In other words: How do I make travel with my kid look so easy and effortless?
The long and short of it is: I only put the good photos online. Nobody wants to see the ones of us arguing or me crying in a corner because I am trying really hard not to book a flight back home because he’s being incredibly ungrateful and I’m frustrated and tired from booking so many countries in a small span of time.
Traveling with your kid can be amazingly rewarding and fun. You get to spend all of your time with your child and be solely responsible for teaching him all the wonderful things about the world. First hand. In real time.
He gets to see the Colosseum and the Great Wall of China; instead of just reading about it in the history books. He gets to eat sushi in Japan and green curry in Thailand. He gets to see actual African elephants IN Africa!
However, traveling with your child as a single parent brings forth its own set of challenges. You spend all of your time with your child and are solely responsible for teaching him all the wonderful things about the world. Just you.
There’s no time out or someone else to tag in when you don’t feel like exploring. Or someone there to occupy the kid so you can get in a good, uninterrupted bath after a long day of walking the city. And it gets even more frustrating when your child, who is usually open to new things and experiences, is super picky when you want to try Korean BBQ and they want pizza. And tries to pull a tantrum. And you argue and fight and eventually pull mommy rank because there is no freakin way you are eating pizza in freakin Korea and you don’t feel like rationalizing with the small crazy person.
It’s not all fun. It’s not all silly faces and jumping off benches for a great photo. Being in a hotel room with a kid who you pay extra money every month for him have his own space at home on a regular basis can be demanding, to say the least.
But there is a way you can survive that spring break trip with your tantruming toddler or social media addicted tween. There is hope, my friends.
Plan and schedule everything. Seriously.
When I travel alone, I usually just wing it and go where the wind takes me. With kids, you can’t really afford to do that. They will almost always elect to stay where the electronics and wifi are. Scratch that. Always. They will always want to be somewhere with wifi.
As much fun as this kid has on safaris and running around a foreign city, he gripes most of the time because I won’t allow him to take his iPad or that when he does have it, there is no wifi. So, to try to avoid the inevitable argument, I plan an itinerary for every day we are on that trip. Because I know it will happen, I make allowances for weather and just plain old laziness. And to help the boy not seem like I’m forcing him to do everything, I include him in the planning as well. I ask him to research three places he would most like to visit and we try to fit that in the schedule. Most of the time we end up at aquariums and arcades tho, but at least he feels like he has some control over the holiday.
You have to take these extreme measures and pretend you’re a travel agent scheduling every minute of the day for a group of senior citizens. Otherwise you will be sitting in the hotel room binge watching Netflix because you were tired of wandering the city for a day and didn’t see anything they recommended on Trip Advisor and have basically gotten lazy and tired because the effort just isn’t worth fighting the blazing sun.
Seriously. You have to figure out how to plan and have a schedule, otherwise you will get overwhelmed with trying to figure it out when you get there. Which isn’t really fun, let me tell you. That happened to me in Korea. Let my lack of preparedness be a cautionary tale for you.
Also, you owe it to your self to not be insanely stressed out during your trip. Your child will probably not thank you, but your sanity will. If, of course, sanity could actually thank you.
Here’s one thing I have learned, Murphy’s law is in full effect whenever you travel. So you have to learn to adjust when things don’t go as planned. It may snow in Korea and freeze you to the bone and have you end up in your hotel room all weekend watching Netflix. A monsoon may decide to come through your island vacation and maroon you to an island with only a volleyball as your friend. You gotta just learn to roll with it and dance in the proverbial rain.
In that flexibility, you have the power to change the course of your travel. You may not get to take that selfie with that famous tourist attraction, but you may find yourself in a random neighborhood having lunch with a local family and sharing stories despite the language barrier. It can happen.
Do your research.
I cannot stress this enough. You have to understand where you are going and not just wing it in an amazing country where you found a glitch fare. There are many countries who have policies on single parents bringing children across their borders alone. There are countries that are going through holidays that restrict not only its citizens from eating or drinking water in public, but also tourists (Ramadan Kareem!). There are countries that do not allow you to sunbathe in your two piece bikini no matter how beautiful their beaches are or where you are from. Burkini anyone?
You have to know what you’re walking into. Even when thinking about the potential safety and health issues that are present in any country, you need to know what to expect. This will save you lots of time and frustration when you show up at passport control and they ask for that notarized letter from your spouse or parenting partner indicating that you have permission to enter the country with your child. Or needing certain vaccinations to even enter the country. Real talk. This happens.
Let’s be honest: You probably won’t be #teamcarryon.
Traveling with kids require stuff. The younger they are, the more change of clothes and things to occupy them you will need. Seriously, kids are messing little beings who just attract dirt and noise and smells. You will have to check that bag. If you don’t, may the gods bless you and your minimalist minion.
Checking a bag isn’t so bad, honestly speaking. Nothing is more frustrating than wanting to explore the city during a long layover and having to put your bag in a locker or airport storage for the time being, or WORSE, drag it around with you because you’re too cheap to pay the $7. (Guilty!)
Even if the layover isn’t that long, it’s just easier to schlep through the airport to your connection without it and your kid and their book bag because they will probably ask you to hold theirs as well.
But you have to be mindful. Sometimes bags go missing. Or get damaged. Or a bunch of other horrible things that happen to bags in that Narnia between you and baggage claim. If you have to check a bag, make sure you have a change of at least undies, and at most a full outfit, in your carry on. Ensure all necessary medications and cash are with you and your electronics. Because, airport thieves are real.
Besides, the truth is you will probably buy a bunch of crap while you are on holiday and you will need another bag anyway. Might as well upgrade from that 22 inch and #checkdatish! That is, of course, if you have free check in. Makes no sense to pay a gazillion dollars for a checked bag. Even less sense for a checked carry on. That’s just stupid.
*cough* Spirit Airlines *cough*
When my son gets annoyed at something, particularly insects, I tell him that they are only doing what they were created to do. I also use this reasoning when I hear of people getting upset at children on flights. Children whine and fart and poop and get irritable and are extremely particular about what they want when they want it. Much like adults who whine and fart and poop and get irritable and are extremely particular about what they want and when they want it.
When you travel with a child, no matter the age, there will be people who don’t have kids who will complain about the fact that tiny humans exist. Fuck em.
Travel with your child and explore all that this amazing world has to offer. But know that traveling with an irrational and unpredictable human comes with its challenges. Know that you will be frustrated and your trip might not go as well as you thought it would.
And also: shit will probably go wrong. You will probably hate most of your time in that country that looked so amazing in all the photos you saw on social media. I know. I will probably never spin in a custom-made dress with my mini me and Mykonos in the background. We’re not that glamorous. I just envy that stuff.
You gotta figure out what works for you. Your toddler and you may never climb Machu Picchu, but you can definitely go on a hike through El Yunque and find some pretty amazing waterfalls. Or if international travel is out of your bank account’s reach right now, you can find a way to explore your own city until it is. Don’t go breaking your bank or losing your house trying to keep up with the Kardashians. 10 times out of 9 they don’t pay for their flights anyway.
Do you, boo boo. And what is realistic for you, your family, and most importantly your budget. Because there ain’t nothing cute about getting back home and your lights are off. The ‘gram will have you living with your cousin.
Know thyself. And thy child.
We like snacks. And we tend to get hangry when we haven’t eaten in about 3 hours. So I always have snacks, even on long plane rides where they feed you often.
I know my kid is more unpredictable than the weather in the Midwest, so I always have a back up just in case. I also know my child gets “bored” easily so I try to make sure things are happening at all times. But I also know he’ll eventually come around once we get going and I should never really have him make a choice DURING the trip. Again, he will almost always choose to stay in the room and then get mad because we didn’t do anything while on vacation. Been there, done that, don’t wanna do it again.
Knowing who we are and how we travel best helps me to prepare and plan. Occasionally I will try to get him to try new things, but I know my son and what he is open to and what he is not. This helps me to avoid conflict on what should be a nice and fun family vacation.
So know who you are and the type of traveler you are BEFORE attempting to recreate some cross-country schlep some lady did with her toddler strapped to her back. Stop trying to be these other people who have trust funds and just be you. The fact that you just want to travel with your kid is pretty awesome. Be the awesome and amazing family that you are.
Be present and enjoy yourself.
Travel is supposed to be fun and relaxing. It’s about finding more about yourself and strengthening your connection with your family. About creating traditions and new experiences that can hopefully be passed on to future generations. What is the point of exploring these new worlds if you’re not here mentally to enjoy it? Answer: There is no point. You should have stayed your ass at home, that’s what.
If you do the research and a little bit of planning, you are sure to enjoy whatever time you have with your family wherever you are in the world. You can’t always plan for every little thing that could or couldn’t go wrong, so don’t even try. But know yourself enough to know what you can prepare for.
Parenting is hard. Single parenting is challenging. Traveling while being either of those is admirable and, not to boast but, a talent.
So, if you’re gonna do it, make sure you enjoy the hell out of it. Find a way to take some time for yourself also. Book a massage and get some time to yourself while your kid is with the hotel babysitter (they have those, you know). Enjoy that book while your son splashes around in the pool. Find a way to enjoy yourself on YOUR vacation. Because it is yours as well.