We caught up with Debbie to discuss traveling with children. This amazing adventurous has traveled to such exotic places, as Czech Republic, Hungary, and Prague. She shared insightful tips on her travels, with important advice. Check out the interview below.
Hi, Debbie! Thank you for speaking with us about traveling with children. It’s important for parents to know the ins and outs of traveling with children. What is the first thing a parent should do before they travel abroad with a child?
Take a deep breath! A positive attitude is the number one thing a parent needs to take with them when traveling with a child or children. This will allow you to laugh off a tantrum or malfunction that is bound to happen. Remember you are traveling with little people who aren’t used to jet lag, no naps, being stuck in a seat for 14 hours and being forced to sleep in a chair that only reclines about one inch. Heck, even as adults in these long flight situations we want to scream and cry because we are uncomfortable, tired and so over airplane food. As adults, we have the capacity and capability to compose ourselves and fake being happy for the duration of the flight. Our small children have not yet mastered that task, so please give them grace on this long journey
Movies on airplanes are such a big help in keeping the kids entertained when they are stuck in their seat. Be sure to check that your airline has onboard child-friendly movies BEFORE you fly. If your airline does not have in-flight entertainment, I suggest bringing an iPad or tablet with their favorite movies… and don’t forget kid sized headphones. Before we fly, I always pack a kid sized backpack for each of my girls. Each backpack has a few surprises for them to open on the plane like new crayons, a coloring book, 2-3 lightweight books or a stuffed animal. I also love packing card games such as Old Maid (my daughter’s favorite) or Uno for a fun way to pass the time on the plane. Each child has a change of clothes (including socks and underwear) packed in their backpack. You never know if your flight will be delayed or if something gets spilled on them during flight (this is not uncommon due to turbulence and clumsy kids). I also pack a toothbrush, a blanket and a snack bag for each child. My girls love having their snack bags and getting to choose which snack they will eat next. I also have a few backup lollipops for emergency situations, like if my child decides she does not want to put her seatbelt on and it’s time to land. Instead of causing a scene, one from which I cannot remove my child since we are 35,000 feet up, I make a deal with a lollipop. Hey, sometimes a mom’s gotta do what a mom gotta do!
What’s the best age for children to travel abroad?
Age plays a huge factor in travel. If you have children that are five plus, they usually can be entertained by onboard movies, games, books, etc. Ten plus is where it starts to be a breeze for parents. Kids that are over ten usually have the emotional capacity to handle long flights, delays, etc. Plus, they get so much out of the destination because they are old enough to really experience the country to which you’re traveling. So does that mean you can’t travel until your child is ten? NO! You can most certainly travel with younger kids; it’s just a little tougher and takes a lot more parental effort. Know that going in and take that positive attitude I told you about with you and you can have a great trip with even your youngest little sweet pea.
What safety measures should a parent take when traveling with children?
It is easy for kids to get lost in crowded airports, especially when there is so much going on with luggage, figuring out where to go and trying to remember where you put that darn passport. In an effort to keep everyone safe, we have a hand holding or stroller holding policy in our family. Either you are holding mommy or daddy’s hand or you have your hand on the stroller. It is important to talk to your children before you leave the house to embark on your traveling journey about your specific safety policy. Be sure to explain why these are the rules and what consequences could arise if they choose to not follow directions Setting clear rules before your journey will help things go smoothly during your travel time and be a big factor in keeping your little ones safe. When there are periods of time you are waiting, for example during check-in and during security screenings, I like to play a game like I Spy or Simon Says with my girls. This keeps them from being bored and being bored often leads to misbehaving. By playing these games I keep their attention, knock down boredom and keep them safe because they are not wandering off.
What can you recommend to parents traveling with children for the first time?
Get a good night’s sleep the evening before your flight. Chances are you won’t be sleeping much while on the plane. You want to have energy when you are traveling and a great attitude. Those things are hard to have with the lack of sleep! Trust me on this, a sleep deprived parent is a recipe for disaster on a plane flight with kids and you want your first flight with your precious little ones to go well! So pack early and be organized a day before your flight so you don’t run into a last minute cram session (this leads to overpacking too). Many, many people wait until the last minute to pack. This leads to a hurried panic trying to get all of the things you need shoved into a suitcase before you leave. This will create unnecessary stress in an already stressful situation. Pack early, make sure you have what you need and don’t forget to weigh your suitcase. Nothing is worse than having to take items out of your suitcase and lug them on the plane because your suitcase was overweight. With kids you will already have enough stuff, you are not going to want to add anything from your overpacked suitcase to your carry on.
Do you recommend traveling with a nanny or someone who can be an extra pair of eyes?
Traveling with a nanny, babysitter, parent or helper is a great idea! This allows for you to have help during a flight and, most importantly, when you arrive at your destination. It is so wonderful to have family time and experience new cities and countries through the eyes of your precious children. It is also amazing to have date nights and adult only experiences (like wine tasting, white water rafting, scuba diving, etc.) with your spouse on your special vacation. It’s like having the best of both worlds. It truly is a beautiful thing to spend the day with your kids discovering a new city, going to parks, playing at the beach, etc. and then tucking them into bed just in time for a night at the opera and a fancy dinner. That is something you can only do when you travel with a helper. On the other hand, not everyone can afford the extra plane fare and extra hotel room for their helper. If that’s you, don’t fret! Just be sure to choose a kid friendly destination so you have plenty of options day and night. And take breaks during the day. Don’t try and spend the whole day out. This leads to grumpy kids. I have found that taking the kids out in the morning for an experience and then coming home for rest time in the afternoon and then back out in the early evening for dinner and/or another adventure is the best recipe for happy children.
How can a parent keep everyone healthy during traveling?
Having a sick child on a flight or on vacation is no fun! It is easy to go crazy on vacation, drinking sugary drinks and eating unhealthy junk food. This can lead to upset stomachs, behavioral issues from sugar, and sick kids. Monitor what your kids are eating and drinking on vacation. They are kids and this is vacation. Of course, let them indulge occasionally, but steer clear of artificial flavors and sugar as much as possible. Additionally, I recommend traveling with any medication you usually give your children for colds, etc. (if it’s a liquid, be sure to put it in your checked luggage). When traveling to other countries they often don’t have the same brand of medications as we do back home, so having an emergency stash of medicine will be very helpful if the need arises. Lastly, I always travel with ginger candies or mints. This helps with nausea (should anyone feel airsick) and with upset stomachs, which can come from airplane food.
You have such an awesome time during your travels. How do you manage to keep the kids entertained?
Yes, we really do have the best time! I am so grateful for the opportunities we have been given to travel to beautiful countries with our sweet girls (ages 3 and 5). My secret for finding kids activities in every country we visit is… drum roll please… research! I always do my research before we travel and set up activities for the girls ahead of time. I use Trip Advisor, Yelp, Pinterest and Google to find kids activities in the country to which we’re traveling. I make a list of all of the places that look fun for us to visit with our kids and include the prices, opening hours, address and amount of travel time from our hotel to the destination. That way when we are looking for something fun to do with the kids I just refer to my list. The kids love choosing what to do and then crossing it off of the list of things-to-do once we have finished our experience. There are so many great things to do with your little ones. For example, in Rome, I found a class that teaches kids how to make their own pizza and another class that gives kids the opportunity to learn to make gelato. Additionally, we did a painting class and a mosaic art class! Setting up these activities ahead of time was key. With a little research, fun and new experience await you and your kids in the destination of your choice.
Do you recommend children should keep the same nap and bedtime schedule during travel?
Vacation brings lots of fun and adventures and not a whole lot of routine. This can be tough for a little one. If your child still naps, I recommend doing an activity in the morning, coming back to your hotel for rest and/or nap time in the afternoon and then going back out in the late afternoon for some more exploring. You must also be realistic and remember this is vacation. Scheduling a nap is not always possible with family activities, etc. So, if you can, bring a stroller. This is a perfect spot for an afternoon nap for a baby or toddler. On my most recent trip to Prague, if I knew I would be out in the afternoon around my youngest daughter’s nap time, I was sure to bring the stroller. I would put her in there and she would nap while we explored the city with our older daughter. Our youngest loved what she called her special stroller naps. Adorable! Since it’s vacation, realize that your kid’s normal bedtime hours don’t always apply. Feel free to let your kids stay up a little later, but make sure you allow for more time to sleep in the next day.
What do you recommend parents do with children experiencing jet lag?
Oh, the dreaded jet lag! On my most recent trip, we were dealing with a nine hour time difference. That’s tough on an adult’s internal clock, so you can imagine what it would do to a child. Both of my girls woke up at 2 am the first night and could not go back to sleep. So, there I was at 2 am, exhausted because I hadn’t slept on the plane flight over, and up at 2 am with little balls of energy. So what is my advice? Simple, don’t plan any set-in-stone activities on your first day and leave your second day as tentative as possible. Kids need time to adjust; heck, adults need time to adjust. Because I didn’t plan anything on the first two days of our trip, we were able to sleep when necessary and go out and explore when we were ready. We weren’t forced to go on a tour or excursion when we were exhausted. This is the key to jet lag happiness. Another suggestion is no naps after 3 pm. If you or your toddler naps after this time, it might be hard to fall asleep that night (especially if your child sleeps for more than an hour). If your time change is less than three hours, don’t sweat it, you all will manage just fine. Going to bed or waking up one to two hours early or later is really not that big of an adjustment. Anything over five hours is a little more tricky. But, if you give yourself the adjustment window, you should be just fine!
Any aspiring words for those wishing to travel with children?
You can do it! Make the time to travel with the kids. Show them that the world is theirs. Open their eyes to different cultures, people, food, and languages. My last and most important piece of advice is this: don’t worry about the people around you. You may get a dirty look or two from someone who is upset because they are seated next to a child (God forbid). You may feel like everyone is staring at you because your infant is crying because her ears hurt or because your two-year-old who hasn’t had a nap is whining because he wants a granola bar, not an apple, or because your rambunctious five-year-old needs to walk up and down the aisles because if she sits for one more minute she might just explode. Don’t let that get to you. Smile at those people and move on. Don’t take it out on your little ones. Don’t snap and threaten to throw their favorite toy out of the airplane window if they don’t stop crying that instant. That just makes everything worse. They feel your frustration and anger and it just makes them more upset. Keep your positive attitude! You can do it! Plus, you are never going to see that person on the plane again. Don’t damage the spirit of your sweet babe for the sake of someone you don’t even know. In the end, the travel time to your fun family vacation will be worth it. You will have memories that will last a lifetime. Don’t let the fear of flying with your kids stop you from experiencing new and exciting destinations with the little sweet peas you love the most!