We really like traveling with our kids. It isn’t because we have tantrum free children or because ours can miraculously take naps anywhere. (No and no.) At this point we don’t even do it for them since they probably won’t even remember the trips we’ve gone on this last year. And even if they did, I don’t think that traveling is the answer to make your kids cultured. We take our kids with us when we travel for more practical reasons: Mostly because it’s too hard to find good and affordable babysitters and we miss them when we are away from them too long. Of course we love traveling without kids too. We’ve gone on a long vacation every year since we’ve had kids. (Lest you think this is a case of we-don’t-dare-to-leave-our-kids.) The main thing to enjoying a trip with children is to adjust your expectations. We no longer try to pack a million activities into one day. Our trips our slower and involve more trips to the parks. Here are my ten tips to having an adult focused trip, but with young kids in tow.
1. Don’t Bring More Stuff than you Can Carry
Make sure everything you are bringing can be strapped to your back or lugged in a suitcase and that includes leaving a hand free for your kid. It’s a fine line between being a minimalist and being prepared for emergencies. I try to find a happy medium. For example, both our kids are still small enough they like sitting in a stroller but we only bring one (instead of a double which is bulky and hard to navigate in cities) and then if both kids are tired at the same time we take turns carrying the second. Baby cribs are heavy. Try to borrow them whereever you are traveling. If for some reason we have to bring more than we can carry we check bags and take taxis from point to point.
2. Stick to One Hotel
Build your trip around as few hotels as possible since traveling is usually the most stressful part of the trip. Before kids we would try to change hotels and move areas every few nights so we could see more. Now that we have kids we choose one city and one hotel and stick to it. It’s nice to give them a little routine in the midst of the chaos and it’s nice for us to know exactly how far away we are from our hotel if anyone has a breakdown.
3. Time to Splurge on the Room with a View
We spend way more time in our hotel room when we travel with kids. A cheap hostel used to work great for us to crash in but now at least one of us ends up hanging out during naptimes and in the evenings after bedtimes. So splurge a little here. For us things like wifi are a must and two rooms becomes pretty important if you want to hang out and do stuff after 8pm without waking anyone up. For this reason we often rent apartments since you get more space for your money.
4. There is Going to be Down Time
Naps and early bedtimes are a bummer but use that time to your advantage. Paul and I take turns exploring the city after hours and then bring back presents and treats for each other. We’ll also go check out stuff that the other person isn’t as excited to see. For example: Paul heads to art galleries and I go to party stores. One night when we were in Venice we watched a documentary about how the Venice canals were built, which was ironic that we were stuck in a hotel room instead of actually walking around outside but it was sort of fun (and the movie was good!) We also can get caught up on work and emails so we aren’t overwhelmed when we get back.
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5. Eat at Nice Restaurants but Go Early
If I walk up to a restaurant I want to try but it looks too fancy for kids I’ll go in first and ask the hostess about availability and if it is ok to bring kids. I always show up near the time they open and usually they are happy for the early business. If there are other people there I ask to be given a table out of the way. I know I’ll have a more enjoyable time if I don’t have to worry about my kids interrupting another table’s dinner.
6. Museums and Monuments are Kid Friendly
Most museums are kid proofed (glass in front of the low hanging art, etc) so the kids can run around within reason. I also found monuments like the Vatican or old chateaus to be very kid friendly. There is not much for them to break and enough interesting things to keep their attention. Museums are also the first place we head when the weather turns bad. If the kids are not very interested then we take turns sitting with them watching a movie on the ipad so the other parent can enjoy the museum. Another tip someone gave me is to stop in the gift store first to buy some postcards and then try to find the pieces of artwork through the museum.
7. Mix in Stuff They Like
They are on vacation too after all. We usually do two adult activities and then do one kid specific activity like a park or a toy store. Some activities fit into both categories like stopping for ice cream or going on a Gondola ride. The important thing is to make everything sound exciting. We act equally excited about the MOMA and going for a ride on the Carousel and sometimes they don’t notice the difference.
8. When all Else Fails take a Taxi
We try to take public transportation because it is cheaper and because it helps you get to know a city better. But know when to throw money at the problem to make it go away. If you just spent 90 minutes getting to an isolated part of town to eat at a special restaurant only to find it closed. Everyone is grumpy and hungry and your kids are about to have a meltdown. Take a cab. I always feel a little bit guilty for taking cabs but on trips I expect it about once a day.
9. Mess with Their Schedules (a little)
Everyone is happier when their sleeping is on a set schedule but one night in Rome and we decided to push them a little and stay out late. The kids got a second wind and some of my favorite memories from that trip are strolling around Rome at night with them.
10. Date Nights
We always try to get a babysitter at least a couple nights. Hotels or Apartment rentals can usually recommend trusted sitters. We’ve had really good experiences when we’ve done this.
I’d love more tips if you have them!