Travelling With A Toddler Doesn’t Have To Be Stressful
We did some recording with the BBC the other day for something to be shown later on in the year and one of the questions was geared around how being a professional sportsman can leave you being quite selfish. You have to concentrate on yourself, your own body, your own schedule and other day to day stresses have to be dealt with by those around you to minimise it having an effect on your performances. I was asked how I deal with having to put up with it; the expectance to up roots and move our lives around for the sake of Greg’s job and actually I had to be honest. I see it as the least selfish thing.
Many an athlete spends half of the year flitting from country to country, living out of hotel rooms alone while their families crack on at home. There’s lots of FaceTime calls, important decisions made via Skype, children growing up with one parent away. I love the fact that Greg includes us and we get to roam the world together; Milo’s one of the best travelled toddlers I know and I think it’s nothing but beneficial to him.
One thing I am always very quick to be clear on, is that it isn’t a holiday. While we get to enjoy the sunshine, new cities and cultures, Greg only has one day off a week so we really do just take our day to day lives to different countries. We try to explore when he’s not training, plus Milo and I are free to do pretty much whatever we fancy together, but for the most part, being away from home still means I’m working, Greg’s working and Milo’s still a toddler with a penchant for running me ragged and trying to stick things in plug sockets.
SO, I wanted to chat about the ways in which I try to keep a little bit of our ordinary ‘routine’ going while we’re on the road, how I try not to spend a fortune on seeking out things to keep us occupied while my other half’s busy and how I tackle the day to day in unknown territory. It’s really not that hard. Once you get started travelling with small children, you’ll see while it’s not as relaxed as doing it alone, it’s do-able. And fun. And a massive adventure if you just don’t sweat the small stuff. I can never implore people to do it enough and genuinely, the earlier you start, the easier it is.
For some, the idea of dining out with a toddler is like suggesting you lick a slug; it’s messy, it’s sticky and it’s just upsetting. Honestly though, the sooner you put panic about other diners resenting you to the back of your mind and wheel your kids in somewhere fancy, the better. Sure, Milo often knocks cups of liquid over, jumps on the chair or gets grumpy if we haven’t finished quite as quick as he’d like, but more often than not there are enough distractions to keep him occupied, he eats something other than crackers/cheese strings and it’s a nice way to encourage him being all grown up. I love our mum and son dates, as draining as they sometimes are. Plus, y’know, it means I get a nice sit down.
Ask to be put somewhere you won’t disturb other diners (for their sake more than yours), find out if the place in question does the whole colouring paper/menu thing, bring many a distraction (books, cars, mini figures, iPad, whatever you deem necessary)
Very similar to the above; make a big deal out of it being a ‘grown up’ thing. Milo loves when we request his very own cardboard espresso cup which we fill with water, and once empty, it magically morphs in to a cave/garage for his cars.
See if there’s somewhere to sit out in the open so there’s plenty of things to look at, grab a babyccino if your little one likes a bit a tha’ milka, don’t be afraid to grab napkins/wooden stirrers/spoons/sugar as props to make table buildings with
Scope Out Parks
Literally EVERYWHERE has parks because if there’s one thing people know about in every different part of the world, it’s that no child can’t be distracted for an hour with a swing, a slide and a seesaw. Get on Google and search for the nearest places to play; plus it’s free.
Don’t underestimate just how much time you can drag out here; we go to the park a few times a week and I take a blanket, snacks, drinks, a frisbee, football, stickle bricks; the lot. You can stretch out a lunchtime picnic, burn off a load of energy and no-one needs you to rush. Even if it’s a city break then you’ve ordinarily still got park grounds to explore.
At home, we spend a lot of time in the garden with our three dogs, chickens and ducks. We’ve got a nice big space and I like Milo to get some fresh air so in my books, there’s nothing which can’t be solved with a traipse in to the woods and I’ll gladly drag Milo out in any weather. We make treasure maps, take toys with us, build dens, collect leaves/sticks/stones for collages. It kills a couple of hours and again, costs no money. While we’re here in Arizona, we’ve switched it up a little but nonetheless, nature plays a huge role in me staying sane throughout the day. We hunt for lizards (it’s really very rare we see any and when we do they’re so chuffing fast but Milo enjoys giving it a good go), make building sites using rocks, built a nest (an idea taken from a PlayHooray card), collect fruit to juice, mix mud with water for pies. Basically, you can use anything and it can be fun.
The main thing here is just not to care how messy you get, don’t panic you’re ‘not really doing much’ and don’t feel guilty for not over stimulating. Your little ones will love whatever you come up with and just being with you
We always opt for AirBNB when we travel for long periods of time because then you’ve got your own ‘home’ as opposed to a room; it definitely takes the pressure off knowing you’ve got your usual cooking space, living room, washing facilities etc and it feels a lot less like you’re living out of a suitcase (plus more often than not, it’s cheaper and you find family suitable homes cater for children in a MUCH better way) However, if you are staying at a hotel; it just means you probably need to get out and about more so you don’t get cabin fever. Obviously with resorts, there are kids’ clubs, babysitting, pools and maid service but just make sure you do your research. I’ve stayed at an adults only hotel before (unbeknown to me) and they were snippy about Milo being there. We’ve also had to wash clothes in bathrooms and hang them over the bath when there weren’t washing facilities for a newborn with a back end like a gravy boat and sometimes you just need.more.space. That said, we did also take Milo on a week long cruise when he was 10 months old and we suspected that would be hell; it was actually very do-able even with limited room.
Even if you’re co-sleeping, ask for a travel cot to use as a play den/place to store all the toys, accept in hotels that sometimes you may need to head to the bathroom with your other half and a glass of wine so as not to disturb your snoozing child in the other room, order room service! (providing it’s not extortionate) because if there’s one thing I’ve found, it’s that toddlers love a picnic in bed, other fab alternatives to AirBNB are HomeAway, KidAndCoe
Say Yes To More
I’ve started trying to practise this and actually, it’s a bit of a blog post in itself. A woman I follow on Instagram (@thegraygang, go check her out) has 5 children and regularly posts about ‘saying yes’. The long and short of it is that she wants her little ones to think fun exists within the home and to not be looking/waiting for it to come as they get older and gravitate towards what they deem to be forbidden fruit. I try to be a ‘Yes Mum’ on a daily basis anyway, but it’s very much present when we’re on our travels because it’s only natural that any minimal routine we do have, goes out the window. Milo wants to snack outside of meal times, sure. He wants to get extra messy, not a problem. He’s not tired around his usual bedtime, wants to try my root beer, asks to take ALL his trucks in the bath. That’s all OK. Because in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter and it won’t even matter in ten minutes. He’s asked because it’s something he’d like to do so I try to honour it (provided it’s not ridiculous/dangerous)
When you think about it, little ones in many ways are restricted from the offset. There’s routines, classes to attend, playgroups, etc etc etc. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that at.all. of course, but when we’re travelling, it just doesn’t work. When we land somewhere new (especially somewhere hot) we’re all about messy clothes, eating dribbly fruit, running about with no shoes on, exploring, the lot. I’m definitely someone who’s hot on making sure everything’s triple washed, smelling nice and folded away so this can be a bit of a tricky one to let go of, but I basically want Milo to know he can run free and just be little. Travelling can take a lot out of a child so I wouldn’t want for him to then feel as though we were in control of everything else too.
Preparation Is Key
You can go absolutely anywhere with a change of clothes, nappies, wipes, snacks, toys and cash. Now Milo’s potty training we’ve spent plenty of times rushing him off to rest rooms, or letting him wee in parks knowing if there were any incidents, we had spare clothes in the changing bag. When we visited Phoenix’s Children’s Museum last week, he was so enchanted by the treehouse room that he had an accident in the corner and we plonked him in to a fresh set of shorts there and then (we definitely forget spare pants though). Most days, I don’t know when Greg’s going to finish training and I’m not driving over here, so it’s just a case of killing time with a toddler ’til he’s ready to pick us up. Milo and I do a tonne of exploring together; whether it’s plodding off to grab ice cream, playing trucks on some grass or just walking around the shops, I know I’ve got everything I need in my bag.
Milo’s favourite thing to do at the moment is help me with the washing. It’ll probably become a lot less fun once we’re back home in England sans top loader, but he shrieks ‘YES!’ if I ask if he’d like to come put a load on with me and as a parent you really can’t downplay the excitement which comes with chores. I remember LOVING going to the local tip with my parents when I was small; now I’d rather squat on a jellyfish. There’s still plenty of dull that comes with life away from home; each day Milo helps me put the recycling in the outdoor bin and I try to team that with looking at the stars and talking about the planets. Making the bed always turns in to den building. Cleaning the kitchen with anything miscellaneous and safe I can hand him, running the hoover round etc. Supermarkets are also a hub of fun; picking out all the different foods, legging it round the aisles, pretending to beep things through as you lob them in the basket/trolley, holding the list.
Kids find ANYTHING fun, don’t get caught up on worrying whether or not you’re stimulating them enough. Time them doing certain tasks (well, pretend to); Milo gets right stuck in to a challenge. Don’t get hung up on whether or not they’re actually just creating more work/mess, that’s not what it’s about.
Don’t think that being away from home means kids need to be overrun with activities and entertainment. We all have down days during our usual routines, it’s absolutely fine for that to be the case when you’re somewhere else.
Technology is your friend. Last year, we used the laptop for Milo. We’d pop on snippets of Mr Tumble on YouTube, crank up Netflix; we don’t really have child-friendly channels over here & also the schedule of American TV is mental so I’d have no idea when/where to start. This year it’s all about the iPad and I’m not afraid to admit we use it when we need a minute. While I’m all about fresh air and game playing with Milo, I won’t be made to feel bad for letting him have ample screen time. I chat to him about what he’s watching, it means during any really tough toddler spells while dining out that we can placate him (if we’ve remembered to pack it) and it’s comforting for him. I just really wish Blippi would give it a rest occasionally.
There’s plenty of educational games you can download if you’d rather it wasn’t just a case of your child watching something, you can limit it to a certain amount of time you’re happy with, don’t feel guilty.
BASICALLY; any mum can travel with kids, you just need to be prepared to let things go. Back home, I wouldn’t let Milo leg it round Milton Keynes shopping centre without any shoes on; here, the women in Sephora commented (fondly) they’d never seen him wear them the other day. Go with the flow, pack for any eventuality and just bloody enjoy yourself; you really can’t beat the memories you’re all making together. It’s all too easy to get hung up on whether or not it’s going to be more stress than fun, but you really won’t know unless you try it and actually you’ll probably find you can cope with a lot more than you give yourself credit for.