healthy family travels
Last September my husband and I enjoyed an indulgently long (6 week) honeymoon. We decided to travel to the US of A, do a bit of road tripping and enjoy a big chunk of time in one place. Naturally our toddler daughter Lou tagged along to celebrate with us!
We as a family are big fans of what we in The Netherlands call the three R’s: ‘rust, reinheid en regelmaat.‘ This basically translates to calmth, cleanliness and rhythm. We have always, since the very day Lou was born, provided her with these three aspects. We don’t overload her with new experiences or impressions. We choose to live simply, firmly rooted in home life. We don’t watch TV (with her), we don’t have fluorescent or plastic toys in our home and we choose to not plan a full day of activities or appointments. We spend a lot of time at home and amongst nature and leave room for spontaneous play to arise. Our home breathes ‘less is more’ and has been dressed with natural colours and materials. We take time for things. We embrace the fact that small children thrive on predictability, as it provides a sense of safety and security. We therefore have a certain daily rhythm (wake up, breakfast, play, lunch, nap, play, dinner, read, bedtime). The times of these ‘activities’ don’t change too much, yet within the predictability of this structural routine there’s plenty of adventure and fun to be had. Some days we go gather leaves and branches in the park and make a seasonal table. Other days Lou plays with other children at the local playground. She builds tents and boats. She climbs and draws. She rearranged the shoes in our hallway closet. Rhythm by no means equals boredom. There’s SO much to discover for a small child, even within the safe boundaries of the home and nearby outer environments. Lou knows exactly what to expect when and is therefore able to deal with changes in a happy and inviting way.
She is the most joyful, funny and sharing person I have ever met. She does not throw tantrums and hardly ever cries. She sleeps from 8 PM to 8 AM, does a 2 hour nap during the day and eats everything from Brussels sprouts to Broccoli and Parsnips. Kalamata olives are her all-time favourite. Since she was born we have journeyed to our family home in Spain with her three times.
That said, to travel by air with a toddler on your lap for 10 hours did sound a bit challenging. Even to us. The flight from Amsterdam to L.A. is a BIGGY for an adult, let alone a child. There’s the tight space, the fact that there’s no bed and little possibility to move. There are a lot of people, sounds and activities around to be distracted by and keep you from sleep. And after the 10 hour flight there’s the waiting for the suitcases, the waiting for the rental car, the drive through L.A. traffic and then finally… the arrival at the temporary home. And if you, like us, choose to embark on a road trip there’s even more movement, sitting-still-in-a-car-seat time and exciting new experiences to digest.
It is good to know children function best when there’s a foundation of structure, rhythm, clarity and calmth*. Yet when on holidays there’s generally speaking not a whole lot of structure, same-ness and predictability. By embracing these aspects whilst vacationing we can give shape to our adventurous travels in such a way that they are supportive to our little one’s desires and needs. And when the kid is happy and content, the parents can enjoy fully too. Provide ease and you’ll reap the benefits.
Below you will find my tips for making exciting travel times enjoyable to ALL. I hope my experiential suggestions will help you enjoy truly restful and enriching holy-days.
'Provide rhythm and ease and you’ll reap the benefits.'
Pack light and bright.
Be smart what to bring and what to leave at home.
Most things we have available at home are really unnecessary to take when we travel. You don’t need five pairs of shoes nor does your little one. We personally chose to not bring the stroller but instead use the baby carrier, which is much smaller and lighter to travel with! The baby carrier provides your little one with a sense of safety when things get hectic at the airport or L.A. streets. Choose a baby carrier that places the baby facing you. This way your little one is not overloaded by everything (s)he sees at crowded places. What we did bring was a foldable eco baby cot. It is a cot that Lou has slept in before. It is a familiar place to her and provided her with familiarity (predictability) when we traveled from airbnb to hotel to motel. Her bed was her safe haven. It was a truly restful, clean and cosy spot to unwind and digest adventures in. Her merino wool sleeping bag and rag dolls went with us in the plane. Lou knows when she gets to wear her sleeping bag it is time to sleep. Her dolls help her. So we took them. She slept. We were happy.
We also carried a huge bag of food with us on the airplane. Luckily I packed more than I thought I needed. Travel has the tendency to make airy, light and restless. Especially travel by air! To balance this the body starts craving foods that root. The act of eating itself roots but some foods ground us better than others. I precooked us dinner with grounding ingredients such as sweet potato, beetroots and brown rice. I brought half a loaf of strengthening organic spelt bread with me. I took avocados. I brought plenty of snacks such as olives and whole grain savoury pancakes. I brought oatmeal. All of these were packed in stainless steel and glass containers. I had planned ahead, something crucial for traveling parents!
Wool (non-toxic) mattress cover
Wholesome homemade meals and snacks
Pocketknife, bamboo spoon and fork
Containers (one large one, a few smaller ones) to store (road trip) foods in
Reusable (food) bags
Keep the rhythm going.
Small children need to nap and if they don’t, life gets messy and upsetting.
During the air travels as well as the road trips and stay in Venice we continued our routine. Waking was always approximately the same time. We’d have breakfast then took time to explore and have her play and move. The beach proved particularly perfect for this. Just before noon we would hit the road. Lou had her lunch in the car and did her nap while we drove. We would drive no longer than 3 hours straight. Most kids, especially toddlers, get very grumpy when they have to sit still for a long time. They have just started to walk and want to wander around, to practice their skills. Be mindful about this and plan the amount of time spend in the car well. Again, naptime proved perfect for this, as that’s when they are naturally still. We’d usually arrive at our next destination around 3PM to settle in and explore our new surroundings. I’d do some online investigations which restaurant would be most suitable for that evening. I’d ask locals or google for organic cafés. I’d check the menu online. We would go for an early dinner. Small kids get a surge of energy the hour before bed. This is when the want to run around and act crazy. We made sure to have our dinner before that, around 5PM, so we could sit at the table together and enjoy our meals. We brought pencils and paper so Lou could draw and entertain herself and we could hold a conversation.
Buy food smartly.
Planning where to eat in the evening is important when wanting to travel healthily and provide yourself and your little one with nourishing fare. Organic cafés are your best bet as their basis is quality itself. I asked for steamed vegetables for Lou, either with a whole grain or (sweet) potato. I’d always bring a slice of sourdough in case they could only serve veggies. The sourdough crust kept her busy while we had to wait for our plates. Lou was invited to try foods from our plates as well. By all means, skip the kids menu as it is mostly 0% nourishing. It is perfectly okay to ask your waiter to customize a dish for your little one. Lou’s favourites were the grilled broccolini at Nepethe and the sweet potato wedges with coconut mint dip at Café Gratitude.
But dinner is not the only meal of importance. There’s breakfast, there’s lunch and there are snacks. I made sure to always have a homemade breakfast available. One that Lou could eat soon after awaking. Kids get cranky if they don’t eat at the right times and overnight oats saved us! They are easy to prepare and can be made even if your apartment or motel does not have a stove. Before we went on our road trip we did some major grocery shopping and bought oats, almond butter, dried figs and apricots, cinnamon, coconut oil, brown rice cakes, fruits that keep (apples, pears, grapes) and veggies that don’t need to be heated (cucumber, avocado, cherry tomatoes). Lou’s breakfast (and mine!) was overnight oats with an almond mylk (made from plain almond butter and water), some dried fruits and cinnamon. Lunch was a good sourdough (again I did some investigations where to get the best organic whole and local breads) with avocado or nut butter. She snacked on crudités, olives, crackers or (dried) fruit. Eating wholesome meant Lou was well nourished, her blood sugar stabile and her moods balanced. Good food is great preventative medicine against cries, screams and tantrums!
Or embrace any other service to rent an apartment from. Apartments are so much more comfortable when traveling with a kid! You have a stove on which you can make nourishing meals. These dishes can be brought with you when you go out for dinner or do a day trip. Apartments are spacious and allow privacy for every member of the family. When Lou went for her night sleep in the bedroom my husband and I could have dinner in the kitchen, a conversation in the living room or watch a movie on the couch. A motel room proves to be a little more challenging!
Plan, plan, plan.
‘Planning’ could be viewed as the opposite of ‘adventurous’ yet is gold in the hands of a traveling parent. We planned our road trip ahead, had booked all of our accommodations and knew where we were going to sleep when. This gave us a sense of security, knowing we had a nice, clean and inviting place to ‘put up camp’. Knowing where you are going to sleep has another advantage: you can pre-investigate the surroundings online. You can look for local artisanal eateries, organic orchards and farmers markets. The result being a stress-less and well nourished happy family.
When things to NOT go according to plan, embrace the unknown and go with whatever is.
Attitude is everything!
all photos taken by kyra. (c) (copyright) at venice beach, rhoda’s clubhouse ave airbnb, big sur, deetjens inn, the homesteader airbnb, joshua tree national park, santa rita road farm lompoc airbnb, and my bestest friends: the reardon-meaux’s.