by Dr. Steve Silvestro, MD
Dr. Steve has also recorded this as a podcast. If you prefer to listen rather than read the information, just use this player:
Every summer, there’s a great article from The Onion that gets passed around online amongst parents traveling with children. The title says it all: “Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming All Household Duties in Closer Proximity to the Ocean.” In the article, dear mom is stuck washing dishes, doing laundry, and cooking meals while on what should be a lovely vacation away from it all.
The truth of the matter is this: Traveling with children is a whole different experience compared to traveling pre-kids. Some of that care-free wanderlust spirit in your core now has to make room for the roles of cruise director, referee, and person-who-wants-everyone-to-just-have-a-good-time!
But, lest we forget, this is your vacation, too. And you taking time to find your moments of Zen in amongst the chaos can not only help you de-stress and enjoy the wonders of travel, it can help your loved ones better enjoy the adventure, as well.
So here are six tips for staying Zen while traveling with your family:
PLAN AHEAD—BUT DON’T BE TOO RIGID
When it comes to traveling, people often fall into two camps. On one side, you have the folks who want to plan every single detail—from where they’ll eat and when, to exactly how long to stay at every site and activity. On the other side are those who want to be more carefree and spontaneous, open to wherever the journey takes them, like a leaf blowing in the wind.
Once you throw kids into the mix, however, neither option becomes entirely realistic.
Some degree of planning certainly makes many things easier when kids are involved. You know your child’s needs—and since kids are often even more strictly tied to their routines than adults are, it makes sense to map out times for snacks, rest, etc. My wife and I once took our kids to New York and grew irritated that the kids kept wanting to go back to the hotel to rest—we hadn’t thought about how tiring it would be to walk around the city all day long and so we hadn’t built in any room to let their little legs rest. Thinking ahead a bit more than we did, or having access to Bébé Voyage Trails, could have saved a lot of tears.
Other think-ahead strategies can seem small, but can pay dividends when it comes to keeping your cool. For example, packing gallon-sized Ziploc bags with one day’s complete outfit (i.e., shirt, pants, underwear, socks) is a huge time-saver and prevents the otherwise inevitable mess of kid clothes strewn about the suitcase and floor by Day 3 of your trip. Need an outfit? Boom! Done.
Bébé Voyage’s family travel packing checklists are also a great resource to help you plan ahead.
Yet there are plenty of times when traveling with children is unpredictable. From the bad—an injury, an illness, a tantrum—to the good—your family really enjoyed some experience and chose to stay somewhere longer than expected—there are going to be things that you may have planned ahead of time that simply won’t end up happening. Being okay with that is going to save you a lot of self-imposed stress.
STAY ZEN BY PRACTICING…ZEN
Meditation has been growing in popularity for quite some time. Yet despite dozens of studies showing its benefits for helping us keep our cool—and even some indicating it can change our brain structure to make us happier—meditation just isn’t something that many people think of in the moment when they need it most.
But today, there’s no reason for that to be the case. It’s now easier than ever to meditate on the spot, even if you’ve never done it before. All you have to do is pick up your phone. Not only is YouTube chock full of meditations and calming music, there are plenty of apps that can guide you and help you find your breath, rebalance, and move forward. Popular apps that I often recommend include Headspace and Calm, and Sesame Street has even created an app for kids called Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame.
If you or your kids need help relaxing your bodies or even falling asleep, try this guided imagery that I’ve recorded for my podcast. It’s a simple, effective tool that shows you how and your kids to relax any part of the body and find a restful, happy state.
CREATE A CALMING FAMILY VACATION RITUAL
When you’re away from home, everyone’s routine gets thrown out of whack. And while this can potentially lead to trouble (i.e., those sore legs and tears on our New York trip), it’s also a great opportunity to build some relaxing bonding time into your on-the-road routine.
Propose to your family that it might be fun to create a family ritual on this vacation, something that you might not usually do at home but would be special for this trip. Try any one of these ideas, or add your own:
• Family yoga session each morning—use YouTube videos from Cosmic Kids Yoga if you have little ones, or Yoga with Adriene with older kids and teens
• A walk outside after dinner each night
• Day In Review—sit together as a family at bedtime and talk about the best parts of the day and what you’re each looking forward to tomorrow
• Moment of Gratitude—find a stone, seashell, or other object during your trip and pass it around the table at mealtime, each person stating what they’re grateful for or have enjoyed so far.
Each of these activities is a great opportunity for your family to bond during your travels, and having a pleasant activity that’s expected each day can subtly provide a sense of comfort to you and your kids.
DON’T BE UPSET IF YOUR KIDS DON’T SEEM HAPPY
Part of the reason my wife and I had let ourselves get so frustrated when our kids kept wanting to veg out on our New York adventure is that we couldn’t believe that they weren’t as excited about everything as we were.
“Come on, kids! We’re on vacation! Be happy!!”
But besides tired legs and low endurance, kids just process and handle things differently from adults.
A child isn’t likely to fully grasp the enormity of the experience in the same way you might—a trip abroad might start off seeming like a big deal to them because you’ve advertised it as such, but don’t expect your child to still be in awe of “we’re in Europe!” by day three of your stay.
Add to that the fact that kids might not show their appreciation in ways you would expect. My family was recently lucky enough to see a performance of Hamilton. My 8-year-old fidgeted and squirmed through the second act, but when the curtains closed, he turned to me and said, “This is the best day of my life!”
Don’t create for yourself the added pressure of needing to make sure that everyone is constantly smiling, and expect that there will be times when your kids will genuinely be unhappy—even in paradise.
ACCEPT THE REALITIES OF TRAVELING WITH CHILDREN
I wrote earlier that the experience of traveling with children is quite different from traveling pre-kids. There are now extra people to think about, the whims of immature brains to deal with, and the inevitability of changes in plans.
You could fight it or wish that this weren’t so—but where would that leave you?
The Buddhists have a central belief that there is a distinction between “pain” and “suffering.” Pain exists in the world—physical pain, challenges, and difficulties. We, however, create suffering by wishing the pain wasn’t there. We label things has “hard” or “bad” and we fight against the existence of something that simply “is.”
By wishing that your kids weren’t tantruming, or that you didn’t have to leave the beach so often so your toddler could nap—by fighting against these realities of traveling with kids, you turn that pain into suffering.
You get to decide how you handle and respond to these realities. You, really, are in charge of your own happiness.
FOCUS ON THE WONDERFUL
Tantrums, tired legs, and crying on the plane aren’t the only realities of traveling with kids. No, there’s so much that is wonderful about the experience, too.
Notice the look in your child’s eyes when she sees something she’s never seen before. Watch your child’s curiosity grow as he’s surrounded by people and signs communicating in a different language. Enjoy the feeling when you know a special moment will be a memory that will last a lifetime.
Whether you acknowledge the wonder formally in a journal or a blog, or you just take a moment here and there to marvel at your children and experience the adventure through their eyes, focusing on the wonderful will remind you of all that is good about your travels and help any shadows of stress fade away in the light.
Traveling with children means that yes, you will likely be doing dishes or laundry or some other routine parenting chore, just in a lovelier location than usual. And there is bound to be an opportunity for stress to settle in.
But if you can follow these six tips for staying Zen while traveling with children, then you’ll be better equipped to create a wonderful adventure for your family—and you’ll be able to enjoy the journey along the way.
If any of these tips resonates with you, tag me on Instagram @zendocsteve and BébéVoyage @bebe.voyage and let us know! And be sure to subscribe to The Child Repair Guide Podcast for more ways to raise happy, healthy, confident kids.