So, Italy will have to wait...we've decided to find a compromise and we're going to do a self-catering trip to Turks and Caicos instead.  This way, we get a little of the beach relaxation I so badly want and a bit of exploring too. (And hopefully loads of fresh seafood!)
My (first world) problem is this:  because of scheduling and costs, we're booked to go only 3 days after getting back from 5 days in Maryland, and I'm not sure what to do about packing?  Should I pack for both trips in advance of leaving for Maryland (as a fall trip to the eastern US coast will be very different than a trip to the Carribbean!), or come home, unpack and re-pack?
What have you done when doing back to back trips?
 
If you read my post about my newfound trepidation about traveling with not one, but two, kids in tow, you'll know that we're considering taking our kids to Italy this winter.  Italy is, hands down, our favourite place on earth...and we've been to a lot of places!  The pace, the food, the scenery, the people - just can't be beat!  But how do we visit our favourite place with a 2.5 year old and a 6 month old and actually enjoy ourselves? 

Recently, MSN Today posted an article titled "Went to Europe, loved the playground: Why travel with kids is a waste"   The title is a bit misleading because the article does attempt to be balanced and even says that traveling with your children is a good thing - it just shouldn't be "THE" thing.  You need to spend time together at home and create those strong bonds at home before whisking everyone off to some exotic island or far-flung country. 

So I began to think more seriously about Italy...will I be disappointed if we travel all that way knowing that the day after we get back my toddler will already have forgotten half of the things we saw? Or will I be frustrated spending half the day at a playground that looks like the playground that's three doors down from our own house? 
Not really.  As long as the other half of the day is spent doing a little exploring (after naptime, of course).  I suppose it might be upsetting if this was a 'once in a lifetime' trip.  But it's not.  It's just the beginning, really. 

And yes, *I* want to go to Italy.  My kids haven't been begging me.  But I don't see anything wrong with that.  The whole trip will expose them to things they just won't experience at home.

And it will serve as an opportunity for JR to practice his newfound* skills of patience and adaptability to different surroundings.  And an opportunity for us to learn how we best travel as a family.

So when Laura Davis, from Playground Parents, told me about her new site, I started thinking that maybe it's not so silly to travel a great distance with such young kids. She and her husband are building a new online resource for traveling families.  If you're away from home and your kids need to burn off some energy, you can go to their site, plug in your location and it will map playgrounds in your area.  The site is populated by fellow travelers, so if you have a favourite playground near your own home, or somewhere you've traveled, you can add it to their database.  It's a great concept and once more listings are added, I bet will be invaluable to all those intrepid family travelers with rambunctious kids!

*At 2 years old, JR has neither patience nor adaptability yet, but practice makes perfect, right?!

What playgrounds are you traveling to this winter?
 
Sadly, finances and schedules prevent us from being in a perpetual state of planning our next big adventure.  So, when I was half-way through my last pregnancy, we agreed to not plan any trips until Spawn 2.0 arrived and we had a chance to settle into our newly expanded family life. 

Luckily, I had another project to occupy me: a "big boy room" for JR.  Since he was being shunted from the bigger room and was losing the undivided attention of his parents for pretty much the rest of his life, I was determined to make it really special.  You know, bribe him.

After some deliberation, I decided on a travel/vintage airplane themed bedroom.  Planning his room turned out to be almost as fun as planning a vacation! I got a lot of inspiration (read: full-on stole ideas because I loved it so much and am totally not creative enough to think of this stuff on my own) from this great blog.

I'm super happy with the results!  And so is JR.  He especially loves the balsa wood models Daddy made for him and loves blowing on the propeller to "make it go".

Have you done a travel-themed room for your kids?
 
But what if that journey involves a 1 year old, two flights totalling almost 18 hours and a 7-hour layover?  Is it still about the journey?  Um, maybe not, but you better be prepared unless you cherish the idea of a confined, grumpy toddler on your lap for 25 hours.

Last month my husband and I arrived at the airport, toddler in tow, to begin our 25-hour journey from Toronto to Vietnam.  Every person we spoke to about our trip said "you're so brave!"  To be honest, I hadn't really thought about it.  We'd been to Southeast Asia only three years earlier, so we knew the lay of the land and there was never a moment when we hadn't considered taking our son.  (Okay, time for full disclosure already:  there was *one* moment when I asked "should we leave JR with Grammy and Grampy instead?"  My husband wouldn't even entertain the thought, so that was that.)

And you know what I learned?  That we often underestimate our children. My son cried for a total of 15 minutes in the 14th hour of our first flight.  And only then because he had finally fallen asleep to be woken up by turbulence - enough to make any of us cry!  And I would venture to say that, as long as you come prepared, the journey can be half the fun. 

Top Tips for ENjoyinG the JourNey

Picture
Chillaxin' with Daddy en route to Hong Kong
1. Now, I'm a self-professed gear junkie, so maybe I go a bit overboard, but trust me when I tell you that sometimes, that gear will make the difference between calm and chaos.  The two pieces of techie stuff we bought in anticipation of this trip were an iPad (my son already knows how to use it better than I do!) and the toddler headphones by Califone, pictured here.  We got several compliments from flight attendants on these headphones and they helped keep JR engaged in the in-flight entertainment. When your mini globetrotter gets bored of the airline's movie selection, break out your fully-loaded tablet. There are tons of great apps for kids out there - click here for a list of some great ones.

2. If your journey involves a long flight, believe me when I say that those bulkhead seats are worth every. single. penny.  My husband is 6' 3", so we've been finagling those seats ever since we started travelling together.  Throw a toddler into the mix and those few extra inches quickly become essential.  The extra space meant we could spread out our belongings and set out a little play area for him.  He even slept on the floor at our feet when it was nap time.  Another bonus of the bulkhead seats is that the touch sreen TVs are either mounted on the wall or the arm of the seat -- which means that those pudgy fingers won't be pounding on the back of someone else's seat, and that's one less dirty look you have to endure.  Lord knows there's enough controversy these days about kids even being allowed on planes in the first place!

Picture
That bulkhead seat is worth every penny!
3. How you board the plane will set the tone for the rest of the trip.  Families with small children are usually allowed to pre-board.  If you're flying with another adult, the best solution we've found is to get one person to go ahead with as much of the luggage as they can handle and set up the seats, while the other person lets the child(ren) run off as much energy as possible before boarding the plane.  (And don't forget a last-minute diaper change too!)  When you do board, talk to a flight attendant as soon as possible to get the low-down on the lavatories.  Some airlines require you to put the diapers in airline-issued bags and then handed to a crew member for disposal.  Others just tell you to put them in the bathroom garbage.

4. Never underestimate the power of the treat.  Most airlines are good about bringing snacks, drinks, and small toys for the kids, but packing your carry-on with treats means you're not relying on a (hopefully) empathetic (and available) flight attendant.  Before a long flight, I visit the local dollar store and find a few toys that I think JR might enjoy.  I also pack his favourite lovey, a roll of painter's tape, some stickers, juice boxes and a few never-fail snacks (rice crackers, puffs, etc.).  I wrap the toys and hand one over whenever he seems to be getting restless.  The painter's tape was probably the smartest item in our bag of tricks.  JR loved ripping pieces off the roll of tape and sticking them all over us and the seats. It served a dual purpose as we soon discovered:  after JR had pressed the "Call Attendant" button a dozen times in five minutes, a piece of tape nicely covered the button, erasing that innate toddler need to press all visible buttons.

5. Go with the flow.  A detailed plan for the journey will end up in the same place as your birth plan: lining the bird cage.  Be prepared, but don't have expectations.  The best strategy is to be flexible, because you may find that your mile-a-minute pre-schooler wants to do nothing more than sit on your lap and watch cartoons, while your normally sedate 11-month old wants to run up and down the aisles.  Your fellow passengers aren't the enemy and are usually happy to smile and coo to your children as long as they see that you are genuinely making an effort to make the journey as comfortable as possible for your family.

When you're relaxed, your kids will read that and take their cues from you.  Remember - a journey of a thousand miles...begins with a little preparation.

Do you have any secret travel tips you'd like to share?  I'd love to hear them!


A version of this post appeared on the Suitcases and Sippy Cups website as part of Wanderer Wednesdays!

suitcasesandsippycups.com

 
Picture
Right now my nieces and nephews are too young to know any better, but I'm willing to bet that between the ages of 7 and 15, I am going to be their least favourite aunt. I refuse to buy them presents. Because, really, what kid actually needs more plastic toys or wants more underwear?

Instead, my husband and I opened bank accounts for each of them in the year they were born.  We discussed how much we thought we would spend on gifts in an average year and deposit that amount into their accounts every January.  They'll get access to their accounts when they're 18 and there is only one string attached:  the money must NOT be spent on something "practical" like school or a car.

My husband and I are the only ones who travel in our families, so we know that the chances of our nieces and nephews getting firsthand exposure to other cultures and landscapes are slim.  That's just not a priority for their parents and that's fine.  But we know how amazing international travel is and want to foster that curiosity and desire to see what's beyond their borders, and extend their education beyond the classroom walls.

We haven't stipulated that it *must* be used for travel, but the bank accounts are labeled "Adventure for [insert name]", so we're hoping that each of them will decide to use it to see some far-flung corner of the world that they've always wondered about, or seen on TV or in a magazine.  Hopefully, when they open their birthday card each year and look at the growing bank balance, it will kick-start their dreaming...

Do you encourage your extended family members to explore?
 
I have an illness.  It's called OTD.  Obsessive Travel Disorder.  It's a very serious illness whereby the afflicted person cannot stop planning or thinking about travel: past, present and future.  Most days she can think of nothing else and finds it difficult to execute seemingly easy tasks such as:  the job she is actually paid to do, house cleaning, feeding her family and even sleep.

We haven't even been back from our trip to Southeast Asia a month and I'm already wondering where I'm going to get my next "hit"!  We have a few small trips planned to visit family, but my sights are locked on next summer when we're planning to take a few weeks to introduce our son to our friends in England and Italy.  I've even managed to sweet-talk some friends and family into joining us.  Because if there's something I love more than planning trips, it's planning trips for lots of people!  I just don't know how I'm going to make it through the next 372 days...
Picture
Tuscany: Host of 1st OTD Group Therapy Session

Now, I'm not a doctor, but I'm pretty sure the only known cure is. . . to travel.   Maybe all my fellow sufferers and I could plan a group therapy retreat...in Tuscany? Or Sydney? Perhaps we could hike the Cabot Trail and have a post-hike therapy session in a lakeside cabin?  Who's with me?

Here's to memories in the making...