Traveling Solo with a Toddler in Tow: Tips from Marta Greber
The whining refrain “Are we there yet?” has become the stuff of punchlines ever since planes, trains and automobiles were invented. But if you’re a parent traveling with young children, it’s no joke. Who hasn’t gotten the evil eye from their fellow plane passengers even before the baby cries or the toddler starts playing games on the tablet? Trying to keep the little ones – and everyone else – happy (including yourself) is a challenge to say the least. But read on… There’s hope!
Wonderfully talented, Marta Greber has a huge – almost half a million! – following on Instagram. Via @WhatForBreakfast Marta chronicles her amazing, mouthwatering healthy meals consumed all over the world. She’s quite the traveler. But what may surprise new fans as they scroll through her scrumptious feed is that Marta is a mom who does all that traveling with her child.
We caught up with Marta between trips and asked her for some words of wisdom, which she gladly gave.
First thing’s first – what’s your story, and how did you develop such a strong love of travel?
I am Polish, born and raised in Warsaw. I am a lawyer and the plan was: This will be my life. For 3-1/2 years I had been working in my occupation and I had a whole plan how my life will look.
Then, one day, my husband called me and asked me if I’d like to move to Sydney, Australia for two years because he had just got a work contract. I knew that I definitely wanted to see what it would be like to live in Australia, so I took a break at work. This is when my passion for traveling started.
We started to go on trips within Australia, then branched out to New Zealand and Asia. It’s totally changed my way of looking at the world and traveling. It’s also influenced my decision to give up law and to try doing something that would give me a possibility to travel as much as possible.
Then, one beautiful day, my daughter Mia came on board. I was afraid that my years of crazy travelling would come to an end, but it turned out, that I was wrong. Mia has been travelling with us since she was just a month old. Surprisingly, it’s pretty easy when they’re that small and more or less attached to you. It stops being so easy when they start to walk and talk (ha, ha).
I took her on our first big Mia and Mom trip when she turned two years old. We went to Hong Kong and then spent about three weeks in a van in New Zealand. Over time, I realized that there were some changes I did have to make to how I was traveling. When you travel with a kid, she needs to be happy, because if she’s not, you won’t be either. So it’s been a learning experience to find the right balance where we both get to enjoy equally.
Our big trip together worked out so well, that a couple of months later I’ve decided to buy a camper van and to drive with her around Europe for four months. It was the biggest adventure in my life. So much so, that this year I am about to repeat it.
Have you always been attracted to travel – were you raised that way, or did you develop the interest as an adult?
As a child, I traveled quite a bit with my parents, but it was a different way of traveling. We used to take a caravan and go to Spain or France for a month of vacation. We stayed in one place and did it for years.
My way of traveling is way different. I love to move around to see new things, experience different cultures and taste new flavors. My husband says that I’m a fast traveler, because I’m always on the move, never staying too long in one place. The thing is, that I am curious about what’s behind a corner or the mountain. I can see that Mia takes after me, because while we’re traveling, she’s often saying “Mama, let’s go to autko (the van)”, wanting to head off to the next adventure.
For me, traveling is discovering, finding inspiration, and experiencing new things. There are places where I feel that I want to stay for longer, but it’s very random.
Children seem to enjoy travel and new experiences in general… but it is tiring, and little ones can get cranky… Any tips you can share on how to handle it?
You need many breaks. If your kid is happy, everything will be way easier. Each day I stop in a place where Mia can run or play and we do it for a couple of hours. There were times when we’d stop as a highway turnout for two hours because Mia needed a break from all the driving. When she’s tired out, we’ll take advantage and drive for an hour or so. I like to drive when she’s asleep or tired, so she’ll want to sit and chill.
I always have a couple of options on hand to keep her busy in the car, like coloring, plasticine (play dough), or a cartoon for when we absolutely need to get somewhere at the same time she wants to play.
The other advice to parents would be to sleep well. At the beginning I was trying to catch up with work, when Mia was asleep at night. It made me tired and my levels of tolerance went down. I changed it straight away and started to sleep at least 8 hours per night. Kids have their moods, just like parents, and we need to be rested to have all the patience we need for the day.
Have you come across many fellow travelers rolling their eyes when they see the baby? What tips would you have for moms in being considerate of others, but of course also having to deal with the occasional tantrum?
I never did. I have only one kid and she’s pretty awesome. Whenever we fly she sleeps most of the time and when she doesn’t, I am ready to make her travel a cool experience. I literally have people coming to me and saying that Mia is a great little traveler. The same on a train. I was flying with small crying children on board and I always feel sorry for the parents, because I know that they stress a lot and are afraid that the other passengers will get upset or angry.
Babies cry out for a reason… Maybe something hurts or they’re uncomfortable. It’s our job to minimize they chances of them getting upset over something that’s totally avoidable. Here are some tips that really work for me:
- Take a lot of food that your kid likes on travel days. Mia loves it when I give her a bottle of milk when we take off and land. The sucking and swallowing action helps a lot with a little one’s ears, so when there’s a change in pressure, it’s not such a big deal. If she’s sleeping during take off or landing, I just let her be.
- Always book a seat with a bassinet. It turned out that Mia is too heavy to be in one, but those seats have more leg space and there’s a chance that there will be an extra seat next to you.
- Check if your airline has “flying nannies.” They’ll keep your child busy when you need it, for example by giving them a tour of the plane so that you can eat. Also ask if the airline has any activity packs for kids. Those are always good for keeping children occupied for some time.
- Choose a night flight if possible so your child will sleep.
- Take a baby carrier with the option to face the world. When we were getting on and off planes, it was a salvation. Everything was interesting to her and she didn’t get tired out. It also gave her a possibility to socialize and flirt with people (which she likes a lot).
- Get a bag for your stroller. We have a Bugaboo Bee stroller which I find perfect for traveling and I got the travel bag for it. Before, the stroller often got scratched, dirty, and wet. With a bag, it’s easy to put it down and pick it up. Plus, I didn’t worry about my stroller. I always have this vision that it will end up totally damaged and I’ll be on my own in a foreign country with a heavy kid.
- Pack light. You really don’t need all the extra toys.
What is the #1 advantage to raising your children to love travel?
The whole world is their playground! I think that it helps them to be creative, to feel and understand world, and just be more openminded. Mia has seen beautiful beaches and already reacts to plastic bottles on a beach. I tell her that we are using a carry cup and our bottle for water so the ocean is clean, I hope she will get it and will not use that much of plastic herself. I am also sure that it makes her understand more about different cultures and nations. We talk a lot while we travel and I can see that for her, people are no different in Kenya, Hong Kong, Thailand or Australia. She asks questions when she sees something interesting and I think that with time it will teach her how to be openminded and it will inspire her in many areas of life.
Are there any drawbacks?
I don’t think so. The only down side is that when you’re the only adult in a van, you have a lot to do daily. Sometimes I miss kindergarten or a nanny! (ha, ha) But I work around it. I get up about 6am, when Mia is still asleep and I have 2 hours just for myself. I always start a day by making a cup of coffee and going outside the van, even when it rains.
Are they any games or apps or favorite ways to pass the time you can recommend?
We use Netflix and download some cartoons for difficult moments. Mia also likes to play coloring games on the iPad. Otherwise we sing a lot, make monsters and flowers out of plasticine, grow a lot, and collect rocks and sticks. We also collect books on the way and Mia “reads” them by just making up stories from the pictures.
You often travel and work at the same time – any tips for juggling many responsibilities at once? How do you prioritize?
Mia is the priority. I take her with me to spend time with her and to travel with her. I’ve reduced my work hours on trips and do it early in the morning for 2-3 hours and then later when she has a nap. If I have a deadline I’ll work longer, obviously. I learned how to prepare myself well for a travel. I won’t take so many assignments during this period and I try to organize as much as possible before I leave.
Can you share a special moment, a story, or something you really love about traveling with Mia?
I am one of the crazy travelers who likes empty places. I find a region or area where it’s just me Mia, and nature. Each morning I get up first, have my coffee, work and have time for myself.
One time in the north of Norway, I got up at 6 am and I opened the door to reindeer sleeping next to my car. It was one of the most magical moments I had in my travels.
A couple of hours later, Mia woke up. I was sitting on stairs of my camper, Mia came to me, hugged me and said “Hello mama, this is beautiful.” She didn’t even see the reindeers, she saw the nature surrounding us and she noticed how beautiful it was. That made my heart sing.
Another time we were in Finland, the weather changed and it was super cold and raining really badly. Our heater refused to work and it was so cold, that while I was fixing it myself in the late evening. We were sitting in our winter jackets. I was stressing out, afraid that Mia will be cold but she could not be happier. She was singing, making jokes, laughing out loud. She totally relaxed me and this is when I discovered that adults have a tendency to see problems where they shouldn’t. We spent a night giggling under three extra blankets and in the morning, I managed to fix the heater. I was so proud of myself for fixing it and of Mia for helping me to relax when I needed it.
Later in our travels, whenever I got stressed, I looked at Mia and I could see that she was not. And it helped me to relax straight away. Traveling creates a magical bond between you and your child. It also gives you the possibility to learn from her.
Images via Marta's instagram, @whatforbreakfastTags : travel toddler baby