Last year, The Telegraph published an article about why you shouldn’t travel internationally with kids. Unsurprisingly, I read a LOT of attacks on it from parents who traveled across great distances with their children. As someone who frequently travels internationally with my toddler, I wanted to share in their righteous indignation. There was just one problem—like the author of the article, their criticism was based almost exclusively on their personal experiences: Their children went on international trips and were (in the parents’ opinions) fine, so the author of the article clearly didn’t know what he was talking about.
I soon put the article, and its critics, out of my mind. While I understood and even agreed with some of the author’s arguments, I wasn’t about to stop traveling with my (then-) baby.
But then L turned two, and I started thinking about the article again. I didn’t care whether my son would remember our adventures. But I did worry about what they were doing to his routine. Specifically, nap time. And bedtime, which was often pushed late due to later-than-normal dinners.
Even if you aren’t as obsessed with child development books as I am, you’ve probably heard that routine is key to a child’s well-being. And our frequent weekend getaways were wreaking havoc on L’s routine. Sure, our weekdays were fairly predictable (possibly with a longer-than-normal nap on Mondays) but on the weekend… We were lucky to get a nap one out of two days, and when we were traveling, he rarely went to bed before 9.
So I turned to my trusty friend Google and started searching for more on whether travel could be damaging to small children. Like usual, I turned first to Dr. Laura Markham, but I didn’t find anything directly on point. My more generic searches turned up a couple articles, but nothing that really convinced me.
This lack of clear evidence did make me feel a little better. At least it wasn’t obvious that all this travel was harming our child. And as Dr. Laura pointed out, even if you think routine is crucial, there are things that you can do to make travel easier for your child.
So what are those things?
1. Try not to mess with naptime too much.
Unless you have a kitchen, it won’t always be possible to eat dinner at 5:30. And restaurant meals tend to be longer than home-cooked ones, so even if you do eat at 5:30, it’s unlikely that you’ll get “home” and finish the bedtime routine in less than two hours. But you can try to maintain your nap schedule as much as possible. If your child is down with stroller naps, the Mountain Buggy Nano is a great travel stroller for this since it reclines to an almost-flat position. If not, try to go back to your hotel for a proper nap at least every other day.
2. Think twice about making lots of short trips.
Full disclosure: This is not at all how we do it. The majority of our trips are 2-3 nights in a new-to-us city. This allows us to see a lot of places and travel frequently, without exceeding Fernando’s vacation limit. From that perspective, it is the ideal way to travel.
That said, I’ve frequently questioned whether it is best for L. Two routine-disrupting flights in 3 or 4 days can lead to a grumpy toddler—not only during the trip, but also when we first get back. For now, we’ve been able to manage the situation by choosing flights that are most amenable to his schedule, which also means prioritizing (relatively) nearby destinations for short trips. But if it continued to be a problem for us, we would (somewhat reluctantly) consider taking longer vacations 2-3 times a year instead of long weekends every month.
3. Don’t try to do too much.
Some experts say that you shouldn’t do more than one activity a day, but for our trips, that would be unrealistic. (Unless of course, your one thing includes many stops.) But we find that limiting ourselves to two main activities per day (probably with a lot of wandering around the city in between) works well.
4. Choose some of your activities based on your children’s interests.
Most of our city breaks include a trip to an aquarium, a zoo, or a playground. (Or all three.) Not only are these things L is interested in, they also give him the opportunity to run around (usually) in the fresh air. As he gets older and starts making more requests, we’ll let him participate in planning which sights we see while we travel.
5. If your kids are over five years of age, consider alternating between big adventures and “home-based” vacations.
While I think that Dr. Oliver’s claim that young children can’t appreciate international trips is both bogus and irrelevant, his discussions about the benefits of what he calls “home-based vacations” for older kids make some sense. Basically, he says that kids aged 5-10 prefer familiar places where they know what they will and won’t like, while predictability and familiarity make it easier for older kids to escape the stresses of daily life. But this doesn’t mean that you have to use all your vacation for one long trip to a familiar place. Even if you only have a couple weeks off, split the time. Spend one week at a familiar vacation spot and go someplace new and adventurous for the other week. This way, the kids get the comfort of a familiar vacation while the parents get to satisfy their wanderlust.
That sounds like a win-win if you ask me.
Do you ever worry that you’re traveling with your kiddos too much? What do you do to keep their lives “normal” while you’re on the road?