You’re sleeping well, a nice dream, and then….someone is crying. What’s going on? Where am I? At a hotel, ok new place, is that my 18 month old? 12:02 AM, wow it’s too early for her to wake up. Why the screaming? You finally realize it is your daughter probably having a bad dream. You scramble to find the “magic bullets”….glasses (to see), milk (for her), and iPhone (for both to calm her down and for passing the time…just in case it is a long time awake).
Traveling with a young child is not easy, not by any means. For every undisturbed night there are at least 4 where Indi (our 18 month old) is up at least once. You try to replicate those good nights – same routine, food, entertainment that evening. Once up, you use every trick in the book to get them back to sleep – rocking, pacing, singing, bottle, change…and in times of extreme urgency (like tonight) some form of wireless device. Tonight it was showing her video clips from our trips. She particularly loved herself playing in the ball pit at the hotel and restaurant we had lunch in today.
We post lots of pictures, tweets, and blogs to share our experiences and keep in touch with friends and family. But it is not always easy, and sometimes there are tough times, long nights, and the thought of can we really do this trip, or day trip, or should we change the plan. Somehow someway you end up finding a way to do it, usually with less sleep and improvisation and in the end the fun and memories from our family travels ALWAYS make it worthwhile.
How we do it starts with planning and “nice equipment”. My wife Sarah is an amazing and incredible planner. She has every detail planned, and this is constantly evolving as Indi grows and changes. It starts with the always important diaper bag. Before being a dad I thought that a diaper bag was I guess just for diapers, and actually I never even gave it much thought at all. Of course there are the diapers, normal and 12 hour, with just enough for that day (you don’t want to carry too much especially when you often are the one carrying), the wipes, Vaseline, and hand sanitizer all stored in the handy fold out diaper pack. There is the food, a very important and tricky component of the diaper bag, which (lately) consists of Cheerios, teddy snacks, german fruit packets, a spoon, and the meal of the day. There is the spare outfit, the hat, sunscreen, hand towel, bib, spare NUKs, toys, books, medicine, and then some. The all important diaper bag may very likely save the day. Other highly rated and kid approved equipment is also key. We invested in a Baby bjorn travel crib. Indi sleeps about as well as in her home crib and it folds up about as small as a briefcase, great for transportation. We have what seems like a comfortable Britax car seat that Indi sleeps very well in. She stares out the window and can sleep for over an hour. Today she slept through three different countries on our drive back to the hotel.
The other aspects of planning involve the location and itinerary. We use booking.com and stay in larger hotel rooms with a kitchen, usually an apartment. We were surprised at just how many places have apartments in Europe that live up to my former hotel manager wife’s luxury and cleanliness expectations. We also plan our day around Indi’s naps. Autobahn stops, especially in Germany, are clean and efficient with wonderful changing areas (sometimes even stocked with diapers and heat lamps) and play areas for kids. We do lunch out but rarely dinner so that Indi can unwind more easily in the Hotel room. This was a hard lesson after a few late dinners resulted in very late nights. We also plan sights in advance and call ahead and reserve a table. One trick we like is to run into a restaurant first to check on a high chair and the crowd. Indi has about a 4 in and out of the car seat limit per day so we choose wisely. We also look in advance for stroller friendly settings, for example where we are staying in Austria has trail maps with stroller friendly trails marked! Now that we have the cliche minivan we sometimes even bring two strollers – city and country versions- and a baby bjorn. We also have her shows prepared. We hesitated encouraging her love of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Bubble Guppies but she knows her colors at 18 months because of them we are pretty sure so we felt better about it. It’s the little things.
I grew up loving to travel – reading maps, seeing road signs, lakes, rivers, mountains, sky scrapers. Growing up I would always want the map, even when very little going up to Buffalo with my parents. Asking questions, lots of them, which I still do much to my wife’s annoyance on occasion. I’m the geek who has to sit at the Airplane window seat, even as an adult, to see the sights. I want to give Indi the same opportunity to love travel that I had.
Traveling with one 18 month old is difficult at times. I cannot imagine doing it with more kids, it must get all that much more difficult. You learn to be flexible and to improvise. The memories as a result I will never forget, they are as the commercials say…priceless. We will never ever forget Indi’s joy at running along side a mountain lake with glaciers and mountains in the background or her smile whenever we get to a new destination and she is allowed to explore.
It’s 1:15 and after a change, two rounds with the bottle, several iPhone clips, and two tries in the travel crib she is sound asleep….for now.