(Warning: Ridiculously long, self indulgent post with too many pictures. This is kind of my scrapbook. Sorry. If you skip, don’t miss the last picture. Unless you think torturing kids a tiny bit for fun is mean. In that case, sorry. Sort of.)
Mexico was awesome. We had so much fun.
A few people have asked me about traveling with a pod of small kids and I sat down and compiled a list of “dos” and “don’ts.” I don’t do advice very often. I know we are all intelligent, capable parents who are adept at figuring out what works and doesn’t work on our own.
Before you are all, WTH? I don’t have to listen to this women natter on about traveling with children. I’ve traveled to Asia and back with three children three and under. Pregnant. BOTH WAYS. Right? I win. It’s like I’m an expert at torturing myself with marathon length airplane rides with children. Why do people not line up to be me?
Here I go, with varying levels of sincerity:
Don’t carry on gobs of stuff. It sucks. We’ve tried it both ways. We’ve traveled with car seats on the plane and without. With tons of toys and without. Without works better. I take crayons, new coloring books, snacks and water bottles. Not kidding. Even for long trips. Then, I give myself pep talks for days about how I will have to entertain them. Like, actually play with them. Let me repeat. It sucks. The playing with them for hours on a plane, I mean. But, it’s easier than screaming at each other about loads of bags/crap that doesn’t entertain them anyway.
Don’t take car seats on an airplane for toddlers. The straps are nice, yes. But the logistics are hell and THEY CONSTANTLY KICK THE SEAT IN FRONT OF THEM. It’s awful. They can’t help but kick it, their feet are right there.
Don’t overdo it on the sweets. This might be just me, but I’m not a fan of the “anything goes to keep them quiet, bring on the lollipops” theory of traveling. I took huge lollipops with me once on a plane. Never again. They kept the kids quiet for about two milliseconds and we were all sticky and horrid and there was Ebola Zaire harboring airplane fuzz stuck all over the gross lollipops that they wanted me to wash. As if I had a way to do that. Bleh. Now, I take gold fish and cheerios. My standards.
Don’t sweat the one horrid person you run into on a plane/at your gate/on the train, etc. So what? I have met so many wonderful people. I’ve been helped by lovely people from Washington, D.C. to Seattle. People are surprising. Sometimes, the guy in the three piece business suit is a doll and the gray-haired grandma type gripes at you for two hours about your really well behaved, QUIET, toddler playing with the tray table. Until you just want to be like, really, lady, shall I tell him he can’t touch it and we’ll all listen to him howl for three hours? You tell me.
Do take a stroller. It’s easy to gate check a stroller and it’s heaven with a tired kid. It’s a place to put a baby. It’s a way to push your carry on bags if they all insist on walking. Best of all. It’s a time out zone with straps.
Do enthusiastically kiss the ass of the angelic stewardess on Frontier Airlines (Thank you Frontier; your planes are awesome and your staff was lovely) that activated our personal TVs at no charge, giving us free access to Dora the Explorer for the entire trip from Border of Idaho, WA to Cancun. Oh.my.god.the.blissful.quiet.
Don’t worry too much about your kids getting sick or injured. Try to remember that statistically, your child is at most risk in your car on your local roads. If you are leaving the U.S. and you are unsure of the health care at your destination, do buy evacuation insurance. World Nomad is the company I use. If you or your child is critically ill or injured and the local medical facilities can’t help you, they send a helicopter to evacuate you. That peace of mind is well worth $150.00.
If you can, rent a house or a suite with a kitchen. Life is so much easier if you can offer your kids familiar food and avoid eating out at every meal. Bonus, it saves you from having to yell at your children in front of locals who are just trying to enjoy their meal with their incredibly well behaved, adorable children. You know, the same reason you don’t like to eat out at home. We were able to let our kids try plenty of local food from fruit stands in Mexico. We even fried them plantains. After I let Quinn eat two for breakfast, thinking they were bananas. Worldly, I know. Raw plantains are kind of like raw potatoes. Mmmmmm. Raw starch.
Do try to keep the sleeping arrangements similar to your home. Cranky, tired kids are horrid. Cranky tired mom defeats the entire purpose of getting away.
Don’t share a room with your kids to save money. Unless you enjoy contemplating suicide.
We rented a house with another family in Akumel about an hour south of Cancun. Amazing. Seriously. Built right on the water. It was jagged and rocky behind our house, but only a brief car ride on a quiet, almost private road, to a gorgeous protected sand beach. Elise and I threw our kiddos in the rear of their rented SUV and two-mile-an-houred our way to the beach each morning. I can not tell you how much our kids loved it. Forget the water. They are still talking about riding in the rear of the car. Funny how novel they find something that my sisters and I did every day as children.
(Yes! I totally let my toddlers ride in the rear of a car! With no USA DOT approved safety devices or strapping of any sort! Yes, I do realize that makes me a child abuser at worst and candidate for worst mother of the millennium at best in some people’s books. I can live with that.)
The house was unexpectedly three bedrooms. Fortunately, a huge master suite with a walk-in closet suitable for Elise’s youngest made it doable. You do have to go with the flow sometimes.
If you are going to try a little more adventurous travel with little ones (Not talking the Himalayas here, just beyond Disney land), it’s going to push you out of your comfort zone at times. You are not going to be able to meet U.S. safety standards at all turns. Ask yourself if you can handle that before you go. I just described our rented house as gorgeous. It was. Here’s another way to describe it: Toddler Death Trap. I am not kidding. Three sliding doors at the rear led to a maybe 100 foot walk over treacherous rocks and then an eight foot drop into rough water. Out the front door was the non-fenced, non-alarmed, four-feet deep swimming pool.
The completely open, slippery wooden stairs to the master bedroom turned sharply to the right at a landing half way up. The wall at the rear of the landing ended two feet above the landing floor in a convenient toddler sized hole. The fall was probably eight feet to tile. The fall from the gap between the top two steps was probably ten feet. To tile. The master suite sported two more sliding glass doors that provided a stunning sweeping ocean panorama. Also, access to a balcony with a railing set so far apart that a walrus could squeeze through and fall to it’s horrific death on the cement patio below.
Good thing we had SIX children four or younger with us. Right?
Have I mentioned yet that the water from the taps wasn’t potable and that my children drank it regularly and with abandon whenever I wasn’t specifically ordering them not to do so? Fun.
We had to be on top of them, no question. We checked locks carefully. It wasn’t actually that big of a deal. It helps that our kids are sound sleepers and not wanderers. During the day, we had a strict no stairs rule for all the kids and a very enthusiastically enforced “no one goes outside without asking” rule. It helped that Elise and I are a good team and are very comfortable with each other. Could there have been a horrific accident? No question. There could have been. The important thing in my mind is that there could be a horrific accident at home on any ordinary day. I just choose to live my life with adequate care and a positive attitude.
That’s just mean. Where is this kid’s mother?