Jessica Alba is in Toyko, Japan this week with her entire brood: hubby Cash Warren and daughters Honor and Haven. And although she makes traveling with a three-year-old and an eight-month-old baby seem like a breeze, we know it’s not always easy. You have to consider how to deal with layovers and jetlag, how to keep them entertained, how to get picky eaters to try new foods and a slew of other concerns.
But just because going away with children can be challenging, it doesn’t mean you should stay grounded. We quizzed Kim Orlando, founder of the Traveling Mom blog, about everything you should consider before booking a vacation, and here’s what she had to say:
What should a parent take into account when selecting a destination?
Safety, distance, budget. It’s no vacation if you are stressed about your family’s safety—do your homework. Distance can be a factor for young kids. Long trips are tiring so make sure there is enough recovery time built into the schedule. Some countries have a higher dollar exchange rate, which is something to consider especially if you travel with a family.
What places would you recommend for family travel in Latin America?
I have been to Costa Rica and we loved it, so from a biased perspective, that is my no. 1 choice. Locals are friendly, and it is not an expensive country if you eat locally and sidestep the touristy areas. Belize is next on my list: English speaking, safe and warm people. Chile is also a favorite for families because of its beauty and modern amenities.
What essentials do parents need to pack?
All sorts of medications! Toiletries, snacks, books and music can all be purchased in any large city. Internet cafes can be expensive, so a data package would be a smart buy before a long trip.
How do you manage kids during a flight?
Regardless of age, talk to them about expectations: what they can expect on the flight and how you expect them to behave. If you have a particularly energetic child, get the flight attendant to explain how important seat belts are and what the rules are—uniforms always impress! Pack food, a variety of toys and patience when traveling with toddlers. They need to move around, so get up and walk with them when possible. Take frequent trips to the bathroom if you have to! Whip out a toy they either haven't seen in a while or a new toy when the going gets tough. My secret weapon is Model Magic by Crayola: squishy like PlayDoh but doesn’t stick to seats. Prepare yourself too. Don't expect to read that book you brought, but bring it just in case. Pack herbal tea. Bring sippy cups for everyone.
Any tips for getting the kids to eat foreign foods?
With kids ages 5 to 12 you can do a “Food Challenge” before you leave home: for every five new foods you try while on vacay, you get XYZ. With younger kids just put something new on their plate and see if they will try it. For older kids, the challenge will work if the reward is money. You can also remind them that a picture of them trying something exotic makes a great Facebook photo.
What should a parent consider when planning an itinerary?
Breaks and flexibility are key to any successful vacation. Pushing to see everything on vacation will only stress and tire everyone, and that will wind up being a bad vacation. Plan big lunch breaks, and set aside entire afternoons to do nothing.