Travel with the kiddos

Several months ago, Jasper, my 5-year-old, decided we should go to San Diego. I’m not sure quite how he got this idea, but in the way 5-year-olds do, he obsessed about it. He’d ask daily whether we could go. We started talking about some of the activities for kids to do in San Diego (SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, the Zoo Safari Park, LegoLand). Eventually, I bought a guidebook to San Diego. And next thing I knew, I’d planned a trip. We just returned. Here are some take-aways from the experience of traveling with small children:

Cross-country plane flights with kids are just long. Any time you think that “time flies,” try flying with little ones. Then you are aware of the length of every minute. At one point on the trip home yesterday, I was holding Sam, the 2-year-old on my lap, when Ruth (10-month-old) decided she had to nurse right now. So I managed to have the two of them on my lap in a tiny airport seat simultaneously.

Other no-space moments: two kids in an airplane bathroom. Two kids in a regular-sized stall at SeaWorld.

Kids magnify every experience. We went to the Zoo Safari Park in Escondido on a day that turned out to be 100 degrees. While it’s hard to be out in 100 degree weather oneself, it’s even harder to motivate small children to push through. Likewise, while jet lag is nasty, having the baby wake up at 3 a.m. the first morning, ready to go, is even worse. On the other hand, while pedaling around on an aerial track at LegoLand would be amusing as an adult, it was downright exhilarating with the kids who were beaming ear to ear.

Theme parks are best in the morning and in the evening. If possible to just sit somewhere during the heat of the day when the lines are worst — do it.

The phrase “killer whale” sounds less intimidating when said by a 2-year-old: “ki-wuw whale.” Shamu briefly became “Shampoo.”

A good traveling companion makes everything smoother. We’ve taken a few vacations this year, so my husband didn’t take these days off work. Our nanny came with me and the kids instead, and it was awesome. I always took the night shift, but on the night the baby woke up at 3, I handed the kids over at 6 and went back to sleep until 7:30 or so. It was wonderful.

Jack-in-the-box has $1 boxes of mini-pancakes. Perfect for little ones!

Kids are completely unpredictable. One day I got burgers for all of us for lunch because the only place with no line was a burger stand. I was dreading the fight I’d have with Jasper (who doesn’t eat burgers, usually). But he devoured half the grown-up sized burger with actual excitement. On the other hand, I thought I’d get frozen lemonade for a treat one afternoon and the kids both complained bitterly about it (I think they’d wanted ice cream). The splurge was completely wasted.

If it’s really hot, seek shelter in the gift shop. They’re always air conditioned. Browse for a few minutes until you cool off, then brave the heat again. This is how we survived the Zoo Safari Park.

A good day is when you see lions, elephants and rhinos by noon.

There is no joy like watching your children make each other helpless with laughter over a joke you will never understand.

You never know what will spark excitement. At LegoLand, a major hit was this adventure trek (next to a gift shop) where you walked through a jungle, a temple and an Arctic area in search of 6 Lego keys. There were various Lego statues — snakes, mummies, a polar bear — and my kids literally walked through 7 times.

It is possible to pack light with kids. When I was pregnant years ago with Jasper, I met a couple with a 6-month-old child while on vacation. They had packed an amazing amount of stuff for the baby and themselves. It appeared to be all his toys, including the larger ones like special bouncy seats. I realize now that they’d had a rough early few months and placed a high priority on bringing whatever worked for their child. But at the time, I got the impression that this is how one had to travel with kids. Instead, it turns out that one’s personality doesn’t entirely change upon becoming a parent. I re-wear clothes on vacation…and so do my kids (because I pack for them). I took one large duffel bag for me and the three kids — which also contained our booster seat (I rented the other two car seats), and all necessary diapers for 6 days. Indeed, it turns out I overpacked the diapers and wipes — an option for lowering pack weight next time.

What have you learned from traveling with children?

Photo courtesy flickr user The Jacobin (this photo actually from SeaWorld Texas not San Diego… but still)

8 thoughts on “Travel with the kiddos

  1. I now get to experience the joyous site of 3 little boys standing around a toilet peeing together- at least when neither twin has an accident. Prior to this, I prefer to buy diapers and wipes on arrival (and carry enough for a day’s delay). Now that I don’t always carry a diaper bag, I keep a couple Wet Ones singles for the moments we need a wipe right then.

    I also carry a clean flat sheet, since there are always layovers from where we live and it provides a place to nap or sleep at the airport.

    Phidal sticker books are favorite 2/3 year old travel activities, available at Barnes and Noble. My 5 year old loved the activities in the Rand McNally Kids atlas on our trip to Yellowstone, available at Amazon. He got pretty good at reading a map, too.

    Fruit by the Foot is the best airplane snack. Lasts forever with a 1-2 year old, hard to choke on, impossible to drop. Filled with high fructose corn syrup, but my standards drop for things that keep my kids quiet through multiple (some long) airplane flights.

    We hope to visit California in a couple years so I really enjoyed your post.

    1. @Twin Mom – I am sure three little boys is quite the sight! My kids got quite into studying the maps of the various amusement parks too. To the point where we had to have a rule about not looking at the map while walking. They would have walked straight into people over and over again.

  2. We’re doing San Diego in January. I’ll be at a conference and DH, MIL, and the kids will enjoy life. I take my babies to conferences when they’re little b/c it is so much easier than the pump and the absence.

    Renting car seats is the way to go.

  3. Re: packing light, I’m totally with you. As long as you’re traveling in the US or other industrialized country you can really limit the # of diapers/wipes you need to pack. (That’s our big space-sucker right now.) And I was pleasantly surprised to find soy milk available pretty much everywhere so we don’t pack a trip’s worth of that either, just a few boxes to tide us over for the journey.

    I disagree re: renting car seats – to me they’re like motorcycle helmets – when you need it, you need to know it’s not been dropped, expired, broken, etc. I’ve heard too many stories of rental car seats having broken clasps or expired, and no backup available. The companies seem to reimburse you if you go out to Target and buy one, but who wants to deal with that as your first thing on vacation?

    1. @ARC – I see your point on the car seats, but I’ll chalk this up to the things I don’t do with three kids that I might have done with 1 (though literally we could have bought new car seats for the total rental price charged over 6 days). Ours from Hertz appeared perfectly lovely and functional and newish.

      1. Yeah, we’re still at the place where T does better *in her car seat* on the plane (mostly) so we’d need it sooner anyway. I can’t imagine having 3 to wrestle with, though (kids or car seats!) 😉

        I did notice that airlines do not count strollers/car seats against your checked bags if you want to check them in. (Though I’m not sure how they treat them if you check them.)

  4. We actually check our two car seats. We have the ones from the company that used to be called Sunshine Kids and is now called Diono or something strange like that. They fold flat, and we have carrying bags for them, so they make the trip reasonably well. The only downside is that they are fairly heavy, but we just get luggage carts these days.

    I’m sorry you hit San Diego in one of our rare heat waves! It has cooled off this week. The Safari Park would still be hot, but Legoland is probably going to be a lot more pleasant this weekend!

    1. @Cloud- I was pretty surprised by the heat level in Escondido. It was like watching my children melt. I didn’t think we were going to make it past noon, but we just kept going into the gift shop like every hour. And eventually, the heat broke to a degree. Waiting in a 45-minute line at LegoLand at noon was pretty brutal too. But the kids could play with legos while I waited in line.

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