Before having kids, I was very well-traveled. I went on a choir tour to Europe in college, lived abroad twice, traveled to more than 25 countries and worked for an educational travel company. Travel is important to my husband and me. So, naturally, when I discovered I was pregnant with my first child while living in Paris…after thinking ” hooray!”… I wondered how I would still travel. We fully intended to travel with our kids and see the world. In my mind, it was easy.
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I realized having a baby is hard. They come with a lot of baggage – literally – like diapers, food, lots of clothes, strollers, pack n' plays, pacifiers, lovies, toys, etc. And, they need to nap and eat on schedule.
Then they get older and need to move a lot. And be entertained. They still need snacks and a bedtime routine.
It seems overwhelming to travel with a baby, let alone a squirmy toddler or school-aged child. It definitely is not as easy as traveling alone. But, it is completely doable, with a bit of planning, organization, and tips from those of us who have done it a time or twenty! And most of all it's a journey, one well worth taking over and over again.
To be completely honest, the first trip I took with my three-month-old son was out of necessity. My sister was getting married in Florida. Luckily, it was in Orlando where my family and Mickey Mouse lives, so it was a good test run to see if we could do this. We were able to stay in my parent's house and visit Disney – where nobody is judging a crying baby – so it was a win-win. But, it didn't take long before we realized we could travel with kids and why we should.
We continued traveling with our son several times per year to family-friendly destinations, and a whole new world opened up to us. When my son was 3.5, our twins were born, and this is where it became…interesting. We went from being a compact family of three – who can easily fit into a hotel room and sit in the same aisle on a flight – to the odd number of five. The world is not built for odd numbers. Travel became trickier, but still very doable.
When our kids were ages 4, 1 and 1, we moved to London. Living in another country with three kids under the age of five taught us A LOT about traveling with kids, especially in Europe. We learned how to meet our kids' needs while still being able to enjoy a family vacation.
Though it can have challenges at times, whether you travel with kids for a reason like a wedding or travel for leisure, it is so worth doing. Not only do you get to see the world through your kids' eyes, but you have to go at their pace. And this means you can take time to experience, rather than just do.
Sure, you may go to a museum or a couple of key tourist attractions. But, kids can't go at the pace of adults. When they need a break, you go to a playground. For breakfast and snacks for the room, you go to the grocery store. If they are hungry, you go to a family-friendly restaurant. Do you know who goes to playgrounds, grocery stores, and family-friendly restaurants? Locals. By going where the locals go, you get to experience a location and get a real feel for its culture.
Kids are just as happy kicking a soccer ball around in a park with a local child as they are visiting a museum. In fact, they often would rather the park. One of the most special experiences I witnessed was my 3-year-old son playing with local French children with whom he couldn't communicate. But, they all understood the language of play.
For breakfast and snack foods for the room, we stop at the grocery store or a local market. It is always an adventure to see what foods are popular in another place, especially the kid snacks and sweets.
Family-friendly meals are found at family-friendly restaurants. This is another opportunity to enjoy a standard local meal and taste the flavors specific to a region.
Local toy shops are also exciting. It is a great way to see what local children enjoy, and a cool toy is a wonderful souvenir to bring back home.
Things go wrong when you travel – especially when you travel a lot. It's just the odds. Sometimes people in your party forget their suitcase (ahem, not saying it was me, but saying it could happen.) Or you forget the stroller. Or you get onboard a plane with a toddler and discover your flight is delayed and will need an unexpected layover. The six-hour flight is now a 10-hour flight. These things happen, but you plan for the worst, hope for the best, and work to solve problems when they arise.
They meet people with different experiences and from places different than them. They learn to appreciate the similarities and differences of all people, but that we are all people just the same. Hopefully, they may learn about different cultures or words in other languages. It inspires them to be curious and learn more about the world.
The things my kids have learned while traveling sticks with them, and it helps their learning. They make associations between what they have seen while traveling and what they are learning in school. It contributes to their overall development.
When kids travel, they are out of their comfort zone. Places look and smell different. The food tastes different. They are hearing different languages. Trying new things and taking risks are great skills for kids to learn.
There are places – many of them – that are made for families. Not just in the United States, but in the Caribbean, in Europe, on cruise ships, and other parts of the world we have yet to visit. They make it easier for you to travel, spend time together as a family, and open your kids' eyes to the world.
Many of these places are resorts like Disney or Beaches Resorts. They are a dream for parents, as they cater to infants on up to teens. Childcare is often available so parents can get a break too. Kids' clubs, organized activities, pools and board games are just a few of the amenities with families in mind.
There are also many ski resorts designed for families. Some have activities year round. You can enroll kids as young as toddlers in ski lessons in the winter. Often there is a childcare center for babies so parents can ski. In the summer you can enjoy hiking and other mountain experiences.
All destinations can be family-friendly if you find the right accommodations and kid-friendly activities. Finding hotels with kitchenettes and laundry or using a home rental service can provide the comforts of home to make your stay easier. You can often find kid-friendly experiences and family tour companies to experience a location with everyone in mind.
Decide on your location. Are you looking for a relaxing, beach vacation? Do you prefer an all-inclusive family resort? Are you looking to visit another state or country? Do you want an active vacation like Disney or tours and experiences? Identify where you want to stay and book it.
Make sure it can accommodate your family needs for sleeping, meals, and space. If you are staying for an extended time, check into the laundry situation as this will impact your packing. Also check if they have pack n' plays or high chairs, so you don't have to bring your own.
Whether it is the first time traveling with kids or the 100th, you are taking kids out of their day-to-day routine. They will be off schedule and out of sorts. Kids are seeing, smelling, hearing, and tasting different things. They may be excited about their adventure. Sometimes, they find trash cans more exciting than the rides at Disney (that was me at age 3!). It is okay. Remember, this entire experience door to door is the journey – your destination is just one part of it.
When you plan out your days, remember kids can't go at the adult pace. They may need downtime, playground time or a good snack. Plan for this, but also leave room for flexibility. Sometimes an hour refresh in the hotel room is enough for everyone to rally again.
Especially for younger kids, meals, naps, and bedtime should be kept as close to the original time as possible. If you are traveling to a different time zone, it may take a couple of days to get on a schedule. The routine helps kids feel comfortable and acclimate sooner rather than later. But don't stress if it isn't perfect. I spent many an afternoon walking my kids every which direction in the stroller to get them to nap. It wasn't ideal but at least it was something.
If you have laundry at your hotel (free laundry), you don't need to pack as much. I always pack for 4-5 days when we have a machine in the unit. Otherwise, I pack to get me through the whole vacation. For young kids, if you can, ship ahead of time diapers, formula or jarred food. You can also bring enough to get you through the first day and then plan to find a grocery store to get the rest you need for the trip. This saves suitcase space.
Be sure to bring items in kids' carry-ons to keep them well fed, hydrated, and entertained. Older children can help pack and carry their own carry-ons. Check out my favorite items for kids' carry-ons.
Be sure to bring all essential eyewear, medicines, a thermometer, chargers and converters, and essential electronics in your CARRY-ON. If you are traveling abroad, including the Caribbean, Mexico, or Canada, remember passports for you and all of the kids. If the important items are in your carry-on, you can always go out and purchase the rest if you forget something.
Bring more snacks than you need and water and keep them accessible. In the case of babies, bring extra diapers and formula or food in the diaper bag.
I pack for the possibility that if I am stuck somewhere for an extended period, be it in the airport, on a plane or in traffic, my kids will be well fed. We also bring single-serving cereal to the airport in the morning, along with paper bowls and disposable spoons. When we get through security, I just have to get milk. This way, my kids can eat a good breakfast before boarding the plane. Fed kids are happy kids.
This depends on where you are going. We always traveled with an umbrella stroller as soon as our son was big enough, and the double umbrella for our twins. When flying, you typically need to leave the stroller on the jetway. It is best to use a stroller that you can easily manage yourself and fold and unfold quickly. The lighter the stroller, the easier it is to manage.
I always book the earliest flight I can. Earlier flights are less likely to experience delays, and often my kids sleep from getting up early. When flying with a baby, the ascending and descending of the plane can hurt their ears. We gave our son a bottle or a pacifier during takeoff and landing because it helped his ears.
I always gave our toddlers some movement time in the airport before boarding the plane. This can help their squirminess. Distracting with toys or a video, coloring, stickers, and favorite books can keep them busy for a while. I would also bring a baby carrier and bounce them in the back of the plane if they need to settle.
Always visit the bathroom with kids before boarding. For babies, refresh their diaper. If the plane is bumpy, you may not be able to get up to use the restroom. You also don't know if there is a changing table in the plane bathroom.
Take advantage of the early boarding opportunity if offered and get on early. Most people are usually kind to young families. Keep that good-will going by preventing your little one from kicking the seat in front of them, turning around and staring at the person behind you, smacking people on the head in front of you, or going up and down the aisle excessively (a little bit is okay.)
Our general rule of thumb is we eat out a few meals at restaurants and plan to make other meals in our room. We usually stop at a grocery store and get breakfast and lunch foods, snacks and one or two easy dinners. Some resorts include breakfast, in which case we do that. We often pack sandwiches to bring with us for the day. Kids are already adjusting to being out of their comfort zone when traveling. Having simple meals or sandwiches is easier and cost effective.
If you do go to a restaurant, make reservations or plan to go early. And check that they have a kids' menu, so you know they are family-friendly.
That all depends. Yes, it can be. But there are many ways to save money.
The following resources are helpful in finding out what you may need:
Traveling with kids can be a challenge. It can be imperfect. And, it can be wonderful. It is a family experience that bonds you together and creates special memories. Enjoy the journey!
What are your best tips for traveling with kids? Do you have a question about traveling with kids? Comment below!
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