The hot topic: how to travel with young kids. Even the most laid back of folks can dread it. A lot of friends that I’ve talked to with young kids are like “ugh, my kids are so annoying they would ruin the trip, why should I take them anywhere?” Ok fair enough, kids can be super annoying. But this argument to me is a bit like being really hungry and wanting a filet mignon, but the restaurant only has a hamburger. Do you say, “never mind, I’ll go without,” or do you re-orient yourself and take the hamburger even though it’s not what you really wanted. In other words, is your trip going to be like it was in the glory days when you and your spouse could wander through a beautiful foreign city all day, stopping for a bottle of wine and a leisurely two hour lunch while you stared into each other’s eyes? Ha! No way. But if you re-adjust your goals and expectations for a trip, travel with kids can be really amazing too, just in a different way. Will they be super annoying? You bet. But aren’t they super annoying at home too? It’s not like you can escape this. I find that sometimes my kids are better behaved on a trip because they are excited and stimulated by all the new things. And if not, there’s always ice cream!
Ok so here are my top tips for traveling with kids (although you can find many more on all sorts of blogs out there on the interwebs).
1) Flights. Yes, this is the part most of us dread. Three words: electronics, electronics, electronics. Now is not the time to enforce “screen time” regulations. If they want to play Minecraft for 6 hours straight on the plane, I say go for it! I try to bring as many electronic gadgetry as I can and that usually helps.
My other tip has to do with seating. If you are 2 adults and 2 kids, sometimes it helps to have a 3 and 1 seating arrangement. So your partner sits with both kids and you get to sit by yourself (yay!). Then you switch so that you each get a chance to rest and recuperate from the annoyance. I also try to sit near the bathroom, which I know is smelly, but the little ones like to get up and use it frequently which is super annoying but at least if you are right by it it will be easier to go back and forth a hundred times.
2) Lodging. Always try to get a suite or Airbnb type apartment dwelling. I shop around to see which is the better deal, but having separate rooms and a kitchen is so helpful when traveling with kids. My kids go to bed super early and wake up super early, so we like to be able to put them to bed in one room and then we can hang out in another. And when they get up at the crack of dawn they can watch TV while we get a little more sleep.
Having a kitchen so that you can buy some familiar foods and cook at home sometimes is a great thing for traveling with kids. If the kids are exhausted from sightseeing all day and you cannot fathom taking them to a restaurant, give those little gremlins some chicken nuggets and put them to bed early while you send your spouse out for take-out and a bottle of wine to enjoy once they’re asleep.
Staying somewhere with a pool is always a good idea. My kids perk up whenever they can go swimming.
3) Sight-seeing. Have a plan. Look up all the kid friendly things to do ahead of time and make an itinerary. Wandering around aimlessly is not going to work well with most kids. Also don’t feel like you have to stick only to children’s museums and zoos. Most museums and other exhibits have some kind of children’s activity, so keep an eye out for those.
Also, if you have memberships to any of your local zoos or science centers, most of them have reciprocal memberships with places all over the world, so make sure you bring your membership cards with you and look at the list of reciprocals (also zoos often have aquariums as reciprocals). One year we had a family membership to our local science center and even though ours is pretty unimpressive, that year we got free admission to about 4 other science centers around the country – totally worth it!
Take breaks. It’s a good idea to make a morning plan and an afternoon/evening plan and take a break in between. If you can get back to your lodging to rest, watch TV, or go for a swim, you will all be better able to go back out for the afternoon and evening.
4) Food. Don’t be afraid to take your kids to cafes, bars, and restaurants. It seems like a uniquely American idea that we should only take our kids to places like Applebees. When you travel to most places you see that people bring their kids everywhere. So if you want to stop and get a cocktail at a local cafe, just find one that has hot chocolate or some kind of treat for the kids and enjoy! Also bring some kind of small activity or game for them in case they get bored.
5) Babysitting. Once in a while, if you really put your mind to it, you can find a trustworthy babysitter to use where you are traveling. Think really hard about where you are going and which of your friends might live there, used to live there, or have friends and family there. Scan your Facebook friends list to jog your memory. Reach out to them and see if they have someone they recommend for babysitting. I realize this might be controversial but you can always connect to that person ahead of time (do a Skype interview or ask for references if you are really nervous), set something up and enjoy your night out! Don’t forget to pay for your babysitter’s transportation to and from your lodging.
I think it boils down to have a plan but be flexible! Give your kids a little more leeway and expect that they will be whiny and annoying sometimes. We all get anxious and frustrated when traveling. Your kids are just more vocal about it. Remember that when they are whiny they probably need a snack or a break, and you might too.