If there’s one thing I love about summer, it’s the opportunity to travel with my family. But I’ll be honest, as a veteran mom of 14 years, the whole family vacation thing is still pretty new to me. Until recently, my husband and I opted for staycations instead of travel vacations, because we just thought they’d be better — for everyone.
And by “better,” I mean easier. Traveling felt like too much work. Could we really manage without all the creature comforts of home? I had my doubts. And was traveling even worth it since our kids were maybe too young to remember? Well, I had my doubts about that, too.
For years, we watched on social media as friends took their babies and toddlers out of state and out of the country on epic family adventures. And they did more than just survive family travel, they embraced it! They enjoyed it! And that’s when it hit me: traveling at any age and stage brings families closer together.
Just ask Busy Philipps. Babble recently sat down with the actress and mother of Birdie, 8, and Cricket, 3, to discuss motherhood and the value of family travel. The 38-year-old actress has traveled all over the world with young ones in tow and has found genuine joy in the journey.
“Traveling with kids is always a way to bring you together as a family,” she shares, “but I also have found that my kids, even when they’re tiny babies, make huge developmental leaps every time we travel to different places. It’s like, as soon as you open up their world a little bit, other things start happening, other connections start being made.”
I wish I’d come to this conclusion sooner myself. With my oldest son heading into his sophomore year of high school, I’m becoming increasingly aware of what little time we have left to experience this great, big world together. There’s so much I want to still see and do with him; I only wish we’d started earlier.
As a busy working mom, Philipps wasted no time in traveling with wee ones. In fact, she says she headed off to Europe for 10 days to promote Cougar Town when her oldest daughter Birdie was under 2. And while she describes her daughter as “a champ” throughout the journey, she admits that traveling with young kids can prove at least a little challenging from time to time:
“I had a really rough trip when Cricket was 5 months old over New Year’s. We went to San Miguel de Allende and Birdie was 5. And San Miguel is one of my favorite places in the world, and it’s so beautiful, but it’s all cobblestones. It was chilly. Cricket had been sleeping through the night and she totally regressed on the trip. She wouldn’t sleep in the Pack n’ Play, she would only sleep on top of me. It was just a very stressful, hard week of travel, and that was the one time I thought, ‘Well, maybe this was not the best move.’ But other than that one trip, I really found it to be fairly easy.”
While Philipps admits, “we’ve never stayed home because of our child’s age,” she’s found traveling during the young toddler stage to be the most challenging.
“It’s really tricky when you’re in the 14-month to almost 2-year [stage] because they’re mobile, but they’re sort of like, wild, and most kids are fairly non-verbal, and it’s just a really tricky age. I would say in general, in terms of parenting and in terms of traveling with kids, that age is really tough.”
(I totally hear her on that one.)
As for what she considers to be the best age to travel with kids? That’s simple: “Babies are the easiest!” says Phillips. “Babies are the easiest to take on vacation because they don’t do anything.” (If only I had realized as much!)
But of course, Philipps is quick to note that every family is different.
“Everything depends on what kind of kid you have,” she shares. “And some people don’t have kids that are highly adaptable. Some kids are really set in their routine and their schedule and they get freaked out by new things, too, so I think with all parenting, you always have to just choose what’s right for your family. There’s no one size fits all in terms of travel, you know?”
Oh man, do I know. While I struggle with my fair share of travel regret, I know traveling during the toddler years would have been difficult. And not necessarily just for my sons, but for me as well. I now realize that’s where self-care on the road comes in.
Philipps most recently recognized the importance of self-care while traveling during her family’s first Disney Cruise Line experience, and admits to feeling a little “off” at sea.
“I was sea sick the whole time!” she shares. “But here’s what’s so silly, I didn’t really know that I was sea sick. I just didn’t feel great the whole time. I don’t know, I just thought that was my new way of being. So I didn’t take anything. I just kind of suffered silently through it, which I think is typical of me.”
If you ask me, I think that’s typical for most moms, who are probably all guilty of “suffering silently” through some level of discomfort for the sake of their kids’ happiness.
“You know, traveling is hard,” says Phillipps, “especially traveling with children, there’s a certain amount of it where you just expect that you’re going to be slightly uncomfortable the whole time. So as I parent, I think that that was why I didn’t realize that I could’ve done something to make myself feel better.”
Lesson learned. And while we’re at it, here’s another one: Thinking ahead goes a long way when traveling with littles.
“That’s why you try to eliminate the variables,” says Phillips, “to make traveling as comfortable as possible for your family and for yourself and make sure you have the space you need and control the things you can.”
Oh, space — that’s a big one. My family of four recently spent four days together in a rather small hotel room. Between two large suitcases and two even larger kids, we were all climbing the walls just to get a little breathing room. Philipps’ advice? “I think when planning any trip, size is something that matters in terms of your hotel and the kind of room that you get is important.”
Dare I say the most important. So where can families spread out a bit in their home away from home and actually enjoy togetherness without being on top of each other?
“When I’m traveling, my home away from home is also very important to me,” Phillipps notes. “And that’s why we love staying at Embassy Suites where we can have extra room, and the kids can have their own room, which is really cute now that they’re old enough to sleep together if they want.”
My kids in separate rooms would have made all the difference on this trip (and I’ve duly noted it for next time). I may have a few years of travel to catch up on, but with Philipps’ tips for travel success, I have a pretty strong feeling our best journeys are yet to come.