What I really want to share here today are some reflections on, and tips for, traveling as a family with a small toddler child and/or infant. Granted, I am no expert. But, what I do know is that while yes, it is work, and yes, it is different than it was before the little tag – alongs arrived, travel with kids is worth it. Is it for everyone? I mean, I think so. But, I know people who do not. If exploring the globe is something you loved to do before you had children, what better gift to give your child, than to show them our awesome great big world? What better gift to give the world, than a little person who grows up to love and respect our Earth and its people? And what better gift to give yourself than to maintain your sense of identity as an adventuresome go-getter?! Don’t give up. Adapt and overcome! With that said, I know its not easy. Here are a few things that we’ve found can make everyone’s travel experience the absolute best it can be.
- Down-time is important. Wow, way to start out strong, there “go-getter”. This may sound super lame, but don’t be tempted to see and do it all. I have no problem being out all day. Running around from dawn ’til dusk can be exhausting for grown ups though, let alone a child and everyone knows an exhausted toddler is the opposite of a fun time. Enjoy a packed itinerary, but schedule down time. What works for us, is to hit the ground running early in the morning. One perk of getting out the door early is that we tend to beat the crowds. We like to seek out a great spot for breakfast, then choose a few activities we can enjoy around a somewhat looser version of our child’s normal schedule throughout the day. Right now, this means getting up, doing the breakfast thing, fitting in an outing or activity and then being back to our accommodations (or at least in the car or stroller) for quiet nap time after lunch. We all refresh with a little chill time and then resume later afternoon/evening plans. If you don’t want to go all the way “home”, then enjoy a stroll through a park or a walk around a neighborhood while your little one has stroller time. You know your kid. If yours is like ours and starts showing signs of being overwhelmed, or overtired, give them a few hours to do their thing without pressure to get out and do. Let them play with cars on the floor, or watch their favorite movie in the afternoon while you catch up on reading. Or bring back a sample of local snacks and beverages and create your own “at home” tasting. You can still experience the local culture, and your child can recharge.
- Location, Location, Accomodation. My favorite kind of place to book right now, is one that adds to the experience. Since, as a mom, I am constantly tuned in to how much time we have left until nap or bedtime, this means somewhere centrally located. This way we’re not spending a ton of time getting back and forth. I also look for a place where the grown ups can enjoy an amazing view, the outdoors, or easily go check out the neighborhood on their own, while the little one sleeps. Its extra helpful if you can have a separate bedroom- a suite, or apartment type place- so you can put the child down and still have time to yourselves. Although, yes, we have also sat in a dark in the hotel room, silently sipping our beer/wine, suppressing laughter, waiting for the tiny head to stop popping up out of the pack-n-play and finally go to sleep. Airbnb is really, really great for finding a place for your family to comfortably stay. They even have specific listings of 5-star rated homes for families. Its nice if you don’t have to lug around a portacrib while you travel, and many hotels and Airbnbs do provide these. Check ahead of time!
- Seek out local playgrounds. This is secretly one of my favorite parenting perks and all-around travel tips. If you want to get to know a place, look for the neighborhood playground. They are tucked in everywhere, sometimes in surprising locations, sometimes in more obvious places like a public park. Usually, it gets you off the beaten path and immerses you in the local scene. One of my all-time favorites was in Beacon Hill Boston, down a cobblestoned, row house lined, residential street. It was built on that nice, squishy, rubber sidewalk material and covered with every child sized riding car, train, bike, truck, etc, on the market. There were swings and slides, but at the time we had a one-year old who really couldn’t care less about swings and slides, but cared A LOT about riding play cars. Jackpot. Our kiddo was in heaven and everyone knows, happy kid, happy life. Additional perk, if you strike up a conversation with local parents they can key you in on a great place to grab lunch.
- Choose activities everyone will enjoy. Consider everyone’s interests when creating your itinerary. It doesn’t always have to be about the kid(s). And it shouldn’t! This is your trip too. Check out the playground, but balance that out with hitting up the brewery (or whatever you’re in to) down the block. While in Seattle, we spent an early morning wandering Pike Place Market, then visited the Seattle Aquarium, which was a particular highlight for our toddler. Post nap time in the afternoon we went to Golden Gardens Park. We soaked up sun and views of the Sound, splashed in the water, dug in the sand, and played on the slides. Afterward we enjoyed happy hour at a brewery my husband wanted to check out. Then got takeout and did a picnic at Kerry Park with its iconic Seattle views at sunset. I guess what I’m trying to say is, balance. It goes a long way to make everyone’s experience memorable and enjoyable.
- Pack strategically. I can’t give packing advice. I’m terrible at it. I like to be prepared for every possible scenario. But I’m going to tell you that you will not regret packing light. Especially if you are going to be on the move, visiting several locations. I like to keep as many hands free as possible when we travel. Kids tend to require the use of all of your hands, as well as ones you do not possess. I recently discovered (and now have an obsession with) packing cubes. I got mine on Amazon. I also saw some at Target the other day. My baby, my toddler and I shared a suitcase on our trip to the Dominican, and my husband and I recently shared a duffel bag while away for a weekend. Thanks to packing cubes, you too, can successfully share a suitcase with your loved one and return from your trip with your relationship intact. They hold an incredible amount of stuff and keep it all smooshed down neatly and nicely. When you get to your location, all you have to do is remove the cubes and voila, each person has their own portable dresser. I know it might sound OCD, but its really, really my favorite thing to keep organized while on the go.
So there you go. Some may read this and say, “duh”. Some may read this and think we sound like really boring travelers. Down time? What? But the learning curve is high when it comes to parenting, so if there’s anyone who does read this and finds something helpful, then mission accomplished. What are some of your best practices when it comes to traveling with kids? I’d love to hear from you!
***when traveling, especially foreign travel, bring a small first aid kit which at least includes the following: bandaids and triple antibiotic ointment, a thermometer, infant/child tylenol, children’s benadryl, adult ibuprofen or tylenol and benadryl. This saved us when we all came down sick with the flu in the Dominican. Sincerely, Emma RN, BSN***