We’ve written a lot over the years about traveling WITH the kids – regulations on what gear you can bring, best practices for flying with a baby, and the perennial issue of how to keep restless kids entertained while squished into a small space. But we haven’t yet tackled what to do if the kids AREN’T coming along.
First things first: who’s going to watch the kids? Mary Ellen at Hilton Mom Voyage recommends, if you can, choosing someone who it’s a real treat for the kids to see, so you can frame your travel away from home as a positive thing – “Grandma is coming over and spending time just with YOU! it’s going to be so much fun!” If you don’t have a beloved relative who can step up, it’s best to choose a familiar sitter the kids are used to. One way or another, separation anxiety is normal for kids, especially between the ages of 6 months and 2 years, so make sure to acclimate them to their sitter, keep them at home, and keep their daily routines going.
According to the experts at KidsHealth, some crankiness is to be expected from most kids – preschoolers might worry that they’ve done something wrong, or regress in an attempt to bargain with you not to leave, while school-aged kids may be directly angry, sad, or clingy. Explaining why you’re leaving, that they’ll be safe, and that you’re coming back soon is important, and scheduling fun activities for while you’re away will help to soothe hurt feelings. You’re going away to have fun (we hope), so set up ways for them to have fun: Mary Ellen writes that she once sent the kids and their sitter for mani’s and pedi’s and some mini-golf, and another time, the kids got to go to an amusement park.
As for teens: you’re the best judge of whether they’re able to stay home without a caregiver while you travel, since it’s going to be very dependent on their maturity and how well they can be trusted. You know your child best!
Before you leave, you’ll also want to prepare a few documents in case of emergencies – the least pleasant being your will. (The responsibility of being a parent can be pretty creepy sometimes, right? Don’t talk to the kids about it, obviously.) You’ll also want to prepare a general permission letter explaining where you are and who’s caring for your child, and a medical consent letter in case someone gets the sniffles or twists their ankle while you’re gone.
It’s also a good idea to create some variation on an informational binder (although it doesn’t have to be 3-ring with tabs, it DOES help!), especially if your kids are very young, have a really busy schedule, and/or have any medical or allergy issues. Kali at ParentMap includes the following:
- Official (kid) documents: passports, immunization records, insurance cards, official birth certificates
- Daily guidance: typical schedules, food preferences by brand with any allergy considerations, localized activity guide and outing ideas
- Contact information: names and numbers for home pediatrician and dental clinic, our travel itinerary, important phone numbers abroad and how to contact the people taking care of our house in Seattle
- Research: Local children’s hospitals with address & phone numbers. Also, a handy guide for when to take your child to the emergency roomand tips on preparing for a doctor or emergency visit.
You don’t have to be as thorough as Kali (who also has all of this info backed up online!), but the more you prep before you travel, the better you’ll feel when you’re away. It will also avoid power struggles when you get back – as Amanda at Alamo City Moms notes, if Grandma or the sitter know that your child’s pacifier and lovie are ONLY for bed, you won’t have to deal with the annoyance of reinstating the rules when you get back.
Next: the best way to make sure everyone’s feeling ok is to prepare in advance for how you’ll keep in touch. We’re lucky enough to live in an era of Skype and Facetime, which are a lot better than trying to talk to a toddler or preschooler on the phone! Will at CBC Parents suggests getting silly with the littles – try these fun suggestions:
- Extreme close-ups!
- Popping into the screen from the side with your head sideways (you can then also make it look like your head is sliding up and down the side of the screen.)
- Funny face competitions.
- Mirroring games where you try to copy what the other person is doing.
Will also recommends sending postcards, which are a great way to give kids some info about where you are (and they love getting mail!).
I also love the suggestions from Joanne Stern Ph.D. at Psychology Today, to visualize a hug when you’re on the phone or Skyping. Tell your child to close her eyes and imagine what being hugged by you feels like, while you think about what hugging her feels like. Feels nice, doesn’t it? You can make that long-distance hug even more concrete with a “picture pillow” – get a favorite photo printed on a pillow, or just print out one of your favorite pics and tape it to a pillow or stuffed friend. (Picture Pillows seem like an especially good recommendation for military parents away on a deployment.)
Dr. Stern also suggests setting a time when you both agree to think a special thought about each other, which is especially good in travel situations where you might not be able to communicate by phone or video.
Leaving behind notes and gifts for kids to find while you travel away from home is also a great way to make sure kids know you’re thinking of them – put notes in places you know your child will find them, or have their sitter stick notes from you in their lunchbag every day.
Finally: you’ll be tired when you get back, but take the time to make sure the kids feel comforted and valued. Dr. Stephanie Mihalas, cited on Parents.com, recommends giving the kids at least 15-20 minutes of your undivided attention for hugs, giving souvenirs, and telling each other all about what you did and what they did while you were gone. If you’ve been gone for weeks or even months, Will at CBC Parents (who tours regularly with a band) suggests scheduling an entire day to reconnect – and if your spouse has been doing all of the childcare in your absence, it will also give them a much-needed break!