Pack Your Bags, Mom!

We all know that traveling with our children can be difficult. I consider myself a somewhat seasoned traveler with children, and the idea still can make me quake. There are many stages of travel, and they all have their own levels of hell. But my advice? Do it anyway! 

The newborn stage requires you to pack up so much that people think you must be moving. I can remember traveling alone and trying to make it through airport security. It takes a lot of mom skill and strength to take a baby out of the stroller and hold said baby while trying to break down the gear, all the while feeling the boring eyes of everyone behind you in line. Oh, the looks I received when my baby wouldn’t stop crying! The lady next to me requested to have her seat changed. But do I regret the solo trips from Florida to Texas to visit my parents when my son was a newborn? No! At that time my father was sick, and my parents were not able to travel to see my baby boy.

We laugh now at a summer trip when my daughter was nine months old and my son was six. We had gone for a wedding and there were many long drives. At one point, I had fallen asleep after being up sick all night. My husband was driving, but he was also sick and fighting sleep by slapping his face. My six-year-old asked, “Daddy, why are you hitting yourself?” When my husband could not fight sleep anymore, he pulled over on the turnpike for a quick nap. The last thing my husband says he remembers is my son saying to his baby sister, “I guess it’s just you and me.” My husband and I won’t make it on the list of “Parents of the Year”! But do we regret this amazing trip where my son got the opportunity to be a part of a beautiful Hindu wedding? Do we regret getting to visit the family and friends who gathered? Absolutely not! 

In the toddler stage, there is no containing that little bundle of energy. I remember a four-hour flight with my two-year-old son from Houston. I hope the people on that plane have forgiven us. Once we reached our destination, I remember the horrible diaper rash my two-year-old son developed. My husband’s native Trinidad is a tropical island on which the humidity is incredible. I had no idea that the local moms relied on baby powder/cornstarch. I remember the late nights where we were completely off of our bedtime schedule. Yes, we had a few meltdowns and tantrums. While that trip won’t bring memories for my son, I remember the look of family members who got their first glimpse of their new family member. I also remember that each trip to this place gives me more of an insight into my husband’s culture and childhood.

A trip to NYC brings memories of me holding my son with one hand and using the other to help my husband haul my toddler daughter’s “light” umbrella stroller up and down the multiple stories of subway steps during one sweltering summer. But I still get goosebumps when I think about making it to Central Park and getting to the Imagine landmark, where there was an impromptu birthday tribute to Paul McCarthy. My son happily sang along to Beatles songs that my husband, an avid Beatles fan, had exposed him to. 

The preschool and early school years gave us yet another stage of travel—diaper changes were replaced with restroom issues. My husband claims one of the worst experiences of his life was having to deal with with my son and a bathroom in NYC. I never asked for exact details. I also heard the story of when he was stuck in a NYC traffic jam with our son, who of course suddenly needed to “go.” A bottle in the back of the car had to do the trick. But those were trips when my son got to know family members like Great Uncle Sonny. My son was there for his 80th birthday and, later, his funeral. My husband wanted to make sure to take him to say goodbye. It wasn’t an easy trip, but I remember many nights later my son wanted to pray for Uncle Sonny in heaven. To this day, he asks about the well-being of Uncle Sonny’s widow, Auntie Ivy. The connection was made. 

On another trip we left Miami’s Bayside Marketplace, where there are plenty of restrooms, and headed a couple of blocks to the American Airlines Arena, where there were no public restrooms. I ended up in the bushes under the cover of night with people walking just a few inches away helping my daughter. Not a glorious moment, but an important gotta-get-it-done moment. This was during the NBA finals, and I remember the excitement of the crowd. It was amazing to be there in our family Spurs t-shirts as people high-fived my children. We didn’t go to the game, but it was enough to be there. 

In Savannah, Georgia, a tropical storm rained out most of our sight-seeing plans, but we managed to eat great southern food, see a few beautiful Southern homes, and take a short walk through a beautiful park with huge trees, a glorious fountain, and wrought iron benches. Then the rain came again in huge buckets and, at that moment, my daughter stated in a tight, desperate voice that she needed to “go.” My husband and I looked at each other, and my darlin’ husband, in true Southern gentleman style, grabbed an umbrella and my daughter’s hand. I could barely see them through the rain as they rushed off. 

I could rattle off more stories about a child throwing up shortly before entering the Smithsonian, my son stating the best part of the Grand Canyon was the trees (?!), and my children sitting confused and silent as everyone around them spoke Spanish in Mexico, but the point is, these memories and experiences would not have been made if we hadn’t buckled down and just packed those bags! It isn’t easy, and nothing will go smoothly. But I hope that if you get a chance to travel, you can be brave enough to allow your family to grow and learn from the experience. It is an education that will broaden your horizons and open you to other views, and although it might not seem like it, it will do the same for your children. Now I’m off to practice my supposed stress-relieving breathing techniques for my family’s upcoming trip to Europe this summer. My heart rate is starting to race.


2 Responses to Pack Your Bags, Mom!

  1. SarahB March 17, 2017 at 8:43 am #

    We lived in Europe for six years. It is NOT a stroller-friendly place, and we traveled all over. Babywear wherever you can, or bring a small stroller if you have to. American strollers are massive compared to European strollers, and they are a pain to get on and off a Metro quickly. I’ve seen too many panicked faces as the doors began to close and the stroller was halfway out. Don’t be those people. Cobblestone streets will murder the wheels. Plan for that if you bring one.

    Now when it comes to jet-lag, watch out because losing six hours is rough! It helps to book an apartment on HomeAway or AirB&B to get them settled, but either way try to stick to the bedtime routine you have at home. A warm bath every night helps overcome it faster.

    Pack plenty of sunscreen and pain relievers/meds so you don’t have to buy them there. Sunscreen in the EU is not cheap (€20+) and ibuprofen and Tylenol can’t just be purchased at a gas station OTC. Those require a trip to the the pharmacy, and the pharmacist might not speak English. Brush up on your language skills before you go. The locals do appreciate it.

    Other than that, you are just managing sleep-starved tantrums a bit more often and trying not to get scammed/robbed. Always always always have small change in Italy so that “I don’t have change” can’t be used as an excuse to take your €20. Also make sure you know what the currency looks like. There were plenty of times in France and Belgium that we were given back Francs (I caught it) and a few times in Italy given back Lira (also caught it). A theft proof bag is also a good investment. Parents tending to crying children are distracted and a good target for a quick theft, especially on metros and busy shopping areas. Crimes there are of opportunity, not violence. Just watch your surroundings and you’ll have a great time.

    • Rosalinda
      Rosalinda March 23, 2017 at 12:14 am #

      Thanks for the advice, Sarah! Since we are past that stroller stage, I’m glad we won’t be worried about that aspect. But the info on sunscreen and pain relievers sure hit home. I’m on it!