Guest Contributor Sean Lypaczewski, Teacher Vegan Minimalist
This is a picture of a side street of a small town called Atwood. It's one of the many small farming hamlets that you pass if you ever take the 23 across Ontario. This night in late spring is particularly beautiful. The sun sets over the fields and houses. The seeds of dandy lions fill the air. If you stop and listen behind the hum of the passing cars, trucks and tractors, a place like this has the kind of silence that is only dreamed about in the city.
Tonight though, when this picture was taken, it was hard to hear that silence. My daughter had been screaming in the back of our van without pause. No matter what we did, she kept screaming. What had supposed to be a two hour drive was four hours and counting.
And as beautiful as this image was, I was too sleepy, too much worn to the bone to appreciate it.
My name is Sean.
I'm a dad of two incredible kids under the age of two and my wife Beverley and I have done a bit of travelling with our girls during their short and firecrackery lives. And while I can't boast flights to Europe or the 8 hour summer car rides east that we will one day do, our experiences have really been eye opening.
Now I know that story I started with paints a pretty bleak picture, but I'm here to tell you two important things:
A) we survived, so that means if you are ever in the same boat, you will too.
B) it won't always be that way.
Now there's more to it, of course. If you think about movies, TV, books, or comics, the frantic and exhausted family at the airport trying to keep track of their bags, kids, toys and sanity is an archetype for a reason. Traveling can be stressful for even the most practiced adults. Now throw into the mix a couple of small humans who rely on consistent patterns and possibly nap times.
But it is totally doable. And actually, it can be a tonne of fun. Like, while my wife was feeding our youngest, I got to watch and experience my daughter who is almost two discover an airport. SHE LOVED IT! She loved the planes, the people, walking into the shops and helping buy snacks for the family. She had been on a plane a few times before but this time she knew what was going on. She was at that incredible age where everything is wonderful and an adventure. It was the first time in my adult life that an airport was fun.
Beverley and I have discovered some tips and philosophies that we live by when it comes to traveling now. To parents they might seem obvious, but they weren't to us until we started traveling longer distances with first our oldest and now both our girls. If anything, hopefully they are good reminders to the family of three, four or five road warriors who've been at this longer than we have.
Also, I know that as our girls age, our ideas will have to change with them. But a lot of these seem pretty universal, so here we go.
Lots of time. Lots of breaks.
Traveling with kids takes longer.
Feedings, dirty diapers, pee breaks, or just "She's been in her car seat too long and is crying so let's get out and rock her" means that you are going to need to give yourself a way bigger window than you did before.
This also goes for if you are traveling with someone with kids. You might be used to a car ride only taking an hour or only having to be at the airport for a certain time, but if you are the rockstar Aunt, Uncle or friend who has signed up to run defense on the family trip, just know the time line will be much different.
But with the stops, the chance for breaks are also really important. If someone needs to pee, let the kids get out of the car and get a breath of fresh air. If you need to stop because the baby is crying, taking a bit longer so that you can have a moment of calm is just as important. Take a breath, have a bite to eat, then when everyone is calm (or as calm as can be) get back at it.
SNACKS! SNACKS! SNACKS! SNACK-SNACKS!
SNACKS! SNACKS! SNACKS! SNACK-SNACKS!
SNACKS! SNACKS! SNACKS! SNACK-SNACKS!
If you're hungry, you're grumpy. Double that for kids. If your flying and you don't want your kids to experience that pressure change when the plane is ascending or descending, give them something to eat as they go up! Sure, gum works too, and depending on the snack and the voracity of your kids' appetites it might last longer. But gum doesn't give them any of the energy or nutrients they need. Packing or buying healthy treats for your family to enjoy along the way isn't only good for health and happiness, it can also save you a bit of money. Airports are like movie theaters. They know you are stuck there. So they charge a bit extra.
The way there will probably go better than the way back.
This won't always be true, but it has been for us pretty much every time.
On the way to somewhere we are prepared. We are organized. Our travel times to optimize road/nap conditions are lined up, we are well stocked with goodies, our energy levels are high, and we are ready for battle.
On the way back we are tired. Happy after a good trip, for sure. But the fun is over, our flight is done and there is still that car ride home. Or you are leaving vacation to just get back to work, school, or just life, that long car ride isn't as appealing. We have found remembering this in advance helps us deal with it and the hiccups that follow a bit better.
Which leads me to my next one.
Sometimes it will just suck.
Kids will cry. Someone will get sick, morale will be low. I mean it happens right? As parents it's our goal to try and create the most seamless and enjoyable experience for our young travelers as we can. It won't always work. And that's OK. You've already heard about our worst trip. It won't be the last. But it also won't be the norm. Our girls, for their ages, are incredibly resilient travelers. Better I would say than I am. Remembering that, and also being forgiving on ourselves as parents when it just doesn't work can help cope. And if you are having a time like we did at some point you just make the call to buckle down and just get home. Get everyone to bed. Cuddle and recoup as much as possible.
It will all be OK.
Toys, games, tricks up your sleeve
I am trying to pack less, live with less, and be really intentional when buying something. But when it comes to kid entertainment I will always opt for an extra toy from home in the bag, another book, or some crayons, if it means a bit of fun and a bit of calm.
Every family is going to do this differently. For some it's the family iPad loaded with apps, shows and games, for others it's books, drawing and craft kits. For us it's a bit of both.
You know what your kids like, and you also know what is important to your parenting philosophy. As I read more and more about the importance of boredom in a child's ability to develop their imagination I want to give the girls those moments to themselves, learn what they can do to keep entertained. But I also know that we need to be ready with something to provide if and when that muscle is worn thin.
Finally we are learning the importance of not giving every entertainment option to them right at the start. They can blow through all their toys within the first hour and then feel like there is nothing to do. Spreading out introducing books, colouring, or Disney songs can make each an activity unto itself.
Attitude is everything. If you love it, they will to.
Traveling can make me anxious and I have a tendency to show it. But my wife reminded me in those small minutes of silence with both kids asleep that "they are going to feel how we feel about it. If we want them to have fun, we need to make it an adventure."
That was the shake I needed. It turned a two hour drive to Toronto to "Look! Another big Truck! Coooool!! I wonder when we'll see the next one!?"
And it changed a long line at the terminal to "look at all these people!! They are traveling just like us! I wonder where they are coming from? I wonder where they are going? Hey! Look! Another family"
Sure, it's that over the top zest for life that non parents see us do that make us seem crazy. But it works. And it lets me have fun with my kids. And that makes the line seem faster. It also makes it seem like we aren't flying to a vacation, but that we've already started.
Leave the judgment at home, and a sense of humour goes a long way.
I was always worried of being the family with the crying kid on the plane. I know how much that bugs people. But then I realized, that worrying about that would only make it worse and doesn't really help solve the problem.
We don't know what people had to get through to get on this plane. Or how long that family in the line at the highway stop has been driving, which is why their kids are off the walls.
We are all just doing our best in that moment.
Knowing this about myself has also helped me be more understanding of others. Maybe if someone is rude during security it's not because they are rude, but because they have been having one of those crap days I mentioned before. Maybe they aren't traveling for fun, or they have anxiety around air planes, or a million different reasons why they are acting the way that they are. We can't possibly know. And so reminding myself that helps me deal with some of the uncomfortableness that may occur.
And for anyone who is trying to play defense for an exhausted kid, or for lugging around what seems like all of your and your children's worldly possessions for a weekend trip, a smile and a bit of tongue and cheek humour can really lighten the mood.
"I keep telling her to pack light... but she's only two. At least the pear tree stayed home this time."
"Sorry about them. Up all night partying. You know how it is at all inclusive resorts."
"Well, this airport will make a lovely home. Children, unpack the living room. I believe it is in your mothers' carry-on."
The thing is, anyone who has traveled with kids will get what you are going through. And anyone who doesn't will hopefully appreciate the fact that you understand what is going on and are trying to cope. We can all use a smile sometimes. And just like trying to show your kids the fun in the adventure can help them, trying to acknowledge the humour in a not always ideal situation can sometimes help people soften up a bit.
I hope this helps.
As much as I emphasized the potential tantrums and break downs, traveling with your family can be an amazing time. Getting off the plane and watching my almost two year old run to her grandparents for a giant hug was one of the cutest moments of my life. Getting to share with my girls somewhere new and interesting can create life long memories.
The world is an amazing place. And the only better way to experience it than through your own eyes, is through theirs.
Thanks for reading.
Check out Sean's Blog Teacher Vegan Minimalist
Sean offers a great perspective on modern, minimalist parenting and living. Focusing on simple, clean living, and measuring quality of life by time with his beautiful family and friends.
A huge thank you to Sean for offering a parents insight on traveling and exploring...and surviving your next adventure!
-A Curious Expedition