I was talking with a group of friends about summer plans, one of whom is taking an overseas trip to visit family for the first time with their 3 year old. Their trip begins with an overnight flight, which everyone is hoping will mean “sleep.” But then there’s the too-soon-morning arrival, the train, the new place, the different bed, the time change, the funny food. Another person in the group rolled her eyes, nodded knowingly, and, with a sympathetic hand to the arm, admitted to once bringing an entire separate suitcase for her young child’s many toys, favorite foods, and bedding.
So often parents worry that their children’s—or perhaps their own—ability to cope in an unfamiliar situation relies on the degree to which the family can replicate the familiar and maintain a routine while away from home. Sure, it is important to have some supporting structure to the day (no one wants a meltdown in the Musee d’Orsay) and some kids need structure more than others. But as we head out on travel adventures, whether they be to different time zones or to a relative’s house stone’s throw from home, it is often simply the change in routine–the very differentness of it–that is so delicious. As adults, we kind of know this, but somehow manage to underestimate children’s ability to embrace it in their own way.
So what to do to optimize for success? First, get in the right mindset: accept that travelling with children is not inherently relaxing. You can bring a book, but don’t be disappointed if you can’t do a lot of reading. Second, be the right kind of guide: if your child tends to be unsure in new situations, know that a big part of them feeling secure and having a positive experience is based on the cues they get from their adult travelling companions. If you are panicked about details, they’ll sense your unease. If you’re enjoying the ride, the better chance that they will be, too. Is the train trip from the airport just another travel leg, slow and inconvenient, or is it actually pretty cool to be riding on a train? (Remember you waited in line and paid for a train ride at the last amusement park!) Third, put on your laid-back hat: before you leave home, decide that, as much as possible, you’re just going to roll with whatever comes. If your kids need a break, consider bagging the cathedral tour. If you really want to see it anyway? Bribe them. Another ice cream?! So what? You’re on vacation! It’s dinnertime and, uh-oh, no one is hungry! …Who cares? Eat later!
Every parent knows what might really be critical for their child (e.g. the blankie), or what really works for their family (e.g. starting a long drive at night time). But aside from those few clutch things, we say bring on the adventure, and be ready to embrace what summer travels might bring. Bon voyage! –t