In a poem to her child, Anne Campbell wrote: You are the trip I did not take, you are the pearls I could not buy / you are my blue Italian lake, you are my piece of foreign sky. Before I became a mother I thought it was a beautiful sentiment. Now, knee-deep in the trenches of motherhood, I’ve decided that I hate it. Let me explain.
Prior to becoming a mom, I backpacked through Europe, camped in Peru and road-tripped through the Southwest. And I had this idea that a child wouldn’t change things. “I’ll just bring them along,” I thought, “or leave them with family.” But weeks (maybe even days) into motherhood, I began to wonder if I would ever go anywhere again. Was this screaming child my blue Italian lake? I decided that there was no way moms could travel at this point. Definitely not sane moms and for sure not moms with multiple kids.
It turns out, that I was right. Well, not entirely, but partially. Mom’s do travel less. A lot less. A 2014 survey by Devries Global shows that women without children traveled an average of 16 days domestically during 2014, while women with children traveled 10. And internationally the numbers are even lower. Women without children traveled 10 days internationally while women with children traveled only 3.
Obviously, moms travel less. Of course, there are various factors that come into play, but in the end, it’s because of the kids. It’s hard to take them with you and it’s hard to leave them at home.
In order to understand how to fit my traveling life in with motherhood, I spoke to a tribe of moms all of whom have made travel happen (even internationally!) with multiple, young children.
Why Moms Feel Like They Can’t Travel
“The anxiety is crippling,” says Christine Partridge, a high school soccer coach and mother of one. “Everything I want to do I think of worst case scenarios with a baby. I love cruises and have been dying to go on one again but can’t shake the fear that my child will fall off the boat. We took a trip to Europe recently and I was super scared of a kidnapping scenario.”
Christine isn’t alone. Multiple women told me that their fear of “What if?” prevented them from booking flights to begin with. “I’m just worried that my kid will have a huge plane freak out and cry the entire time and I’ll feel so bad because all of these people paid so much money,” says Eliza Kent a nurse and mother of two.
And leaving the kids at home isn’t much easier. Most of the moms I spoke to said that they feel more anxiety leaving them than they would taking them. “I stared at the clock my first trip without my baby the entire time,” says mom of two and physician Kayla Whiting. “I would say, ‘Oh it’s 10 am, my baby should be going down for his morning nap now.’ It took everything in me not to text my mother-in-law who was watching him and ask how much he was eating and how long he slept.”
While anxiety was the main reason most of the moms I spoke said they weren’t comfortable traveling with kids, the financial toll was right up there too. Most airlines require that children over the age of 2 purchase their own seat, which is the same cost as the adult fare. Even with one child that can be a burden, but add multiple kids and suddenly flying becomes a tremendous expense.
Bring the kids along vs. Leave them at home
So the options for parents are:
A. Bring the kids
B. Leave them at home
C. Don’t go anywhere
Since I’m a believer in travel, I decided that C is not actually an option. So for those parents who want or need to travel, there are two camps: Camp Bring the Kids, and Camp Leave the Kids. Each option has its own difficulties. But most moms I spoke to agreed that they prefer to bring the kids whenever possible – especially if the travel is for pleasure.
“I’ve done both, and in the end, it’s easier to just bring the kids,” says Kayla Whiting. “We don’t live near family so getting them to a grandparent or aunt is time-consuming and expensive and cuts into our vacation time.”
And if you’re on the fence about taking the kids because you’re worried about how they will behave, consider the wise words of musician and mom of three, Lacey Williams:
“What’s the worst that’s going to happen? Your baby will cry? Your kid will run up and down the aisles of the plane? Babies cry. Kids whine. That happens at home and on fantastic vacations. So go, and be somewhere awesome while your baby cries and your kids whine.”
But business travel or an adults-only wedding may require someone to watch the kids. Not to mention, there are some trips that cannot be taken with children from a practical perspective.
“Sometimes I worry that if I don’t travel now, I never will,” Christine Partridge told me. “I only have one child and I think I want more. I don’t want to wait until my kids are grown up to see the world. Since I have anxiety about what could happen if I bring my daughter, it’s easier for me to leave her with my mom.”
And while it may not be in the child’s best interest for parents to be jetting off every other weekend to a new destination, most moms agreed that leaving the kids with family for a much-needed getaway can actually be a good thing for both of them.
“When we go on vacation I miss my kids like crazy. But it’s always nice for me to get home and realize that they missed me too,” said mom of three and landscape architect Katie Allenbach.
How Moms Can Make it Easier to Take the Kids
Traveling with your children can be a rewarding experience if planned for in advance. “There’s more to traveling with kids than the flight,” said Eliza. “There’s also driving, sleeping, eating, sightseeing with children that can be potentially problematic.” She provided this list of ways to make travel easier with children – minus the plane traveling tips.
- Call your hotels and tell them you have a child/children: Ask for a crib or bed for them. Often they will provide toys or special accommodations for you.
- Educate your children on where you’re going: Show them movies or read books about the place. This will help them anticipate the trip and when they see the landmarks and eat the foods they’ve learned about they will feel a personal connection to the place.
- Ease up on typical standards: “It’s okay if they’re eating pizza on the hotel floor at 1 am in their diaper,” added mom Lacey Williams. “They’re fine. They’re with you. That’s the best place for them. Don’t worry about anything else.”
- Adjust expectations: You probably won’t see everything you wanted to because they had to take a nap and that’s okay.
- Plan for the worst: Bring medicine, comfort items, extra clothes and extra diapers because you never know what you’re going to need.
How Moms Can Make it Easier to Leave the Kids
Just like traveling with children requires planning, so does leaving them behind. “I start preparing to leave my kids weeks in advance,” says Katie Allenbach. “And I make sure to give them a lot of extra love in the days leading up to my departure so they don’t feel abandoned.” She shared a few other practical ways she prepares to leave her kids:
- Don’t let them know too soon that you’re leaving: “I have found that it’s best not to hype up my leaving too much with my kids. It’s better to tell them the day before – maybe two days before, and explain how long I’ll be gone, who is staying with them, and when I’ll be back,” Katie suggests.
- Stick to routines: The fewer disruptions the better. If a grandparent or sibling can stay with your children at your home they won’t feel as left behind.
- Check in occasionally: Facetime, phone calls, even text messaging older children is a good way to let them know you’re thinking of them.
- Don’t hover: You’ll be miserable if you worry too much and so will they. Giving them some space when you’re away will actually make it easier on both of you.
Before I became a mom I decided that I would continue traveling. Because I don’t want my child to be the reason I don’t take trips, or see blue Italian lakes, or foreign skies. But I can see why Anne Campbell wrote what she did above. It’s hard to travel as a mom. It’s hard and it’s expensive and at times it can feel impossible. But you can do it. Other moms have done it. Other moms will do it. So can you.
Do you have any memorable or difficult experiences traveling with your kids? Let us know in the comments section.