I’m not a parent and know nothing about kids, except for the occasional wisdom I stumble across as an aunt. That’s certainly not enough to prepare a completely clueless person for a 2-week trip abroad with three kids. In my case, a 6, 4 and (almost) 2-year-old. While I tried my best to be helpful to my sister, I realized there’s a lot that parents have to think about and do to keep their kids in line. Here’s what I learned while traveling with three kids under the age of seven:
1. Always bring snacks. You hear this all the time, but don’t really take it seriously when you’re traveling in premium cabins. They bring you snacks – at the lounge, on the plane, and sometimes even while you’re waiting to check in for your flight (I miss you Thai Airways). Unfortunately, kids’ eating habits aren’t entirely predictable and they get hungry at random times. And unlike adults, you can’t reason with them when they’re two and crying because the airline employees (despite ushering you through the jet bridge) are still cleaning the plane. Bring snacks – it’s not a crazy idea.
2. Milk is not a given. I’ve never in my life seen kids devour milk the way my nieces and nephew do. As a kid, I essentially had to be tricked into drinking milk (which explains why I’m only 5’3). My sister wanted to bring a jug of milk with her on the first leg of our trip, but I told her they’d have it on the plane. Except, apparently they don’t (what the hell have they been putting in my coffee and cereal all these years?).
We boarded our Southwest flight from Sacramento to Los Angeles and my nephew was already restless, which got worse when the flight attendant told us they didn’t have milk. Things got better in the Star Alliance Lounge and our Austrian Airlines flight to Vienna – getting milk wasn’t a problem. Same with the Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul. But then on our Turkish flight from Istanbul to Nevsehir, we encounter the same issue: They didn’t have milk onboard.
Things were getting tense and I sensed a meltdown coming. The flight attendant was quick on her feet and mixed Half & Half with water. My nephew couldn’t tell the difference. On the Iberia flight home from Madrid, the flight attendant disabled my sister’s call button and berated her for “not bringing your own snacks” when she asked for milk. The lesson in all this? People are a**holes. Also, don’t assume that airlines will have milk onboard. Bring your own to avert a crisis.
3. Don’t judge iPad parenting. While my nieces were A+ travelers, my nephew gets a big fat F. Granted he’s only two, but he managed to embody every stereotype of badly behaving toddlers ever. He kicked the seat in front of him, threw a fit over a lack of milk, not having his own seat, and he would randomly get stubborn and decide to just stand still while we were all trying to rush to our next gate. He did not like being picked up, nor did he want to be treated like a child. It was challenging.
What I discovered is that iPads are God’s gift to parents. They’ll calm an unruly child and make him forget he’s drinking apple juice and not milk. Never again will I judge a parent that hands their toddler an iPad during a crisis. Kids are not rational and entertaining them with electronics is sometimes the only way to maintain peace.
4. Ask for a fridge at the hotel. This goes back to bringing your own milk. Even when you’re staying at a hotel. Do you really want to call room service in the middle of the night and wait 45 minutes for a glass of milk? Yeah, I didn’t think of that either. My sister had the foresight to call the hotel and ask them to put a fridge in our room. It helped us stockpile milk for those 3 AM wake-up calls.
5. Remove the mini fridge ahead of time. Normally I don’t go near the mini fridge, so I don’t think to ask the hotel to remove it. When you’re traveling with kids, you need to take this extra step to prevent a surprise at check-out. You can’t depend on them not to slightly move the candy jars on the table, so it’s definitely important to plan ahead and ask for its removal. This is, again, another precaution I didn’t have the foresight to take.
6. Give them some responsibility. I don’t know how my sister juggles three kids on her own, but she does it every day with the utmost patience and grace. Still, I tried to encourage my nieces to do things for themselves to help lessen the burden. It made things easier for my sister and also gave them a sense of responsibility. By the end of the trip, my youngest niece was running around cleaning the hotel room and being much more self-sufficient. Overall, they were A+ travelers who followed along, didn’t complain and seemed to be enjoying every step of the way.
7. You don’t always have to have “kid” activities scheduled. While planning this trip, I gave a lot of thought to what the kids might want to see and do…and came up blank. I didn’t think a 4 and 6-year-old would find Hagia Sophia exciting or express much interest in the ancient wonders of Cappadocia. I was totally wrong.
Throughout the trip, my nieces tagged along on our outings and had a blast. They asked a million questions and seemed curious about everything. They LOVED the armory of Topkapi Palace, ran around excitedly as we explored the underground city of Derenkuyu, and oohed and were in awe of the Ağaçaltı Church in the Ihlara Valley.
This made me realize that I should have given them more credit for being able to create their own fun, and that “kid activities” like playground visits and pony rides would have been mundane and way less exciting for them. They not only learned a lot but now they have something real to look forward to when they return to Istanbul and Cappadocia as adults.
I’m sure all the parents reading this are laughing at these “revelations.” But some of this hadn’t even crossed my mind. I’m seriously in awe of parents and all the extras they have to think about. Traveling with kids is incredibly challenging and my hat goes off to those who pull it off and keep going.
As a parent, do you have any tips for traveling with small children?