Friday, 12 August 2016

Travelling During the Terrible Twos

So, you’re the parent of a two-year-old. You’re just emerging from that wonderful but challenging transitional period between your old, childless life - full of reckless abandon and that “sleep” thing you vaguely recall – into parenthood. You’re figuring it out – you’ve got a killer routine, your kid is developing in the coolest ways every day, you’re starting to find some balance between work, parenting and the other parts of your life – things are good. 

At this point you likely know that the terrible twos are a very real thing. Random, seemingly causeless tantrums; overt grasps at independence;  violent outbursts (both physical and emotional); signs of new, complex and sometimes devastating emotions like shame, rejection and embarrassment; and a plethora of other challenges that come at this stage. 

But you’re handling that. 

Likely, becoming a parent has put something of a cork on your opportunities to travel (unless you took advantage of that sweet spot between infancy and toddlerhood – but more on that for another post).  But you are feeling like, at this stage, taking your kid on one of your forgotten adventures just might be becoming possible. 

Well it is… and it isn’t.  Travel with kids is obviously very different from travelling solo, with a partner or with friend and family, but travelling with a two-year-old is a whole other kettle of hard. But it’s not impossible, and, indeed, can be full of fun, joy and memories. 

Here is what I learned on my first “real trip” with my two-and-a-half year old (and his one year old baby brother to boot). We rented a cottage in Honey Harbour, Ontario with a few members of our family for a week of outdoor fun. 

Wes the Mess. In all his two-year-old glory.
1. Pack your patience 

Try as you may, that perfect little routine you’ve created at home is getting broken. Bed and nap times will be flexed, boundaries will be unclear and you will likely be more permissive of certain things than you are at home. This is necessary for all the fun and exploration travel provides, but it also means trouble. The broken routine will amplify all the terrible twos have to offer. Your two-year-old’s brain will start to explode with possibilities and they will make every effort to explore them. They will be tired-er, hungrier, more distracted, less likely to listen, more willful, etc. Being ready for this will help you roll with the punches, and that leads to #2…

2. Go with the flow

Trying to over plan and keep a schedule will make your trip exceedingly difficult. All the new sights, sounds, experiences and emotions will make your two-year-old desperate to explore. The “big plans” you made might not interest them in the least, while the most mundane tasks will fascinate them; meaning they will want to do them over and over again. On my recent trip, Wes (my two point five year old), became fascinated by boats. All he wanted to do was walk the numerous docks and talk about the countless variety of boats in the harbor. I had to force myself over the tedium of it and look at it through his eyes. In the end, the hours he and I spent chatting about bloody boats (fast boats, big boats, fish boats, “sleeping” boats, little boats, tin can boats  etc. etc.) are a hilarious memory, and time well spent. And that brings us to point #3…

3. Think/be like a kid

It is so easy when travelling with kids to focus on the big things like meals, schedules, itineraries and the like. After all, you feel responsible for ensuring everyone has a good time. In order to survive, however, it helps to think like a kid, and often that means seeing the forest for the trees. You can do this by looking and listening just a little closer. Kids see amazing little details that adults, through conditioning, can miss. Wes was able to spend an amazing amount of time looking under the docks for frogs and fascinating over the ecosystems under there. When I started doing the same, it was amazing what I found, and the experiences we came to share. 

4. Bring a friend

Kids can keep other kids entertained in ways no adults can, which can be a sanity saver for the adults. That said, I’ve found that, at this age, the closer in age the kids are the better. This can be an awkward age for relationships. Two-year-olds don’t know the “rules of the playground” yet, and their still-limited communications skills can cause conflicts, particularly with older kids who find it difficult to understand why young kids behave the way they do. If you can’t travel with others who have children of similar age, encourage your child to befriend other children wherever you are hanging out.  

5. Pre-plan small tasks/activities

Thinking up some simple tasks your child can do during certain parts of your trip can help keep them engaged. Note, chances are your kid won’t engage in all the tasks you plan, so try and think up a few. At the beach on our vacay, Wes collected rocks and filled buckets of water, pouring them in a randomly selected spot on the sand (he came up with that last one on his own, but it kept him in rapture for at least 20 minutes, which meant a bit of relaxing time for mom and dad). 

6. Use extra time to relax

You’ll be tempted during rare periods of inactivity (when the kids are in bed, hanging out with relatives, etc.) to catch up on things or prepare for the next thing to come. It’s important to section some of this time off for relaxation. Try and grab bits and pieces of vacation for yourself. It is deserved. Feel no shame.

7. Dial back your expectations

When I started planning things to do during our week at the cottage I got very excited. It was, to me, an opportunity to expose Wes to a bunch of new things that I thought idyllic for dads and their sons to do together. These things included fishing, canoeing, boating, tubing, hiking, campfires, s’mores and countless others. The reality, however, was that while some of these things held some appeal, Wes' short attention span and general two-year-old-ness meant he simply wasn’t ready for a lot of these activities. Fishing rods splashed in the water and tears were shed over the very concept of going on an inflatable donut being towed behind a boat. When I dialed back my expectations, I was able to enjoy the act of trying these things, even if they were not embraced.

He did love the boat!
Plan ahead but don’t over plan. Have realistic expectations. Keep it simple. Those are the rules I’ll live by on my next trip. Any other tips on travelling with a two-year-old? Leave them in the comments.