Whether it’s the holidays or summer vacation, we often dread the time and energy it will take to get there and get back home. After years of living overseas and traveling back and forth to the Middle East with our three kids in tow on eleven hour one-way flights, I acquired a few strategies to make the trips more enjoyable and less stressful.
1. Be Prepared and prepare your kids. Too often moms become couriers for everyone’s stuff. As soon as our kids could really manage a small backpack of their own, we put the space to good use. Snacks, games, books, crayons, and small toys filled my kids’ bags and I kept room in mine for the important items like changes of clothes, medications, and stuff for younger siblings.
I kept them posted about our journey every step of the way. They knew we would have to stand in line at passport control, make a menu choice when the flight attendant asked them, and look after their own stuff. They enjoyed flying and traveling and remember well our trips to Holland, Rome and visits to family in America on our way back to Nazareth, Israel; where they were born.
2. Be ready for anything. Travel with a duffel bag rolled up inside your suitcase in case you need another bag in a hurry. My daughter was trying to be “helpful” during one of our connections between cities. We were already running against the clock and had to be sure we had all of our bags and belongings. She saw our bag as it came around on the luggage carousel and decided to pull it to the floor. It caught on the carousel and tore open. Without skipping a beat, I grabbed the rolled up duffel bag that was inside, transferred the contents to the new bag and chucked the torn one in the trash on the way to our connecting flight-which we caught on time.
3. Take advantage of the teachable moments. As you travel, your kids can get a great education as they take in the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the places you visit. Walking and taking the bus, eating in local restaurants, trying new things, hearing different languages, visiting historic and fun places are things kids remember for years to come.
4. Capture the memories. Ticket stubs, pictures, postcards and souvenirs are some of the trinkets that lend themselves to our family scrapbook over the years. But it’s the stories that kids love as we relive the memories and “see” those places from each others eyes. Even places they were too young to remember visiting are stamped in their passports and are part of their personal journey and history.
5. Pack light and make the most of what you have. This is a time to scale down a bit and leave the encumbrance of stuff behind. Help kids to make wise choices about what they take along. Mix and match clothes and pack things that are low maintenance and comfortable. Too often I have hauled far too many things that I had to drag with me in heavy suitcases through train stations and planes and then try to cram into someone’s car when they picked us up at the airport.
When I first left to live overseas over twenty-seven years ago, I had all my stuff in a rucksack and a duffel bag. I told my parents I’d be back in six months. When I finally did return to the US, two and a half years later, I never wanted to see those clothes again but I had what I needed for a couple of years; I can certainly make it through a couple of weeks.
6. Remember what time it is. If you travel across time zones, even from the East to West Coast, keep one watch on your local time and change the other to your time back home. When we traveled from the Middle East, I had to remember that my kids’ schedules were upside down and keeping track of what time their bodies still thought it was helped me through those transitional days.
7. Enjoy the Journey! Relax and enjoy your time away as much as everyone else. Is that possible when you’re traveling with little kids or teenagers? Yes! Make sure your journal and favorite books are tucked in your bags. Grab early morning time for yourself, take a walk along the beach, get a sitter and go have coffee with your spouse or a friend you’ve not seen for awhile. Make sure you take home more than just laundry. Especially as the mom, you need to take some time for yourself so that you return home refreshed and not worn out.
Wishing you and your family safe, happy and stress-free travels!