Family Travel Lessons from Life in London

The rest of the pod, running to another adventure.

The rest of the pod, running to another adventure.

By the time this post is published on Monday, our wandering pod will be somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, well on our way back to California after four months in London.

If you’ve read this blog during our visit, you know we’ve had some pretty spectacular experiences. If you haven’t read it, allow me to summarize: The last four months undoubtedly have changed our lives, and also have given us a new appreciation for a variety of aspects of traveling as a unit.

Here are some of the things we’ve learned:

Family travel isn’t always rainbows and unicorns
So many blogs like this one focus only on the positives. And there are thousands of positives to traveling with kids. That said, allow me to be the first to tell you: Sometimes, traveling with kids REALLY SUCKS. The kids get cranky. You get stressed. You fight with your spouse. The cycle starts again. We had our fair share of miserable moments during our stint overseas. My advice: Focus on the good stuff; keep perspective on the bad stuff and you’ll survive.

Discipline is hard on the road
All parents know that when kids act up, they need to be disciplined. The challenge? Disciplining them is harder when you’re away from home. How do you give a time-out without the time-out corner? How do you roll when the kid throws a temper tantrum in public? How constructive is it to deprive them of their favorite things in a new place? Answers to each of these questions will differ for each family. But the questions themselves prove there is no easy way to tackle these issues.

Sleep is relative
At home, each of our daughters has her own room. At our flat in London, the kids shared a room. This meant that at some point every night, R would cry and wake up her sister, who would come and sleep with us. We always were hesitant to send L back to her bed for fear of further disrupting R. The bottom line: All bets are off when it comes to kids’ sleep schedules on the road. It doesn’t really matter when they sleep or where they get their REM cycles. So long as they do.

‘Eating well’ is subjective
Powerwoman and I consider ourselves proponents of healthy eating. We push vegetables. We try to limit sweets. During our stint in London, where food options were limited and the kids were pickier than they are at home, we lowered our standards. Suddenly slices of raw pepper qualified as “vegetable,” and frankfurters qualified as “protein.” We rationalized these decisions by acknowledging that the moves were only temporary. Our reasoning: On the road, the No. 1 goal should be just making sure your kids eat.

Public transportation is your friend
Buses and trains did much more than shuttle our family from Point A to Point B; on days when one or both of the girls had trouble behaving, public transportation vehicles served as the ultimate distractors, quashing tantrums before they even began. L was mesmerized by the Tube, while R preferred the “double-bus.” In both cases, the girls reacted to the public vehicles as if they were rides at an amusement park. No, this won’t work for every kid. But it certainly is worth a shot.

Overplanning is for amateurs
There were days during our 4-month visit when I had lofty goals of hitting two or three different tourist destinations/attractions in an afternoon. Not surprisingly, I failed to meet my objectives every single time. The reality: Moving around a city with two children takes a lot longer than you think it will. They’re slow. They eat a lot. They like to go off-script and explore things you never suspected they’d want to explore. The best way to prepare for this dillydallying is to resist the urge to over-plan, and focus on one thing for each day.

The last lesson we learned in London pertained to how we parents judge ourselves. The gist: We need to cut ourselves some slack. Yes, there were days when our kids were the loudest kids on public transit. And, yes, there were other days when we were too tired after a week of schlepping to bring the kids to the local playground or museum. Neither case was cause for the suspension of our licenses as mom and dad. We learned that making ourselves crazy about apparent failures as parents only sapped our energy to parent the way we should. Furthermore, in the scheme of things (at least from our experiences), we weren’t failing as badly as we thought.

What practical lessons have you learned about family travel over the years?

Why Traveling with Kids Makes Me Fat

Please! Anything but fries!

Please! Anything but fries!

We’ve only been in London for a week at this point, but if I eat another French Fry (or “chip,” or whatever you want to call those crispy demons), you might have to roll me down the stairs to catch the Tube.

Yes, traveling with kids is wonderful for a host of reasons. How this dad eats while vacationing with those little people definitely isn’t one of them.

My first problem is the food.  Whether they’re munching on the aforementioned French Fries, chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks or tortilla chips, our little humans love consuming fried stuff. It’s the only thing they’ll devour every time. And when they’re “all done” (as R likes to say) with their dinners, the leftovers are just sitting there, staring at me, tormenting me, daring me to resist.

(I know there are some moms and dads out there who won’t let their children go near fried stuff. Powerwoman and I are not those people. The reality: We encourage healthy options whenever viable, but turn to fried stuff in a pinch because we have found that during meals in unfamiliar restaurants, the goals are to order something a) we know they like, b) we know they’ll eat, and c) we assume will arrive relatively fast.)

The second problem is my own guilt.

If you’re like me, wasted food equals wasted money. This mindset comes in handy when we’re cooking at home—I reuse everything, including turkey carcasses on holidays. On the road, however, I can’t help but assign a value to every uneaten chicken strip and half-finished side of peas. Once this happens, the only way to feel like I’m getting my money’s worth is to eat the scraps—even if I’m no longer hungry.

Case in point: One dinner this week comprised a bowl of red curry, two pieces of fish from L’s fish ‘n’ chips, and two-thirds of R’s mashed potatoes. I’m not bragging here, folks; I felt gross when all was said and done. One thing I didn’t feel was wasteful.

(In other news, I know other moms and dads may not admit it, but lots of traveling parents suffer from this affliction. Maybe as a follow-up to my reality television show in which Dads compete to see who can schlep the most stuff through an airport, I can produce a show that pits pops in a contest to see who can eat the most kids’ meal leftovers. Joey Chestnut and Juan More Bite, you have been served.)

Thankfully, at least for me, both of these poor habits usually are offset by a good run (which I try to squeeze in every day). Still, I acknowledge that they’re not the best habits to have, for me or my waistline.

How do you manage to eat healthy food (in modest portions) when you travel with your kids?

Take a Seat. (Literally.)

Our new favorite seat. (No, that's not R.)

Our new favorite seat. (No, that’s not R.)

Because we spend so much time away from home, because little R is one of those kids who would scale the Eiffel Tower if left unattended, we’re always looking for good travel booster seats to bring along.

For most of her toddler life, we’ve used an early-model variation of this one.

Now, however, we’ve got a new hands-down fave: the Go Anywhere Booster Seat with a 5-point harness, a new offering from Polar Gear Baby.

A representative for Polar Gear recently sent me a sample of the seat to try and we gave it a whirl over Easter when we used it for two meals at my mother-in-law’s house. The baby didn’t seem to mind the new digs, which I interpreted as a de facto thumbs’ up. As for Powerwoman and I, we were generally impressed.

The pros:

  • The nylon (they call it PVC) material was easy to wipe clean; a necessity when your little eater is as much of a slob as ours.
  • The 5-point harness really did keep the baby in one place (as opposed to other seats, which allow her to bend at the waist and bonk her head on the table).
  • The seat folds up into a lightweight shoulder bag—a feature that generally is great but (admittedly) didn’t come in too handy on our car trip to see the inlaws.

The biggest con: Because the seat lacked some sort of cushion on the part behind the baby’s head, she bonked her noggin on the back of the chair every time she leaned back.

(It’s also worth noting that the seat doesn’t come with a tray—this is a standard feature on many other models, including our Fisher-Price one—so if you’re looking for that kind of setup, you probably are better off buying something else. FWIW, this omission didn’t bother us.)

The bottom line: We *definitely* will use the Go Anywhere seat again. And for about $40 (click here), it’s worth a try in your traveling family, too.

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