Depending on your mindset, the title of this article is enough to either strike panic or inspire glorious, memory-creating moments into the reader. Before having kids my better half and I were lucky enough to travel quite a lot for both work and pleasure. Neither of us stopped to consider whether or not kids would become a limit to our nomadic ways.
Typically, if you see a parent or couple dealing with a screaming child, more often than not you just sink yourself back into noise-canceling headphones and disappear into the safety of the latest season you’re binging. I was definitely guilty of this, however that changed when my own kids came along and my wife and I were living a good 12 hour flight away from our families. With no spare helping hands, and often relying on the (occasional) kindness of strangers, we became seasoned professionals at taming children and tackling trans-Atlantic flights seemingly overnight. Seven years on, we’re still loving traveling as a family of four so I thought I’d share my own takes on this wonderful experience. Despite the trepidation words like ‘children’ and ‘travel’ bring, I guarantee it gives you some of the most glorious times as a family you can imagine.
1. Start traveling together as soon as you can.
In terms of car rides, in the first couple of years the car became a sanctuary. If one of the kids was tired and wouldn’t sleep, a quick drive to Home Depot up the I5 with Bob Marley would soon sort them out. Little known fact - Bob Marley tracks usually sit at 60 beats per minute, roughly the same as a mother’s heart rate at rest, making the baby feel comfortable and therefore ready to sleep.
As a young family we’d often drive to the Oregon Coast to surf. The 90 minute drive each way was glorious as it became one of the few times my wife and I could just talk in peace. These drives became sacrosanct in our relationship. The key though is to start the kids early and get them comfortable with long drives. When our son was 3 months old, we did our annual Christmas drive south from Portland to Ventura then on to Encinitas. It's a wonderful drive through rolling hills, deep forests and beautiful outlooks over the ocean. Yes, it's a long way, around 16 hours door to door without stopping, but we broke it up and made sure to take lots of stops. The great thing about them being this young is that they sleep a lot anyway, so a car ride is a great way to keep moving but keep the little one happy too.
The other form of transport, and likely more stress inducing, is plane travel. After driving back home in early January we were kind of forced into a flight longer than we had imagined being our son’s first. Unfortunately due to a loss in my family we had to fly from Portland to London- a 10 hour flight. The main thing with plane travel at that age is getting used to the air pressure so feeding during take off and landing usually does the trick. Otherwise again, he managed to sleep pretty well throughout with lots of walking up and down the aisle or in the baby Bjorn. Yes I’d graduated to being that dad.
2. Start them flying young.
One thing you don’t realize is that actually the best thing you can do is to begin flying as soon as possible. This is firstly to get the kids used to it, and secondly because at 2 years old, when they are still tiny, you have to pay for a full priced seat. Add in another child and your 700 euro flight home just became 2800. Quite the hike. In our kids’ first two years we tried to do as much traveling as we could to see family, visit friends for both reasons
3. Bring Snacks. More than you think.
Like with anything parenting related, bring snacks. Even now our kids are 7 and 4 and whenever we go snowboarding or to the beach, I’ll look in the jacket I’m wearing and it will seem to have a snack in there somewhere. There’s nothing better for changing the mood, fixing a hangry child or just working as a flat out bribe. To quote Chris Burkard ``your job whilst traveling as a parent is just to be a portable cooler”. Friend of the brand, Mai Ikuzawa, has an amazing way of handling this; “I make these small ziplock treat bags mixed with pop-corn, snacks, wrapped treats and small toys like hot wheels. It gains you 2-3 hours per pack especially on flights or car journeys. I make a few depending on the length of journey."
4. Give yourself time
Go early. Give yourself all the time you need as if you’re stressed, chances are your kids are stressed too. If you’re flying and end up at the gate 3 hours early, yes, it can be a bit dry but the alternative is far worse. We have all seen those families rushing through security as their gate is closing, throwing out their kid’s water bottle and trying to chaperone miserable children through the duty free section.
Some airports are amazing with how they handle kids and parents. At Portland Airport, Oregon they have a great priority line through security for kids and parents and the homeland security people are always amazing. Lisbon has a priority line. London Heathrow, in their quest for ever more automation, seems to have gone the other way.
5. Look to it as an opportunity
See it as one of the best learning experiences you can ever give your kids. Think Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Yes, it's a classic old film but also each provides a different perspective. Flying somewhere gives kids the opportunity to see the sheer expanse of the world. One trip we did a couple of times was down to Mexico. Over the border crossing at San Ysidro you get to experience such a different culture only an hour away from San Diego. We loved doing this trip especially since it was a time that in the US Mexico was being demonized so heavily and as parents I think one of our main jobs is to encourage children to see the world in their own eyes not one built around borders or walls. I asked Chris Burkard for his take on the learning aspect of travel and he told me; “I always try to take my kids to places they can touch, smell, feel or hear.. because they like tangible memories and things register in their memory more when they have things that ignite their senses.”
6. It’s a team sport.
Whether it's you on your own or with a partner you’ll always usually find someone willing to lean in and lend a hand. After all, most of the people on a plane will have been or will be in your shoes. Usually all it takes is someone making a few funny faces from the seat in front to occupy the little one long enough for you to get yourself together for the remainder of the flight.
This goes both ways though. Now, whenever I’m traveling alone and see a family or parent dragging a child, 3 bags, stroller and a car seat, I’ll always offer to help. It goes a long way. I also have taken on the role of Coach Mosley in Last Chance U on Netflix (if you haven’t watched, get it on the list) and give a verbal “you go Mom!”, “good job Dad, you got this!” if I see parents in that situation. My own kids probably just think I’m an embarrassing Dad but hey, I’m down for it.
7. Consider what you're taking by plane.
I always think compact and doable. Don't carry extra bags the whole time. Get a fanny pack for your essentials and valuables and some wheeled luggage that kids can sit on (if old enough). If you're surfing remember that Jordy Smith even takes his kids on trips and discovered that a Surf Coffin or Snowroller is perfect child transportation.
Depending on how many people and hands you are, bags that hook-up to each other are perfect. If our son doesn’t want to carry his backpack we can always attach it to our bag. My goal is to be streamlined going through an airport. One hand on luggage, one for a child, ideally not sweating. Also, get the kids their own bags so they can keep their various toys, Pokemon cards, headphones or whatever else in one place. That's their responsibility. I imagine our founder, Truls, never invented the Hook-Up System™ thinking we’d all be using it to drag our kids luggage around but hey, a decade on and it’s still one of the most helpful systems for parents. We asked Jordy Smith about traveling with his 2 year old by plane “Make every part of the journey fun. Whether it is riding on my board bag or kicking a balloon around an airport at 2 years old it needs to be a good experience so look for those opportunities as you go.”