Traveling with children

Having finally finished my manuscript and sent it off to the editors, I feel ready for our next big project: Hawaii. Our family loves to travel, and we do so as often as we can.

As a gay couple, the biggest travel challenge we’ve experienced is finding a hotel where we can be ourselves and not worry about harassment. The birth of Sascha added to that challenge –  considerably.

We thought about how having a child would affect our travels even before we had Sascha. When we discussed trying for a foster child with social services, we made only one demand: a passport that would allow the child to travel easily. Sadly, we still live in a world that restricts people from most countries from traveling, unless they jump through endless hoops. Many children placed in foster care in this country come from countries that face such restrictions. We were willing to sacrifice a lot, but not traveling.

Sascha was born in Mumbai and, at five weeks old, boarded his first intercontinental flight. We worried about what we might have to endure. Would he sleep? Would he cry all night? What would our fellow passengers say? We had barely taken our seats when a gentleman in the row behind us started to complain. The flight wasn’t full, so he was re-seated a few rows further back. He hadn’t needed to worry. I didn’t get much shut-eye that night, but Sascha slept through pretty much the entire night, apart from when we woke him for his feedings. In the morning, the gentleman complimented us on handling our son. (His snoring had been much louder than any sounds Sascha made…)

Since then, Sascha has flown within Europe twelve times and crossed the Atlantic twice. Last summer, at the tender age of three months, he flew with us to Arizona and was quite the trooper. He even endured (without making a fuss) the ten-hour drive from Arizona to Los Angeles.

Last Christmas, we had a bit of a trial by fire. Our plans took a detour so we could attend my bonus dad’s funeral in Arizona. Unplanned and unscheduled, the trip took a full day. From the moment we left Miami at 6 a.m. until we arrived in Phoenix at 10 p.m., Sascha, now crawling, was a much more alert passenger than on previous trips.

In early June, now walking, he flew with me to Switzerland for a week. The trip presented me with a whole new set of challenges, including a very vocal son demanding his way. Yet, all in all, things went very smoothly, and whatever didn’t work, was my fault.

I’m looking forward to our trip to Hawaii and the cruise we’ve scheduled. I’m sure we’ll be fine. At this point, we’ve learned from our experiences.

If you wonder if you should take your kids on a trip, here are a few suggestions, in all humility:

• I’ve come to believe that children behave as their parents do. If you love to travel, so will the little ones. I’m sure you’ve noticed how early on they pick up on your emotional state of mind, often before you do. If you’re afraid of flying, for example, your kids will sense it. Work on yourself first…

• Small children and babies mostly sleep through flights anyway. Bring plenty of pacifiers and/or a bottle with your child’s favorite drink. It helps to keep them calm and eases problems with the pressure changes. The monotonous sounds from the engines usually puts them right to sleep, providing the perfect white-noise blanket they need to rest.

• We’ve found that most airline crews adore babies – in fact, we’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t (knock on wood) – and will do their utmost to assist you with toys, drinks, and even baby food. We’ve had crew members fetch Sascha to give us time to eat our meals.

• As an avid business traveler, I always sit by the aisle. It’s faster in and quicker out, plus I get to stretch my long legs. With Sascha, the aisle is not a good idea because he wants to play with everyone going by, a hard-learned lesson during my first flight with him. The window seat provides him things to see (which older children especially enjoy). We bridge the time from boarding to take off by looking at other planes, the loading of the plane, etc.

• Some people use antihistamines to calm their kids, but they don’t always work because not all children respond to them. Some parents swear by them; others will label you a monster for considering it. I don’t pass judgment. Let me put it this way: if you use it once or twice a year to get a calmer flight, it won’t hurt your child (a baby thrashing out, kicking and screaming in the tight confines of the fuselage, however, might!). This is a decision every parent has to make. I see it as similar to choosing to eat candy: yummy every now and then, but not healthy on a regular basis.

• At hotels, pre-book the baby bed. Sadly, once we arrived in Phoenix at 11 p.m., and the bed was sitting in a cardboard box, yet to be assembled. There was no mattress, no bedding apart from a king-size sheet, no pillow, no duvet – and no front desk staff available. These days, I triple-check, and we bring our own pillow for Sascha, as most hotel don’t have ones suitable for babies.

• Toys are great to bring along, but, then again, who wants to travel with half of Toys-R-Us in their carry-on luggage? We are lucky that Sascha loves our old iPad. His first-ever Christmas gift, a protective case by FisherPrice, protects it from his drools. In the car, he watches a movie before dozing off or plays with one of the many free and fun apps. (Yes, there are apps for small babies, and, at nine months, Sascha accidentally discovered features we had no idea existed…)

• Don’t ever forget your child’s favorite cuddly thing and/or blanket! Just saying…

I could give you plenty more tips, but I believe you discover them best on your own. The first and last bullet point certainly will get you a long way! In the end, don’t be afraid to take your kids places, even if you know they won’t remember. You will, and with the pictures you take, you’ll have amazing memories to share for years to come!

And that is why I’ll stop here, to get back to planning our trip!

Posted by Hans M. Hirschi

Hans M Hirschi has been writing stories ever since he was a child. A deep passion for a better world, for love, and tolerance are a red thread throughout his creative and non-fictional work. Hans lives with his husband & son on a small island off the coast of Gothenburg.


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