Tips for Traveling with Kids | an Open Interview with the Haley's about Parenting on the Road
When I got the invitation to visit Norway and Sweden with friends Daniel and Janel Haley, and their kids: Natasha, aged 7, and Lincoln (1a+) I jumped on it. It was fun! The kids had some skirmishes with colds as we traveled and needless to say, it wasn't all games and roses; one memorable afternoon in Norway we climbed Mount Fløyen in Bergen and chatted about why to travel with kids. I loved Daniel and Janel's thoughts on the why they do, and asked if they'd be willing to let me interview them.
JOIN US FOR THE DISCUSSION
Hi guys! Welcome.
Why do you travel with your kids?
Daniel's first answer was, "Because it's frowned upon to leave your children at home alone." Mine seems a little cliche but I think it's good to expose children to a variety of cultures. Growing up in America is fine, but we so often can have this elitist mentality, and think our little spot in the States is all there is. But the world is so much larger, people live differently in other countries and I want my children to know what that's like. To experience God's creation, both the scenery and the people, all over the world.
What is your favorite thing about traveling with your kids?
When smiles and babies and little children break through language barriers. It's such fun to see other people smile and be amused when watching a toddler discover the world around them and it doesn't matter if you speak the same language or not. Everyone, in every country, finds babies and little children cute.
What is something you can't do without for your baby/preschooler while traveling?
For a baby/toddler, a baby carrier, hands down. It's so much simpler than a stroller if you want to travel with minimal luggage, and you get a free workout when walking around a new city.
My note: if I ever have kids I'm totally sold on getting one of these. Functional, light, and it even had a flap to flip up and attach at the shoulder to secure baby's head while sleeping.
What are your favorite kid/adult shoes for walking?
Kid/Adult: no matter the season or brand, always get leather. Quality, real leather. For summer and warm weather and of course, if you're near water, Saltwater Sandals are great. They're waterproof, lightweight, gender-neutral design, and cheap. Only downside: they don't have much grip. They come in kids sizes and women's.
Adult: Both Daniel and I like UGG brand, but not the typical Stone-Age looking moccasin boot style. No, no, no. They make very nice sleek boot styles for both men and women with sheepskin insoles that don't ever smell of dirty socks and quality leather exteriors that hold up well. They also have very nice "sneaker" options that don't scream "NIKE" for walking around town.
For women, I recommend a good leather flat for a slightly dressier look in whatever style you prefer, but stick with a smooth exterior leather. You can polish a smooth leather versus a suede and no matter how scuffed up they get, polish makes them look new again.
What do you recommend to keep a toddler/preschooler occupied during long hours of travel?
We do use a tablet for audio books and podcasts for kids. We don't frown upon screen time on a plane either. It's a special occasion and it keeps kids quiet. Ha!
- For toddlers, I recommend a "First word" type of book with lots of individual images of various objects. It's not a story, but you can point to all the pictures, make sound effects or teach baby sign language and it keeps them occupied.
- For snacks, it's best to hand those crackers or raisins one at a time. It makes snack time last longer which can make all the difference when trying to fill the hours of a long plane ride.
- For older children, a notebook for coloring can go a long way. If I was in need of new crayons or pencils, I'd try to get the triangular ones that won't roll off of plane tray tables. Don't forget a pencil sharpener if pencils are selected.
Tell us about your favorite memory while traveling with your kids.
In Panama, we were surrounded by dark-skinned Central Americans who were captivated by our mostly bald, but slightly blonde and blue-eyed 18 month old daughter. She seemed like a celebrity and was invited to birthday parties on our street by people we didn't really know. But they knew her and included us in their celebrations. It's incredibly fun to think back and know, "She turned 2 in Panama and got to pet a sloth for her birthday." Or, "She was learning to speak not only English and use sign language to communicate, but we were teaching her the Spanish words for dog and horse too, when we lived in Central America."
More recently, Lincoln has been the one who gets the smiles by toddling around on the helicopter deck of a ship traversing the North Sea from Norway to Denmark. Or, entertaining strangers in coffee shops by his childish curiosity when dipping his fingers in my coffee and rejecting his raisins.
Janel, as a globe-trotting mom, what is something you do while traveling that is for yourself?
When I'm at home in the States I typically sew or do something creative in my spare time. But packing a sewing machine is NOT practical, so I knit when we're traveling. I like to purchase yarn from the country we're in, make something new while keeping myself busy and have a souvenir all at the same time. The other thing I've done is compile a Shutterfly photo book with pictures of our trip when we have down days or rainy days at the AirBnB. Then whenever they have a free photo book code, I'll have the book ready to order.
And, I blog. It's easier to do when we're away because once we're back home, normal life seems to take over and it gets shoved to the back burner.
Daniel, you're the guy coordinating the tickets and travel times for your family. Any tips on booking rentals, cars, or flights? What about travel do you enjoy for yourself?
- When booking lodgings (we use AirBnB as much as possible) I like to zoom in on the location on the AirBnB listing embedded map and then cross reference with GoogleMaps. You can often pinpoint the location with Satellite and StreetView to get an idea if you like the area, if a bus stop is nearby or so you can see the exact house. AirBnB hosts aren't always the best at describing their property so additional information is often nice to have but requires some research.
- For booking rental cars I like to use Priceline.com for research and AutoSlash.com to receive notifications of a drop in rates so I can cancel and rebook at the lower rate. If traveling to Europe or Oceania (this may be true elsewhere also) get a diesel vehicle if you can. Even if you need to pay a higher daily rate. Diesel fuel has been cheaper than gasoline on my visits to these areas and diesels are much more efficient so I've saved money by going with diesels.
- SecretFlying.com is good for finding flight deals.
One of the things I most enjoy when traveling are my morning walks. I can get out on foot (typically while listening to a podcast) and explore the area. I walk in the mornings at home as well but doing it in a new environment is enjoyable. I also enjoy driving -as long as it's outside of denser urban areas- and checking out what types of cars are popular in different areas.
Another thing that is good about traveling as a family of four is the fact that we now have these shared experiences that we can look back on as part of our identity as a family and as landmarks for times and dates in our lives. So we might say, "That happened right after we got back from New Zealand." I think it helps us orient ourselves on a timeline as we look backwards.
What would you say to other parents traveling with kids?
- Remember when packing, kids don't need a ton of clothes. Keep it simple and use a simple capsule wardrobe for them too. Especially if you will be staying somewhere for a longer period of time and have access to a washing machine. Stick with easy-to-wear, easy-to-coordinate fabrics and colors. I'm not a fan of kids in bright-neon colors to begin with, but when traveling in Europe especially you'll blend in with the locals much better if you stick with more subdued colors: think black.
- I learned a while ago to bring a travel size stain-remover with me to make those clothes last even longer.
- Don't pack too many toys. It's more fun to purchase a little something in the country you're visiting and make it the toy they can take home as a souvenir and play with while traveling. Particularly for toddlers, their favorite toys aren't toys anyway. Empty yogurt buckets or kitchen pots and pans are the most played with items anyway.
- Be prepared, but don't over-do it with first aid kits and such. Unless you're truly headed to the jungle or the desert, pharmacies are always available and you can purchase pain killer or cough medicine right where the locals shop IF you need it. Same for diapers and even clothes. If something wears out, there is usually a shop somewhere that has what you're looking for and voila: you have another practical souvenir to take home, plus a conversation starter: "Yeah, my son wore holes in the knees of his pants, so we got this cute pair when we were in Denmark."
- Even when the children are acting up, if the parents are calm and have a good attitude, it makes it so much easier for the people around you observing how you handle situations as well as yourself. Fake it if you have to.
- Give yourself grace for the moments that aren't ideal and realize that sometimes you're doing all you can and the child might still scream.
- I'm always surprised that most people around me are more sympathetic than my mind imagines. They have probably had kids before and fully understand what you're going through.
- Accept the reality that this trip with young children may not be the time for casual relaxing and lingering at the coffee shop. You do have to put aside some of your preferences when making plans and incorporate more playgrounds.
- Traveling with little children will be harder than when you're single or just as a couple, but we do things that are hard because sometimes the easy route is too commonplace.
Wow, thanks Daniel and Janel, for these awesome and informative answers for traveling with kids - I love it! I saw firsthand the joys and frustrations of traveling with kids but I can still truly say I want to travel with my kids someday. You both are an inspiration.
For the rest of you, head on over to Janel's blog, "Ordinary and Beyond" to get the realtime updates of their travels.
---> Don't forget to tune in next week to get 7-year-old Natasha's perspective on traveling and what she likes and looks for in different places and cultures.
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