Travel with little kids? Yes, says Travellin’ Mama

I have to admit that I’m intrigued, bordering on obsessed, by parents who travel with their very young children. As a travel LOVER, I aspire to leave the country every year someplace other than a Disney cruise. But somewhere between my good intentions and the realities of airfare and car seats, I freeze in my tracks. This guest post continues a short series from other real-world moms who have traveled with their little ones and lived to tell the tale.

Nancy Harper is a Canadian mom, writer and travel junkie who lives on a farm in Ontario. She is the author of Travellin’ Mama: A Parent’s Guide to Ditching the Routine, Seeing the World and Taking the Kids Along for the Ride, and the instigator of her family’s upcoming current two-month odyssey through Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

A few years ago, a random middle-aged guy told me that traveling with kids is IDIOCY. And he was kind of right in a way. Crappy stuff happens, for sure, like when I spent 36 hours trying to get from Melbourne to Toronto with a squirming, barfing one-year-old on my lap.

Maybe you’re wondering how young is too young when it comes to taking your kids on the road. Many parents say the best time to start traveling with kids is never.

While I agree that traveling with babies and toddlers demands a certain skill set – steely determination even – I actually think that hitting the road en famille rocks (even when it TOTALLY sucks!) especially if in your carefree pre-kids days you happened to dig traveling a lot. And here’s why: Because the altruistic mom who gives and gives without getting that regular gig for herself wakes up one day to realize the children she so painstakingly raised are not only completely spoiled but utterly incapable of knowing what it is to be considerate of, or even vaguely aware of, another person’s place in the universe.

I was really fortunate a few years back to experience a long-haul family adventure across Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and southeast Asia. And although my kids were older at the time (6 and 7) I do believe that babies and toddlers aren’t necessarily travel-averse creatures, or that we should automatically give up doing the things we love because of them.

The trick is in the approach (and of course the ability to keep your sense of humor handy at all times).

So here, in my humble opinion, is the long and the short of it:

long flights bad, road trips good

Plus a few other tips:

  • Don’t expect too much of them (no kid cares about the scenery!)
  • Take on something you want to do (give your kid some credit – they can almost certainly handle something a bit more interesting than a playground)
  • Lighten up and don’t forget to have fun
  • Be flexible even if you have a plan
  • When traveling by plane: Got a baby? Reserve one of the bassinet seats. Toddlers and older kids? Let ’em watch as much TV as they want!
  • By train: Reserve a sleeping car if possible. Kids love the sense of adventure and discovery as much as you will.
  • By car: See as much of the U.S. and Canada with the kids as you can. If you’ve got plenty of time, drive only a few hours day and give them plenty to get excited about at the next destination.

What I do know is that in all my adventures with my daughters – many of them awesome, some about as palatable as a poop sandwich – have reaffirmed for me something that most Rookie Moms readers likely already know: Going after what we want doesn’t make us bad or selfish parents, it actually makes us happier people, and therefore better parents.

I dig this philosophy so much I wrote a book about it. Travellin’ Mama is about the funny stuff that happens on the road with kids. It’s also about the unbelievably annoying shit that makes you want to start smoking again.

Mostly it’s about showing parents who yearn to travel that it’s not only possible to travel with kids, it’s amazing to travel with kids. And it sure beats living with the regret of having put off one’s own dreams to faithfully toe the modern parent’s sacrificial line.

We should all take the time we need to do happy-mom things. And if your happy-mom thing happens to be traveling, who’s to say the kids can’t come along for the ride?

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[All photos from Nancy Harper and Travellin Mama blog except the snazzy header which Whitney made for our series of fun, real-world travel adventures]