Traveling with kids, whether to the next town or to the next continent – Africa, perhaps – can be a hassle that, more often than not, most parents prefer to wait it out until their young children grow older and become much easier to handle. Ask any parents of young children whether they would take the kids to a place as far as Africa and chances are some would balk and most will display a certain degree of uncertainty.
But being ever so in tune with my spirit animal the horse, I decided that 5 months is a good age for my baby to travel, and I haven’t looked back since.
Traveling is Good for the Brain
Traveling, despite the tantrums and meltdowns, is good for the young child’s brain. In his research, neuroscientist Professor Jaak Panksepp, found that when on holiday, individuals exercise two genetically ingrained systems located deep within the brain’s limbic area that is known as the PLAY system and the SEEKING system.
The PLAY system is generally exercised when you are essentially in play mode – be it lounging by the pool, dipping in the sea or experiencing a safari in the savannah – while the SEEKING system is exercised when you are exploring and discovering things or places. Though as parents, we try to give our children adequate time to play and explore each day, these times happen in small intermittent pockets.
When on holiday, a child is exercising their PLAY and SEEK systems from almost the get go. From boarding the plane to arriving at a new destination, they are exploring and experiencing new environments.
Activating these systems within the brain triggers well-being neurochemicals such as oxytocin and dopamine, which reduces stress in both adults and children.
Traveling Young Makes Them Better Travelers Later
I won’t lie. The first time I took my 5-month-old baby on the plane was a disaster like no other. Being his first time on a plane, my baby experienced a sensory overload, which led him to be restless, uncooperative and tired as a result of resisting his nap. The descent of the plane took a toll on his ear pressure, resulting in inconsolable crying. Needless to say, I questioned myself after that first flight and promised to never travel with my child again until he turns eighteen.
The pact I made with myself didn’t materialize, and instead, we traveled again when he turned 10 months, and then 11 months, and then at a year old. By two, my husband and I have taken our son to 6 countries across two continents, and we aren’t planning on stopping anytime soon.
Traveling becomes easier for children as they experience it on more and more occasions. They learn to know what to expect, what they should do and what they shouldn’t. Traveling soon becomes a familiarity instead of a novelty, which makes them less prone to sensory overload. Before you know it, your little one will be your best travel companion!
Traveling Creates More Conscious and Mindful Children
For your young children, the relationships they know often don’t expand beyond their immediate family members and school. The world they know may also be limited to the suburb, town or city that they inhabit. Merely showing them the world from books and the media isn’t enough to create conscious and empathetic children, as they aren’t able to touch and feel as they might do outside.
Taking them out and showing the world in its true form helps expand their worldview. Taking your kids out to nature makes them more aware of the environment and is a great way to introduce Mother Nature and all its inhabitants to them. Going out can be as simple as taking a trip to the zoo or as elaborate as planning a family safari out in the savannah. Either way, traveling with your children to the outdoors will broaden their horizons and expand their worldviews. It will also, in turn, make them more responsible travelers who will understand the importance of preserving the environment once they grow older.
How to Make Traveling with Children A Breeze
Granted, all things considered, traveling with children isn’t the easiest thing a parent can do. The younger they are, the more hassle you may find yourself in. However, there are ways to make traveling less painful and more enjoyable with your little ones. Here are my tried and true tips and tricks!
Have Snacks Ready
Placate those little tummies by having ample snacks ready for the long drive or plane ride. When you are stuck in your seat for hours on end, food on hand will help you pacify your children especially if meals are taking longer than usual to be served. If you have a fussy eater, be sure to bring their favorite snacks and treats!
Bring Familiar Toys
More often than not, your kids are fussy when traveling because they are overwhelmed by their new surroundings. A new place may leave them feeling uncertain and insecure. Aside from constantly reassuring them, familiar toys from home may help your kids feel secure and comfortable.
Pack Medication for Every Eventuality
When traveling, even to a short distance away, I always make sure that my medicine bag for my son is well stocked. I pack for just about any sickness that I can think of, most common being the flu, tummy upset, fever and cough. Make sure to also pack a thermometer to allow you to monitor your child’s temperature should the need arise.
Other tips to consider:
- Stay at accommodations where you can cook. This way, your children still get familiar home-cooked meals and you get to save money from eating in.
- Keep yours and your children’s vaccinations up to date.
- Buy travel insurance.
- Pack light to minimize the weight you will have to carry.
Are your children older and ready for bigger adventures? Take them on a walking safari!