Family vacation with a child just under two = stress.
June 24, 2012 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Our cross-country family vacation with a 21 month old is 5 days away and I'm sick with worry over numerous travel-related things. Tips and advice?

We're travelling for two weeks from the west to the east coast: to Toronto for 3 days, then Halifax, then Cape Breton, all to visit family. We have one child, who doesn't play alone much and is going through her terrible twos (although she's mostly lovely and delightful). We are trying to bring some of her lightest toys (she doesn't play much with them anyhow), and some books (which she loves) and we'll have her music and some DVDs. I've stocked the iPad with apps and some cartoons. But she's used to being very active at daycare, and for these two weeks she'll spend most of her time at houses without toys or other children, although there will be a neighbor with young ones very near when we're in the most rural area (which is very, very rural - and lest you say: wonderful, let her run free! - there are aggressive coyotes to worry about). There will be the beach as well, thankfully, and square dances and fiddle concerts, which she'll love.

Here are the things worrying me most:

When we're not on outings, I don't want her watching tv all day. On the other hand, I'm going to be utterly exhausted and miserable trying to stimulate and entertain her all day in these new environments, never mind chasing her around houses that aren't child proof and only have the few toys we've brought. Tips on striking a balance?

The 3-hour time change. If I don't adjust her to it, she'll be going to bed at 11pm, which will be exhausting and leave no grown-up time for us. If I do adjust her, she'll be completely messed up when we go home, and this will make the transition back to work and daycare really hard, and the daycare will think I'm a bad mom for bringing such a tired child in.

The plane rides. And long times waiting in a stroller (she runs/won't stay with us if we let her out). This will be the first time she flies as a toddler and there are 6 flights altogether. She's going to be on our laps and will probably be wriggling to get off. On most of the flights my husband and I likely won't get to sit together because the cost of choosing seats in advance has become astronomical (honestly, I think it was close to $30 a person per flight).

The feeling of having my parenting watched and likely judged. Especially by an older generation - things have changed a lot since they raised their kids, whether in the 70s or 80s or even 90s. I know it's just a part of life, but I hate that feeling so much.

What tips do you have for some of these specific issues? Maybe this is an opportunity to teach her to play alone? How? Maybe also a chance to teach her to walk next to us? How? I know the standards for travel with toddlers, but any little known ones could be helpful. Most of all, how do I not lose my mind and come home utterly depleted? Sorry for being all over the place, and thank you for reading.
posted by kitcat to Travel & Transportation around Cape Breton Island, NS (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's easy to get caught in the worry about the difficult things rather than the delights you'll get to experience. Kids can get very excited just by the novelty of new surroundings - simply walking around the houses looking at photos or new kinds of trees or whatever can be very absorbing to a child. Telling her stories about the people you're visiting, showing her new places, trying new foods - all of this can be fascinating to a child, and will likely wear her out - you probably won't even have to worry about the time change. And though the houses may not have toys, per se, they will likely have some pots and pans or cardboard boxes or things for her to fill with water and splash about, and that can be enough.

In terms of the judgment of older relatives and such - there's nothing you can do about that, so let it go. You need to take care of your own mental health on this trip. Let the relatives entertain your daughter for 20 minutes and go for a walk alone each day. Try to really make this a priority, and think of it as your time to let go of all the stress and worry. It's a vacation for you, too, so make sure to claim some of it! Best of luck.
posted by judith at 2:31 PM on June 24, 2012

Best answer: Something I've done with my son is bring a minimum of toys and make an outing to thrift stores/dollar stores once we're settled. We find "new" toys and books for him, and I would tell him in advance that he could keep *one* of them when we left (usually saying that we'd keep them at the place we were visiting for next time - but that wouldn't ever come, not that he knew that.) I usually kept a few tucked away as magic distractions for situations that most needed it.
posted by lemniskate at 2:34 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Would you be able to get to a local library after you get to your destination? If a family member or friend will let you borrow their card to check out some books, that would give her plenty of "new" and exciting books to look at that you won't have to cart across the country.

Also, family members who aren't around little ones all day will probably be really excited to hang out with her for a few hours and play with her. Remember that what seems exhausting to you because you have to do it all the time (chase her and find stuff to entertain her) is probably exactly what relatives and family friends want to do with her.
posted by itsamermaid at 2:52 PM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: We just got back from a vacation with toddler. My best advice: relax. Your kid will eat when she's hungry, sleep when she's tired and probably freak out once or twice when she's cranky. Maybe she'll watch more TV that you'd usually permit. Just roll with it and respond to her needs. We tend to keep a pretty tight schedule at home, but we kept everything much more lax on vacation and that helped us to relax, too.
posted by gnutron at 2:52 PM on June 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

It depends on the airline, but here's something I found out recently: upgrading to their "plus" ticket level cost $25 extra and included a free checked bag. Checked bags with that airline usually cost $20 so really, I only was payin $5 for the option of choosing my seat.
Another method is to check in online as early as possible, sometimes flights don't let you choose seats while booking but let you choose when checking in.
If that doesn't work, call the airline and asks if you can possibly get two adjoining seats to help with a wiggly toddler.
If that doesn't work, consider that the extra cost might just be worth it to sit next to each other and cope with stress.
posted by HMSSM at 2:53 PM on June 24, 2012

Sounds grand. Hand the kid off to the kid's relatives. Bring/acquire/borrow books, longer books than you would read at home, and steal off to quiet hammocks/beds/sofas and read together. The dingo will not eat your baby. If she doesn't like the stroller but won't stay nearby just cheerfully pick her up. Repeat good-natured, smiling picking up/"Holding Mummy's hand" as many times as it takes, (using Mary Poppins as demeanour model, difficult as that sort of crisp good cheer may be to maintain in an airport)

The excitement of travel and new experiences will almost certainly wear her out to the point where the usual naps and bedtimes are entirely different even without a time zone change. Forget about it. Who gives a toss what a day care thinks?

Your vacation sounds like a grand opportunity to reconnect with your tot and get some quality parent-child time, peppered with some good hand-off-to-great-auntie time where your kid learns how to eat clover or whatever other thing would normally not happen at home. This is actually a pretty nice age to travel with as so much trivia is very exciting, and simple parental attention is exciting, and an indulgent relative is exciting, and you are the only thing it is absolutely necessary to travel with, frets about iPads and toys and strollers aside.

(The best way to sidestep judgment is good cheer; it is difficult to look down a nose at somebody who is enjoying what they are doing.)

+1 hitting a thrift store for new-to-you toys. Also a posh toy store for ogling, and a posh bakery to buy one mini cupcake at, and so on and on -- why not haul her around downtown Toronto?
posted by kmennie at 3:04 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's not a vacation if you are sick with worry. The minute you get on the plane, everything will be beyond your control. And that is a GOOD thing. You will just go with the flow and work it out with what you've got. Kid will sleep when tired, pick up some random object to play with when bored (the only difference between whether something is a toy or not, is if it is safe or not.) She will also read your anxiety and stress and heighten her stress accordingly, so the more relaxed you are, the more she will be as well.

Focus on having fun. Make that your priority.

(and yes, you can absolutely have her run free in the front yard as you sit on the patio watching her with a cool drink in your hand)

The most important thing you can do is relax.
posted by Vaike at 4:53 PM on June 24, 2012

Nthing just relax and roll with it. I'm on a half work half vacay with my 18-month-old right now and I worried about how things like flights would go but so far it's been fine. Our airline put us all together when we checked in--go to the human rather than the kiosk-- he did some yelling on the plane but mostly things were fine, we give him a lollipop when we NEED him to behave for a few minutes (he normally doesn't get sugar), we stocked up on little cheap toys for distraction, etc.

You can only prepare do much. After you do, just relax and enjoy.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 5:08 PM on June 24, 2012

Best answer: Lots of good advice here, but I just wanted to add that those who say you'll get a vacation if you just relax are LYING. You'll muddle through, there will be fun times, few of your biggest worries will materialize. But "vacationing" with a kid (until 6? 10?) just means a lot of extra work, catering to their inflexible needs for entertainment and protection from an overload of novelty, and you'll definitely get exhausted more than refreshed by the trip.

Knowing that is half the work, though -- as others have said, carve out sanity time for yourself, take advantage of relatives that offer extra hands, drink a little more wine than usual, whatever keeps you going. Plan ahead for playgrounds or hay fields or whatever can let your kid blow off steam, have toys she's never seen for the plane rides, and just remember, you'll make it! Good luck.
posted by acm at 5:28 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The first thing we do when we vacation is find the park and the library. School playgrounds will do. Malls will do in a pinch. Heck, target will do in a super pinch. We schedule running around time in these places every single day. Preferably outside. Preferably just you guys, so time free from judgment/strangers.

It won't be relaxing but it will be better than you think. Plan who takes which shifts - share with dad for mornings/nights.

Get to the airport early to ask about seats together. If you are on smaller planes with two seats, people may be willing to trade to get you two together. Don't be afraid to walk the aisle, and to look for friendly faces. I'm always a friendly face for kids.

Dum Dum suckers were a great help on a plane ride at that age. Stickers are also good. Agree with the dollar store toys mentioned above.

Hang in there. You can do it :)
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:23 PM on June 24, 2012

Oh yeah, I totally know how you feel -- we recently took my 2-year-old on an international trip, and I was dreading the trip for months and trying to tell myself, "But it's supposed to be a vacation!" (That didn't work.)

One thing that helped was that ahead of time I read a lot of advice online (blogs, AskMeFi, etc.) about traveling with toddlers. I wanted to be as prepared as possible, and I think it helped to feel like, "OK, well, I've educated myself the best I can!" (One interesting tip I kept seeing everywhere -- bring a roll of blue painter's tape on the plane to entertain your toddler!)

Re the unfamiliar places, TV, etc. We did have to be more alert because of the unchildproofed homes, but it didn't turn out to be a big problem. We took my son to the grocery store, we went outside with him a bit, we took him out to dinner with everyone, and he played with toys indoors. We were lucky because my in-laws had found a bunch of my husband's childhood toys, and my son loved them, plus he got a bunch of birthday presents. So ... is there any way you could bring some new small toys (I'm thinking Matchbox-car-sized) to reveal periodically during the trip (aside from the plane rides, I mean).

We had a five-hour time change (jumping ahead), and I was SO worried about this too. He woke up a bit later in the mornings and we did slightly later naps, but the odd thing was, he actually didn't get too far off his schedule. I was shocked! He napped every day and slept OK each night, so I hope you have the same luck! I was also shocked that he adjusted pretty well when we came back home. Obviously, each kid is different, but I just wanted to give an example that says, "Jet lag doesn't have to be a nightmare!" Really, I was prepared for so much lost sleep and frustration, and it turned out OK, thank god.

Plane rides -- we had four altogether. Although they weren't exactly a picnic, they were OK. I was fearing the worst with the flights, really. We brought lots of toys and books (mostly new) and he watched a bunch of kids' TV on the in-seat screen. We brought WAY more snacks than we needed (better than not enough!) and we always had a travel cup of water handy. We packed juice boxes (to pour into the disposable cups we brought), but we never used them! (We took advantage of the TSA exemption to the 3-oz.-liquid limit.) We brought my son's carseat for the plane, and I think that helped, so I can't give advice on the lap situation...

Good luck! Oh, and around the day we were going to leave for our trip, I told myself, "Well, in one week this trip will be over, and we'll be back home." Kind of, "This too shall pass"!
posted by trillian at 7:28 PM on June 24, 2012

Best answer: "If I do adjust her, she'll be completely messed up when we go home, and this will make the transition back to work and daycare really hard, and the daycare will think I'm a bad mom for bringing such a tired child in."

Daycare does not think this. I worry about this kind of thing too, but daycare is used to children and family life and they've seen A LOT WORSE from ACTUALLY bad parents.

"The feeling of having my parenting watched and likely judged. Especially by an older generation - things have changed a lot since they raised their kids, whether in the 70s or 80s or even 90s. I know it's just a part of life, but I hate that feeling so much."

When older relatives or friends get up in my face about modern parenting, I just smile and shrug and say, "It's a different time" or "That's the way everybody does it these days" or "I'm sure when I'm a grandparent, all the rules will be different again!" Sometimes they're not judging you; they're worried you're judging them and the job they did raising you/their kids. (You can tell because they say things like, "We did X and you all survived!" Yes! What you did was good enough! We appreciate you getting us to adulthood! I hope I am good enough too!) Some things seem obviously improved from my parents' and grandparents' time -- my grandmother just can't believe how much safer car rides are with carseats, it scares her to even think how dangerous things were 60 years ago when she had her kids in the car! -- but other things seem pretty arbitrary and subject to the whims of childrearing fashions (the order in which you are "supposed" to introduce foods seems super-arbitrary to me). A lot of older people want to feel involved and useful and knowledgeable about something that humans mostly REALLY want to be good at, successfully raising children, and as hard as it is for you to hear how things used to be done, think how hard it is for them to feel their hard-won parenting knowledge has become obsolete; and of course you get to be a young parent right now, and that's a time that they can never have back.

Anyway, admitting that today's parenting standards are not The One Right Way To Parent can often reduce these conflicts and get the "In my day ..." folks on your side because, yeah, they faced the same thing. Also they probably have a lot of interesting stories about changing parenting standards between them and THEIR parents or grandparents, which if you say something like, "Yeah, this current standard might be a little over the top, but I don't want to be a bad mom," they'll assure you you're a good mom and then start regaling you with crazy-ass parenting stories from the past like giving babies opium because they'll feel like you are someone who'll understand things change and laugh about the old-time crazy. (Like ... they used to just grab a cardboard box and put infants on the floorboards of the car in a cardboard box so they wouldn't roll away. DUDE.)

(Also personally I'd let my kids watch (at least some) TV and eat terrible food, it's vacation. My grandma used to ply me with sugary cereal and Betamax tapes of cartoons and I survived and OH LOOK NOW I'M DOING IT. But seriously, you're not a bad mom if you relax your standards on vacation. Also I'm much too terrified to take my kids on such a complicated vacation, I'd be a black hole of stress about it, so good on you for taking on the challenge.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:34 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

You sound very stressed! I'm an overplanner and overthinker, too, and I'd be worried about this big trip as well. One thing I try to do to head this off a bit is pick just 1 thing to control. Like Plane trip #1: "I'll have a special treat ready to go and this new funky toy." Or, Aunt Sally's house: "We'll get out the coloring books there." "Today, we'll take Kiddo and Grandma to the duck pond." And then try to let the rest unfold. Pick one thing for yourself, too. And really, with this age of kid, trying to organize and strategize beyond that is just a recipe for stress.

I'd also pack some Rescue Remedy for yourself for travel. I don't know if it's psychosomatic (who cares if it works, right?) but I've found it helpful for chilling me out just a bit.

In general, though, let your kid surprise you. When there is nothing to do, I bet she'll make her own fun. A backyard with no toys? She will find cool stuff. Let her get dirty. Eat ice-cream every day. Laugh. Do not give the invisible, unknown thoughts of people around you take up any room in your brain. If you ever feel like you're being judged, hug your husband. Kiss your kid.

Anyway, best of luck - hope we hear back about how it all went!
posted by amanda at 8:36 PM on June 24, 2012

If your kids are like most kids I know, the most mundane things in the world will be totally fascinating to them. A friend of mine has a kid about the same age and his mind is totally blown when they go to a different Target from usual and HOLY CRAP EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT AND THEY HAVE DIFFERENT THINGS THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING THING IN THE WORLD. They're kids, you know, it's all new to them.

So, okay, rural area. Is there someone with animals nearby where you could go hang out for a while? Because seeing real live farm animals could be one of those Most Exciting Thing In The World things. Or big trucks or tractors or other farm/interesting type equipment they could ride on/around/in? Old timey hardware stores with lots of weird stuff? Feed stores where they could see farming kit and other things they might never see ordinarily? Other weird local stores and places they might usually never encounter? Someone with an energetic dog you could trust around the kidlet? Nothing will wear out a kid like a dog. As for outside, maybe you don't want to let 'em run around unsupervised because of the coyotes, but having the adults retire outside to talk while the kid runs around close by seems pretty safe to me unless the coyotes are suuuuper-aggressive.

Kid in the stroller? I dunno, I know people think those leash-harness setups are terrible and inhumane and make you a bad person, but I'd hook em up to that and let em run around some between/while waiting for flights. Failing that, will you have enough time to settle in at the gate and nest, then work in shifts? Like you all get to the gate and get your stuff situated, then dad and kid go off for a while to give you a break, then you switch off?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:44 PM on June 24, 2012

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