Inspired by CN Traveler’s A-to-Z Family Travel Contest, I put together my own list of favorite family travel tips and advice.
A is for Acidophilus, a probiotic nutrition supplement that promotes tummy health and comes in children’s chewable. Our whole family takes some every day on the road to help prevent traveler’s tummy. Eating yogurt works as well.
B is for Backing up important documents. Scan copies of passports, visas, birth certificate, medical information and other important documents and keep the electronic files both on a thumb drive in your luggage and online in Google docs or your email. If anything is lost, stolen, or misplaced, it can be retrieved easily online.
C is for Cabana boy, someone who’s job is to take care of my needs so I don’t have to. I learned the hard way after my first couple of “vacations” as a mom that I need at least a day, sometimes more, where someone takes care of me and my family’s needs. With a wave of my hand or a phone call, someone can do the laundry, bring me a cool drink, arrange an outing, bring my daughter lunch, et cetera.
D is for Doggie bags. Not the ones you take home from a restaurant, but the plastic pet waste bags that come in rolls. I keep at least one roll of the compact, biodegradable bags for every two weeks on vacation for wet laundry, garbage on the go, motion sickness, crinkle toys, spilled snacks, and more.
E is for Etihad and other parent-friendly airlines. Getting off the first leg of our flight in Abu Dhabi, Etihad had strollers available at the end of the jetway to help parents transport kids between gates. The are one of the airlines where families can pool frequent flyer miles. Kingfisher Airlines carried luggage for families, to check-in in our case, and on board with another family traveling with two kids. Gulf Air has nannies for parents traveling with kids.
F is for Fairmont Hotels. The Fairmont Hotel chain makes family-friendly a sophisticated and comfortable experience. More than just providing children’s menus, children are treated with the same attention and respect as other valued guests. Amenities like the apartments at Fairmont Heritage Place in San Francisco, the baby pool co-located with the hot tub at the Fairmont Orchid, and the concierge staff that delivered the sweets I was looking for to my room at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, keep me coming back.
G is for Grass, a patch of which is a parent’s best friend. Wherever I sleep, eat or visit, a nearby patch of grass is my parental ‘binkie’. Excess energy or tiredness can be
tantrumless-ly safely addressed by letting Mirielle run around or chill out. I don’t like to go anywhere without it.
H is for Hopscotch, another way to keep Mirielle
not whining engaged. Remember the old game “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back”? Or “Hot Lava”? The beautiful marble floors in India inspired a hopscotch like games: only step on the red tiles; don’t step on the blue carpet squares; don’t step on the cracks; et cetera. It was a great distraction when Mirielle’s had enough of a place and I haven’t.
I is for Ipod Touch, portable preschooler entrainment on demand. I don’t like unitaskers, so having one small device with long battery life where Mirielle can watch movies and videos, listen to music, play games, draw pictures, and more, was worth the $200.
J is for Job. Mirielle’s jobs on the road include making sure we take our medicine, helping fill water bottles, and making sure everyone has put on sunscreen. Adapting routines from home on the road can keep kids grounded, and the travel jobs keep them excited about the trip.
K is for Keens, my favorite travel shoe for young walkers. When figuring out what to bring on a Hawaii trip, I needed something that could go from the wet ocean, across hotel lawns, to the sharp volcanic rocks and tried a pair of Keens. While I also brought along a dressier pair of shoes as well, they weren’t taken out of the suitcase.
L is for Language. Kids are sponges for language. Preschooler’s brains are engineered to absorb vocabulary. Exposure to foreign languages when traveling – sounds, rhythms, a few words, songs – literally grows their brain and increases their ability to learn. One of the easiest things we do is skip the satellite channels and let Mirielle watch cartoons or variety shows in the local language.
M is for Meltdowns. I’m not talking about temper tantrums or dramatics. I’m talking about when someone passes the point of no return and just needs to cry and scream and stomp it out. It’s hard to travel with kids without them. (And yes, parents have meltdowns, too.) As long as no one gets hurt, I let it happen, but grab my camera to document the meltdown so we can laugh about it later. Also, I like to watch other kid’s meltdowns and give a supportive hand or smile, because it’s a normal part of being a kid (even if it does get you kicked off an airplane.)
N is for Nasal spray. I don’t travel without my 1.5 oz saline nasal spray. Pretty much a moisturizer for the nose, this cheap, natural remedy eases airplane and hotel nose caused by the dry environments (come on, you know, that itchy crud in your nose after a couple hours on a plane?). It also helps with allergies and colds without resorting to medicines.
O is for Osprey Meridian 22″ Wheeled Convertible Pack which is now my luggage of choice. This carry-on sized, wheelie suitcase converts into an ergonomic backpack and has a zip off day pack. After trying on a few packs, the Osprey’s ergonomics set it apart from the competition.
P is for PBS Kids. PBS Kids is my go-to for quality preschooler content for Mirielle’s iPod. Videos of many of the TV programs like SuperWhy, Dinosaur Train, and Word Girl are available for download and the game apps are engaging and educational.
Q is for asking your child Questions at the end of the day. What was your favorite…? What did you think about…? What do you want to tell you class about…? Most of the time I asked these questions, I got something along the lines of “I don’t know” for an answer. Drilling down with more specific questions, I made some progress, but continued asking questions each night with the hope of a breakthrough. The breakthrough came months later when Mirielle started talking about our trip. The things she remembers most are those we “talked” about at the end of the day.
R is for Room Service. While it’s expensive, it can be so much more convenient when juggling nap & bedtimes, bad moods, long days, and other travel surprises. It’s okay to splurge on it sometimes.
S is for Sharing toiletries to keep packing light. The whole family can share toothpaste, soap, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizers, sunscreen and more. For medications, get the children’s version and adults can take the teen dosage.
T is for Tie dye which makes great travel clothing for kids because it hides dirt and stains and will always match something that is clean.
U is for Unplugging, completely. How can I tell my daughter she can’t watch TV or play games on her iPod, when she sees me flipping through books on my Kindle for iPhone. Put away all electronic devices – phones, readers, cameras – and explore with your family for a while. Without the distractions amazing things happen.
V is for you child’s Vantage Point. During our trip to India, we started to let Mirielle take her own photographs. It was a great way to keep her engaged in sightseeing, but is also gave us a view of how she sees the world around her.
W is for Walking. If you child can walk, make them walk more than they think they want to. I’ve noticed a big difference between American parents and our Asian counterparts is Americans keep their kids in strollers for years. (Hello, obesity epidemic?) This is a tough one, and we fought Mirielle’s “Uppie, please” and “I’m soooooo tired,” throughout India with mixed results. Start training before your trip. Travel lighter and leave the stroller behind. (Definitely, a carrier for emergencies.) Leave enough time for short legs to get from one place to another. Don’t give in the first three times your child begs to stop or be picked up.
X is for Xmas gifts on the road. Think little stocking stuffers that can be pulled out as a surprise as a source of excitement and entertainment. On our India trip, I pulled out gifts like a mandala coloring book and a plastic tiger. Some of our drivers contributed gifts including necklaces, a toy cobra, and a backgammon set.
Y is for Yes. Pick a day, or better yet start with an hour, where you say yes to your child’s requests. It takes the pressure off you, makes the kid happy and it can take you to unexpected places.
Z is for Zinc Oxide. Titanium dioxide works as well, but we put on our sunscreen before heading out for the day and reapply often. Right now my favorite is TruKid’s Sunny Days Stick which is great for travel and Mirielle applies herself.