Planes, Trains, Cars, Buses, Big Ships and Babies: Some insights into traveling with a large tribe of children

So this has put the nail in the coffin of our ambitions to have a fifth child. No. Way.

There has been almost nothing relaxing about the past 6 weeks of globe-trotting. Don’t get me wrong, it has been amazing, and we have planted memories that will last a lifetime in our little people’s hearts and minds. The past weeks have seen us spend some fantastic family time together. It has also been packed full of chaos and cringe-inducing moments.

Adam with Red in Vatican City
Adam with Red in Vatican City

BreastfeedingRomeMuseum

Pompeii, it was HOT!
Pompeii, it was HOT!
Grumpy and Steph with Red at Breakfast last day on the cruise
Grumpy and Steph with Red at Breakfast last day on the cruise
Goofy and our goofy boys.
Goofy and our goofy boys.
Vatican City with four kids is not exactly relaxing...
Vatican City with four kids is not exactly relaxing…

We have faced: varied schedules, greetings and goodbyes, jet-lag, frequent connections, jam-packed itineraries, a hefty helping of homesickness, exhaustion, tantrums, teething, bickering, bathroom emergencies at the most inopportune moments, much swearing (mostly me), concerned Canadians, surly Spaniards, abuse spewed at me at the airport in Montreal because I had a crying infant for 90 minutes solid on the plane, rudeness at restaurants, other people’s children, sweltering heat, long days, sugar highs, sugar crashes, screaming baby, whining, whimpering, wallowing, wandering, wondering, and walking. So. Much. Walking.

So there was that.

But there was also: swimming in pools and rivers, snorkeling in the Mediterranean, fine wine, good food, kind strangers, helpful people at every turn who offered a hand with the children in many different ways, new and familiar places, family, friends, summer breezes, dust road sneezes, ice-creams and brain freezes, laughter, tickles, cuddles, snuggles, movies, theatre shows, magic tricks, puzzles, and so much more wonderfulness; I will, however, spare you my inane chatter.
CiaoMarcoRome

RomeMuseum

RomeBridge

Loved the statues in Rome
Loved the statues in Rome

Here are a few things I have learned about traveling with a large family that I’ll share with you.

1) Plan

Back in the TBC (Time Before Children) we were able to turn on a dime and sneak off for a weekend road trip or hop a plane to someplace with very little forethought. We’d fly by the seat of our pants and let fate decide for us where we’d stay, eat, and play. We have had so many adventures traveling this way, most of which have been fantastic.

We were carrying on with this travel philosophy long after it was no longer practical. Even with three kids in tow we’d arrive in a place and just let the mood take us, without researching or thinking too long or hard about what we were going to do or how we were going to get there.

For the sake of your sanity, and the children’s health and happiness, please learn from our mistakes and plan ahead. At least a little bit.

We landed in the South of France with no plans, so decided upon touching dry land that we’d go to Eze.

Because of our total lack of research and preparedness, we took the train the two stops up the line to the bus-stop that would have taken us up the hill to the medieval town. We waited for about an hour for that bus to come. Fed the children ice creams and water, but the heat and wait got the better of us and we decided to catch the train back down to the beach. Just as we arrived on our platform, we watched the bus roll up and reward the people patient enough to wait for it to turn up.

Ah well. Maybe next time.

We did end up going snorkeling, and the people watching and crystal clear water was magic, so not an entirely wasted day by any stretch of the imagination.

You must have your accommodation booked so you don’t waste time searching for it and can get the kids fed and rested ASAP at each stop. Do not have them in the car, train or plane for any longer than is necessary and have things for them to do at stations and airports. Know where toilet and food stops are, and be ready to find rest stops often to let off some steam, or they will bicker until your ears bleed. That has been my experience anyway.

2) Patience

Things will go wrong. You have to know that, and not be freaked out or let it get to you.

You also must remember that you cannot ascribe to malice things that can just as easily be explained by ineptitude. We turn down the full body scanner at American airports as we’d rather not die of radiation poisoning like Madame Currie.

This is apparently fine when I am holding the baby, but they always seem to make it a very long and painful process for Grumpy and he often ends up waiting an extra 15-30 minutes than I do getting patted down, waiting, or just generally being messed around. He has decided not to take this personally, and that makes our experience a lot more pleasant.

Everything takes longer with children. Accept this. Or don’t travel.

3) Snacks

Always. Always. ALWAYS bring snacks.

4) Water

Always. Always. ALWAYS bring water.

5) Balance

Push your kids out of their comfort zones. Get them to eat the flash fried squid tentacles in Andalusia, even if they spit them out. Bring them, even as they drag their feet and protest, to cathedrals, parks, castles, monuments, ruins and so forth. Pack those little heads full of culture, and make sure you swat up on your history and local knowledge, as there will be questions and it is awesome if you can correctly answer them. We are always amazed by how much sinks in!

And then, when you have crammed their little heads so full of history, culture and new experience that they might just pop, change gears and do some mindless kid stuff.

Always make time for play parks, ice-cream stops, swims, cartoons and mindless kid-friendly blowing off steam antics. You’ll all be better for it.

And that, is just some of my advice on traveling with a large tribe of children.


2 thoughts on “Planes, Trains, Cars, Buses, Big Ships and Babies: Some insights into traveling with a large tribe of children

  1. Totally agree with your advice. We’ve done a couple of trips to Europe (via US) with the kids and they’ve been marvelous but it does take a bit of effort! I do a lot of planning before we leave, eg choosing family friendly accommodation near transport hubs.

    They may not remember too many specifics but they will remember the feeling of having their eyes opened to the world around them, being challenged to try new things, being pushed beyond their comfort zone. These are aptitudes I want my kids to develop, so yes, it’s hard work but I have faith that we’re helping create engaged, thoughtful world citizens.

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