35 flights in 34 months! Yes, that’s right. My 3 year old son has taken 35 flights already and is now booked to take his 36th soon. Now that I’ve grabbed your attention, hop on board for my story of travelling with a toddler.
I grew up in a defence family, so travelling either meant shifting base to a new city or going home to one’s roots during vacations. This way of life gave us a wonderful chance to explore and live in various parts of the country, imbibing different cultures in our personality. It was no surprise then that travelling shows on TV would send me to a dream world of exploring new places and cuisines. We were already living a semi-nomadic life, but the freedom of just getting up, packing bags and leaving for a new place was an alien idea.
When I grew up, and was capable of making this dream a reality, I started travelling impulsively, even if it meant driving to Pune and back the same day, for some delicious Puneri food, missal pav, mastani and more. Then, motherhood happened!
Ignore the advice!
We’ve all experienced the “experts” who start offering their words of wisdom and tell you not to do anything they couldn’t do. I received the most advice on body changes, weight gain and travelling. But they were mostly wrong. I didn’t go through too many changes in my body post delivery, but that’s a story for another time. When it came to travel, I soon realised my tiny son was the best travel companion I could ask for. Being the wife of a Naval officer, my husband is missing from the scene for days and months. Occupational hazard. My son, however, is now my buddy for most of my vacations.
It didn’t happen in one day. We took baby steps, quite literally. Being a stay-at-home mom who was in the same environment all day, travelling gave me a lot of relief and a much-needed change of scene. A lot of my comfort with my child came through careful planning and design. I had already planned to nurture our relationship in a way where I treat him as an individual, not a mere shadow tagging along with me.
My son, Adhiraj, and I have taken holidays together where we checked into beautiful resorts and relaxed in the luxury of scenic beauty and room service. We roam around the airports like we own them and take multiple trips on escalators. Even train journeys proved to be such a revelation; they got the threenager addicted to train stories, especially those with tunnels.
There are so many other hacks I discovered which have made my travels much easier. Here a few things that helped me in travelling with a toddler:
1. Start early
I never hesitated to take my infant out, strapped in his car seat. We would go to restaurants where I could read a book and chill, while he was playing or sleeping in the rocker. It gave both of us a good break from staying home in pajamas all day, and the drive would make him sleep too. Win win! Since my son was exclusively breast-fed for the first 6 months, I didn’t have to worry about his food. Now, we have reached a stage where he has learnt how to eat by himself, with proper table manners. I realised that the more you take kids out, they get used to being on the move. Let them explore the world outside the four walls of the house. Adaptation is key. Kids adapt to the lifestyle you provide.
2. Let them join in the excitement of travel
They won’t really understand a word you say in the beginning, but babies grasp your feelings, excitement and curiosity when you talk to them about your plan for the day. Let them feel the excitement. If you are increasingly vocal about your feelings, kids will be less confused and cranky. Make them believe that you want them around, by saying and repeating that you are having fun with them being around.
3. Pay attention to their needs
Think about what they find fun. A child may nag if they feel ignored. If the demands are unacceptable, let them know clearly and firmly but in a calm manner. The first thing Adhiraj looks for in a hotel is the pool and insists that we go there first, even before checking in. To tackle this situation, I tell him that we are allowed to open our bags only in the room, where we can get his swimsuit and then head to the pool. Giving a reason, even a made-up one, helps their confused world get sorted a little and helps a child understand your point of view.
4. Carry their toys and favourite snacks to make the journey fun for them
You may enjoy the long drive but a child’s attention span is limited. When we travel, Adhiraj always has his favourite cow or dinosaur figurine. He believes they are his siblings and must travel with him. There is a lot of storytelling involving the figurines which helps broaden his imagination and observation skills. Also, ghee-roasted makhanas, super healthy and tasty, are our favourite snacks to carry. We pretend they are rocks and make various smiley faces on the plate with them, to keep the journey fun.
5. It’s okay to get bored
Nowadays, we give too much to our kids. Their hands are always full. It’s okay to get bored and build up to the excitement of a journey. While on a drive, I ask Adhiraj to count how many cows he spots, or types of construction vehicles he sees. I also add, “Adhiraj, please show us too. Don’t watch all by yourself.” This makes him get all geared up for his mission. When he’s idle, we sit and observe random things, on our body or the clothes we wear.
“Mamma, what are my nails made of”, “What are these lines on my palm”, “Why do my shoes have laces and crocs have holes” are the kind of things he asked me during our recent layover at the airport. Paying attention to little details makes them more aware of themselves and their surroundings.
6. Don’t worry about the “hassles” of feeding, diapers, change of clothes, etc
These things are a part of life now. Embrace them. Don’t we all need take a pee break? I see so many moms getting all troubled when they realise their child has pooped in their pants. Relax, and find the nearest baby room, which you will find in almost all airports, malls and hotels. However, a lack of such a space must not bother you. Ask for help. You will be surprised how many people warm up to you when you really need help. On one of our journeys, we were at a very small airport with limited infrastructure. I requested a fellow passenger, who was also using the facilities, to look after our belongings (there was no staff around) while I changed my son’s diaper and his clothes. To my surprise, the passenger helped me beyond my ask and offered to pack my stuff back in the baby bag.
It is difficult in the beginning, but you will get a hang of it eventually. Also, baby carriers are a boon, since they free up your hands on most occasions.
7. Don’t get hassled by tantrums.
You may not like the food served to you, and you just dismiss it saying it’s bad. That’s controlled behaviour. Kids don’t have naturally controlled expressions, they are taught. It is important to understand that kids have an exaggerated reaction to everything, and it’s okay. Stay calm through it and think of solutions, rather than getting hassled.
8. Make rules
And make sure they are being followed. For example, as a replacement for buying toys from the airport, we can explore alternatives like building up to the excitement of the flight. Tell them you’ll narrate stories when you’re on the plane and stick to promises. To make sure they sleep on time and wake up early, tell them what you’ll do the next day around the resort or hotel. Sticking to promises made to the child builds more trust, and they get the pattern.
9. Just breathe and take the plunge
Sometimes, we make too much of too little. Be positive and keep a free mind.
When thinking of travelling alone with a toddler, remember it’s going to be a lesson. Do your homework, prepare yourself mentally. If we think of something as a punishment, it becomes a punishment. Make your child your friend. You will be surprised how understanding, caring and fun they can turn out to be.