As soon as my daughter was born, I knew her arrival would alter the shape of my life for all eternity. Determined to continue travelling amid the routine, tantrums, sickness and fatigue, I figured the sooner I introduced her to the joys of travel the easier it would become. But no amount of planning can prepare you for the inevitable stance a young feisty lady can take. Little Miss Manhattan, indeed!
While there is plenty of information available about dealing with the challenges of travelling with kids, here is my take on travelling with Little Miss Manhattan, aka Paris, named after one of the most exquisite cities on earth.
The dreaded routine
I abhor routine and the restriction of living in the moment. I once endured the 9-5 drudgery before turning my back on conformity and became a freelance writer as soon as I emerged from my hazy baby brain. But this little bundle of joy demanded regular feed, sleep and cheeky times. God damn it, she craved the very routine I so avidly avoided.
The old saying, “You can’t take a holiday from yourself,” never rings more true when you’re a parent. I eventually accepted my fate by learning the hard way and wove the dreaded routine into our travel plans. I discovered that once you have regular sleep and food intervals taken care of, the fun organically emerges. Sure, some compromises need to be taken as not everyone puts museums or playgrounds at the top of their list, but with a bit of flexibility, negotiation (aka bribes) and imagination it’s possible to keep most members of the family happy at least some of the time.
The grand gesture
Since I can remember, and like many kids introduced to American TV as a child, Disneyland once seemed like the ultimate destination to me. A trip to Paris introduced our own cherub to the city of her namesake and beckoned a trip to Euro Disney for her third birthday. Paris in Paris!
We described it as a huge playground as we boarded the train. There were rides and freaky characters who made her cry amid the pastel version of Disneyland. Not even a ridiculously huge Winnie the Pooh balloon seemed to make her happy…until it mysteriously made its way into our toilet the following day and aged me several years when it suddenly popped out unannounced. All out of options to wipe the worried expression off her sweet face, she meekly asked, “When are we going to the playground?” The penny dropped. And at the far end of Euro Disney we found just that, an old fashioned set of swings and slide, and at last, we were in the happiest place on earth.
I’m sure you can work out the moral of this story.
No place like home
You might be so far from home that the toilet flushes in the opposite direction, but it’s easy to replicate those familiar comforts. A blankie (appropriately named the skanky blankie in our case given the state of it), favourite toy, pillow and snacks lugged all the way from Australia definitely eased Paris into her foreign surroundings. But try spending any lengthy amount of time in a cramped hotel room and even the sanest of people is likely to lose their cool in a confined space surrounded by your beloveds’ paraphernalia.
Save yourself the pain and expense and book self-contained accommodation providing some separation between the living, sleeping, eating and playing zones. It usually works out cheaper anyway, especially as you can avoid the expense of dining out for every meal while saving your money for special meals and attractions.
Just because you’re a parent, doesn’t mean you stop being an adult. You’re still going to want to have a meal every now and then that doesn’t involve a mountain of baby wipes or needing to take someone to the toilet or change a nappy just as you get to the front of the anaconda line for the Empire State Building. You might even want to experience your destination at night after a certain someone’s bedtime. And let’s face it, mummy and daddy can’t live on tiny teddies alone, if you get my drift.
If you aren’t travelling with friends or family who can help to ease the load, there are plenty of reputable babysitting services around the world. Even a short break is going to make a difference to your state of mind. Naturally, you’re going to want to do some research and learn about the person who you’ve entrusted your children with. Review their testimonials and experience, and in some cases you can even interview them before leaving home. Build a rapport with them and ease yourself into it by observing how they interact from a distance or have the babysitter take over some of your duties while you go for an uninterrupted bath or walk. Once you feel comfortable, then venture out for longer sojourns. Go with your instincts and be firm with your expectations, and I can almost guarantee you, allowing yourself some adult time will enrich the whole family’s travel experience.