Traveling with kids: Domestic travel
In the past year and a half, our family traveled domestically and internationally via airplane PLUS we endured the longest car ride EVER in our move from Vancouver to Toronto. This post will be the first of a three part travel series imparting a few survival skills (we survived!). In this post, I’m addressing “the Good, the Bad and the Lovely” of domestic air travel. If you are planning to travel with a baby, toddler or preschooler anytime soon, this post is for you!
We started thinking about our plans to travel about 6 months in advance. Our plan was to travel to Australia a few months after having our second baby in order to visit my husband’s extended family. But before touching down in the land down under, we thought we would make a pit stop in Vancouver, our first home, to see old friends. In theory, it was all so exciting and well-planned. We booked a couple nights at Moda hotel, a boutique hotel downtown Vancouver, a hop skip and jump from our old stomping grounds. We knew the neighbourhood, and had easy access to our favourite places to eat.
We decided not to fly with our car seats because my sister in law was going to provide us with extra car seats for the kids once we landed in Australia. Downtown Vancouver is relatively accessible via sky train (their version of a subway) from Vancouver international airport, so we had no need to be in a car at any point. We also had almost 100 pounds of luggage plus a stroller, so there really was no room to add any more excess cargo. Since our baby was on a stroller strike, I also had no hands free since he decided the only way he would travel was in my arms. That meant my husband had to lug two huge suitcases, plus the stroller and my preschooler’s backpack because he decided it was too heavy for him (there was a stuffed animal, sticker book and sippy cup inside – HEAVY).
So we looked like a bit of a juggling act as we checked into Pearson International Airport in Toronto. Online check in is not an option when you travel with a child who will be seated in your lap, thus we had to stand in line with our antsy children. Thankfully, once the two full suitcases were checked, my husband had two available arms again. One of which was still carrying our child’s backpack, and the other now pushing the stroller with ease. I’d like to take this moment to pay homage to our workhorse of a stroller, the Uppababy Vista. We got this badboy back in 2013 when our first son was born, and we haven’t regretted a minute with her. The uppababy Vista is well-built, sturdy, yet oh so maneuverable. It can turn on a dime, and has a great number of safety features that would give Volvo a run for its money. Our uppababy has been through all four seasons (in Vancouver AND Toronto), across the globe and back, and still is just as reliable today as it was when we first got her. One of my favourite features about Uppababy is their travel bags. When you purchase an Uppbaby travel bag, it basically acts as insurance for your stroller when you travel. If in the rare event your stroller gets destroyed or damaged during travel, Uppababy will replace your stroller for you. How amazing is that? I know my post is sounding like an Uppababy sponsorship ad, but trust me, it’s not. I am not being paid to say this. I wish I were. But I’m not. So if you’re in the market for a great travel stroller, I recommend Uppababy.
Once our bags were checked, we headed for the departure gate since it’s always safer to give yourself as much time as possible to shepherd your kids to the airplane before the actual departure time. We were pretty pleased to learn that our gate happened to be the one with an indoor playground beside it. It’s like they knew we were coming! By the time we got onto the airplane, the preschooler was way tired out (#parentingwin), and the baby was ready for a feed. The next 5 hours were spent eating snacks, sticker-ing my husband, and napping. My older kid had a cat nap, while the baby slept for almost half the flight. Before you curse us for being lucky parents, just wait, because you will feel sorry for me once you read how our flight to Australia went. Once we arrived in YVR, we collected all our stuff, and slowly made our way to the skytrain which is thankfully connected to Vancouver international airport. We paid for a day pass since it’s usually cheaper than a one way ticket from the airport, and we knew we were going to be using more transit later in the day.
Once we finally made it to our hotel, which was walking distance from the Vancouver City Centre skytrain station, we dropped off our things in the room, and went out to find lunch (sushi of course). Due to the 3 hour time difference, it was still relatively early in the day (1pm) when we arrived in Vancouver. We walked around the new Nordstrom’s, and I picked up a few gifts from Sugarfina (one of my favourite candy stores) for our Australian friends and family. For gifting purposes, you might be interested to know my favourite flavors are Champagne Bubbles and Single Malt Scotch 😉 Note: do not feed to your kids. Then we made our way back to the hotel for a little rest before meeting up with old friends for dinner. Our beloved friends invited us to their home for a meal, which I always appreciate since eating out at a restaurant with young kids is always a bit touch and go. They live in East Vancouver, so we took a bus there, but apparently the wrong one. Instead of taking the direct one, we took one that stopped every half block, and thus added 30 minutes to what should’ve been a 20 minute bus ride. Sigh. Well we arrived, albeit with some motion sick kids. Thankfully, I always travel with little ginger chews and gravol, so that did the trick. Upon reuniting with our wonderful friends, the kids played in the backyard, while the adults caught up over some drinks. I set the baby down to sleep in the master bedroom after feeding him. A few hours after dinner, we rode the correct bus back into the city while the baby slept in my carrier, and our older child fell asleep in the stroller. Even though it was only 8pm, it was 11pm in Toronto, so he was ready for bed.
Once we got back to the hotel, we lay our older son on one of the two double beds. My husband and I got showered and ready for bed, then we set up our baby’s pack n’ play (don’t judge me) in the bathroom. Our baby has a very specific process when he sleeps. It takes him a few minutes of tossing and turning, but as long as there is no one else in the room and the noisemaker is humming in the background, he will fall asleep on his own. We learned this the hard way when his crib was in our bedroom for the first 4 months of his life. Each time I rolled over in the bed, he would jolt awake. So I tried to remain perfectly still in bed, which made sleeping difficult for me. Since moving him into his own room at night, it’s been night and day for all of us. Everyone gets a much better sleep. So hence why we decided to put him in the hotel bathroom. The door was left slightly open, so we could hear him when he stirred for a feed. I wish I could say that we all had a wonderful sleep, but it was just the beginning of a night I’d rather forget.
Around 1am, our older son woke up crying. Being in such close quarters meant everyone else woke up too. I picked up the crying baby and my husband tried to soothe our older boy. But he wouldn’t be so easily soothed. Perhaps it was a bad dream, or simply the feeling of being disoriented in this foreign room, but he just would not stop crying. When my husband tried to pick him up, he kicked and screamed. This went on for two hours. TWO HOURS. We went back and fourth trying to console him, until finally he fell back asleep out of sheer exhaustion. We put him down, then the baby, and my husband and I KO-ed for what we hoped would be several hours. But two hours later at 5am, our older boy was up…for the day. He was still on Toronto time. And of course he didn’t remember waking up during the night. We let him watch some cartoons on the TV while the rest of us crawled out of bed and got ready for the day. We were meeting my oldest friend (since elementary school) for breakfast at Jam Cafe around 8am. They serve an amazing brunch, but get there early to avoid lineups. I had red velvet pancakes (it’s totally a thing, and memorably delicious) while my husband had a huge omelette. If you want to have a harmonious marriage, one person always orders savoury, and the other orders sweet at brunch. Then you share. After a wonderfully filling breakfast with great company, we strolled over to Yaletown Roundhouse Community Centre for their Saturday morning drop-in play. This is a two hour window where babies and toddlers come and run around a gym with kid-sized cars, scooters and jumping gyms. When it’s pouring rain outside, $2 to play inside a warm gym for a couple hours is more than worth it! Friends we met from our prenatal class when we had our older son also came to join us. All in all, it was a reunion of about five families with some new babies in the mix. Three of us just recently had our second babies, while one mom had twins making her an instant mother of 3 (bless her).
Once the kids were all tired out, we grabbed a quick lunch across the street at the best sandwich shop in Vancouver, DD Mau. Then we went back to our hotel for a nap. The older boy didn’t want to nap, so we just let him watch the ipad for a bit while the baby slept. Is the ipad a normal part of our day? No. But when doing things that are not part of our daily routine (i.e. travel) it proves to be of great help. Once baby was up, we got ready to go back out to meet more friends. The rest of the evening went smoothly enough, and we made it an early night back the hotel since we had such an awful sleep the night before. Thankfully, we all slept well the second night with little interruption (save for the hootin’ and hollerin’ of downtown Vancouver nightlife coming in through the windows). The next morning, we wanted a quick breakfast, so we head to the golden arches which is conveniently located centrally downtown. Since it was Sunday, we went to our former church Westside and heard a great sermon while catching up with about 75% of our friends. After church, we had lunch at Per Se Social Corner with some friends who had just had a baby. After lunch the sun was shining, so we decided to spend our last few hours in Vancouver at one of our favourite parks, Emery Barnes Park. The boys played while the baby and I walked around looking at the fountains. We ended with ice cream at Bella Gelateria with some of my husband’s friends and my old work colleague, who helped schlep our suitcases from the hotel to the skytrain. We bid adieu to rainy Vancouver and got ready to head to sunny Australia. It was a whirlwind seeing so many people and eating so much (excellent) food in such a short time with two little children, but we would do it again in a heartbeat. Because we’re crazy like that. And we love our people!
Takeaways from traveling with young children:
- Bring a reliable stroller, carrier and travel cot (pack n play).
- In your child’s backpack (or mom’s purse), bring snacks, sippy cup, stickerbook, earphones and your child’s favourite blanket/stuffy.
- Expect disruptions in sleep. If you aim low, you will be pleasantly surprised if you actually get some rest!
- Allot downtime for rests/naps/playing at a random park throughout your day.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for special accommodations for your children, whether that’s in your hotel, or seating at a restaurant. If that means fewer meltdowns, then people are usually happy to help.