Choosing to travel with your kiddo can feel like an enormous undertaking. While there are blogs and tools and gear to help you in the planning of a trip and the execution of said endeavour, there is not much talk of how to prepare your kid to travel well. This is probably partly due to the fact that when it comes to babies and toddlers, very little is predictable. The best laid plans still turn into a shit show 50% of the time. That being said though, I personally believe there are still 3 main things that you can do with your little one BEFORE you head out on your next big adventure to help give you all the greatest odds of a good time.
Lay a Foundation for a Good Sleeper
A well rested baby is a happy baby. This is not news to anyone. And traveling, with its many long flights and time zone changes, can take its toll on even the most adept of adult snoozers. Increase your chances of success by laying the foundation for a good sleeper.
Early into my second trimester of pregnancy, I began to fret about all of the things I didn’t know. I thought that being a mom was supposed to come easy but I lay awake at night with a million questions stirring in my brain and approximately 2 answers (call my mom or google it). When I began to realize that I didn’t have the slightest idea of what to do with this kid once she was born, I sought out professionals who did. One that changed my life was Cara Dumapalin from takingcarababies.com.
I quickly signed up for her newborn course that taught me how to lay some good groundwork when my little one was born to help develop positive sleep associations and healthy sleep habits. While I cannot speak for all parents/ babies who have taken this course, by the time my kiddo was 12 weeks old, she was sleeping nearly 12 hours per night.
Taking Cara Babies has a whole blog with additional sleep tips for traveling babies, but here are my top 2…
Keep their sleeping environment as close to home as possible
This means their lovey, swaddle, pacifier and sound machine stay the same. And keep it DARK. People that are not parents of young ones do not know what you mean when you ask for a dark room. In order to avoid having to put your kid in a closet (though I have done that MANY times as well) consider a travel black out shade or slumberpod.
Maintain your normal schedule as much as possible
Time changes are tough and activities abound when you are visiting family or seeing a new place, but do your best to maintain your kiddos routines and plan your activities conscientiously.
Foster Adventurous Eating
Breastfeeding my baby came easy for us and for that I am very grateful. But when my daughter was about 5 months old, I suddenly remembered that she could not survive on breastmilk forever. But what was I supposed to feed her? What do you give to a child who has no teeth? Again all-too-aware of my ineptness, I did some mad googling and discovered Feeding Littles at feedinglittles.com. After taking their infant baby-led weaning course, followed quickly by their toddler feeding course, I felt far more prepared to begin introducing my child to solid foods and create a positive eating environment that encourages curiosity!
Because of the techniques that I learned and have implemented (albeit probably poorly), my daughter is a pretty outstanding eater. Now… is she a little picky still? Of course. Does she occasionally throw food on the ground? Duh! But... she will try anything, can sit at a dinner table well for mealtimes, and knows how to ask for more or tell me when she is all done. These skills make traveling with her SO MUCH EASIER! I don’t have to pre-pack all of her food or make special trips to the grocery store once we arrive at a destination to make sure I have something she will eat. For the most part, she eats what we eat, wherever we go.
Though I cannot tell the future, I think this will continue to serve all of us well as she gets older and we travel outside the U.S. more. Part of the appeal of visiting another country is getting to know the culinary culture of the location. What a drag it would be if all she ever wanted to eat was chicken nuggets and french fries in a locale where Doner Kebabs, Indian Curry, or fresh seafood are the norm. Laying the groundwork for a kid who will more often than not be down for whatever you choose to feed him will make your life (read: OUR lives) simpler on the road.
Teach Them to Swim
Depending on the types of adventures you will choose to embark on with your young ones, this may not be as important to you… but we are water folks. Lakes, rivers, ocean, jungle stream, bring it on. At the same time though, I have some intense anxiety about my kiddo around water. We currently live in Phoenix, Arizona where it is a blistering 110 degrees in the summer months and most people have pools in their backyards simply for survival. Arizona is also 4th in the nation in child drowning fatalities each year.
While direct adult supervision and proper life jacket usage when necessary truly cannot be replaced, you can also prepare your kid for the water by teaching your kids to swim as early as possible. Some parents choose to participate in an Infant Rescue Swimming program, while others may go the more traditional route and introduce gradual swimming skills to their toddlers. Either way, basic swim techniques as well as a healthy fear of the water, need to be introduced at an early age in order to increase the enjoyment of any water related activities you participate in, as well as alleviate *some* of the fear of a mama with her kids around water.
Go Places and Take them With You
I thought about labeling this section “Practice Makes Perfect” but that’s just a damn lie. The best way to groom a good traveler is simply to do it over and over again, but that doesn’t mean it will lead to a more beautified version. It will always be chaos, but it will always be worth it.
Start small, go on road trips, visit family, go camping, don’t be afraid to tote them along wherever you go. Kids are incredibly resilient and adaptable. Their normal ends up just being whatever you want it to be and whatever you choose to expose them to. Just go places and take them with you. They won’t ever know the difference!