My husband and I were travelers before we started our family. After we had children, we foolishly thought that we could just pack our kids along with our toothbrushes and take them along for the ride.
Needless to say, our first trip as a family didn’t go so smoothly.
While the trip wasn’t the carefree and relaxing vacation we were used to before kids, instead of locking up our passports until our children are eighteen years old, we used the lessons learned from our trip and have continued traveling as a family. Seven years later, after another addition to our family and an autism diagnosis, we still travel as much as our schedules and wallets allow.
Along the way, we have learned many travel trips for traveling with children.
While I will be the first to admit that traveling with small children isn’t always sunshine and roses, I am proud that my children’s childhood is filled with adventures, history, and culture. Here are my top ten travel tips for traveling with kids.
Travel Tip #1
Do your research. When you are traveling, you only have a certain amount of time and money to spend in each location you visit. Instead of wasting your vacation time Googling what to do, research what you would like to see ahead of time. Recently, I have found YouTube to be very helpful when researching a trip. What I love most about YouTube when it comes to travel, is you can see what the place looks like and judge if it would be a good fit for your family. When we travel, we have a plan for each day. Currently, we are planning a trip to England, and this is the brief daily overview of our trip (leaving out the many pages of notes that accompany it):
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3||Day 4||Day 5|
|Flight||Emirates Cable Car||Tower of London||London Zoo||St. Paul’s Cathedral|
|Day 6||Day 7||Day 8||Day 9|
|Southwark Park||Boat Cruise||Transport Museum||Flight|
Travel Tip #2
Instead of renting a hotel room, try Airbnb, HomeAway, or FlipKey. Currently, we have only had experiences using Airbnb. Instead of renting a hotel room where you are all crammed on top of each other, an Airbnb rental is typically an apartment or house. The last apartment we rented had three separate bedrooms! It was so awesome having the kids sleeping in their own space. Not only does an Airbnb typically have more space than a hotel room, the apartments often have kitchens and washing machines. As an added bonus, Airbnb is usually cheaper than a hotel room. One word of caution, however, make sure that you know how to get back into your apartment before leaving it. On our last trip, we didn’t realize that the key that was left for us was to get into the apartment building and not into the apartment. Instead of a key, our apartment door was controlled by an electronic code, which we didn’t have. We were able to contact our host after two long hours of uncertainty, however, learn from our mistake and make sure you know how to get in and out of the apartment before leaving it.
Travel Tip #3
Don’t skimp on travel from the airport to the place where you are staying. Sure, when we took our recent trip to Madrid, we could have taken the subway to our apartment for 10€, however, this leg of our journey included us lugging two kids and three bags all across Spain after an overnight flight, so no thank you, subway. Instead, after picking up our bags from checked luggage, we left the airport and happily hopped into a cab. Sure, it cost us 30€ instead of 10€ but it was money well spent! In addition to spending a little bit extra after a long flight, always know how to get to the place that you are staying before getting off the plane. The last thing you want is to be struggling to figure out travel arrangements from the airport with cranky, exhausted kids in tow.
Travel Tip #4
Netflix! Netflix has certain movies that you can download and watch offline. Before every trip, we download one or two movies onto our iPad so our children can watch them when on the plane. On our last trip, the apartment we rented had a smart T.V. which allowed us to log into our Netflix account so our kids could watch their favorite shows during downtime.
Travel Tip #5
Buy a tourist pass. Oftentimes the city that you are traveling to will offer a tourist pass or card. New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Orlando, Paris, Ireland, England, Rome and even Singapore all offer some version of a tourist pass. The passes work by charging one fee up front which entitles you to admission to a variety of local tourist destinations. As an added perk, pass members are often given fast track entry to attractions as well. For our upcoming London trip, we purchased the London Pass. We know that we might not break even on the cost of the pass than if we paid for each admission individually, but having a child who doesn’t do well waiting in lines, it is worth the extra money to ensure as smooth of an outing as possible. My husband and I call this conserving kid energy.
Travel Tip #6
Do something educational. On our recent trip to Spain, we took our kids, ages seven and three, to the Museo del Prado. My husband wanted to see the Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch, The Cardinal by Raphael, and The Executions by Francisco Goya thanks to his fond memories from high school European History class. We learned by doing research (yes, I said research again) that the Prado is free from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m Tuesday to Sunday. While I was hesitant to add this to our trip, I am so happy that we did. Both of our kids enjoyed walking through the museum pointing out pictures of babies (the three-year-old) and showing us his favorite pieces of artwork (the seven-year-old.) While we didn’t stay long, knowing that it was free allowed us to leave without feeling like we needed to stay until we got our money’s worth.
Travel Tip #7
Pack lollypops for the plane. After many trips, I have learned about the power of a well-timed lollypop, waiting for the marshallers to guide the plane into the gate after an eight-hour flight and your toddler is completely losing it, typically a lollypop will save the day.
Travel Tip #8
All airlines are not created equal. When it comes to airline tickets, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Sure, Kayak showed you a super cheap flight from Boston to Florida, however, it is only showing you the cost of the flight itself. Some airlines offer what they call “debundling” which means that you will have to pay a fee for anything on top of the ticket. For example, one airline charges anywhere from $35.00 to $50.00 for every carry on bag. Want to check a bag to avoid fees that will cost you anywhere from $45.00 to $100.00 bucks? Oh wait, you want to sit with your family, well that will cost anywhere from $1.00 to $50.00 as well. As you can see, the ticket that you thought would only cost you $79.00 buckaroos can quickly cost you an arm and a leg!
Travel Tip # 9
Have a good attitude. Kids are going to be kids wherever they are, however, your attitude can make or break the vacation. I have experienced a few flights abroad and, with little sleep, your body wakes up feeling funny. Yes, after our flight from Boston to Madrid I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep for hours instead of listening to my children whine while waiting in line to clear customs. I knew how they felt, however, and I met them where they were at. While traveling, always make sure to give your kiddos extra love and snuggles during the hard travel moments.
Travel Tip #10
Be flexible. Ya, ya, I just told you over and over again that you should research as much as possible, however, the real magic happens during the unplanned moments. On our last trip, we happened to stumble upon a square with a small fenced in playground and a couple of restaurants. We cozied up to an outside table and watched our kids play with the locals while we happily sipped Sangria and ate a delicious meal. This was by far my favorite memory of our trip, and if we were so focused on our daily plans, it never would have happened!