Naturally the Mr and I were ecstatic to have a year in Japan and couldn’t wait to explore this intriguing country. And then we discovered something. Traveling with small children (aged 3 and 1) could be A. Royal. Pain. In. The. Ass. Could we blame them though? I mean, hours cooped up in vehicles can wear even the most seasoned traveler down. Another thing no one warned me about was a child’s temperament could make or break a vacation. Anne (3) can be still for long periods but she’s neurotically suspicious of change. Anything new – the beach, snow, theme park rides, you name it she hates it. The only thing she’s ever loved at first sight were our hotels/Airbnb places. And then there’s Tresa (1) who’s the polar opposite. So it took a
stupid special kind of determination to keep planning weekends away.
The key is to keep them entertained, a wise friend said. Train them to follow your schedule, another said primly. A crazy old crone said I should give a teeny bit of cough syrup to my kid, an outraged friend said. Yeah, maybe not that one.
Nursery rhymes, books, toys and games were effective for short bursts of time. The iPad, well this was my magic wand, my absolut-est last resort. So I browsed Pinterest for busy bag ideas. All those pins about toddlers kept busy for hours playing with everyday stuff – wow they gave me hope! I went out and scoured 100 yen stores and bought all kinds of things: colorful straws, pom-pom balls, magnets, stickers, ribbons… I must have made over thirty bags. But only about five of those bags were a hit with the kids and their interest decreased exponentially with time. So now I have a huge plastic bag of rejected busy bags taking up too much space in my closet.
So, at least we found a way to keep boredom at bay. But how about tiredness which can quickly escalate to crankiness and to full on everyone-staring-at-you-and-your-screaming-baby? Oh, I can laugh about those excruciating moments now but the times when it has happened to me, I just wanted to curl in a corner with my baby and bawl with her. Let me take a moment to enlighten the clueless: sometimes the baby just won’t shut up, okay? Change your seat on the plane if you must but save your judgement for something more worthwhile – like the unidentifiable thing the cabin crew served you for dinner. Sometimes, all we could do was to pace the length of the plane or train hoping against hope the rocking motion would soothe the little gremlin. Of course, the smaller the confines of our vehicle, the lesser our options were.
Sometimes the girls were little curly haired angels throughout the commute and I’d feel a rush of relief but a tiny person inside me would fold her arms and raise an eyebrow. “We’ll see,” she’d say.
Eventually, we’d arrive at whichever Airbnb place we’re staying at. (The space we got for the price we paid, we’ve found Airbnb a far better option for our family of four. Hotels in Japan are notoriously small and expensive.) Settling down into our temporary home has always been a breeze compared to the journey to get there. The girls Iove exploring every nook and cranny i.e. jumping on the bed, emptying the cupboards, the novelty of stairs…
Before I had my girls, I’d dump my bags at the hotel and then it was go, go, go until it was time to go home. Now they are teaching me the art of flexibility and compromise e.g. sledding instead of skiing (actually I was so excited about my first snow holiday, it didn’t really matter what we did). There have been many times when the Mr and me would look at each other and decide, they’re too young for something. Like hiking – yes, I know I can use the baby carrier but no, I don’t want to break my back in the process, thank you very much. Sometimes though, I still feel like stamping my feet and saying, “But I want to do that!”… though shouldn’t I know that tantrums are useless?
And then there are those unforgettable moments that makes me kinda forget the pain (like childbirth, it’s a truthful cliché): Tresa militantly gorging her way through a strawberry farm in Chiba Prefecture; Anne’s squeals of delight as we hopped over stones to cross a serene river in Kyoto; The girls on top of the world, taking turns to ride on their daddy’s shoulder; Surviving and even enjoying an onsen (Japanese bath) with Anne in Nagano; The four of us eating the best Vanilla ice-cream in the middle of winter at Mother Farm.
I remember telling the Mr before the girls came along that I wanted my future children to travel and see the world with their own eyes. I just didn’t expect them to start so young!
A very practical friend whose children are slightly older than mine told me, “It’s about balancing the pain and the fun. Eventually the fun will outweigh the pain.” I’ll take her word for it.
How about you? What was your experience of traveling with very young children?