Travel with your kids – A tale of nightmares or sweet memories

by Karen

“Mamma, I miss Jake, the dog and the peacock”. My daughter said.

I was surprise. We didn’t have any pet and there certain no peacock in our house. Curious, I asked her: “Where did you see Jake, the dog and the peacock baby?”

“Remember? We saw Jake at the church and the peacock at the castle. And I pee pee. Remember?”  She replied.

It took me a couple of minutes to realize where she would see the dog, the peacock and her pee pee. When my daughter was 3 and half, we took her to Ireland for a family vacation. During the trip, we visited an abandoned abbey where she needed to pee badly, and the guide was kind enough to show her how to use the “nature toilet” nearby. Luckily, no one caught her when she did “her pee pee” business. The star attraction of the abandon abbey for my daughter was a golden retriever named Jake. He belonged to a farmer who lived near the abbey and he frequently ran over. My daughter feel in love with Jake during the time we were at the abbey. Then at Malahide castle, we saw a bunch of peacocks on the castle ground and my daughter had an amazing time chasing after these beautify birds. She was very adamant that they wanted her to pet them even though they ran away from her.

I knew that she had a wonderful time when she travelled with us, but I often wondered how much memory my daughter could retain from our travels because she was so young. We took her travel since she was just 10 months old with the hope to instill the love of travel and learning new cultures in her. Well, I got my answer. She remembered the dog, the beach, the peacocks and the castles. Job well done, parents!

Both my husband and I agreed early on that we wanted to travel as much as possible with our daughter and travelling would be an important component of her learning and development. Most of our friends knew about this and they often asked me if my daughter would remember? Is it worth the cost and headache?

Because travel is not cheap, let’s just face that fact. The cost of airfare, food and accommodations are not much for a child but the stuffs you will have to prepare and alter to ensure your child safety and enjoyment on the trip is the real big cost. Also, it is not an easy task to travel with a young child, so is it all worth it? I will admit it is costly to travel one or twice a year with a young child, but it a life experience and knowledge that we believe is very important to her development and we commit to it.

The first trial run

So, our travelling story began when she was 7 months old. We wanted to have a family trip to Maya Rivera Mexico when she turned 10 months old, so we did a “trial run” short distance trip to build up her stamina for the big trip. Yes, I am a planner. I plan and have list for everything. To test it out, we took our 7 months old baby across the border into New York, US for a 2 days trip. The drive to the border wasn’t too bad because it was just about 2 and half hours. By the time we reached the line up at boarder Custom, she expired. In her little sit at the back of the SUV, she let out a loud scream and she won’t stop.

“How dare you parents and auntie. I am mad sitting in my sit for over 2 hours while you guys keep on talking. Well, I won’t have it anymore” she let us know her displeasure with her vocal chords.

My sister who sat next to my daughter at the back row of the car did everything to calm her down, but she didn’t stop. So there we were just 1 car away from the custom booth, my husband jumped out of his driver sit and picked her out of her sit to calm her down. I jumped into the driver sit, my sister got into the front passenger sit. In 2 minutes, we completely changed the sitting arrangement so my husband could calm down our precious screaming little tyrant. The custom agent was amazingly understanding and forgiving when he saw the agitated little tyrant in my husband’s arms instead of in her sit in a slow-moving car.

“Ah… they can be quite naughty. I have those at home.  But you need to put her back in her sit when you drive out of here”, he told me.

I silently thanked my lucky stars for giving me this understanding dad/custom agent, we drove on. The rest of the trip was quite calm. We learned a valuable lesson from this trip; she would expire within a 2 hours window. So, we would need to have toys or stuffs to entertain her for the 4 hours flight to Mexico for sure.

The first vacation trip

Then, came the big day! We were going to Maya Rivera Mexico. It was a 4 hours flights after 2 hours waiting at the airport. Darn, this gonna be rough. In participation of a flight, I prepared a few things in addition to a carry-one full of diapers and all other stuffs that you typically needed when you had a 10 months old baby:

  1. Toys, toys and few more toys.
  2. Mushies – about 6 bags. These stuffs are great to get your kid to eat fruit and veggies in a fun way and it has other use. I will explain later. The only 2 ingredients in Mushies that I am not crazy about are: citric acid and ascorbic acid. Though these 2 things typically added in the adult and baby food as preservative and it is low dosage. But there is a possibility that citric and ascorbic acid can increase the acidity in your kid’s diet and may result in increased incidents of kid reflux. I was comfortable using Mushies because the dosage of the acids was low and she only ate them twice a year when we travelled.
  3. One set of change of cloth for her and one extra shirt for me. The extra shirt for me was preventive measure and it came in handy when she vomited a bit of milk on me during the flight. Ah ha, my neurotic planning had it use.

Flying with kids

The flight was an enjoyable experience for us because we were well prepared and we got the airport with plenty of time. We were able to relax and get into the spirit of vacation from the moment we stepped into the airport.  This is one tip I will leave with the parents when travel with young children. Children will find the most unfortunate time to throw a little tantrum so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to travel. You won’t enjoy the vacation experience fully if you are annoyed and rushing at the very beginning of your trip. So budget sufficient time to give your mind the space and ease to enjoy the experience fully.

Most parent’s fear is the kid’s ear get hurt due to air pressure in the plane and I have a solution for you. Give your kid something to eat during take-off and landing. Seriously! By forcing them to move their mouth to eat, you will help prevent the air pressure from hurting or blocking their ears. We always gave my daughter few Mushies just before the plane started to take off or getting ready to land. It worked every time and the flight was enjoyable.

There was an unfortunate family who sat couple rows ahead of us travelling with a 1 year old girl. They didn’t know this trick and the little girl’s ears were hurt due to air pressure. The little girl cried for almost 30 minutes. The parents were panic and embarrassed. Other passengers who sat near them were sympathetic but certainly they were also annoyed.  I was certain that it wasn’t a pleasant flying experience for the family and few passengers.

Long at last, we landed in Mayan Rivera and spent a week at a wonderful resort. My daughter saw the ocean for the first time and well, she wasn’t a big fan because the waves were strong and loud. My hubby was very disappointed. He dreamed of building the sand castle with her but his dream was destroyed because she disliked the hot sand also. Well, he didn’t stay disappointed for long. It turned out she loved the kiddie pool and liked to fall asleep on her daddy’s chest near the ocean. The sound of ocean waves and her daddy ‘arms was what she needed to fall asleep.  They had a wonderful bonding time and there were many first time memories for both her and us.

Now, there were bumps on the road. Just one day before the end of the vacation, my daughter had a fever. It turned out she had hand, foot and mouth disease. Well, she did spent 6 days in kiddie pool and you never knew what the other kids left behind in the pool. This was one of those nightmare scenarios that could happen when you travel with young children. The resort had a doctor on site (one of the many benefit of an all-inclusive resort) and he gave her medicine to reduce the fever.

The flight back home was not so enjoyable for us because she had fever. To help her calmed down, I used one proven method, breastfeeding.  Work liked a charm on her every time but my boobs were another story. It one of those thing we all went through as mom. There is a reason why mother day is much bigger deal than father day. Sorry, dads! The truth may hurt a little.

Nightmare or sweet memories, there are many benefits of traveling for the children. But I believe the biggest winner are the parents. There is nothing more precious, happy and blissful then watching your child’s eye light up with laughter and curiosity when she discovers something new. To hear her giggles when she swims with you in a pool or see the smile on her face when she falls asleep on your chest.  Those memories and moments of happiness are priceless and worth all the troubles and nightmares.

Since then, we have taken her to Cuba twice, then came the big Ireland trip and last year we went back to Mayan Riviera.  Each trip brought different challenges but also memories.  On her first trip to Cuba with me and my sister she fell in love with the ocean and sand.  Yep, she got over the fear of loud waves. Granted, Cuban beach is gorgeous and very calm. On our last trip to Mayan Riviera she discovered Pina Colada (virgin naturally) and she learned to say “Pina Colada per favour. Gracias”. She had 2 small cups of virgin Pina Colada everyday. I begun to fear for her future as this might not be a great indicator for her choice of beverage.

For your kids, travel is crucial part of their learning and development.  Travelling is about giving your child a memory and an experience. And after all, experiences are the building blocks that make us who we are whether we remember them all or not.

Here are the 7 top reasons to travel with your child:

  1. Broaden the horizons of your child
  2. Expands, alters and stretches your child’s mind and see the world in a whole new way
  3. Help your child to be the future traveller
  4. Enable your child to learn, acclimate and adapt to change
  5. Help uncover your child hidden interest
  6. Your child can let loose and be themselves
  7. Create a lifelong family memory and bonding experience

The one thing that I love the most of travelling is learning. I learned something new about a culture, people, innovation and way of life every time I travelled to a new country. For my daughter, this translates to her understanding that there is no one single way or right way to do some things. There is always more than one right answer depending on the resources that are available and the options that she has.

Let just take food for example. My daughter is an adventurous eater. She will give every food a try and I credited this to the exposure she has had in a wide range of Mexican, Cuban, Irish, America, Korean, Chinese and a whole wide range of ethnic foods that she sampled. For her, eating a congee, drink healthy juice blend or ham, toast and egg are all part of breakfast. Actually she prefers Japanese’s cheesecake for breakfast, but we draw a line at desert. No sugar in the morning is my number one rule for her diet.

Food is just one example; there are many things that travel can help to broaden your child knowledge of the world. More importantly, travelling and new knowledge will instill in them the concept of innovation and there is more than one way to solve for a problem at an early learning stage. You can tell that I am one of those mothers who would totally go wild when my daughter does something new.

Nothing gives me more pleasure and joy than to see my daughter steps outside of her comfort zone, embraces change and pushes her limit. I am a firm believer that the children can easily learn to stretch themselves and experience things outside of their everyday life routine and comfort zone when they travel. The constant changes in their environment when travelling will push them to adapt to new changes quickly. Each time they do this, they will gain the confidence to push themselves further and further even when they are not travelling.

The younger your kids are when you start travelling with them, the faster they become better travel companions because they learn what to expect, what to do and more importantly what not to do. My daughter knows that every time I pull out her penguin travel suitcase, we will be going somewhere new. Without me asking, she will promptly drag the suitcase to her room and packs her clothes. She loves to travel and she knows what the adults expect of her at the airport, in the taxi ride or just getting up early in the morning to travel. When the plan began to lift or land, she promptly ate Mushies without us asking her to do so.

Don’t get me wrong, you need to have routine and schedule for your kid because we all have busy life. But it is also a fine line between complacency and routine. If there is no stimulant or change in routine, your kid will not likely to embrace change. We now live in the world that change is one constant guarantee, so your and my child ability to adapt and acclimate to change will give them life skills that they will need as the world continues to change.

I will now end my pitch for travelling with kid. There are couple of things that I will leave with you when consider traveling with young children.

  • Be prepared and test out your child time limit first. Try to have a short drive to see how much your child can tolerate before bundle him/her on a plan for hours of flying time.
  • Leave yourself plenty of travelling time so you can start your vacation with a good feeling and relaxation.
  • Give young children something to eat during the takeoff and landing. You will have a much better flying experience. I recommend Mushies, but you know your child taste bud best.
  • Be open to new experience. My husband was set on building the sand castle with my daughter and she didn’t like it. But when he opened to try a different experience, they had an amazing time and learned more about each other.
  • Push your child explore something new. Most of my friends thought it was wasteful to have a 3 and half year old experience Ireland, but they also agreed that my daughter seemed to growth so much more after that 15 day vacation. New environment and change accelerated her learning pace and she learned more quickly.

Have you travel with your child yet? Do you have any tips on travelling with children? Do share!

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