It’s ok to leave your house.
Have you passed up the opportunity to do something or go somewhere because you have, *gasp,* Kids in your life? Does staying at a hotel or eating at a restaurant that doesn’t feature a playground seem like an impossibility to you? I’m here to assure you that it isn’t true, and there are steps that you can take to make traveling outside of your home bearable… and maybe even fun.
Our family is a little paradoxical. We live in Bumble Fuck East, and we have a farm. We love our house and our animals, and we’re about as close to Little Home on the Prairie as you can get for modern day Georgia. However, my husband’s work is based out of So Cal, and often requires travel to Orange County and other (sometimes foreign) places. And DAMN do we love to eat, and since we don’t know how to make a Chinese Buffet appear in our home, we’re going to go out to eat, and the kids will be going with us.
We don’t pass up the opportunity to go with Tyme if he’s going to be gone for more than a week, especially if it’s to an interesting place. We dragged Carmen all over England for two weeks when she was a mere twelve months old, and we all had a blast. Since then, she’s been to San Diego, Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Denver, and all over the South East US. I think that she’s logged more miles in her five years than I did in my first twenty five.
Here are some things we’ve learned along the way:
Buy diapers, wipes, and snacks when you get there. Packing these things is just silly, honestly. The diapers take up so much room, the wipes are heavy, and the food might get taken from you at security, anyway. Just pack one day’s worth for the flight, and then hit a Target at your destination and buy a week’s worth of whatever.
Breastfeed. Now, here’s a snack that you can take anywhere. I promise that the TSA won’t make you taste the milk from your own nipple, unlike a bottle of formula. Nursing on the plane is also fantastic because it keeps your baby’s ears cleared, makes them nice and sleepy, and keeps their mouth too occupied to spend the whole flight screaming.
Travel light. You don’t need everything from your house to make your temporary home comfortable… one small blanket, a few outfits (you can wash them at the hotel if you need to), one pair of shoes, minimal toiletries (how many toiletries does a baby need, anyway??).
Stock up on cheap thrills. Head to the Dollar Store and you can get all sorts of new and different surprises for a long car ride or plane trip. Coloring books, little games, and small choking hazard type toys really add up for $15.
Choose a hotel that has free or cheap breakfast buffet in the morning, as well as a microwave and fridge. Getting good food in your kids quick is a good way to start the morning. Continental breakfast doesn’t count; look for something like an Embassy Suites, Holiday Inn, or Westin for a breakfast with eggs, sausages, oatmeal, fruit and waffles. Our kids’ favorite is a waffle with peanut butter, yogurt, and bacon. We also get bananas and instant oatmeal (you can use the coffee maker for your hot water) for a quick breakfast in case we sleep through the buffet time.
Use a sling/moby/mei tai etc instead of a stroller…. you can always buy a cheap stroller at your destination, or possibly rent one, if you feel like you really need one. The sling will also keep your baby right next to you, making you both feel safer and more confident. It’s also so much easier to navigate busy streets or airports without a cumbersome stroller.
Don’t be afraid of public transportation. Families take subways, buses, trains, and taxis everyday. You can, too. Here’s another area where slings are great. Little kids also LOVE riding weird vehicles, so this ride, in and of itself, is an adventure.
Ask the hotel for a crib, or make a nest on the ground. We usually went with a folded blanket on the ground in a corner once the kids weren’t just sleeping in the bed with us. When they got a bit older, we started to make fun tents and forts out of blankets and tables. They are also content to sleep together in a bed, since they often sleep in the same bed at home.
Rearrange the furniture in a hotel room to suit your needs. When we first get into a room, I walk around and cover outlets by moving tables, move chairs away from windows, and push the beds against a wall so that there was more room for the kids to play on the ground. We also unplug the phones so that they don’t ring and wake us up (never fails), and so that the kids can safely play with them without calling 911 or the concierge.
Always carry a bit of non-perishable food with you, like granola bars or craisins, especially if your toddler has weaned. You never know when the hunger demons will possess your child.
Let the kids sleep when they need to. If they sleep in because of a time change, don’t wake them up… and let them hit the hay at night or for a midday nap if they need to. Again, slings are great for this.
Be flexible. Sometimes naps don’t happen “on time,” so don’t waste an entire day sitting in a dark hotel room, waiting for a nap that will never happen. If a restaurant doesn’t work out for whatever reason, hit a grocery store and eat in the room (don’t forget to pick up plastic-ware to eat wtih). Call it a picnic and your kids will love it. Plan for alternative activities if your primary doesn’t work out — find out where the nearest park or playground is in case the zoo is closed that day, or where the aquarium is if the weather is too crappy for the beach.
Don’t try to pack too much into one day. Disney might sound awesome for you, and you’ll want to get as many hours as you can squeeze out of it in a day, but imagine how much energy it’s going to suck out of your little one. They will stop enjoying it at some point, and then they will make your life hell until you get them into bed. Anticipate how much they can take, and stick to it, so that you can still enjoy tomorrow.
Bring the camera! Your kids will likely not remember the details of the actual trip, but you can always relive the memories with them later on if you took some photos. Remember to get at least a few of them in the shots.
On your way out of town, donate your cheap stroller to Goodwill.
At the restaurant:
Nurse when you need to. Screw naysayers. I’ve NEVER had someone do anything more than look away, embarrassed after making eye contact with me while I’m breastfeeding. Most people smile if you catch them looking. If anyone gives you shit, let them know that they are breaking the law for harassing you… in most states, that’s true…. you have the right to nurse when and where you want to, and no one has the right to try to stop you. Then, squirt them with breastmilk to bring your point home.
Trade the baby off so that everyone gets to eat with two hands, if baby is still in the “not ready to sit on their own” stage.
Bring out the big guns to combat boredom. This can mean crayons, typically forbidden toys, or your phone. Smile and threaten to take it away if they start acting like a brat.
Order the little one’s food first, if they aren’t just eating off your plate. The faster they get their blood sugar up, the less likely they are going to make a neighboring table want to leave.
Bribing works better than threatening, so hit them with “If you can stay really sweet, you can have something sweet to drink” as soon as you walk in.
Take time outs outside, and don’t be afraid to use them. We will take a kid outside and sit them down on the ground, and then stand there until they are ready to act like human beings inside. We use this as a last resort, but before their behavior escalates to screaming or fit throwing.
Interact with your kids while you wait for food. They love to play with you, and they hate to be ignored. Coloring with them, playing Chuzzles on the iPad, or just signing a song with them will help the foodless time pass faster.
Ask for the check as soon as you can. When your child is done, they are done. They are tired, stuffed, and ready to hit the sack. Make sure you can duck out as soon as you need to, before eating out at a restaurant becomes a traumatic event.
Tip well. Your servers did extra stuff, were probably extra nice, and had to clean up extra shit from the table and floor after you leave. They deserve it, and it will help them to continue to enjoy serving families instead of dreading it. We always tip a minimum of 15% if the service sucked, and we usually tip 20% or 25%. We also make it a point to stack plates and trash on the table before we go, and to thank the server verbally for working with us.