Travelling with Toddlers – Why do we do this to ourselves?

The waiting is the hardest part.

Waiting for a ferry, waiting for a car ride to come to an end, waiting for the plane to land. Those moments in which, in our pre-parenthood lives, we planned the next day, discussed the landscape or simply kept our mouths shut, are now full of moaning and whining. The reason: Kids – and this is even a scientifically proven fact – are not good at waiting.

Travelling with Toddlers – Why do we torture ourselves so?! by
At the supermarket, where Mom is taking far too long…again.

A trip is more than just a vacation – this was the case before we had kids and it certainly hasn’t changed since they arrived. A successful trip requires flexibility, stamina and curiosity – and when it comes to the latter of those three, at least, toddlers have more than enough.

In fact, it is precisely this curiosity that can make periods of waiting just about bearable, but only if we parents keep up the constant work: “Oh look, a bunny rabbit!” “How many boats can you see?” “Look at that man; his suitcase is covered in stickers!” And of course at the same time, we also have to rein in their enthusiasm: “Let go of that bunny rabbit right now!” “Get. off. that. buoy. right. now!” “Stop pulling the stickers off the suitcase!”

And given that au pairs or other helping hands aren’t normally around while you’re on vacation, once the last line of the bedtime story has been read (oh yes, this ritual comes on vacation with us, too!), both parents are dead tired.

Travelling with Toddlers – Why do we torture ourselves so?! by
Beau Vallon, Mahé

So why do we do it to ourselves?

To be honest: Sometimes we ask ourselves that, too. Particularly on days like these, when we’ve made our way back to one of the most stunning beaches and didn’t even forget the beach toys, only for our son to scream in a shrill falsetto (the birds even flew from the trees, I swear!) because he wanted his pacifier, which he had actually handed over to the Easter Bunny over half a year ago.

Or the day our little girl, who had unfortunately gotten up on the wrong side of the bed and had been complaining about EVERYTHING ever since (even about Papa, and that’s saying something) – mainly due to ‘crimes’ such as a pizza that had, in her opinion, been sliced incorrectly or too much/too little/too wet sand in her bucket.

Ugh! What is it with these spoiled little brats – you take them halfway round the world, lay a sandbox at their feet and even order a Coca-Cola as a special treat, and this is how they repay you!

But hang on a second: WE are the ones who want to explore the world!

Wanting to travel the world is our dream, not our children’s, and it’s important to remember this when things get tough. They’d probably be just as happy with a trip on the “playground train” from Zurich to Bern or a visit to the zoo.

We want to travel and our kids come along for the ride. It’s our desire and our dream, and our children get to (have to!) be a part of it.

This is precisely why we never go on vacations explicitly promoted as “kids’ vacations” or similar programs. We do, however, make sure that what we do is child-friendly, which is actually pretty easy with little kids. There’s a cute little kitty at the museum? Great, the kids can keep themselves busy stroking her while we admire the colonial house from times gone by.

We’re actually discovering the world together – just from different perspectives. And it is precisely this fact that not only makes travelling with kids a stressful experience, but often also really wonderful: Our experiences and how we perceive them are totally different. While the highlight of our day was a hike through the jungle, the kids have decided by dinner at the latest that they also want a parrot as a pet after happening to see one hanging around on its perch by the ticket desk of the national park.

Travelling with Toddlers – Why do we torture ourselves so?! by
Kalalau Trail, Napali Coast, Kauai
Travelling with Toddlers – Why do we torture ourselves so?! by
La Curieuse Island, Seychelles

They ask us questions that we have to Google (“What do crabs actually eat?”), so we get to learn something too. They notice details – the length of turtles’ claws, the heart shape of an island, the beetle with the pretty pattern by the balcony door that ultimately turns out to be a common national pest. Their enthusiasm is honest, never too understated or over the top, and virtually nothing beats the sound of your own children squealing with delight as they discover the 352nd gecko of the day.

A different tempo

Travelling with kids has a different rhythm. It has to be more carefully planned in advance (I used to be the type that improvised at immigration checks and conjured up a hotel room for the first night at the very last minute) in order to make it more relaxing. Once you’ve reached your destination, you often don’t have enough time to research or to see where the wind takes you. Now I prefer to have a fixed plan, even if I don’t mind spontaneously switching to plan B now and again. Group excursions lasting the whole day are another thing you could try, but they’re pretty difficult with young kids because there’s no space for the kids’ individual needs and demands. And they have a whole lot of those. Roughly every five minutes seconds.

While a few years ago, I had no problem spending 15 hours on a bus,  I wouldn’t want to try it with three kids in tow. Even if would make us sound pretty badass and we would be hailed as Expedia masters – these times are well and truly over, until further notice. And I don’t actually miss them, but I am glad that I was able to experience them so intensely.

Travelling as a family also fills me with a sense of pride. I love experiencing things together, discovering a country as a family and even being able to say: “I don’t know; let’s go and find out together.” I’m not kidding myself – I’m well aware that my two-year-old daughter will have forgotten all about our adventures by this time next year. I do, however, hope that she might remember a feeling, a scent, a moment in which she felt safe and happy with us.

Of course, you don’t have to fly halfway around the world to make such special memories. Nevertheless, we love to travel and bring our kids along for the ride.

Travelling with Toddlers – Why do we torture ourselves so?! by
A trip on the ferry
Travelling with Toddlers – Why do we torture ourselves so?! by
Planning our next trip together.


You can also find our travel tips and reports on individual destinations here on my blog.

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