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zen and the art of traveling with a child

zen and the art of traveling with a child

by Anna Getty anna getty
Start Traveling | Traveling | | Personal Story

On June 10 a few summers ago, I boarded an Air France flight to Paris with my husband and baby daughter, India. It was the evening flight departing at 6:30 pm. I had it all planned out in my head. We would take off, my child would eat and then easily slip away into a deep transAtlantic slumber, I would catch up on reading, watch a movie or two like the old pre-baby days, sleep and we would all wake up refreshed and ready for breakfast an hour before landing. I was also fully equipped with a bag of books, DVDs, toys she had never laid eyes on before and her favorite blanket. Things started off fine. India hung out with the flight attendants in the galley, visited the captain in the cockpit and enjoyed playing with all the buttons on the armrest.

I am not sure what triggered it but things began to go downhill rapidly from that point. Perhaps it started after half of dinner wound up in my lap or after she attempted to somersault off the back of my seat, but the last thing I remember is her passing out on top of me a mere seven hours after we had taken off. She slept for two hours and then woke up an hour before landing only to fall asleep again 10 minutes before landing. Try disembarking from a plane and then running through Charles De Gaulle with only 35 minutes to your connecting flight carrying a 25-pound sack of potatoes. I arrived in Florence, Italy looking like a shell of my former self. And this, ladies and gentlemen, was only the beginning of our summer travel extravaganza. 

We did trains, we did planes, we did automobiles and each trip seemed to span many lifetimes. Welcome to parenting hell you might say. But actually, it was all really quite wonderful despite the chaos. My moment of realization happened on that first plane to France in the fifth hour of pacing up and down the aisle with a writhing and sobbing baby in my arms. I had wanted to be dramatic, I had wanted to throw the kid out of the plane without a parachute and thought briefly about divorce or possibly having my tubes tied, and in a moment of complete and utter self-pity something clicked. I thought to myself, “Anna, this is yoga. All the breath work, meditation, mantras, mudras and asanas I have ever done are for this, this moment, right now.

I can long for the past and wish for another life or I can be present and focused in this one”. It was a moment of acceptance and surrender. It had not been about preparing “an entertainment bag” for her, it was about looking in the inside and just letting go of control and my desire for the things to be perfect and manageable. I smiled to myself, I cried to myself and was able to hold my dear child through her tears and step up and meet her needs. Maybe she was afraid, maybe she was tired, maybe confused, in pain or all of the above. She did not understand that we were 35,000 feet above the earth traveling 10,000 miles away from our home and our dog, but I did.

And so I began to breath and focus on my breathing, and I did so until we got off our returning Air France Flight back home at summer’s end. That’s not to say I never experienced challenge during the rest of our trip, but I realized that the more I stayed in my center, the more fun I had with India, even chasing her up and down the aisles of rolling trains. I remember being on a 12-hour night train from Munich, Germany to Italy. It was just she and I and we slept in a tiny bed. I could hear the sound of the clickity-clack on the tracks as we rolled down through the Alps and I pictured the future, traveling with her, to Morocco, Thailand or maybe even to India. It was a sublime moment not just because she was asleep, but also because I felt so present with her. And that’s what it is about for me. Being moment-to-moment and not just when things are fun and easy, but when things are quiet and seemingly eventless and when it is chaotic and frustrating. All of it is yoga, being in union with the present moment especially when traveling with a toddler.

A couple of tips when traveling with a toddler:

1. Bring interactive books. 
2. With books and toys alike, only reveal one at a time. If you dump them all out at once it’s a matter of time before a child’s interest wanes.
3. Play spot the (blank) while looking out of windows.
4. Always load up on snacks, snacks and more snacks.
5. On long flights or train, be sure to bring pajamas and bedtime accoutrements. I find when I do that, India gets into her sleep routine more easily. Travel well.

Anna Getty teaches prenatal and Kundalini yoga at Goldenbridge.