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?

The Most Important Skill for Family Road Trips

Changing station, road-trip style.

Changing station, road-trip style.

Family road trips require Mom and Dad to multi-task like nothing else. We must entertain the kids! While driving! And listening to Demi Lovato! While keeping ourselves awake!

Many of us parents must master another skill, too: The art of changing diapers in the car.

For me, this last skill is the ultimate challenge—the Everest of road trip rigors. I don’t do well changing nappies on slanted surfaces (read: front seats), and I’m too much of a perfectionist for the quick change (let’s just say I’ve got an OCD about lining up those diaper tabs so there’s no overlap whatsoever).

To say I’ve grappled with this issue would be an understatement. On any given road trip, I probably spend at least 300 miles of every 500-mile day strategizing about how to change the next diaper. (Seriously.)

That means I’ve experimented with literally dozens of tactics in the last four years. And so, in no particular order, I present to you my top three most successful strategies for mastering this skill.

Use the hood.
Most trucks, including mine (a 2001 Nissan XTerra) have relatively flat hoods, providing a changing table-like surface on which to operate. When employing this method, I treat the hood like the floor of an airplane galley, and lay a blanket beneath the changing pad to make sure no part of the baby touches the dirty steel.

NOTE: I also only utilize the hood after the car has been parked for a while, as that front panel can get pretty hot after drives of long distances.

Fold the seats.
Many minivans (and some economy cars) now come equipped with seats that fold flat—another great spot on which to change that dirty nappy. Provided at least one of the seats can fold down easily, this is by far the most efficient strategy of the bunch. In the event that a car seat prevents quick and easy folding, you might want to take a different approach.

Get in the back.
On daytrips and shorter road trips, my favorite place to change a diaper is the trunk. It’s flat! It’s spacious! And with all of the assorted junk Powerwoman and I keep back there in our respective vehicles, there are plenty of distractions. (Yes, I did just say we have junk in our trunks.)

Perhaps the only downside to trunk changes is the fact that they aren’t a viable option if the trunk is full of luggage.

That said, I admit I’ve unpacked an entire section of trunk just to change a diaper.

The lesson, dear readers, is this: On the road, a parent without a changing table must do whatever it takes to vanquish those dirty diapers.

What strategies have you tried for changing diapers in the car on a road trip? Plesae leave your input in the comment field above.

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