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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.

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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.

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!

  1. Rose

    February 1, 2012

    Haha I find that most of this advice applies to traveling with my dog!!

  2. Jessica @shimmerkai

    February 1, 2012

    I am so bookmarking this for the future…

  3. sunray

    February 1, 2012

    Jordan – Thanks for the post. Such perfect timing since we are planing on taking our son who will be 15 months to Paris this May. This might be a silly question but as a first time mom bringing a toddler oversea, I want to be prepared. I suspect that our son will still be in diapers when we travel, do you have any tips on changing diapers in Paris? I remember restrooms in restaurants there are pretty small. Where do Parisian change their children? :) Thanks!

  4. Kim

    February 1, 2012

    (Lest you think this is a case of we-don’t-dare-to-leave-our-kids.)

    Soooo…people who don’t leave their kids are what?
    We have one child, so it has always been easy to take her everywhere…and regardless of easy, we WANT her there. I can’t imagine seeing new places without sharing it with her. And I am not someone who neglects my marriage…..sorry, your comment seemed a bit judgy to me.

    • jordan
      • jordan
      • February 1, 2012

      Hi Kim! No judgement here! I didn’t mean anything by it other than some people don’t dare to leave their kids. It is stressful and inconvenient to leave your kids with someone else. I just wanted to make it clear that I think their are perks about doing it both ways.

  5. debbie

    February 1, 2012

    we were in London on a Sunday. Alot of places were closed and they kids were getting hungry. We ended up eating at a McDonalds. I was so disappointed but when the attitudes changed, it made for a better day. Sometimes you have to adjust.

  6. katie

    February 1, 2012

    great tips. so funny- I actually just posted the same shot of my husbands in brugges with the windmill in the background! so beautiful!

  7. cammie

    February 1, 2012

    Oh my, your family is quite well-traveled! What wonderful photos and great tips!

  8. megwrites

    February 1, 2012

    I read a picture book today about a brother and sister in Paris and thought of you! The little boy even looks a bit like Roman. It’s called Adele and Simon by Barbara McClintock. I just thought I’d pass along a recommendation!

  9. Luna

    February 2, 2012

    I definitely agree on point 2, Stick to one hotel. It can be exhausting moving between 3+ accomodation. First it’s the re-packing, the speed clean-up, driving to next place then the check-in process again. Next time we will definitely be staying put!

  10. Marie in Copenhagen

    February 2, 2012

    Lovely post. Thank you. I am Danish and the whole idea of getting a babysitter while traveling is completely foreign, but alluring, to me. I think my European parents friends would all hesitate to get a babysitter that our kids do not know, but I have a feeling that US parents are more relaxed about this, as I read on Cup of Jo that she did the same thing, and interviewed the person ahead of time on Skype even.
    How old were your kids when you first did this? And do they meet the person before hand? What about timing–do they get tucked in by a stranger? in other words how does the nitty gritty work?

  11. Robyn

    February 2, 2012

    I like your advice and I am definitely taking notes. However, I think so much of a parent’s success traveling has to do with the child’s temperament. It sounds like you have two mostly agreeable fellows. Lucky you!

    • jordan
      • jordan
      • February 2, 2012

      Temperament or else how much they are entertained by iphones.

  12. Jordan - Polkadot Prints

    February 2, 2012

    Nice to hear such a balanced view of children + travel – has to be a win-win for both! We’re about to head off to Canada and I am a tad nervous about the long haul flight from Australia (read your other post on that) – love the idea of wrapping things in crepe paper! Here’s to a fun flight!
    Such a timely post, thanks so much!

  13. Christine

    February 2, 2012

    I haven’t had a chance to read this fully (need to as will be flying to Aus soon with an 11 month old).

    But the boys’ backpacks where are they from? I love that brand (lived in Sweden for a short-while). My husband would love one for our son, is it possible to post the details?

    Many thanks and I look forward to reading this when I”m not quite so tired.

  14. Diane

    February 2, 2012

    If your kids are old enough, stick a child’s jump rope in your travel bag. It’s compact and uses up a lot of those energy units! It’s also a fun prop for photos in front of famous monuments!

  15. Rosalind

    February 2, 2012

    Great post, thank you!

  16. Eva @ Sycamore Street Press

    February 5, 2012

    Thanks for this post, Jordan. I think I mentioned to you that we are planning a trip to Stockholm and Helsinki this fall and have been wondering how it will all work with a toddler in tow. We’d planned on staying in each place for almost a week and renting an apartment, but I hadn’t thought of finding a babysitter there, taking turns going out at night, taking taxis (and that car seats aren’t required). Such helpful tips.

  17. Loes

    February 7, 2012

    New here!
    Wow, going to the gifst shop first. Never thought of that! It’s perfect!
    Depending on the country we adapt to the locals. In Spain and Italy kids go to bed late and when we’re their so does our son Miles. And ofcourse we also take siesta’s 😉
    Thank you for this list.

  18. noelle

    February 8, 2012

    liked this post. many of the tips are very helpful….thank you! my only reservation with this post is your last tip, “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.”

    ….really good experiences until you don’t have one. obviously children are not being hurt or snatched that much in these situations because we’d be hearing it about it more. but, personally, i’m not sure that trusting the apartment or hotel list of sitters is a good thing to do. everyone parents differently, i just thought i’d throw my thoughts out there….

  19. Julie M

    February 9, 2012

    Thanks so much for sharing this. It’s all the things I wished I had known before having our daughter, all the things I wish our friends & family without kids knew, & some new things I didn’t think about before. I had to share & posted about it in this blogpost:

  20. Katie

    February 13, 2012

    Thanks for the great trips! I hope to live in europe for a while with my family someday too! We have twin babies and have travelled with them a lot, we even took them on a trip to china and Taiwan when they were 6 months old! I highly recommend pea pods for kids to sleep in instead of pack n’ plays. They are comfy and fold down to a frisbee size that only weighs 3 lbs!

  21. Katie

    February 13, 2012

    *tips :)

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