Traveling with kids can be stressful, even for the most seasoned traveler. As parents, we worry about our children. We want to be responsible adults, but we also want to provide experiences that will enrich their future. It’s OK to be anxious. The best we can do is plan for the worst and hope for the best. Here's how I go about that.
“Where’s the best place to take children?” I get asked this a lot. My response is usually a variant of “wherever there are children.” Some places are easier than others, and some destinations are better geared for individual families, but if the local children are happy, healthy and safe, I think it’s a destination worth considering. Don’t be afraid to stretch yourself. Most places on your bucket list are safe enough that you’re considering them. If a destination doesn’t make you a little nervous and a lot excited, you might not be trying hard enough. Go for it!
What should you pack? Less than you think. Really. Here are the non-negotiables:
That’s it. Everything else can be purchased or replaced. For our family of six, we make an effort to bring one small carry-on per person, one piece of luggage full of everyone’s clothing and toiletries, and one piece of luggage for computers, camera, equipment, etc. (We are often working while traveling.) This limited amount of baggage is our goal whether we’re traveling for five days or five weeks. It’s easier to accomplish this in warmer destinations, but traveling light makes it much easier to move from one place to the next, and allows me to focus on counting children instead of cargo.
This is the number one stressor for parents of young children. We worry about how to entertain kids for long periods of confinement. We worry how strangers will react to our tired or grumpy child. We worry if the vacation will be worth the sacrifice of getting there and home. Other passengers are generally kind and supportive—even more so if you and your child are friendly and smartly dressed (black and gray are my go-to travel colors). Consider bringing a change of clothes for you and your child in the event of a spill (young children and portable tray tables don’t mix), along with wet wipes. Then, smile confidently as you board the plane. The TOC Travelpack is a good solution for some mess-free, noise-free entertainment.
Will my child get sick? That’s possible. Sometimes new places can be tricky for young stomachs. But diarrhea can be overcome. Typically, it’s best to stay hydrated and allow the body to do what it has to do. If you or your children are prone to diarrhea, consider packing an anti-diarrhea medication. I always travel with a pain-reliever/fever-reducer so we can respond quickly. Should you pack an entire medicine cabinet? I don’t think so. Pack the things you use frequently at home and trust that if you need additional medical help, you will be able to find reliable, affordable healthcare with the help of your hotel, travel agent or tour operator. Take the necessary precautions (non-aerosol repellants, required vaccinations, pre-trip check-ups) and go with confidence.
Because getting sick is a possibility, buy yourself a little reassurance with travel insurance. You’re much more likely to use it for a trip delay than an illness, but the coverage will give you some peace of mind and may provide more options if serious medical issues arise.
Keeping kids safe is a serious concern. I lost a child in a South American grocery store for about three minutes. It was long enough for me to want to pack up everything and go home. The most important thing to do is talk to your children about staying safe while traveling. Help them learn to be responsible travelers: Remind them to stay close; teach them who they should go to if they need help (like a mom with children, an employee or an officer); and always have a plan for where to meet if separated.
Problems can arise when there is more than one guardian. It’s easier to think that the other parent, grandparent or adult has eyes on your child. In higher risk locations — markets, beaches, swimming pools, etc. — always be clear about who is watching which child.
As a precaution, we often have children carry a card with contact information. These temporary tattoos from Madeline’s Box are good for young explorers on shorter trips. Personalized bracelets, necklaces and tags embedded with contact information can be helpful.
Children are curious and often adventurous — two wonderful attributes of successful travelers. Help them navigate the world by allowing these qualities to develop. Try to restrict them only when there is real danger, so they can explore and appreciate destinations in a way that will have a lasting, positive effect on their impressionable minds. As they travel, they’ll develop confidence and valuable experience.