Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Traveling with children, a scale of age

I am done traveling transtlantically with children on a regular basis.  For 5 years we flew to Texas from London and back 2-3 times a year.  I have learned much about traveling with young children.

Whether taking a short trip to the country or boarding a transatlantic flight--or even a day trip to a museum--getting out with children sometimes is more trouble than it is worth.   Our last nursery Sports Day in London, I was kicking myself for even attempting to go.  I had to take the Things to the far side of Battersea Park for a sports day that had a few too many events for the younger children    One melted down during the event.  We couldn't get a cab.  We--my mom was with me thank goodness--ended up walking most of the way back, with screaming toddlers.  Fun.

My best advice, don't travel, or plan grand day adventures, with children under 5 unless you must.

But musts happen.   As Kacie, a newish mom, found out last summer, travel with young children can be done, it just isn't easy.  So for those not lucky enough to be able to stay put or leave children at home until your youngest reaches 5, I have a bit more detail to help you make travel plans.

0-6 months
Depending on the baby, this is easy.  I don't recommend it too much though due to contagious bugs and the need to set routines, but if you must, it is not that bad.  You have to take a few extra things along and, depending on the trip, need to give yourself more time to get there.  You also need to adjust your expectations of your visiting schedule.  But as far as traveling with a baby goes, this is the easiest time until they are 5.

6 months-walking
This stage gets more difficult for an assortment of reasons.   Nap and feeding schedules are/should be established and are, therefore, harder to work around.  The baby doesn't sleep as much.  The baby is louder.  The baby can be crankier.  If the baby is crawling or cruising around furniture, then you have to worry about babyproofing at your destination.  The baby is eating baby food, meaning you have to take along more than boobies or formula.  If you feed the baby what you eat, that extra is only a stick blender and pre prepped mush for the plane.  Yet, there are still delivery problems.  Spoon feeding is much messier than bottle feeding and is a real experience on a plane.  You need extra clothes for the baby and yourself.  This is also one of the few times I used bibs.  You need the heavy duty, long sleeved, big pocket ones to make any difference.  That is, no matter how the Three Martini Playdate lady might hope, a plane trip with this age babe might require a steamer trunk for a carry on.  (The rest of the time, she is spot on. Steamer trunk nappy bags are overkill.)

Walking-3 years old
This is the absolute hardest time to travel with a child.  Don't do it unless you absolutely must.  Security alone is a hurdle.  A stroller, which you must crash for the X-ray, or a loose 2 year old?  Easy shoes that the child won't remove on his own in other parts of the airport...you get the idea.   Temper-tantums are par for the course for this age and only increase as a child gets tired and off routine.  Jet lag will rock your world.  Screaming in the hotel room at 2 am will mortify you.  You must babyproof everywhere you go.  I could go on far too long with tales of travel fails for this age group.  Do not be lulled by the promise of a relaxing vacation destination.  Nothing about traveling with children this age is relaxing.  Nothing.  It can be done, but you will need a vacation when you get home.

3-5 year olds
Sometime around 3, you start on the downhill slope for travel difficulty.  Now, your child can be distracted on a plane.  My best advice is to limit TV time except when you are on a plane.  If you can spring for an iTouch or similar, do it, or add kids' games and shows to your iPhone.  Have a charger or extra battery pack.  Make airplane time unlimited fun.  No time limit iPod use.  Eat whatever you want. (Though you will want to push water a bit so they don't get dehydrated--wonder if I run afoul of EU regs for that?)  Just like the plane ride is an oasis from constant communication, make plane time a vacation from the rules for kids. The older they get, the better this works.
Jet lag, sleep problems get progressively easier too.  If nothing else, you can explain jet lag a bit, but mostly children start having more of an adult sleeping pattern and are easier to get back to sleep when they wake in the middle of the night.  Note well, I'm not claiming jet lag at this age is easy, but merely easier than for a 2.5 year old.

Then sometime around 5, it all gets easier.  I promise.


nooneofanyimport said...

LOL I too have a long list of travel fails with that terrible traveling age window. Including a 3-year old v. TSA agent standoff that for a flash I thought would keep us from flying. (He's really not gonna walk thru the metal detector by himself, Mister. In fact, he's not going to let go of my legs, and he can scream like this indefinitely.)

Fast forward a few years, when we recently flew down to my folks. 9 year old and 6 year old each have Nintendo DS, and each is happy to comandeer the rolling carryons. As they bounded ahead of me down the terminal, I felt so light and burden-free that it was unreal. I love travelling with them now.

AHLondon said...

Re: security standoff--I hear ya. For everyone else, imagine stuff like that, every single step of the journey.
I thought I had it bad jumping the Pond, 10 hour flight, 6 hours jet lag. Some of my friends from Australia or New Zealand had it far worse. FYI for any Kiwis or Aussies reading, they recommend breaking up the trip with an overnight layover. Don't try to power through until kids or older and have some long haul experience.

edgeofthesandbox said...

As of recently, children under 12 don't need to remove shoes. They might not be able to bring a cupcake, but they can keep the shoes on.
I flew Oakland to San Diego with my 4 y/o a few months ago, and it went really well. Granted, it's a short flight...

Kacie said...

We're about to be in the worst stage and about to embark on a season of international travel. Woe is me.

AHLondon said...

Woe is right. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Manage your expectations. Don't think, 'ok as soon as we get on the plane, we can settle.' It might happen, but if it doesn't your dashed expectations will make you edgier. Prepare to be "on" the whole time. Also, take what help you can get. For instance, if your mother in law offers to take care of Judah when you arrive so you can sleep, take her up on it. Recharge and get sleep when you can. Also, when making arrangements, convenience trumps, an express train over a slow train, room with a kitchenette over a view, etc. Any questions, you can always ask. I will know, or will know someone who will know.