Parenting tips while on vacation, from a dad traveling the world with two small children.
Chris Murphy is a Toronto based Travel Writer for Baby & Life. He and his wife have pursued their love of culture by exploring their city and traveling frequently with two young kids.
Until recently, I never would have considered traveling for 5 months with two small children. Ours are aged three and five. The eldest starts Grade 1 this September, when our youngest enters school for the first time, and so my wife and I decided that now is the perfect time to take them traveling. It took us a while to work out the details, and there were times when we didn’t think we could make it happen, but on April 6, 2017, we landed in Malaga, Spain and began the trip of a lifetime.
We would be spending 5 months overseas. After exploring Southern Spain for three weeks, we traveled to Morocco for 27 days before hopping a plane from Marrakech to Barcelona. We spent three more weeks traveling through Northern Spain, and then made our way to Bordeaux, France via train. After 21 days in France, we have hit the 90 day mark and are en route to Germany. We also plan on visiting the United Kingdom, Scotland, and perhaps a few others countries over the next two months. After so many days on the road, we are definitely missing some of the comforts of home, as are the kids. Our youngest has often asked to go back to Toronto, usually to get a toy he is missing, not realizing the extent of the journey he would face.
After five years of parenting, we are certainly experienced nurturers. But like employees rising up in the ranks of an organization, we are constantly facing new parenting challenges, now exacerbated by being on the go. Every day, new issues arise. Often those issues are related to broken routines; other times, they are due to the fact that we are together 24/7. At home, our daughter spends a good portion of her day at school and our son with the nanny. Now, they are under the constant eye of their Mom and Dad. As much as we try to limit scolding them, that eye is often a disapproving one, but we are constantly focused on helping them to learn and explore. Here are the lessons we have learned while traveling with kids.
1. Down time is important
This goes for parents and kids. During these first three months, our longest stay in one place has been seven nights. We have had several stays of just two nights. While a two-night visit is fine for a weekend trip, successive trips of two and three nights become unnerving. In an effort to see as much of each city as possible, we often miss the opportunity to relax, at least for a few hours. The kids grow hyper, then get tired and cranky – like all kids. We get exhausted too. For these next two months, we plan on booking HomeExchange stays for a minimum of five nights.
2. Treat food discovery like an adventure
Through necessity, we are discovering a lot of foods that the kids don’t normally eat. Raising them in Toronto has helped, since we have access to a wide range of international dishes in our diverse home city. Exploring Toronto’s restaurant scene has helped us to raise kids who are willing to experiment. On this trip, we are finding food combinations we didn’t know existed.
Our son has rekindled his love of foie gras, which we found everywhere in France. Both he and his sister devoured a dish of pork tenderloin in a mustard base just last night. They are also willing to try almost any kind of sausage. Our trick, inflaming their curiosity by giving them unique desserts as well. Almost every city seems to have its own special sweet, and the kids eagerly browse shop windows for any sign of food that looks like it has sugar. By allowing them to cater to their sweet tooth, we’ve made them willing to sample most meals as well.
Enjoying a Homemade Tagine
3. Respecting other Cultures is an Opportunity to Teach
Though we haven’t had much luck getting the kids to use Spanish or French, not even the odd ‘gracias’ or ‘merci, we have found that they love to treat their senses. We have taken them to Flamenco shows in Southern Spain and brought them into several of the towering Cathedrals throughout Europe. We stress quiet and urge them to look closely and think about what they see. If they have questions, which they always do, we get them to whisper their inquiries to us.
Most importantly, we are using GuestToGuest during our travels, which takes us into people’s homes. They are finding new toys, new beds, and exciting outdoor spaces, and learning that these are places to be kept clean and organized. They have toys of their own, or course, and this trip is giving them the chance to care for other kids’ toys as they would their own. HomeExchange users are extending their generosity to complete strangers, a fact we continually stress to the kids in an effort to get them to be more willing to open up to other people’s customs and cultures.
New home, new toys.
4. Don’t be afraid to buy new toys
Whenever we leave the house, the toys come with us. We spend large amounts of time in restaurants, on boat tours, or riding around on sightseeing buses. For the most part, this down time is when the kids just want to sit and release their imaginations. They each brought a handful of toys with them from Toronto but playing with those same figurines every day can cause them to lose their luster. We have made a few trips to the toy store, and also ordered the occasional Happy Meal. Those new toys breathe life into their willingness to leave the house, almost as if they want to take their new friends exploring. We don’t do it often, but a trip to the toy store as a reward for good behavior can also provide respite for us.
At the toy store
5. Discipline by taking away the adventure
We are finding that there is only so much we can do when it comes to discipline. Our two semi-reliable methods are to deprive them of their iPads or their dessert. They tend to adapt easily to having no iPad by engaging in adventures around the house that usually end up with them fighting with each other. As for taking away desserts, we usually order those in restaurants and risk a meltdown if we don’t share ours. However, we do find that if we take them out of the restaurant or away from the place we are visiting that day, they calm down quickly. They have embraced this grand adventure and don’t want to miss anything because they know what wonders lie in the places we visit. A time-out, in which they sit down and miss the action, tends to bring them back to a more calm state of mind.
This trip was a great idea, and we are even finding other families during our travels that are on their similar adventures. The aspect we were most worried about, being around the kids all day, every day, has truly been challenging. However, dealing with those daily mood swings is part of being a parent, whether one is traveling the world or spending a routine day at home. Kids need stimulation, that’s our number one takeaway. What better way to open up their worlds than to show it to them?
About Chris: After growing up on Cape Breton Island, Chris moved to Toronto and fell in love with its many neighborhoods. He craves good food, fine beer and urban adventure. You can read about the trials and tribulation of his on the move parenting at babyandlife.com. The family is currently spending five months traveling and are staying in GuestToGuest homes while traveling throughout Europe and Morocco, relishing the opportunity to meet their local hosts.