“Adios! Adios! Bye! Adios!” So ended two weeks with Henry, my four-year-old nephew, and his mum, my sister Anna. It had been a fortnight of arm kisses, making him fly like a plane, and (oddly) conversations about Jesus’s apostles.

For a large part of their stay, we were at home in Alcalá de Henares, where I was waved off to work each day with air kisses and welcomed home with hugs around the knees. We spent the evenings together, either out at a playground or at home playing with Henry’s toys, and Anna took him out on excursions while I was at work.

Plus, since their last weekend with us was a long one for me, we decided to hire a car and head to Portugal for three days. I’d never done a road trip with a four-year-old before, and I was impressed with how well he travelled. Janine and I were in the backseat with Henry, and though he wanted a lot of attention, the affection he showed us more than made up for it (that’s the arm kisses I mentioned earlier). Plus, he and I invented a game where he had to be quiet for five minutes while watching the timer count down on my phone… It was brilliant. For some reason he loved it and kept wanting to play for longer and longer — he once went a full 29 minutes without speaking out loud.

I think that's a "hurry up" look.
I think that’s a “hurry up” look.

Travel with a four-year-old is an adventure, and I learned a lot from Henry during our trip.

Tiredness is normal

We often try to fit too much into a day, but with a small person around it’s important not to take on too much. At the end of a long day Henry often got a bit grumpy and once wailed “my body is making me cry!” I understand that feeling! It’s normal to be tired after a travel day.

Henry admiring Bragança castle.
Henry admiring Braganza castle.

The simple joy of balloons and rowboats

I loved the way Henry got excited about things, he was ecstatic when we agreed to go rowing in Retiro Park and the balloon Anna bought him afterwards sent him into paroxysms of happiness. He was literally jumping for joy. I’d love to feel such extreme happiness (though I’d pass on the opposite emotion), but I think it’s possible to look for opportunities to be happy too: the small things in life often are the best. Plus, that balloon lasted for a good three weeks; it’s still half-floating in the corner of the lounge.

A row on the lake in Retiro was non-negotiable.
A row on the lake in Retiro was non-negotiable.

Learning is everywhere

Henry suddenly became interested in learning the alphabet during his trip, so Anna was encouraging him to think about what letter certain things start with. We also practiced numbers a fair bit: Anna always makes him press the buttons in the elevator, for example.

We also touched on more advanced topics, such as religion. While visiting Madrid cathedral, Henry spotted a statue of Peter and wanted to know all about him. He’d recently seen a documentary about the life of Jesus and was able to connect what I said about Peter with what he’d seen on TV — I was very impressed. He didn’t always want to learn new things or try new food, but he certainly learnt a lot during his visit — including a few words of Spanish!

Obviously it depends on the kid, but we found that travelling with a four-year-old to be mostly fun, occasionally frustrating, but always surprising – – I think we learned more than Henry did.

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Your thoughts on "Travel with a four-year-old"

  • Great information and very useful blog .

    on June 23, 2015 at 12:33 am Reply
  • Thanks for the great info and the helpful article. Good luck with your next trips.

    on June 24, 2015 at 12:23 am Reply
  • Great post you are a beautiful family

    on July 13, 2015 at 9:43 pm Reply
  • Hi, I really enjoyed reading your post. I especially thought the quiet countdown game was a great invention. Maybe with a bit more practice this would work on adults as well. It sounds like you guys had a wonderful time and by the great pictures, looks like you visited some beautiful places as well. Thank you for sharing!

    on July 29, 2015 at 11:20 pm Reply
    • Hi Mahée, We couldn't believe the quiet countdown game worked, and he even suggested it himself -- a total win! I like the idea of using it for adults too. Thanks for your comment. Linda

      on July 30, 2015 at 5:20 am Reply

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