Family structures are getting more complex and multi-layered in this age of diverse families: divorce, remarriage, multiple partners, step- and half-siblings, various conception options, multi-generational and non-traditional families…
Ours is no exception: we’re a bi-national, two-mama household that has primary custody of our son whose dad lives an ocean away with his wife and kids. Grandparents and aunties and uncles are scattered across the globe from Australia, to Hawaii, to Massachusetts.
When we started planning our first international family trip, we had a few co-parenting hoops to jump through; negotiation and compromise is often the name of the co-parenting game. For this trip to happen, I had to assure my son’s father that he would continue to have the routine contact he enjoys in our daily life, and that we would keep him apprised of our travel plans.
As I sat down to work all the kinks out in this travel agreement, I learned several valuable lessons we will continue to employ as we enjoy traveling as a family and keeping all branches of our family tree satisfied and smiling.
I had to recognize that there were requests from our son’s Dad that seemed inconsequential to me but were important to him
In this case, Dad wanted a detailed travel itinerary. I could have blown this request up into a contentious issue but quickly realized that was my mama ego egging me on. And so I compromised. I provided a general itinerary for Dad that included our travel dates and the cities we expected to be in and on which days.
Sit down, and make the routine web chat schedule and a timezone decoder ring
We live in Hawaii, Dad lives in Arizona, and we were traveling to Australia; the multiple time zones and travel days in various cities was enough to cause me a mini-mental meltdown in the hours that it took to untangle and create a contact schedule. When crafting it, I had to be sure that the schedule took into account availability, travel time, sleep schedules and technology accessibility. After an obscene caffeine intake, several schedule drafts and multiple confirmations that I actually got the times correct and all were in concert, I produced a detailed, easy-to-read spreadsheet that listed date and time in Australia, Hawaii, and Arizona for when web chats could happen.
While we were on our trip, having the pre-appointed times and dates handily written down and noting which Australian day and time was equivalent to which Arizona day and time was effective and efficient. Put the time and effort into figuring out the logistics of maintaining contact. It will save you mental distress while you’re on the road.
After figuring out the “when” of communicating, figure out the “where and how”
We had a few definitely-scheduled vacation events, but otherwise we had a flexible and forgiving schedule. We were going to be staying with family and friends, which simplified the logistics of internet access but we knew that there would be a few scheduled web chats where we wouldn’t be conveniently at our homes-away-from-home. We took the responsibility of making a concerted effort to ensure that the contact schedule would go along as uninterrupted as possible:
- Before leaving Hawaii, we made sure to know and understand exactly what the charges and options were for international data usage on our phones.
- We researched the areas that we would be traveling to and through and looked for free and affordable wi-fi access areas.
- We also made sure that we had access to the appropriate power converters so we could actually have battery life when we turned on our vacation-rested phones and laptop.
Traveling in Australia made the process extremely convenient and accessible. International travel to other countries that are less or under-developed would definitely pose more challenges, but doing your logistical research so that you know what you’re dealing with when you are traveling abroad is another step that will ensure that you maintain a stronger grip on your sanity, and gives you the freedom to enjoy your vacation without being overwhelmed by your responsibilities.
Despite preparation and research, maintaining contact while traveling abroad requires a certain level of flexibility
Travel is unpredictable and the explorations and adventures that our family pursues and cherishes rarely appear or fit tidily into a pre-planned itinerary. We absolutely made a sincere effort to adhere to the contact schedule that we established, but there were a few days when we had to shoot a quick message to Dad, asking for his understanding and re-scheduling the web chat for a date and time that worked. There were a few times that we had to remind ourselves to be flexible. The schedule and excitement and itinerary became a little bit overwhelming and we found that both mamas and our little boy needed room to breathe and time to just enjoy being on vacation. The little boy even found himself needing a day to regroup and recharge so when he asked, “Mama, can we just do nothing tomorrow?” the lesson of flexibility settle in for all of us.
Family travel is meant to be fun and memorable. The limited time that you get to enjoy, explore and adventure should be spent on the good stuff; keeping in touch with friends and family while traveling abroad shouldn’t cause you stress. Take the time to do the planning and the leg-work (as much as you can) before you board the airplane and then head off to enjoy your travels abroad while sharing your adventures with your family and friends at home.