As Americans everywhere rang in the new year of 2020, many of us parents made resolutions to better manage the time so that we might have more time with our children. One of the best ways to carve out time for the little ones is to bring them along on our travels--but that can be a can of worms in itself. According to NYU’s travel study millennials are one of the most travel-crazed generations, yet like other generations cite difficulties in traveling with children as the main deterrent. In this article we’ll go over some of the most crucial tips to make traveling with your child as stress-free as possible--the less stressed parents are the more mental bandwidth they are free to commit to fostering a positive experience in their children.
The Younger the Better
The first tip is somewhat counter-intuitive. When planning a trip, whether its for business or pleasure, it is crucial to create a schedule to ensure you and your family are able to meet the goals you set. Sometimes that may mean ensuring your child has an activity while you attend a meeting or while you and your spouse enjoy a romantic dinner. According to Rainer Jenss, the president and founder of the Family Travel Association, children from the range of newborn to 2 years old are most maneuverable for the purposes of travel. “Kids this age are portable,” he said. “You can take them anywhere and keep them happy as long as you create a comfortable environment for them and keep them on their routine.”
Keep to a Schedule
Whether your child is of the younger age brackets or approaching the tween years, the fact remains that adhering to a schedule is crucial to managing their activities. A young child accustomed to relaxed mornings will probably not enjoy a play date at day break. It’s important to be wary of time zone shifts in daily schedules, too, because children are particularly resistant to changes in their sleep schedule. And you don’t want a grumpy toddler on your hands due to shifting their bed time hours. Amanda Norcross, editor of Vacation Critic, explains the importance of schedule-keeping for your young one, “If your infant is on an eating or sleep schedule, try to stay as close to that as possible on vacation and plan your days accordingly,” she said.
A helpful tip here is that there is a sweet spot in infants between 3 to 11 months old where experts recommend they get 14-15 hours of sleep with another window in toddlers ranging in age from 1 to 3 who are recommended to get 12-14 hours. This is a fantastic window of opportunity for parents even if they are relegated to quieter activities in the room.
Energy Expenditure is Key.
Regardless of the age of your child, the more energy they expend throughout their daily activities the better. Even if your infant has not yet learned to walk, they can still stretch out or roll around on a mat. If you’re child is old enough though be sure to bring them on your morning walks or a sight-seeing trek around the resort. These activities--even if met with protest--are crucial for burning off the excess energy which can often lead to restlessness or behavioral outbursts--but be sure to schedule plenty of rest time for the young ones to recover as well, since exhaustion is equally likely to catalyse rebellion. Naptime is one of the few mercies granted to parents and should be viewed as a tactical maneuver to be made the most of during vacations especially. Afterall, a sleeping child is a good child.
Some quick tips for managing your child’s energy levels after being cooped up in a car or plane seat all day: Involve them in the unpacking process; which may require some creative world-building to obtain their attention (such as saying if they unpack their bags within a certain timeframe they will be rewarded with their favorite snack). Take them on errands; perhaps with the assurance that you are on a treasure hunt, or that you’ll take them for ice cream after. Basically if it’s going to exhaust you and your spouse, find a way to incorporate your children as well, so that your energy levels as a family unit will remain in sync.
Manage Attention Spans
The attention span of your child will depend entirely on where they are developmentally at that time. Their attention spans may be similar to that of goldfish or that of a wartime spy engaged in espionage. Temper your expectations accordingly. Specifically, experts suggest that a reasonable attention span to expect from your child can be deciphered in this equation--2 to 3 minutes multiplied by their age in years. In many cases, a shorter attention span is preferable as it allows parents to easily distract children if discontent arises, but often times the opposite is true, too.
Here inlies one of the most crucial tips for managing your children abroad--keep them entertained. This is easier said than done, because there is an implicit precursor to being able to successfully enact this tip: to entertain your child you have to know your child, in order to truly understand what activities arrest their attention. Experts believe this process is among the most important skills for parents to master.
Some quick tips in this regard: For the younger children, toys are a great tool. Many guides often neglect the mention of toys for fear of sounding overly materialistic, but the truth is found in history--children have been playing with toys for thousands of years, and happily distracted children make happy parents. As children develop, they will find experience more alluring than toys, so one of the best ways to ensure your travel experience is enjoyable for everyone is to ensure your destination has plenty of activities that are age-appropriate for your child.
Foster Creativity to Ensure Engagement
Recent research suggests that when a child is creatively invested in an activity, they are much more likely to pay attention, and indeed, enjoy the activity. How can you take advantage of this during your travels? A surefire way to jumpstart the process is to involve the limitless imagination of your youngster wherever possible. As adults who have endured the galvanizing experiences of maturation it can be easy to forget that our children live in a world full of possibilities.
Some quick tips: Start the process before you leave on your trip. A good way to lay the groundwork for future traveling is to involve them in the shopping for luggage with a prompt to enrapture their imaginations. Perhaps tell them that they are explorers setting foot on a new land for the first time, or that their luggage is imbued with the magical energy that lets planes lift off the ground--the idea here is to transmute the mundane into the magical, because it is a freedom sadly relegated to young minds.
Another tip: Find some stories about the destination that your child might find interesting--is it a town that has great ghost stories? Was it the location of a war fought long ago? Or is it one of the most biodiverse places on the planet where the animals found challenge even the most robust imaginations? If you manage to capture their attention, you will undoubtedly find that after they take the bait you will struggle to keep up as they creatively invent a world of myth to parallel what--for them--is a trip into the unknown.