives' guest rooms. And we've learned a few tricks along the way.
Number one is be prepared. Know your child well and plan for their needs and personality quirks. They can only handle so much, so be ready. Our first trip with our son (he was 6 weeks old at the time) was driving to Ottawa (a good day and a bit to get there from here). We knew that it would take us longer than it had when it was just the two of us. We were also traveling with a good friend who had never had kids of his own so we made sure he knew what he was getting himself into before he committed. We got it down to quite a science really. We would drive for about 3 hours, my son would sleep. When he woke up we pulled over, I got him out of his car seat to nurse, my husband and his friend pulled out their books and read for the next 40 minutes or so. Once my son was finished, back in the car seat he went and off we went to the next stop.
Our second trip didn't go nearly as smoothly. We made the fatal mistake a lot of parents new to traveling with kids make, we over packed. Just because the airline will allow you to bring all of this extra baby stuff doesn't mean you have to take it. I really don't know what we were thinking. I didn't need to pack a whole package of diapers, they sell diapers in England too. We brought the playpen for my son to sleep in. Mistake! He hardly used it (I was so aware of waking up my husband's grandparents that he ended up sleeping with us most of the time). And it was very awkward to carry (my husband almost left it in the train station in London he was so frustrated). Never mind that my husband's cousin had a child a couple of years older than our son and let us borrow any and all baby paraphanalia we so desired. We learned. We now travel as minimally as possible. If it is going to take up too much room we don't bring it, unless necessary.
So here's a list of tips for kid friendly travel (and a few products we've collected along the way that help make travel easier)
1. The portable DVD player. Whatever else you may feel about kids watching videos, let's face it, they are going to be stuck in one spot riding in a car for many, many hours on a long driving trip. They aren't getting any exercise anyways and they are going to get bored. We bought this one (with 2 screens, so both kids had their own view) last summer when we were driving to PEI (4 hours). It worked very well. It also worked well when my friend Jen and I drove our kids to New York this spring (a day and a half of driving), we think this prevented a lot of sqabbling and saved our sanity somewhat :o).
2. The harness that looks like a cute stuffed toy/backpack. This was an absolute God-send for our second child. I was worried about things like traveling on the subway in New York as my boy decided that this was a good time to be more independant and walk rather than ride in the stroller. A friend of mine had one for her daughter and I couldn't wait to find out where she got it. (Wal-Mart) Some people have problems with putting kids into a harness (they see it like a leash), but for me it's a way of helping a child stay safe and teaching them close proximity to Mama in a busy place. Most of the time my son holds my hand while he has it on anyway.
3. The sling. I wish I had known about slinging with my first son. I certainly loved it with my second. I brought the sling as my only way to take my son around while we explored England on his first visit there. It was great. No lugging around a big stroller. No worries about how to get the stroller up into historical sites that have stairs. And storage is so easy, just fold it up and stuff it in the diaper bag. He slept in it and watched the world in it. I definately recommend a sling even if you aren't travelling to use with a baby.
4. A Surprise Bag. Kids love getting new things. And new things keep kids occupied. A surprise bag can contain things like a new coloring book and crayons, a storybook, a Where's Waldo or Eye Spy book, a new action figure (or whatever the current interest is). There doesn't need to be many things and you certainly don't need to spend a lot of money to make one. The last surprise bag I made for my son I found some things at a second-hand store and some at the discount section of Wal-Mart. You also don't need to take everything out right away. One at a time does nicely.
5. Snacks - the non-messy kind. This is what things like dried fruit and juice boxes were made for. Think of what your kids like to eat. Decide what is most portable and the least messy (you really don't want to pull over just to wipe peanut butter off of your child, the car seat and the window do you?) and pack a little bag. Keep it close to you. Just when the kids get bored and are about to ask the dreaded, "are we there yet", intervene and ask who wants a snack. Works like a charm.
6. Family friendly restaurants, airlines and hotels. Check ahead. My favorite airline to fly in Canada is Westjet. They encourage babies to cry on takeoff and landing (helps with their ears), they have baby/small child seating areas - so you know your neighbour understands what it is like to travel with a small child and won't give you 'the look' - they are more than happy to help with warming bottles (if you are bottle feeding). They are one of the airlines that does allow for free baby stuff for travel (2 items), a stroller, car-seat, playpen whatever... and they have Satellite TV across the country meaning my kids can watch Treehouse the whole way across. Very nice for a long journey. We've had success with other airlines too, but check their child/baby policies beforehand. Research really does help. Most hotels will provide playpens with baby bedding at no additional cost too. I find it very important to use our car trip stops to be at a kid friendly restaurant. The last thing your child needs after being cooped up all morning is to be told to sit down and be quiet for lunch. They need to play, they need to stretch their legs and runaround. This is the time to look for a play-place (or a rest-stop with a playground, if you are going picnic style).
I hope some of these tips help you out. The most important thing is to know your child, know what they can handle and plan for it. Travelling can be great fun, just plan a little and relax.