Traveling with Littles

Hey Ya’ll

Here in Indiana we finally had a semi-dry weekend. We have had so much rain it feels like summer is never going to start. It makes me want to hit the road and begin a new adventure. Since we just got back from Hawaii, we better wait a bit though.

The Stensland Family at the Spitting Cave in Honolulu, Hawaii

We just got back from Hawaii a few weeks ago & I was thinking about travel today. About all the adventuring I want to do with the littles. I’ve jokingly said that a vacation with kids is a “trip” & not a vacation. There is some truth in that. Travel with kids is very different than travel without. For self care & relationship care, I highly recommend traveling without littles as well. It changes the focus and the dynamic when there are kids along.

There is also something magical about it though. Seeing a space through their eyes. Watching them try new things & explore new places. Watching them interact with new people & their perspective on the world open up. I know people say things like “whats the point? They won’t remember it.” Sure, they won't remember what they saw exactly. They might not be able to tell you about their trip outside of looking at pictures of them there but we know that 90% of their brain develops by age 5. The experiences they have during this time period shape their brains. So take your littles to explore the world, especially if you want to raise little adventurers like I do.

There is no denying that travel with kids can be tough though. Here are some thoughts on making it easier:

Take a Deep Breathe

Our kids are going to have tough moments & hard days sometimes. We have the ability though keeping ourselves mindful & calm to impact those tough times. They read our energy. When we step on to an airplane stressed out because we are afraid our little one is going to bother everyone on the plane, all we are adding to that situation is more stress. Your little is looking to model how to regulate their emotions. Will it go perfect? Of course not, but that deep breathe is the difference between making a situation worse or helping to calm it down.

Slow Down, Way Down

Set the pace of your travel whenever possible to your children’s pace. You can’t see everything with littles in tow that you would if you were on your own. We don’t stick to our home schedule when we are traveling but we also try to slow down. Let them fully explore a space at their pace without feeling like you need to get on to the next thing. There are so many sights we haven’t seen in each place we have traveled. When we were just in Hawaii I really wanted to visit Pearl Harbor but it wasn’t the right time or age group for the kids. I was torn because I felt like we “should” because we were all the way in Hawaii. Fill that in with your own should. Common ones are “we paid all this money” “this is the trip of a lifetime” “it’s a must see spot” or “the people we are with want to”. All of those “should”s can be replaced with this thought: “this is not worth making my whole family miserable just so we can check it off a list” Your littles are already stressed from traveling and if its something they would struggle to do in their own element at home (in this case visiting a somber place that deserves respect to learn about history), you’re probably pushing it to ask them to do it on vacation. Save it for next time and relish the fact that sanity and relaxation are more important than doing it all.

Don’t Be Afraid to Split Up

Constant togetherness is overrated! Families are made up of individual people with different wants, needs, & personalities. They aren’t always going to want or be able to do the same things. Don’t be afraid to split up a little. Let mom take half a day to explore something she wants to. Let Dad do the same. Split up the kids for different activities. If you have the option, use childcare and take a night out. Max & I did a great hike in Hawaii that Liam wasn’t ready for. My husband Chris, needs more along time than the rest of us so I took the kids out for activities a few times. These breaks were good for everyone. It also meant that Max & Liam got to experience things that were at their level and ability.

Let Your Kids Choose Some of the Activities

Depending on their age this will look different but don’t be afraid to let go of control a bit and give even young toddlers the option to choose. Make them part of the conversation. With preschoolers like Max, this works best when there are limited options. Typically that means a conversation between his dad & I first. Then giving him two options to choose from. Which hike to do out of two. Which restaurant out of two options. Having a say in what they do with their day gives them a sense of ownership and control (which is a big need for littles who are trying to figure out typical toddler independence & have almost all their decisions are made for them). Depending on your child, I always recommend 2-3 options. More than that can be overwhelming and have the opposite affect.

Offer Grace but figure out the triggers

Lots & lots of it. For you. Your spouse. Your Littles. Everyone is in a new place with new expectations & a whole lot of change. You are probably going to snap at your kids or your spouse in a way you aren’t proud of ( I did both). You are going to have a moment where your brain says “who broke my kid & what the hell if wrong with him right now” ? We had a few of those. Just keep doling out the grace. But don’t just stop there, figure out the triggers. For example, I was super stressed in the second AirBnb we were in. Really snappy & quick to reprimand the kids in a was that isn’t consistent with how I parent. So of course, new situation, so much togetherness, & the end of a long trip; lots of grace there. Looking back though, there are some triggers i can work on to make that go better next time. Our second Airbnb was less kid friendly and a trigger for me is the thought of damaging someone else’s property. Next time I will make sure I look a little closer at the photos and ask a few more questions. I can remedy that situation and reduce my trigger by making sure we are in a place that is kid friendly. Not having any time to just sit down and breathe at the second place because I felt like we were going to break something and/or Liam was about to knock the TV on his head (always ask if the TV is mounted & airbnb hosts if you are set up for families, always mount the tv) put me in a place were I was ready to snap. Those are fixable things. So offer grace but do the work to figure out the triggers. Behaviors don’t tend to just happen, they are there for a reason. When we figure out the why for both us and our kids, we have the power to make changes that facilitate growth & connection.

If you haven’t traveled with your littles yet, I challenge you to just do it. Get out there. Plan at the very least a day trip in the next 6 months. Drop a comment and tell me where you want to go.

If you are a frequent traveler with littles, share your best tip or place to visit with littles in the comments.