Before kids, I used to travel all the time. After kids, not so much.
So when the opportunity came up to travel to Japan for the first time in nearly five years – without kids, without husband – I leapt around the house with excitement, dreaming of all the exploration and alone-time I was going to have. And then reality set in. Without some solid prep work, I was going to leave my husband with sobbing, misbehaving, miserable little creatures, and he would never agree to watch the kids again. Desperately seeking advice, I picked the brains of some well-seasoned traveling mommies who helped craft a Top Five list of things to do before you go to make your trip a success.
1. Talk about your trip: Small children don’t have a great sense of time appreciation, but if they hear you talking about a trip or see you packing a suitcase and don’t know what’s going on, they worry that you will suddenly use Mommy Magic and disappear. While you may want to save the conversation with an under-two-year-old until the day of departure, you can start discussing your trip several days to a week beforehand with older kids. Pull out a map and show them where you’ll be going, talk about the things you’ll be doing on your trip, and of course, tell them how much you’ll miss them.
2. Hand Over The Documents: Copy of insurance cards. Medical Release forms or a Power of Attorney. Daily schedule and any special appointments in the calendar. Money for unplanned essentials, especially if the person staying with your kids is not the other parent. Addresses and phone numbers for important places (pediatrician, daycare, school, urgent care clinics, emergency contacts, babysitters, your destination). It may take a little while to pull this together but it’s got to be done!
3. Don’t Be Above A Little Bribery! A few days before I was scheduled to leave, I happened to mention to my four-year-old that I might be able to find a cool toy for her on my travels. Her eyes lit up, and you bet she never forgot it – it was the last thing she said as she waved goodbye to me, and the first thing she said when she ran across the airport lobby to pick me up. “IloveyouIwasagoodgirl, now, you remember you said you’d bring a cool toy for me??”
4. Make Their Time Special: Leave little notes around the house to remind the kids you love them – lunchbox notes counting down to the day of your return, sneaky notes taped in drawers, inside toys, on their mirrors. Wrap a tiny surprise for them to open midway through your trip – a candy they’ve never had, a new book. Also, depending on who the children are staying with, you can suggest special activities that make your absence seem more fun. Movie nights, ice cream dates, and zoo trips all make time go a little faster.
5. Realize that you are still Mommy, wherever you are: While I was convinced that I would revel in the long-awaited break and not think about my kids, I found myself smiling at other small children, noticing things my kids would enjoy, and wondering what they were doing right at that moment. Seems to be a common thread, that while perhaps it’s easier for fathers to compartmentalize their work, most moms still have strings tying them back to their children no matter where they are in the world. So expect that little tug, embrace technology to video-chat or exchange photos with home when you can, and plan a little quality time with your children when you return to soak up all the love!