Before we had our kids, we travelled a lot. When we had one kid we travelled a fair bit. And when we had two kids, I became terrified.
At the time, we lived in the far north and I had to take flights every 6-8 weeks, often on my own, with a baby and a toddler, and it was SO stressful at first.
Initially I would only do short flights of max 3hrs, but slowly but surely I built up my confidence.
My kids are pros at the airport now. They go through security faster and more efficiently than a lot of adults do!
We are still learning and evolving but we have certainly gained a lot of parental-travel experience over the past 5 years.
So I thought I'd share my tips for traveling with young kids with you. I'm not claiming to be an expert here, and obviously every family is different, with different numbers, dynamics, needs and budgets.
But this is how we like to travel, and what works well for our family...
1. Stay in an apartment, not a hotel.
This is hands down the most important "tip", in my opinion. It's usually way cheaper than a hotel, and you get separate bedrooms, a common living space, and most importantly a fully-equipped kitchen.
Being able to make meals at home is such a stress reliever. I love going to restaurants, but I hate eating out 3 times a day for a full week.
We usually eat our breakfasts at home and lunches/dinners in restaurants. But I love having the option of a healthy home-cooked meal if we want it.
We usually book our rentals with Airbnb or VRBO. Sometimes we hit the jackpot and rent a place from a family with kids - which means it's stocked with toys and books and kiddie cutlery.
|Enjoying a lazy morning in our rental apartment|
2. You can still go to nice restaurants
Good food is really important to me. And trying out great local restaurants is a major part of the whole travel experience for me. The problem is that a lot of the restaurants that I want to try aren't exactly "family-style" restaurants with kids menus and crayons, if you know what I mean.
We get around this in a few ways.... First, we go early - like at 5:30pm or 6pm. The restaurants aren't usually busy, the waiters are less stressed, our kids are generally in better moods, and we don't have to wait long to get our food. Second, we don't stress about the kids eating a full "balanced" meal. The fact that I even get to go to a "fancy" restaurant with my young kids is already a huge success. I pick my battles. Who cares if they eat 3 slices of bread - it keeps them quiet and happy and I get to enjoy my wine ;)
I find that most restaurants are extremely accommodating. They can usually modify a dish and omit "kid-offensive" things from the plate if you ask them to (get that fresh green herb sprig out of my sight!). And if all else fails, and there's nothing remotely child-friendly on the menu, we ask the chef to serve up a bowl of plain buttered noodles. We've never been denied, and the boys think it's the best restaurant ever!
|raw salmon? - why not!|
Oh and I almost forgot - very important - make sure your kids are hungry! Not hungry to the point of being hangry, of course, because that could backfire... but they should be ready to eat. I find that kids are much more willing to try new foods when they have a good appetite. So if we have a 5:30pm dinner reservation, we don't let the kids snack in the afternoon (except for maybe an apple).
|When I clearly pushed it too far,|
and they can't make it through dinner.
3. Don't set your expectations too high.
You probably won't be able to see and do everything you would if you didn't have your kids with you.
This has taken me a while to accept. I'm the kind of person who wants to see everything! But loss of routine can be hard for kids, and too many structured adult-centred activities is asking a lot of them. When I try to pack in too much site-seeing, I usually pay for
it in bad moods and tantrums.
So as we become more seasoned parental-travellers we have
learned to take a more laid-back approach... We usually plan one daily outing/event in the morning and then schedule some down-time in the afternoon (an outdoor kids park is ideal, weather permitting, or even just some free play time at home). If the kids
are up for it emotionally/mentally we will add another outing spontaneously later on in the day.
4. Keep your basic routine from home
So we try to keep somewhat of a consistent wake-time, mealtime and bedtime schedule, to what they are used to at home.
This isn't always possible. We completely caved on this one when we were in Disney World, and we let the boys stay up until 10pm to watch the fireworks (a few days in a row!)... and well, we were all very exhausted and a little cranky. Sometimes it's worth it though.
Keeping a routine can be especially challenging with time-zone changes, but I find that it only takes around 1-2 days to adjust.
We've tried both methods of forcing them to stay awake until bedtime (local time) on the day of arrival, as well as just letting them sleep whenever they're tired. In my opinion, there's no big difference, and there are no real tricks here - you just have to surrender to it ;)
Despite the challenges, and occasional extra late night, we really strive for consistency with their natural rhythms as much as possible. I think it makes for happier children.
5. If you can, travel with others!
Some of our best trips have been when we rented a shared house with friends and their children. We put the kids to bed early and then enjoy some lavish late night cooking and cocktails with our friends.
Or if you have willing parents/in-laws, see if they want to come along. We love traveling with the grandparents.. and the kids love it too (Plus: babysitters!)
6. A final note on Airplane Travel
This is more of an issue with really young children. If your little one is going to sit on your lap for the flight, I highly recommend a baby carrier to free up your arms while your baby naps. This saved me so many times when traveling alone with an infant and toddler.
And if your child is used to watching videos, or is old enough to have a video sustain his attention, this is all I have to say:
|easiest flight ever!|
If you have any tips, I'd love to hear them in the comments below!