September 3, 2012

Travel Sanity Tips from an Insane Travel Mom

One of our Foreign Correspondents has returned from her travels! Caren and her family traveled to Kenya this summer for a service trip. Caren is the President and Co-founder of The Kilgoris Project, a non-profit that runs schools, medical programs and economic development efforts in rural Kenya. We outfitted Caren’s family with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part one of their adventure.

Travel with Kids

Photo by Jennifer Fletcher

You’re crazy! That’s the usual reaction I get to traveling halfway around the world with kids.

Once I flew solo to Sydney with a two year old, while limping along with my own foot in a boot cast. This year I brought two elementary schoolers for a month in Kenya sans husband.

These might sounds like prescriptions for the loony bin. But having taken kids to every continent, except Antarctica, I’ve developed a few strategies for getting home without losing my mind.

1) Build in unscheduled time- Flights, meetings, tours and museums don’t run on child-friendly schedules. And there’s always a temptation to pack in whole cities in a day. Grown ups may be fine with this. However, kids need more breathing room. Fight not to fill the days. It’s ok to horse around in a hotel room for a couple of hours or just watch an iPad movie during a layover. The world will still be there when you’re done.

Travel with Kids

Photo by Jon McCormack

2) Find ways to play- The moving parts of travel bore kids and adults alike. And buses, trains and taxi don’t offer space to work out any wiggles. But if you’re willing to look silly in public, you can create fun anywhere.  Take turns finding yoga moves that fit into economy class seats. (This is far easier for the kids.)  Play Follow the Leader at an airplane gate. Make up ballet dances while the tour van fills the gas tank. I’ve done them all.  My kids are happier for it. And I often find the release helps me, too.

3) Relax the rules, but not too much- Travel days are never going to run like days at home. So it’s ok for the rules to shift a little to compensate. Pringles and peanuts will keep a child alive for a day. Everyone can stay up until 11:00PM for a few nights. Just go easy on the anarchy. If you create a free for all, you’ll pay when you need control. Sometimes you do need to lay down the law: No, you cannot pinch your sister during an immigration check. You’ll wear your seatbelt for take off and landing. And yes, you’ll be quiet when the tribal elders speak.

4) Give kids a little control- My children are much happier traveling when they feel like they make some of their own decisions. It helps to balance the powerlessness they feel at the structure of getting from A to B. We start trips with each girl having a stash of sugar-free gum to be chewed at any time. They have their own packs of markers and magnet dolls. And as their ages allow, they get to hold their own boarding passes.

5) Put your own oxygen mask on first-The airlines are on to something with this one. None of us can be in top form all the time. It doesn’t happen at home. And it’s even less likely happen when you’re jetlagged. Do what you can to carve out a little alone time, even if you can’t physically leave the kids. Take a bath. Walk hotel hallways on your floor with the room door cracked. Put your headphones on. Pretend to sleep on the plane. Just do something for yourself.

These tips, combined with humor, prayer and few deep breaths, keep me sane as I lead my kids to become citizens of the world.