How to Travel with Happy Littles: The Dos and Don'ts
Updated: May 21, 2018
When my husband and I first met, we loved to travel. When the boys were born we weren’t sure how we’d ever manage traveling again. Caring for twin babies in the comfort of our own home was hard enough, let alone thinking about moving our circus through the airport, on an airplane, and then in a hotel! We started off with smaller drivable trips and then progressed to longer trips involving air travel.
As the boys have grown they’ve become seasoned travelers and now even have their own passports. We recently “vacationed” in Jamaica for our second time as a family of four. I don’t throw the term “vacation” around lightly and refer to most of our family travels as “family adventures.” Let’s be honest, most of the time you’re traveling with children it’s anything BUT a “vacation!” But Jamaica was a true “vacation” because we stayed at the Franklyn D. Resort in Runaway Bay; every parents’ dream! They have cribs, side rails for beds, black out shades, child-sized pools and water slides, a kids club, bunnies and turtles to feed, playgrounds, and lots of arts and crafts. Oh, and did I mention nannies?!?! My boys were in heaven and so were we! The resort is small enough that parents can easily see their children whenever they’d like, but if you want to reconnect with your spouse there is an adult only beach area and the larger pool has limited children during the early hours of the day as well. My husband and I were able to go out to an adult dinner almost every night while our vacation nanny put the boys to bed and stayed with them until we returned. The cost of the nannies during the daytime is actually included within the nightly room rates. Your nanny is available to you from 8:30am to 12:30pm and again from 1:30pm to 4:30pm. They charge an hourly rate for any additional time if you want to go out to dinner or just take an evening walk on the beach. You are assigned one nanny for your entire vacation so your littles really get to know her and look forward to seeing her every morning. By the second day all of the hotel staff not only knew the boys’ names but not a single person showed any difficulty telling them apart, which as a twin mom, means a lot!
I wish that the Franklyn D. Resort existed at every travel destination we’d like to visit but of course it does not. If you are planning to travel with your littles, whether you’d like to be able to call it a true “vacation” or a “family adventure,” here are some dos and don’ts to maximize fun and minimize stress:
DO: Plan your trip around your kids. If you’re going somewhere where you dream about eating at fancy restaurants, browsing art museums, and/or taking in a musical or a play… leave your kids at home with a trusted caregiver. If this isn’t possible, look into hiring a babysitter or nanny at your destination.
DON’T: Expect your kids to act like adults on a vacation. Kids are kids, right? If they don’t normally enjoy the local fine art museum in your community, don’t expect them to enjoy La Louvre in Paris.
DO: Choose a hotel/resort that is child friendly! Signs that a resort is child friendly can include things like having a kids club, child-sized pool, and/or on-site nannies. It’s always best to ask for recommendations from your friends or social media acquaintances on what hotels/resorts they’ve enjoyed with their kids. If your hotel has a kids club or nannies, try to get a direct recommendation for a nanny that someone you know has found to be trustworthy.
DON’T: Feel like you have to bring cribs, pack n plays, highchairs, etc. Ask the hotel ahead of time what amenities they have for children. Some resorts, like the Franklyn D. Resort in Jamaica even have black out shades that they will have installed upon request.
DO: Attempt to recreate your littles’ sleep environment at home so do bring items from home to compensate for whatever items the hotel does not offer. This includes white noise machines, ok to wake clocks, lovies/special blankets, and garbage bags/tape to cover windows and create a darker room.
DON’T: Forget to bring lots of snacks and activities for the airplane! I recommend packing a bag full of snacks for each of your littles that they have free access to. They’ll love being able to snack as they go without asking for permission. It will keep their tummies full and their hands busy! Bring a few activities including a tablet if your parenting style falls in-line with some special occasion screen time. Otherwise some novel coloring books, stories, and sticker books can also do the trick.
DO: The same bedtime/naptime routine that you do at home! Preserving your child’s familiar routine will help him/her to settle down and go to sleep in this unfamiliar location. Bring the bedtime story you always read, sing the same songs, and give the same cuddles.
DON’T: Skip naptime every day if your child still naps at home. This will result in a crankier little who either falls asleep at the dinner table or resists bedtime like you’ve never experienced before. If you do miss a nap here or there, compensate with an earlier bedtime. Sometimes when you’re on a trip, you just can’t make a naptime happen every single day…. And this is OK. The earlier bedtime will help ward off any negative effects of sleep deprivation.
DO: Attempt to understand the effects of time change and jet lag on your littles’ sleep. When flying towards the west to an earlier time zone, the transition is easier. This is because it’s easier to fall asleep when you’re tired. For example when you’re traveling to the Central Time Zone from the Eastern Standard Time Zone, instead of going to bed at 7pm, now it’s 6pm but your body still thinks it’s 7pm. It can be fairly easy to keep your children up that extra hour and put them to bed at 7pm in the new time zone because they’ll definitely be tired. However, when you’re traveling to the east from the west the adjustment is definitely harder. This is because it’s harder to go to sleep when you aren’t as tired. For example if you’re traveling from the Central Time Zone to the Eastern Time Zone, and you try to put your littles to bed at 7pm, their bodies still think it’s 6pm and they don’t quite have that drive to sleep. If they happened to skip napping that day, it works out perfectly because now they are tired at 7pm so carry on as usual and the transition is a bit easier. If they took a nap that day then put them to bed at their bedtime in the previous time zone. So instead of 7pm eastern, put them down at 8pm (their bodies think it’s 7pm). Wake them up at their normal wake up time the following morning and then keep their nap and bedtime the same as it usually is in that time zone. If that feels too drastic, especially if you’ve crossed more than 1 time zone, then make the change more gradual. Start with later bedtime, wake up time, and nap times and then move them all earlier by 15-30 minutes each day until you’re where you’d like to be. The transition can take a week or so, so be patient!
DON’T: Be surprised with earlier wake times when you’re traveling west to an earlier time zone. Try not to respond to “too early” wake-ups when you first arrive and in a few days your littles should be able to sleep in to a more reasonable time. Remember the black out shades/garbage bags? They will come in handy for this very reason!
DO: Consider prepping for time change 5-7 days before your trip if you’re crossing more than one or two time zones (especially when traveling east). If you’re going west then start shifting schedules later by 15-30 minutes each day leading up to your trip. If you’re going east, then start shifting schedules earlier by 15-30 minutes each day leading up to your trip. This will allow you to maximize sleep at the right times during your “vacation.”
DON’T: Panic if sleep doesn’t fall back into place as easily as it should once you return from your “vacation” or “family adventure!” Just be consistent and patient and things will fall back into place.
DO: Expose your kiddos to natural sunlight in the late afternoon and early morning hours to help reset circadian rhythms and make the transition easier. This advice goes for both at your destination and again once you return home. If any adults you know are struggling with jet lag, light exposure will help reset their circadian rhythms as well!
When traveling with your littles keep in mind that things will be more of an ordeal than they were before you had littles. It’s not easy for a child to sit on an airplane for four hours and behave. Brings lots of snacks and activities and be prepared to be engaged with your children the entire trip. Pack a change of clothes for your child and yourself (in case you are vomited on or your child has an accident on you – sorry I had to go there but it’s a possibility!) The more you travel with your children the easier it will be and it can actually be fun for them and for you! While most of your family trips will fall under the “family adventure” category for a while, you’ll be back to taking true “vacations” soon!
For those wondering, I have no affiliation with the Franklyn D. Resort in Jamaica. We just love it there so much!