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)