The summer travel season is here, and parents dream of broadening their children’s horizons through trips that will expose them to amazing vistas, historical locales, new cultures and different experiences. But first you have to get there. And back again.
Cue ominous theme music from the “Psycho” shower scene.
Phase one involves hitting the road or, even worse, the skies with an infant or toddler (or two or three). Picture a Sherpa hauling hundreds of pounds of equipment to the top of Mount Everest. That’s approximately the physical feat of strength and endurance required for any extended trip with a young child.
You have to pack and haul a truckload of diapers, food and snacks, all the necessary utensils and equipment to feed the little ones in transit, any toys or soothing items that help serve as a distraction and stave off tantrums, car seats, strollers and more.
And don’t forget the many, many changes of clothing. Like 15 little outfits for a three-day trip. Because there will be many, many spills and accidents.
Every parent who’s traveled with young children has enjoyed quality time hand-scrubbing soiled clothes in the hotel bathroom sink. Ahhh, memories.
In transit, there’s the joy of screaming, inconsolable children when they become overtired or upset at being confined in a car or airplane seat for hours.
Some little darlings’ preferred method of entertainment involves incessantly kicking the seat in front of them, despite your best efforts to prevent it. This earns you immediate BFF status with the person occupying that seat — not!
Many toddlers just love touching every grimy, sticky surface in the airplane or rest stop bathroom and then putting their hands straight into their mouths or, even better, into yours.
If you weren’t a germaphobe before you traveled with children, you will be afterward.
And let’s not forget the words every parent dreads hearing as they’re stuck on a bridge in a traffic jam or standing in the mile-long airport security line: “Mommy, I need to go to the bathroom … and I can’t hold it!”
But in a few (mercifully) short years you move on to phase two. From around kindergarten upward, most kids will sit for fairly long periods and read a book, watch movies, do puzzles or play video games. So, physically getting from point A to point B is no longer so challenging. But that’s when the mind games begin.
You arrive at your exciting/beautiful/exotic destination with your school-age children and the first words out of their mouths are not, “Wow — look at that amazing view,” or, “When can we head out to see the sights?” Nope — their first question is almost certainly, “What’s the Wi-Fi password?”
You’ll spend significant amounts of time every day coaxing, pleading, bribing and arguing with your kids to look up from their screens, get out of the room and engage in the sights and activities around them that they can’t experience at home. Even if the little contrarians actually enjoy the things you’ve got them doing, they’ll still whine and complain just on some misguided principle of reverse ageism.
Woe to the parent who dares issue a blanket edict banning all electronics for the day or for the entire trip.
Hell hath no fury like a teenager without a phone in their hand. There will be sulky expressions in all photos for the rest of the journey and every attempt at a conversation will be met with a snarky remark about how they didn’t want to come on this trip in the first place. They’ll probably also troll your social media posts about the trip with equally disdainful comments.
However, while the process of traveling with kids is fraught with trials and tribulations not faced by childless adventurers, traveling with children can somehow still be an enriching opportunity for everyone involved. After you get home, what stays with you are the memories of the shared experiences and bonding moments. This must be some sort of psychological phenomenon akin to childbirth that blocks out the trauma, because then you turn right around and start planning the next trip.
— Kim Himstreet is the 40-something mother of two teenage boys whom she and her husband have raised while living in three different countries and three U.S. states.