Welcome back to our expert series. This week were talking to a mom who has been "in the trenches" so to speak when it comes to traveling with a child. A single mother who has been on planes, trains, boats, and automobiles with her son since he was an infant, Gabriela Rives shares her thoughts on traveling with a child even if you're doing it solo. And every week we'll cover topics that will enrich and enhance your travel experience. I'll be featuring experts and parents sharing their best tips and advice with you. Please come back every week and share these posts through your Facebook, Twitter and other social media and with friends. If you've missed any so far here are the links: Picture tips, Travel with Cloth, Music as travel prep, and Prepping for illness while traveling with kids. Happy Travels!
Personally my husband is the super organized one and the mere thought of taking a longer trip with my toddler without his preparation and help sends chills down my spine but as Gabby explains, "Sometimes, necessity makes you do things that you never thought you would be able to do".
Q: Gabriela, I know you and your son are quite the globetrotters what are some of the locations you've been to?
A: All over the United States, Mexico and France.
Q: Traveling with a child (especially a young child) can be daunting and frustrating for parents. How have you managed travel with your son?
Usually, I carry two to three pieces of luggage. One has both of our general stuff. The second piece is a carry-on with our essentials, in case something happens (you never know). And of course, I am the one in charge of our traveling documents. I added a third piece later when my son was old enough to carry his own things in a carry-on appropriate for his age and height.
Q: Have you ever traveled solo with him? If so how was that different (better or worse) than when traveling with a partner or other adult?
A: As a single mom, I have traveled alone with my son many times. I think that the main difference is that you, as the adult, are responsible for the child. And it is important that you keep their interests and needs in mind too. You have to look for things that will make the trip memorable for both of you. For example, when we went to France, we visited the Louvre but we also went to Euro-Disney.
Q: What has been one of the most challenging situations you found yourself in while traveling related to him?
A: These days, it's very easy to travel with an infant or a child. Most airlines, for instance, show you some considerations. You can pre-board and have some extra time to accommodate everything. Sometimes our children are in a non-traveling mood, however. That's when the real challenge starts. Everybody expects you to keep them quiet and busy, but there are times when that is extremely difficult, if not impossible. And yes, you will get that "disapproving look" and you will have to live with it.
Also, knowing what you need to pack is not easy. Everybody will tell you what they believe is a must but, if you follow everybody's advice, you will travel with the whole house!! In the end, you have to decide what is a "must" for you. For instance, I never travel without my son's favorite toy or his favorite book.
Q: Sometimes people travel out of need and other times for learning or pleasure. In my opinion all travel can be for pleasure even with kids. What are your thoughts on this and why?
A: I think, regardless of the reason for your trips, they are always a great experience. Children have a different view than an adult and it is amazing how much you can enjoy a trip by just trying to see it through your child's eyes. Every single trip will teach you different things and will broaden your child's horizons.
Q: Can you share a bit about some or one of your most memorable trips with him?
A: All my trips with my son have engraved different memories in me that I enjoy 'till today. Maybe one of the best memories was the day we visited the Eiffel Tower. I was amazed by the beauty of it while my son was fascinated by the hundreds of pigeons underneath the Tower; it was great to see the joy in his face!
Q: What kinds of things would you recommend a traveling parent do to prepare for a trip?
1. Every time we are going on a trip, I always ask myself and anybody in my party: "What is that one thing you have to do or see on this trip that will make it all worthwhile?"
2. Never forget to check for things that are child-friendly at your destination. This includes hotels, tours, restaurants, parks, etc.
3. Make sure you have the needed traveling documents and that you have followed the security screening regulations; i.e. amount of milk/milk powder allowed, types of toys, etc.
4. Confirm if and how your health insurance covers any emergency care at the place you're visiting.
5. Make a list of the things you need to pack. These days it's easy to get many of the things you need after you've arrived.
Q: When you traveled internationally did you have to worry about special permits, visas, etc. for you and him? Did you ever travel internationally solo and if so, did you have to bring proof that you could take him with you (like a letter from his father)
A: Yes. Every country has its own rules and you must follow them. For instance, before my child had a passport, I needed a notarized authorization from my son's dad to be able to take him out of the country, and my ex lived in a different city so we needed to make pre-arrangements to comply with this requirement. And yet today, even when my son and I have passports, I still travel with the authorization and my child's birth certificate, just in case.
Also, due to my line of work, I know that if you have an adopted child and you haven't finalized your adoption or you haven't gotten your baby's birth certificate or social security number, you must ask your adoption agency what are the steps and requirements to travel abroad.
Q: Did either one of you ever get sick or hurt while traveling? If so where and how did you make it through the ordeal?
A: A sick child is always a struggle so imagine if you are traveling! I have been lucky because my son has gotten sick just on one of our trips, and once I gave him the medicine I had brought with us, he was perfectly fine and we could enjoy the trip. I always double-check our insurance coverage and that I have the contact information for a doctor or a hospital.
Q: Do you have any favorite gear when traveling? When he was younger how did you mange the car seat, stroller, luggage, etc.?
A: During the first trips, I used to take everything and I felt like such a hog!! After the third trip, I realized that I could make it just with a stroller, and that the rest I could rent or borrow or buy wherever I was going.
Q: What do you miss about traveling with him as a baby/toddler and what do you most enjoy now that he is older?
A: There are so many perks when traveling with your infant/toddler child! It's cheaper, you can pre-board, everybody treats you nicely. As your child gets older, obviously those things will change but the experience of traveling together will get better in other ways. For starters, now your child can get more involved in the trip and the place where you are going. You can start planning together! I love to hear my son talking about when we went here or there...!
Q: What advice would you give to parents who are leery of travel with kids?
A: Don't be! Just go for it! Traveling opens your child's mind and gives you the opportunity to bond with your child in ways that you can never imagine. It is an adventure that you both live together, and you will share always.
Gabriela Rives is a jack-of-many-trades. Born in Mexico City she has more than 15 years of experience working in various roles as an editor, translator, creative writer, art director and creative director. Gabriela served as the creative director for The Cartel Group where she created and directed English and Spanish strategic creative campaigns for clients such as the U.S. Army, Dickies, JCPenney, Nextel-Sprint and Capital One to name a few and won numerous industry awards. She has also served as the CEO of an Adoption Agency for several years and currently is the Director of a Translations and Marketing agency in San Antonio, TX. She is a divorced-single mom to Gabriel, 9 years old, and also owns an online gift basket store La Bella Baskets that helps single moms.