Thinking of taking a European vacation with a small child? Don’t.
Seriously, don’t do it. Don’t go unless you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. SPOILER ALERT: It won’t be relaxing. It won’t be chill. It won’t be about sleeping in, room service, spa treatments, gourmet restaurants, hammocking, hot tubs, cocktails or romance. What it will be about is your child. But here’s the kicker, seeing a trip through their eyes — instead of yours — might even be more fun. Stop giving me the side eye and just hear me out.
I get it. When my husband, Alex, suggested we visit his hometown of London with our three-and-half year old son, Maxwell, I thought he was in need of shock therapy. Who’d want to endure a tedious ten-hour flight being that parent who can’t control his kid, nightmarish bouts of jet lag, seven straight days of erratic tantrums and having to creatively answer constant “Why” questions?
It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to go, it was just… I didn’t want to go. But then Alex explained that his mother, whom I adore, had a milestone birthday coming up and wished to celebrate the momentous occasion in London with her brood of children and grandchildren. Who was I to stand in the way of the Brothers & Sisters Sally Field moment she so desperately craved? After all, marriage is about compromise — and now that we are legally married — woo hoo! — I had no other option than to acquiesce.
I won’t bore you with the day-to-day details (Hey look kids, there’s Big Ben, and there’s Parliament… again). But I’m happy to report it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. It actually turned out to be… wait for it… kind of amazing. Sure, we averaged eighteen minutes of sleep each night, and yeah, Max only ate Pringles, Oreos and milk for seven straight days… but we’re two dads with our wonderful, healthy son, experiencing the culture of a beautiful foreign country — together. No distractions. No looking down at our phones. No kissing Max goodbye as we head off to work. We went to bed together. We woke up together. We ate together (and I say “ate” loosely). We lived in the moment and made lifelong memories.
And since we gay parents have to look out for each other — I’ve compiled a list of 10 traveling-with-tot tips designed to help you navigate the wonderful and woeful realities of international travel. Godspeed.
- Board the plane armed with a handful of Godiva chocolate bars to hand out to nearby, would-be complainers. These delicious “apologies in advance” bars will prevent eye-daggers of hate when Junior accidentally (or deliberately, in our case) kicks the back of that old lady’s chair.
- If you want to stay happy, get app-y. (Eminem’s got nothing on me). Nowadays there are so many great, kid-friendly apps to keep them occupied during long-distance flights. That means your one allotted carry-on doesn’t have to be a toy box filled with Matchbox cars and crayons that’ll undoubtedly get lost down the side of seats.
- What child doesn’t love the novelty of traveling by train, bus, taxi and boat? Say cheerio to rental cars and take advantage of public transportation wherever possible. Max loved hopping on and off London’s iconic red double-decker buses. And yes, he did mind the gap.
- Don’t forget to wipe. I mean don’t forget the wipes. Even if your child is potty trained — congrats! — still bring plenty of baby wipes. You’ll be amazed at how useful they are for keeping paws clean, wiping down public toilet seats, restaurant tables, etc. While you’re at it, keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your Daddy-bag. Trust me, some of those London parks can get pretty dirty. Just ask George Michael.
- Kids think hotel beds are strange. Before you leave home, pull up photos of the hotel online to show them the type of room they’ll be sleeping in. This way, they’ll know what to expect and there won’t be any surprises. For Max, we told him we’d be having a family slumber party every night in our hotel room. It worked well… until he decided he’d rather watch six hours of Peppa Pig on his iPad.
- Annie Leibovitz first started taking photos at just three years old during family vacations. Okay, I made that up, but you never know. So give your kid a child-friendly camera and encourage him to document his journey. We gave Max a camera to keep him engaged and he had a blast snapping away, which included 387 shots of his feet, his thumb, and Papa’s nose hair.
- Our flight home was delayed three hours. That meant we didn’t land in Los Angeles until 11pm. Worst yet, we didn’t get home until close to 1am. Unfortunately both Alex and I had to be at work bright and early that same morning. D’oh! Learn from our mistake. For a painless transition back home, schedule a day of vacation to recover from your vacation. You’ll need it.
- The thought of crowded airport security lines and baggage claims can be daunting with a small, impatient child. But you know what, it felt really nice going through customs and immigration on both ends without any question about our being a ‘family.’ It felt like the most normal thing in the world. That made all the annoyingly long lines worth it. Well, almost.
- New destination, new disposition. Sometimes it takes being in a new environment to get a fresh perspective. During this trip, I fell even more in love with Alex. I don’t know if it was seeing him warmly interact with his English family, proudly showing Max off to everyone, or noticing the little things, like when we sat down at a restaurant, Alex would first figure out the menu items I’d like to eat before thinking about himself. It’s the small stuff like this that I take for granted — and it was great to be reminded how lucky I am.
- Last but not least, temper expectations. I had convinced myself a head of time that this would be the week from hell. So my expectations were low — very, very low. This worked in my favor. When you think it’s going to suck, and it turns out not to suck — you’re already ahead.
So here we stand… brave gay warriors who made it through our first international trip with our little boy… and somehow managed to keep him alive… and smiling. We did it! And you can too.
The Griswolds from National Lampoon’s European Vacation? They’ve got nothing on us.