Jan 31

10 Tips for Traveling with Young Kids

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.

Click through to keep reading

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.

In case you missed it here is my post on traveling with kids on airplanes
And find my 6 favorite travel tips here.

I’d love more tips if you have them!

77 Comments

  • Chelsea says:

    First of all your family is gorgeous. Secondly, I am bookmarking this right now so that I can have this list when I have a family. xo

  • JILL says:

    This is so helpful, and inspiring. I think having kids can be viewed as a complete travel-stopper but you show it can be done, even when they are young. Your photos are so gorgeous too. Are their backpacks the mini-size Kankens? Also, random question, what is the font you use to label your photos? It’s perfect. THANKS!

  • Cecilia says:

    I love these tips, especially how you take turns to enjoy the nights in whatever city you’re in. And I also try to keep a 1:1 kid:parent-oriented activity, just to keep everybody happy. We have gone on several trips with our daughter, but I think this summer we will go on our first trip that doesn’t involve visiting friends or family. I can’t wait!

  • Love all of these. Especially the part about mixing in stuff that they like. It makes everyone much happier.

  • Kirsteen says:

    Fantastic tips! On our last holiday I told our eldest boy (4 at the time) that we were making a special holiday book and every night when our littlest one went to bed, me and Jamie would fill some pages in the blank book I’d brought – we’d fill it with leaflets from where we’d visited that day, stuck shells from the beach in or draw what we’d done. It made Jamie really think about whatever we were doing that day and he would collect things specially for it so it kept his interest too. Plus, we have a gorgeous little book now to keep!

  • I agree with getting a 2 room hotel (or apt). We like to stay up after our daughter has gone to bed so we can relax with some wine and enjoy the evening. Having two rooms is essential. It’s even nice for our daughter because she can watch some TV (her shows) and chill out before bed.

  • Juliane says:

    Awesome tips! Thank you for sharing!

  • Loren says:

    These are some great tips. I don’t have kids of my own but my parents implemented the ‘don’t pack more than you can carry’ rule when I was little. I keep it in mind whenever I go on a trip (and usually end up grabbing the smaller suitcase)

  • Anna says:

    I don’t have kids, but when I do I’m hoping I’ll be a lot like you. Great tips, and I’m sure your kids will appreciate these experiences when they get older.

  • This is a great list for tips and tricks. We don’t have kids yet, but we know we still want to travel when we do. I never thought to get a babysitter when travelling. Can’t wait to hear more recommendations. This makes me super excited to start a family and have adventures of our own.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Luisa says:

    Such a fantastic post. Thank you for breaking it down! So many good tips to keep in mind.

  • Molly says:

    Oh man. This makes me want to go on vacation right now! I like traveling with our kids. We just don’t have the opportunity to travel much.

  • Adrianne says:

    Love this. It can be tough but the memories (and photos!) when traveling with kids are amazing. We just did a 5-hour flight plus two weeks of travel with a 2-year-old and it was the funnest trip we have taken in a long time. The best toy we brought with: PLAY-DO! I wrote about it here: http://bennettwilliams.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/travel-with-kids-5-things-to-make-it-easier/

  • Great tips! We try to do a lot of these, too. Our kids are a little older (8 & 6) so we’re back in hostels and – aside from early bedtime – don’t have to spend much time in the hotel. Another thing we like to do is involve the older child in navigating. In a train station, he can look at the maps with us and try to figure out which line we need to hop on. Then, we give him a chance to try to lead us to the platform we need. And, we’ve learned to go with the flow. When the kids are nearing their limits, it’s time to make a change – find a park, grab a snack, just sit down and chat for a while… And, we find that it’s really worthwhile to make sure we teach them highlights of the language we find ourselves surrounded by. They love to ask for a bathroom, thank a kind shopkeeper, order for themselves and recognize words on signs!

  • Awesome post, and as someone who takes the babe out regularly on all sorts of trips I totally agree with all of these. We also take one trip a year for just us, and a weekend here and there, but mostly we take her along for the exact same reasons. It helps us see new things and it keeps her flexible. And I’m with you – know when to throw money at a problem, know when to quit and take a break, know when to push the routine a little…All of these get easier with practice – even if you’re “traveling” just outside of your own city. We tend to go just about anywhere, but you don’t need to go to the heart of Mongolia to see something new – sometimes, it’s just around the corner. Really enjoyed this one!

  • Gretchen says:

    To keep the kids happy during the “boring” times (waiting for restaurant food, in trains, etc) I give them my undivided attention by chatting, reading together, or playing games (tic-tac-toe, hangman…the classics.) I’m usually tempted to read to myself but if the kids aren’t happy, no one is happy.

  • Liz says:

    Thank you for this post. All this time I wondered WHAT your secret was for managing to travel so apparently happily together in wonderful locales. And now I know. All of the tips you give are reasons why we don’t travel with kids: the downtime drives me nuts, having to rein in the kids is stressful to me and separating from my spouse in a special city would be a bummer. But now I see the best thing I could bring on a trip to make it successful is realistic expectations!! We will not be bringing the kids to Venice anytime soon, but I can use your tips on our summer day trips to keep me, and therefore the kids, happy!

  • Rose says:

    My favorite trick for getting my kids interested in art museums is to make a scavenger hunt for them. Simply make a list of things you most likely will see in your museum, and put a little check box next to each item. (Most every art museum will have a painting of a building, something with fruit, a pretty lady, an interesting sculpture, or an animal). I give them each a pencil and a clipboard (if I have them) and let them loose (with supervision, of course.) When they complete the scavenger hunt, they win a small prize (usually an organic lollipop). My kids are 7 and 4 and they used to HATE art museums, and now they will usually stay excited long enough for me to get in a short but decent visit.

  • Dana says:

    these are great tips! you make this seem achievable and actually fun! i’m curious how you handle the carseats in taxis. we’re planning a trip to paris with our son, who will be three. i’d like to just take the metro and walk around the city, but was thinking that taking a taxi from the airport might be a good call after a long flight with a toddler. then i got stumped on the carseat. any advice?

    • jordan says:

      Good question. Carseats aren’t required in taxis (not sure on all the state laws but I know its true in NYC.) It’s my favorite thing about taking a taxi! We use carseats of course when we drive but never in taxis. (If we are traveling by car then we bring them with us.)

  • LOVE love love LOVE this post! Thank yoU!

  • Emily says:

    Great tips- especially number one!! I’m super nervous about trying out number 10 though. :)

  • Hatsuho says:

    Thank you! This post was perfect for me today… I’m preparing to take two children to Japan! I am also trying to find a balance between being prepared and not packing too much. Luggage and Tokyo train systems definitely don’t mix.

  • michelle a says:

    Love the advice about being excited about where you go, it makes such a huge difference. I even use it day-to-day “Who wants to go to COSTCO?!!!!”

    Love the pictures and the boys’ backpacks are too cute! Please do a post where you explain what you pack in them.

  • Katja says:

    best advice of all : it’s their holidays, too ! in 2 weeks, I will start with my girls on a trip – for sure, it will be much more relaxed than ever. thanks.

  • Lissette says:

    Great tips!
    For the mom looking for a portable car seat, we take this for long cab rides from the airport to hotel…http://www.amazon.com/BubbleBum-Inflatable-Booster-Car-Seat/dp/B003GQ0LQ8

  • Jenn says:

    Thank- you SO MUCH for posting this.

    We have two little boys the same age as yours and we are traveling to Poland, Germany, Switzerland and Czech Republic in september. This advice is GOLDEN!!

  • Alexa says:

    We love traveling with our little one, but it can be so exhausting! These are awesome tips to keep in mind for our next adventure!

  • Lauren says:

    I love the postcard idea for an art museum, what a great way to keep the excitement going for the little ones while you get in your adult activity.

    Do you have any advice for budgeting for a family while on vacation?

  • Gina says:

    Great advise! and beautiful pictures! What kind of camera do you use?My Nikon was recently stolen and I am about to replace it!

  • Olya says:

    This is so helpful, Jordan! I am European and married to an American, yet we havent traveled internationally anywhere for my fear of ” how” with kids. Seeing you do this so easily is inspiring to me! Xoxoxo

  • Olya says:

    What I also want to know is how easy/ hard it is to get visas? And where do you must have one?

    http://livingnotesfromnyc.blogspot.com/

  • Lindsey says:

    This is a wonderfully helpful post! Love the details and there are so many things I would have never thought of. Fantastic job!

  • Vanessa says:

    Great article Jordan. I work in a museum and wrote a post last year on visiting them with kids. Some people find it to be a hassle but if you prepare you’ll be just fine!

    http://www.maxxsilly.com/2011/05/visiting-museums-with-children.html

    I love following your family adventures! Keep up the great work.

  • Great tips! I was about to ask about car seats but just read your reply to Dana above ;)

  • Albertina says:

    This is fabulous! I agree with every single point! Your kids are so lucky to have all these wonderful opportunities. And its so great that you have kept on traveling and have adapted. Everyone should be more like you. We travel a lot without our daughter to Europe and back to the US….the 12 hr. plane ride is the worst….and connecting flights! phew! thanks so much!

  • abby says:

    my husband and i aren’t parents yet, and everyone is always warning us to “get our travelling in now” because we won’t be able to do it once there are kids in the picture. we love going places together, but this helps me know it can be done . . . and that we can create neat family memories in the process!

  • Jenny says:

    Hi Jordan
    Love this post. Excellent tips. We took our two girls to Paris and Rome last year, a week in each place. We rented apartments for the extra room and also the picky eaters. Sometimes we would make them dinner and then take them out to a restaurant with us. They were happy nibbling on french fries or bread and not hungry and grumpy when we were enjoying our dinner. Also, we traveled with two inexpensvie umbrella strollers ($15 to $20 at Target or Toys R Us) and took them with us everyday. The kids slept, ate ice cream, etc. and never complained about having to walk too much. The airlines do not charge to take them on the plane AND we left them in Europe before heading home because they were just for the trip (the girls were 5 and 6 at the time). I am convinced it was the best thing we did!
    Enjoy your remaining time in Paris – I am so envious of you!

  • This is such an awesome post! I’ve only traveled a little with our (now) 15 month old, and not yet internationally. But we loved traveling before the baby and I don’t want to throw that away just because we have a kid. But the thought of a major trip with him has given me anxiety, so this post is SO helpful! One question, what do you do about carseats? Do you rent, or just forgo for a quick taxi ride. The carseat always screws up my traveling light plan!

  • Vanessa says:

    This is an amazing post! I don’t have kids yet but I will definitely reference this in the future! Thanks!

  • Great post. My parents travelled a lot with my sister and I when we were kids, and I hope to do the same when we have children.

  • Long time reader but first time commentator, but oh wow I loved your post. You guys have been to some spectacular places with your little ones who have no doubt learned so much and enjoyed it all the way. Your photos are spectacular and inspirational!

  • natalie says:

    i dont have kids yet, but this is a fantastic post! definitely a recommend to all friends with kids (and good to keep in mind for the future). thanks for all the helpful advice, jordan!

  • Lindsey says:

    We had our first daughter in September here in Zurich where we’ll be living for the next five years. Initially we thought that meant our traveling days were over. But maybe not? ;) Thanks for the tips!!

  • Ann B says:

    My dad was in the Air Force, and we lived overseas a lot (I took my first plane ride at 2, but my brother wins the prize – he flew at 3 days old!). My Mom always packed a surprise bag. It contained snacks, coloring books, cards, paper, pens, games, etc. She’d pull it out most often on long plane rides, but it could also make an appearance in hotel rooms or on long car trips. Since everything in it was new (to us), it was always a treat. In hindsight, I realize that part of her method was to ration the surprises – the bag came out at the times of biggest “stress” (takeoff, long waits) and at the we’re-approaching-a-meltdown stage, and it always calmed things down.

  • Tara says:

    These tips come at the perfect time for us as we hope to travel to Paris in the summer. Hopefully things go smoothly!

  • chiara says:

    Such beautiful photos! And good advice. We definitely had to adjust to the fact that you can’t do everything YOU want anymore! Now that we know that, and have adjusted our expectations, everyone is happier.

  • Marlena says:

    We took our then 2.5-year-old to Japan last April and found a few helpful things:

    1. Bring lots of food. Keeping her fed during 15 hours of plane travel helped everyone, and since the food was for a child, we could bring milk, applesauce and other liquids on the plane with us.

    2. Plan a few surprises. I went to the Dollar Store and picked up lots of little trinkets and stickers and gave her something new each hour.

    3. Pack extra clothes for you, too, in the carry-on. I haven’t needed to use them yet, but I’ve heard of so many friends whose pants or shirts got stained from kid bodily fluids, that I always pack an extra tee and pants just in case I need to be changed.

  • Judy says:

    When my son was young, we definitely stayed in one place when we traveled. He liked to see some things over and over again, such as the pigeons in the Piazza San Marco. In Germany, I could have used your early restaurant advice — a comment was made at a nearby table regarding how loudly the American child talked.

    http://www.cuteanduseful.com

  • Laura says:

    This is great advice, Jordan! Thanks. I’m taking my 5-year-old daughter to Berlin (from LA) next week, so this is super helpful. :)

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