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African American mother holding son near car

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I don’t recommend traveling with toddlers. There, I said it. I don’t care how many beautiful Instagram photos you see that might trick you into thinking it’s the move, don’t do it. I learned the hard way.

Like a lot of people, I like to travel. I traveled a lot prior to becoming a mom⁠, for work and for leisure⁠, and I didn’t plan to let motherhood stop me. I thought my husband and I would be like all the cool parents who travel with their kids and post adorable family moments at landmarks, chic restaurants, and in front of gorgeous scenery. We even got my daughter’s passport when she was nine-months-old. FYI, it’s been collecting dust in a safe ever since because I’ve decided not to travel long distances with her if it’s going to require flying or driving for more than three hours.

My friend’s wedding in Barbados shortly after my daughter turned one is what led to my change of heart. The wedding had a no kids mandate so we shipped our daughter off to grandma and had a nice vacation. We missed her, but we also had a ball being able to sleep in and, most importantly, not having to cater to her. We didn’t have to work around her nap or feeding and snack times, we didn’t have to keep her entertained or deal with capricious moods, and we could go wherever we wanted. It was that trip where my husband and I decided to take as many childless vacations as we can, especially during our child’s toddler years. 

But then we had a moment of insanity for a hot second. We took a family vacation to LA and then San Jose for a week, shortly after my daughter turned two. This was my daughter’s first time flying and because the flight from NYC to LA is five hours we were nervous. We took all of our parent friends’ advice and had all kinds of entertainment, from coloring books to an iPad and flashcards. My daughter cared about none of it.

When we’re at home, she loves to color and play with flashcards, and she begs to watch her iPad (or one of our phones) and will sit with it for hours if we let her. On the plane, she was entertained for a few moments here and there, but it wasn’t enough to last the entire flight and she tortured us. She cried when she was told to sit down. She actually wanted to stand up for most of the flight. She wanted to climb the chairs, explore the plane, talk to the people in front of her, talk to people behind her, and that was just to go to LA.

On the 40-minute flight from LA to San Jose,my daughter cried the entire time simply because she didn’t want to sit still or be buckled up (though you would never know it based on the photos I posted on the ‘Gram). We were those people with the annoying kid and there was nothing we could do about it. During our time in California, she was sleep deprived because the time difference threw her internal clock off. She didn’t nap much and she acted like a Gremlin as a result. She tortured us the entire trip. Luckily, we were visiting friends who also have children and understood what we were dealing with. The only reprieve we got was on the way home when we were lucky enough to book nighttime flights, and our daughter slept the entire time. Imagine what it would have been like for us with her during a 15-hour flight to Hong Kong and then another four hours to Bali. Nope. 

My perspective will change as my daughter gets older, calmer, and can actually appreciate and remember the experience of travel, but until then, child-free vacations (except for Disney World and road trips under three hours) are the move. Let me explain four main reasons why: 

1. Toddlers Are Unpredictable 

What works for other parents may not work for you and there’s really no way to know until you’re right in the thick of things. That is the case for everyone. So, when parents tell you what worked for them, take it with a grain of salt. Several parents told me how well coloring books and iPads worked for them. My daughter was more interested in riding in the cockpit the entire time. It’s cute when they first get on the plane and the pilots will even indulge, but it gets old fast. 

2. You Need A Break 

Some parents may not admit that they need a break but they do. We all do! Taking a trip or some time away from parenting offers a reprieve, and much-needed rest and relaxation. You will be so refreshed once you reunite with your child. If you do decide to travel with your toddler then you will only be tethered to their nap times, unpredictable moods, and who knows how they’ll be affected by jet lag if you change time zones. Good luck with that. I do realize that not everyone has people they trust enough to leave their children with so if you have no choice but to take your child with you, see if the hotel you are at offers childcare or a day camp or maybe you can find someone that you trust who’d be willing to go with you and be on babysitter duty, if you pay for their room and board and/or travel (I have a friend that does this on occasion). 

3. They Don’t Always Appreciate It

Kids under five don’t even know what’s going on half the time. I mean, yes a three- or four-year-old can be present and enjoy activities like certain tours and swimming, but you have to tailor activities toward them. Keep in mind that they get bored quickly and they don’t care about getting a ‘Gram-worthy shot at the Eiffel Tower or a history lesson so this is really for you. You will have to wait over a decade before these photos matter. Perhaps they’ll make good yearbook photos in High School or even college but that’s about it. 

4. You Save Money 

Save money on that plane ticket, because once they turn two, there is no more riding in the lap for free on planes, and there definitely isn’t a kiddie discount. An occupied seat is an occupied seat. Save your dough.

I’ll likely change my mind eventually, but for now, I look forward to adult vacations and reconnecting with hubby and myself. And I want to spread that peace of mind to other parents who might be duped into going on vacation with their toddlers. Just look at the pretty pictures on social media and live vicariously through folks who won’t really be honest about how hard it is to travel with kids. In real life, don’t do it.

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