If you’re traveling this winter, you might be dreading the part where you tote your tired and bored kids on long stretches through planes, trains and automobiles. To get some tried and true advice, we turned to two people who are more experienced at traveling with a child than anyone else we know, Madison Elizabeth Cornelis and her husband Cees of the gorgeous and inspiring site, Our Vie.
In 2014, they got engaged in Yosemite National Park, and in 2016, decided to celebrate the 100th birthday of our National Parks system by visiting all 59 of them. It took a year and a half, and along the way, they had baby Theo (now 2). They’re still traveling full-time, in a 6-cylinder (read: intimate) RV and documenting it for their blog and Instagram followers through Our Vie. “We are modern minimalists living life whole-heartedly full of quality time, meaningful experiences and exploration outside!” says Madison Elizabeth. Here’s how:
What has been the biggest difference for you, traveling with a child?
We are going at a more mellow pace, working with naps and constantly hungry little bellies, and finding activities in which the whole family can participate. Gone are the days of Cees and I both surfing, or skiing, or snorkeling… etc. at the same time, ha ha. We have to either take turns with each other or travel with other families and switch off babysitting with other couples. Gone are the days where we could spontaneously stay in dirt cheap (actually dirty) places around the world. We still do a lot of international travel with our baby, but we have to put in a little more planning so make sure that where we stay and what we do will be safe and kid-friendly.
Does that always work?
Traveling with kids is so much fun–honestly we love our tiny travel buddy so much—but at the same time things can get crazy pretty fast…we’re talking meltdowns mid-flight, jet lag for days, aversion to international foods, freak-outs during long car seat rides, or things just taking soooo much longer than expected. For example, getting all ready for the day and by the time you try to get out of the house, change one more messy diaper and snag some snack… it’s time for a nap again. We’ve learned to just roll with things, go at our baby’s pace, listen to his needs and be flexible.
Do you rely on any gadgets or gear to cope?
We do! We actually have a blog post dedicated for baby travel gear. We have a really cool car seat that has wheels that flip down at the press of a button that turns it into a stroller. That car seat/stroller transformer is probably the thing that people ask us about the most, and we have found it super helpful for travel. We also have a really light-weight travel crib that we love.
And any electronics like tablets, or no?
We prefer to keep our kid screen-free as much as possible–it’s just our personal choice, but also tough sometimes. I feel like I’m always trying new toys and favorite snacks to keep our toddler happy. Sensory toys are awesome and keep him entertained for a long time. He loves trying to figure out how things work. When I’m sitting in the back with Theo and can supervise him, I let him play with random, safe household items, things that he can put in and out of boxes or cups, or buttons he can press, or flashlights he can turn on and off…things like that are real crowd-pleasers. When worst comes to worst and not even a favorite snack will do the trick, we let Theo watch home videos. He calls them “Theo videos” and he is obsessed with watching himself.
Any special tips for planes?
Plane travel with kids can either be amazing and fun for them, or a total nightmare–ha! Packing good snacks and toys is essential. We don’t buy Theo new toys, but always seem blessed to receive plenty of toys second-hand from family or friends. On long flights we’ll slowly give him these toys over the hours to keep him entertained. We have also found that walking Theo up and down the aisles to get some wiggles out helps a lot too. We make friends with flight attendants and usually they’ll give him fun snacks along the way.
What are any mistakes you see other families making most often?
Kids are still kids and being on an airplane doesn’t change the fact that they’re going to be curious or want to run around or be loud. Of course we have to be respectful to other people and help our kids learn to do the same, but that’s the thing–they’re still learning. I see so many parents yelling, crushing their children with hurtful, sharp words and expectations. I don’t judge because traveling can be rough for everyone and people are often overtired and overwhelmed, so I get it. But, it makes me sad for kids whose parents expect them to be mini-adults and punish them for being who they are—beautifully passionate kids!
Any pro tips for weathering a public meltdown?
Meltdowns are an opportunity to connect with your child, work through emotions and hurts together, and ultimately they will pass. I think parents should also remember that although meltdowns in public places can be embarrassing or overwhelming, *most* people are sympathetic and are just glad it’s you and not them dealing with it.
What is your favorite trip you’ve taken as a family?
We love going to Bali as a family! We took Theo when he was 5 months old and again when he was 18 months. There are really great family-friendly spots in Bali, and kids are endlessly entertained at the beach. We’ve heard that Costa Rica is great for families too, so that’s top on our travel list!
And in terms of National Parks–which was the family fave?
I seriously love them all for different reasons, but if I had to choose, I’d say probably Mt. Rainier NP in Washington. There’s a section of the park called Paradise, and it truly is! We’re talking purple mountain majesties, green rolling hills, babbling brooks, wild flower blankets, and talking marmots kind of magical! It’s amazing. Cees’ favorite parks are the desert ones, so he would say Arches NP/Canyonlands NP in Moab, Utah, or Big Bend in Texas. But, we both loved Sequoia NP in California! The grandeur of those giant, wise Sequoias will take your breath away.