By Leanna of All Done Monkey
Traveling with young children presents particular challenges: You have to figure out what to pack and how to keep them occupied on long plane rides and car trips. But it also offers certain benefits, such as experiencing the wonder of new places through your child’s eyes. Many parents of little ones debate whether it is worth the trouble or if it is better to simply wait until their kids are older. What should you do? Here are some things to consider:
The following is based on my own experiences of traveling with young children. All children are different!
Travel with Babies
What’s Great: In some ways this is the easiest stage for travel because most babies are so adaptable. Young babies can eat and sleep on the go, especially if they are breastfeeding. And before they are mobile, you don’t have to worry about them wandering off like a toddler would do or getting into something they shouldn’t. For the most part, they go where you go – and only where you go. Also, depending on age and temperament, they are often more likely to let another adult tend to them. This is especially nice if you are visiting family, who enjoy getting to snuggle with baby while you get a little break.
What’s Hard: Babies require a lot of gear. Even if you try to pack minimally, there’s no way to get around carrying a certain amount of diapers, wipes, extra clothes, and some kind of carrier/stroller. Also, not all babies are so adaptable. Some babies do much better with routine, or they may have a specific health problem, such as colic, that makes travel challenging. Any problem with a baby can become a big one, since they can’t tell you what’s wrong. They also don’t understand your explanations and aren’t open to negotiations (“Only 20 more minutes!”) It can be hard to know what’s wrong, and you have to worry more about potential illnesses, since their health is more delicate. Finally, as babies get older, they are more distractible, so you may need to spend lots of time in a quiet space so they can sleep or eat. If you are staying with family or friends, you may not visit as much as you had expected, if your baby requires that you spend lots of quiet time in your room. (Although if you are an introvert like me, this may be nice!)
Travel with Toddlers
What’s Great: These little guys are just discovering the world, and it is so amazing! Toddlers are curious about everything, and it can be enchanting to experience the wonder through their eyes. This is also a particularly charming age, as they experiment with words and games and hugs and kisses, so if you are visiting family they will have priceless interactions with your little one. Toddlers’ grazing habits also come in handy here, as you don’t have to worry about sticking to a strict mealtime routine.
What’s Hard: For me this is the most exhausting stage of traveling with young children. Toddlers’ curiosity and seemingly boundless energy mean you may spend most of your time chasing after them or pulling them away from the dangers of a non-baby-proofed hotel room or home. (Hotel rooms are rarely baby proofed, and homes are usually not either, unless they happen to have a toddler at about the same age and happen to have the same ideas about baby proofing as you do). Nap times can be tricky, as they tend to get overstimulated in their new environment and find it hard to wind down. It is also easy to get into a rut with meals. Since they are often not hungry at mealtimes (or are too distracted by all of the new stimulation), sometimes at the end of the day you realize that they only ate snack foods. Without access to a kitchen (or time to prepare foods), whipping up something fresh for them usually isn’t an option. Luckily there are many healthy convenience foods available, and depending on where you are, lots of fresh fruits to snack on!
Travel with Preschoolers
What’s Great: Now we have reached the point when kids are really building memories and relationships. They travel lighter (at least, potentially!) and you can prepare them for travel and build anticipation about the trip (here are some favorite toys to entertain preschoolers on long trips). You can also bargain with them through difficult patches (ice cream!). They can do more walking on their own (though it can be easy to overestimate this), and they might try new foods (or at least sample ice cream or candy from a new land). Preschoolers can also participate more in the planning, though still within limits. In short, you can start to take a breather and really enjoy discovering with your child, as many of the physical burdens of the earlier stages begin to lift.
What’s Hard: The main difficulty we have found with this stage is that preschoolers have a definite mind of their own. While they are often open to negotiation, they also tend to have strong opinions about what they want to do. A baby doesn’t have to be persuaded to visit an art museum, and a toddler just sees it as an opportunity to do more running, but a preschooler may need bribes to abandon what he’d rather be doing (in all likelihood, watching TV in the hotel room or swimming in the pool). And while it’s great to enjoy what a “big kid” your child is becoming, beware that travel – even really fun travel – can create extra stress, so they may be more prone to meltdowns or exhaustion than they would be at home.
Is Traveling with Young Children Worth It?
There is no right answer to this question, as it really depends on you and your child. You may have a child that is very easygoing and adaptable through all of these stages, or you may have one that at any age is difficult to get beyond his/her set routine at home. But even if you have a reluctant traveler, it may be worth it to you, if you can’t imagine delaying travel plans until they are older. And what about the benefits of travel for your child? Despite the potential discomforts of traveling with young children, you are exposing your child to other ways of living, which can expand their horizons and help them be more willing to try new things. But will travel as a baby make for a more adaptable older child? Hard to say, but you are more likely to really see the effects as your child grows and is more able to understand what is going on around him. Still, I can’t help but feel like the sensory input from travel in early life doesn’t simply disappear but is somehow imprinted on a child, though perhaps in less obvious ways.
Is traveling with young children right for you and your family? Only you can answer that question, and I would love to hear what you think in the comments!
At what age is travel particularly fun or challenging for you?
Leanna is a stay at home mother to a sweet, funny, rambunctious four year old boy and his adorable, smiley baby brother. She draws inspiration from the Writings of the Bahá’í Faith and tries to raise her Monkeys in a fun, spiritual, loving environment. She and her husband, who is from Costa Rica, are raising their boys to be bilingual and bicultural but more importantly to be “world citizens.” All Done Monkey is dedicated to sharing this journey with you!