24 answers

Travel Without My 5 Year Old

Hi Moms!
I've never had this situation before so I need some input.

My oldest daughter is getting married in Italy (yay!) and we are not taking the kids. (yay again!) My concern is our 5 year old. We will be gone 9 days and I'm not too sure how to prepare him. Should I be nonchalant in giving him the facts, should we leave little surprises for him to open every few days. I just don't know. I'm having anxiety about how he's going to do.


FYI--he's staying at our home with my auntie (I'm 3 months older than her-haha!), his big brother-23 yrs old, big sisters 20 and 15 yrs old.

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Thank you so much to all who responded to my request. I'm happy to say, my 5 year old didn't have any problems at all while we were gone. He was busy "hanging out" with his big brother who took him bowling, and with his regular schedule, he was just fine! I prepared a "cross the days off" calendar and gave him all the information about where we were going and how long it was going to be.
Our daughter's wedding in Italy was absolutely amazing, beautiful and a bit unbelievable. It was a nice treat for my husband and I to get away for awhile
Thanks again moms and Mamasource.

More Answers

Hi T.,

It is hard for a 5 year old to conceptualize what being gone 9 days means. The better he understands the concept, the easier it will most likely be for him--just like for us, we'd like to know when our spouse will return after time away and having his return date be a surprise is not so welcome. Everyone likes predictability around stressful events. So, I would say, if there's time, use the calendar to start marking off days for upcoming events. For example, "The birthday party is this coming weekend. In three days. Let's mark a day off at the end of each day so we will know when the day of the birthday party arrives." This way he can begin to become familiar with the calendar and learn to predict upcoming events to some degree. Before you leave go to the calendar daily and show him which day you're leaving and which day you'll be back. He can mark them off when you're gone then maybe have some cuddle time with his older sibling (or someone who will be able to reliably commit to such a routine with him while you're away- predictability is important particularly if you're telling him "this is what it will be like when mommy and daddy are away"). Anything else you can do to prepare him for what it's going to be like such as reciting the story of who's coming to stay with him (or where he's going to stay), what time of day mommy and daddy will call or skype (even better), what the sitter will do while caring for him, what mommy and daddy will be thinking about him while they are away, etc.

All the best,

I'm no expert, but here are some suggestions. Make some tapes of yourself (and hubby?) reading some of his favorite books to him, along with some messages from you. Have his caregiver play them for him at nighttime and naptime. My friend used to leave small wrapped gifts throughout the house for her children to find. You could play with that idea and see what works for you.

Many years ago (I'm feeling old saying that! ha ha) my parents had to go away for a few days and my brother and I stayed with a relative. I can still recall how special it was that my parents had left a little something for us to open each day. It was a cherished moment of the day and it helped me to count down to their return as I saw the little gifts disappear. I think it is a perfect little touch for him at such a young age.

I see some of the recommendations on here to make the little gifts something he can use while you are away - bubbles, etc., and I think that's a great idea! Perhaps you can write him a little love note and wrap the gift in that sheet of paper (assuming the gifts are small enough to do so). That way he not only gets to open a little surprise but gets to see your writing with a sweet little message on it. As I recall, my parents also had one or two special days scheduled for us while they had to be gone - Zoo or something like that - and that was also a very nice touch which made it more of a fun adventure while they were away.

Best of luck to you! I know you'll come up with the perfect way to handle it!

AS a therapist I beg you to tell him the truth as much as a 5 year old can handle. Leaving a tape recording of your voice with loving and caring words can help. If you have time try one night away from him with the same sitter and see how he handles it but don't rush to his side should he start crying with the sitter. Small little gifts are OK and a calendar that he can visually reference and mark off the days is also a great help. Good Luck!

You are so sweet! I have four and I had to leave them for 3 days to help with some family business. I left each of them an envelope to open each day when they woke up and a little $1- bin item from Target to find each day through the letter, they had so much fun, I think they were sad when we returned!

Enjoy Italy & Congrats!!!

You've received alot of great suggestions! I would also add setting up some playdates and maybe buying him a new book or two before you leave that he could read each night. Also, promising him a gift from Italy will also give him the reassurance that you're coming back. Good luck! And have a GREAT time!

Well the good news is that you will be able to call every day if need be. I had the same situation - allbeit not Italy, but I was traveling down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon when my son was 5 years old. I was gone for 9 days and we had no communication with the outside world. phones and such just do not work from that far deep in the earth. Anyway, I did all I could to prepare him. I made a calendar with a map of the river and told him where we would be on the river each and every day and most importantly I left him letters. He's now almost 8 and he still has those letters in his nightstand and will not let me throw them out. I wrote him one for every morning explaining what he was going to be doing that day... "well, today you're going to school. I'm sure you'll have fun with all your friends..." and then I wrote him one for every night letting him know that I was thinking about him and sending him good night kisses and that I loved him very much. I also had a count down calendar where he could mark off the days until we got back. All these things really helped him pass the time knowing that we were thinking of him. Have a greaet time and don't worry. I'm sure he will do great. and like I said... at least you can call if need be.

When I went to visit family without my daughter, She & I made a count down calender for her to pull off 1 page each day. She decorated it and then I added special little things to it she did't see until I was gone. Leaving little notes in her clothing drawers and other places to find also helped. Enjoy your trip and he'll do great.

We left our kids before when we went out of the country and we called everyday...that may or may not be good depending on if your 5 year old would miss you more if he heard your voice every nite.

I wouldn't be non-chalant; it may give him the idea that you're not going to miss him. Be serious and tell him you're going to be gone and explain who is going to take care of him. Explain if he's going to sleep somewhere different, etc- kids often worry about the details, like who is going to put me to bed, etc. And make a calandar for him so each day he can cross off a day, with the day you're coming home decorated with exciting things. I wouldn't leave him surprises because it may just seem like you're trying to buy him off and kids can sometimes see through that. Instead you may talk to whoever is watching him and arrange some fun things to do that you wouldn't normally do. That will do more to distract him. And talk to him about him possibly keeping something with him that makes him feel more secure- definately his security object, but also maybe a picture of you and your husband or something that makes him think of you. But whatever you do, be frank and honest, and make sure you tell him how much you are going to miss him while you are gone, and that you will call (and possibly mark when you're going to call on the calandar for him, and make sure you stick to it!).

Also, it will help if whoever watches him sticks as tightly to his routines as possible and that they do things similarly to how you do, like bath is always at the same time and they put him to bed the same way. This will help him know what's going to happen, which will make him feel more secure. It would be best for him if he were to stay at your house and whoever watches him comes there, but I know that isn't always possible.

PS- going to a wedding in Italy? I'm so jealous!

Who will he be staying with? That is the key. Does he like spending time with that person? Will he still be in school/daycare or is it during summer?

Be upfront about giving him the facts, but obsess about it. Make him a calendar so he can mark off the days until you return. If you have time, you could try a "lift the flap" calendar with clues each day so he can spend time looking for a surprise each day. You may also want to have a friend drop a note in the mail for you each day so he gets mail too.

Enjoy your trip/ the wedding!

Congratulations on the marriage of your daughter. Very exciting! And, in Italy no less. How romantic!

I left my 3yo for the first time when I went to London for 10 days. I was anxious just like you are and bought enough gifts to give him one each day. He stayed with my parents and they made the executive decision not to give him a gift each day. My son did so well and had so much fun that they felt he didn't need it. I was upset about it, but realized my son didn't need it and it was really my own personal issue. I have since left my kids several times with no issues. They love staying with their grandparents (and they don't do all the extra fun stuff I know others do when they have their grandchildren).

I have learned with my own children and also two little girls I watched for a week (all are between the ages of 3 and 6) that they become a little "mommy-sick" at around day 5. It's now at that time that I do a little extra to help ease them. For me, it's a special book to be read and I try to encourage my parents to plan something extra special around that time. Regardless, my kids do so much better than I do and I wouldn't worry too much.

I am also very up front with my kids. I show them on globes and maps where I'm going and we research on the internet a little about the location. They get excited about it and I always bring home a small souvenier. These souveniers end up at school to show their friends and they talk a lot about the place we visited. It's a great learning opportunity.

One other thing I learned with the 2 little girls I watched is that we should've done a practice run before the big trip. They had never been away from mommy and the first night was a little rough. The older girl (6yo) cried and couldn't get to sleep. We worked through it and everything was fun after that, but we realized we should've had a one night sleepover before the big trip.

Have fun with your adventure. And, don't worry. Regardless how your son reacts, he will be okay!

Hi T.~ I had a similar situation last Aug. We were gone for 10 days and since I take care of my grandson every day I worried about him. He's also 5. I had a little something for him to open each day, and also I had a calendar with stickers for him to mark the days till we came back. I had already put a circle around the first and last day so he had some idea of time. It worked very well. I also took his one of his favorite Thomas trains,with his permission of course, and I took photos of it in different locations on our trip. On a park bench, or in a store near the toys, on the steps of a cathedral, you get the idea, and he absolutely loved seeing those when we got back. Of course, thank goodness for cell phones and good plans! Hope this helps.

Speaking from experience, our oldest boy loved the novelty of staying with his Nana for several days at that age. The idea of opening up a gift each day is really cool! He shouldn't see it as a buy-off unless experience has taught him to do so... not likely at his age, at least not in the world I know. Gestures like a gift-a-day that tell a kid that you thought of him often and with care. My kids always noticed the subtle touches and loved them -- and at five he's probably ready for little notes, as well. My mom used to hide creatively made little notes for me, sometimes in tiny handmade boxes or dangling in a pattern from the window. I still have them.

Videos are good, too. We made one for our oldest boy when we were gone once (he was six) and he loved it. We told him which places were really "boring" and then I'd hustle the camera over to try to "wake" Dad in the lecture hall. We got strangers to play along. We gave him 'behind the scenes' tours. We went into toy shops and filmed while Dad was chased by toy sharks until a giant octopus devoured the camera and we all "sunk" into the stuffed animal display. (God bless Disney... they're patient people, really.) Whatever we bought him, we'd film each other picking it out. We'd stand with our backs to the cool toys and 'argue' over which totally lame, inappropriate gift to get him... he'd watch the video with us later and be yelling at the TV, "No, Mom! Not the Barbie dress!" Then afterward we'd give him his real gifts; surprisingly good one, at that!

Also, try accentuating the differences a bit. Each of our kids loved "Only At Nana's" rules. For example, we don't allow sugary cereal in the house, meanies that we are. But Nana keeps a set of the tiny 'single-serving' boxes of popular cereals ... one for each breakfast of the visit. She'd make a point to ask us in front of the kids if we'd allow it... and we were always happy to. Only at Nana's could the kids get drug round the hardwood floors by their ankles while their bums 'polished' the 'dingy' floor. And Nana makes each kid a hot water bottle to sleep with -- they like it so much they even beg for it in summer. I kid you not. What seems dopey to us, often seems like the coolest thing in the world to a 5 year old.

Have a great trip! And congratulations to you and your daughter!


Do you have time to take a couple of 1-nighter trips away so that he gets used to the idea that mommy always comes home?

I like the idea of playing up where mommy's going to be with books, etc., and of leaving surprises for him to open while you're gone. It's smart of you to think ahead!

That is great you want to take a break from the kids. Very healthy too! I would tell your 5 year old that you are going to go to Italy, and talk about the fun he is going to have with whomever is taking him while you are gone. Make it seem like you are not going to have near as much fun as he will have and are sad that you can't be with him and have as much fun as he is going to have. Then I would buy 9 things (one for each day) for him to do that day (bubbles, a slip-n-slide, etc.). Then also leave a list of places to take him while you are gone (with money to cover and entrance fees- such as the zoo, park, discovery museums etc.). you can even switch it up with a place to go one day and something to do the next if you wanted to.

The key is to make it fun for him while you are gone! Have a great trip!

At 5 you really don't have to worry this much. Talk it up big in terms of adventure and pack lots of cool stuff for the plane (save something for the plane ride home). My kids LOVE to travel (they are 6) and have since they were about 4. It's all new and wonderful for them. Check out some books at the library to show him pictures.

Hi T.,

Congratulations on the wedding! My son is five also so I know how you feel. However, we have always been completely honest with him about where we are going, how we're getting there, and when we're coming back. Sometimes, he'll complain that he wants to go with us but once we leave he is always happy to be with Grandma and Poppy and he doesn't give us a second thought. We call home several times a day and he never wants to get on the phone. I think we feel guilty but the kids are really ok.

Leaving little gifts is a good idea and let him know you'll keep in touch. If you can try to email some pictures while you are gone and of course bring him home a present.

I hope this helps!

Good luck.


I definitely agree that you should be up front with him once you get close to leaving. And, I really like the idea of giving him different surprises for him to open each day. I think that if you just disappear and are nonchalant - he will think you can just diappear at any time...which is bad. If he understands you are leaving but you will be back, it may be harder to leave, but at least he knows you will be back and once you return, you just reinforce that you did what you said you were going to do.

Good luck, I am leaving my little guy in November for 4 days (he will be 2 years old at that point) and am NOT looking forward to it!

Hi T.,
We went away for 8 days over the summer without kids. It made a huge difference to my anxiety level that my mom was able to stay with my then 5 and 9 year old. My husband and I talked to our children about the adventures and fun things that they would get to do while we were gone. We asked them to remember all of the fun things and take pictures so we were all able to share pictures about our adventures. I also found that the kids picked up on my anxiety so when I calmed down they did too and we were all able to look forward to the time apart.
Hope this helps.

Be up-front with him. Let him know that you'll be gone for a few days, and let him voice his feelings about it. Do you currently leave him w/sitter or family when you go out? Have a 'trial run', go somewhere for an overnight. When you come back, it will establish that when you say you'll be back, you will.

If it was me I wouldn't leave my kids, but since you decided too, you can make it an adventure for him too, who ever is going to be watching him, get with this person nd plan it so he is all excited, 9 days is a long time to be away from a 5 year old, so the key will be to keep him busy, as far as having a little gift to open very day sounds like a mom's guilt for leaving her child, or priving the child to accept the speration. Let me know what you decide, and congratlations on your daughter's wedding. You never aid why you are not taking the kids. J.

The little gifts are good but maybe more of a count down theme. Like open one every night before bed or first thing when he wakes up. Who will he be staying with? Someone I hope he is close with or has kids too. They will keep him busy. Make sure he takes some of his own things Blankets, pillows, stuffed animals to game boys, i pods, Etc. Just make a list of these items so that you can check for them when you get back home. Alot of how he'll do is connected to his personality, if he's a real momma's boy he'll probably cry alot so you should call him everyday and make him a calendar to cross off or stick a candy to each day so he can eat one a day. But if he is a do it myself busy with friends kind of kid he'll probably do great. Just remembed that because he cries on the phone a little doesn't mean that he's crying all day. Sometimes it's us that misses them more then they miss us, because we are worried about them the whole time. Another thing is leave little love notes for him to find, like rapped in his jammies, in his clothes. Write him letters mail the first one the day you leave for the airport so he gets it in a day or two. But I would talk to him about it now so he can prepare himself. Make this fun for him so he has lots to tell you about when you get home, you could make a special him and mom day when you get back home, disneyland to McDonalds. So he can tell you all about it one on one. Then he'll know that you love him and wanted to know all that you missed out on. You might need to give extra hugges for a while, (you know Catch up on all the ones you missed out on). he'll like that.
Good Luck! Have a GREAT, SAFE and WONDERFUL Time with your daughter. Make Lots of memories for all of you. J.

I think leaving him little surprises is a GREAT idea! Someone said, "...sometimes kids can see right through that..." something about 'buying him off'....
HUH?! HE'S FIVE! Give him surprises for crying out loud! He will miss you terribly, give him SURPRISES!!!

Good luck and have a good time...

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