Several times this year, I asked what would inspire you, what questions you had about travel, what I could do to help you leap into your dream. And one of the totally unexpected and frequent responses was this: how do I travel with a family?
Now, I’m totally unqualified to answer the question. Luckily, though, I know someone who is qualified—and she graciously agreed to an interview!
So, without further ado, allow me to introduce you to my brilliant and beautiful friend, Anna, who is a well-traveled mother of two, a hilarious conversationalist, and a wonderful human being.
Here’s what she had to say about traveling with kids:
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your family. What places have you traveled to so far?
My name is Anna. I live in Phoenix, Arizona with my husband and two children (ages three years and four months). When I’m not doing the usual “mom stuff,” I’m either reading, eating chocolate, drinking wine, surfing Pinterest, or all of the above.
Prior to having kids, my husband and I loved to travel both foreign and domestic. After our firstborn came, we weren’t sure how long it would be before we could start adventuring again. When our son was five months old we took a vacation to the Pacific Northwest. We were thrilled to discover just how possible it is to travel with a baby. Since then we’ve made epic road trips to East Texas & Northern California and multiple not-so-epic road trips to Southern California. Our most recent family vacation was to England with a quickie trip to Paris. That vacation went so well that we are looking forward to another trip to Europe as a family of four within the next year.
2. How often do you travel as a family? What made you decide to travel as a family?
I feel like we travel pretty frequently. Small weekend getaways happen about once a month. Medium size trips average about 2-3 times per year. Large epic adventures happen about every other year.
We had decided to travel as a family long before children were even in our future. My parents traveled with my sister and I throughout our childhood. Those memories and experiences really bonded us as a family and gave me a greater appreciation and understanding of the world outside my home. That was something I’ve always wanted to give my children.
3. What are the biggest challenges of traveling with kids? Any tips for reducing or eliminating said challenges?
The biggest challenge is maintaining the level of care and attention the children get at home.
There are little things you can do to make life on the road a bit easier, like a well stocked diaper bag and scoping out local stores for your favorite “kid items.” I have always tried to create a “home” wherever we are staying. Setting up some sort of order in the hotel/vacation rental really helps to offset the stress of travel. That being said, those things only go so far. It’s important to accept that day-to-day life is going to be harder when you are away from home. Once you have come to that place, it’s so much easier to adapt and roll with the punches of travel.
Food and meal times are a common challenge for parents. My advice is to just relax, encourage your kids to at least try the local fare, and know that if all else fails that most stores sell milk and crackers.
4. What are some of the greatest joys? Anything unexpected?
The memories and experiences are a given, right?
I absolutely love making a home in a new location. All the mundane parent things take on a new energy. Feeding the baby while looking over the Puget Sound suddenly becomes an emotionally moving experience. Or reading bedtime stories knowing in the back of your mind that the Eiffel Tower is sparkling not too far away makes everything seem more magical.
Children seem to be a natural ice breaker. There were several occasions in England when these wizened old men would approach us and compliment my son on his driver’s cap. It made me smile to think that the interaction would have never happened if it wasn’t for my child. Those sorts of human connections make traveling to another place that much more enriching.
5. What kind of planning should people do if they’re planning to travel with kids?
Plan to have extra luggage. I’ve seen blogs where the parents brag about only bringing two carry-ons for their family of five as they gallivanted around Europe for three weeks and I think they are totally full of it. There is no shame in schlepping some extra luggage. If you need that additional bag so you can bring baby’s familiar bedding and white noise maker, ensuring a great night’s sleep for everyone, so be it.
For long-haul flights with small children try to time it during the night. When we flew to England, my son fell asleep shortly after take-off and woke up just as we were landing. I personally found the crummy night’s sleep on a plane more bearable than trying to entertain a two-year-old for eight hours in a confined space.
6. How do you find kid-friendly activities in a place? Any tips?
Well, I may not be much help here. I was raised to silently putter around museums and sit quietly for operas and ballet. Since I am a product of my parents – I find I’m expecting the same thing from my children.
Zoos and aquariums are always a good bet for kid-friendliness. If you are planning to visit a museum or historical site, I find online research to be really helpful. I look for phrases like “children are welcome” and “off peak hours are…” in my research. Most places are kid friendly if the kids are friendly. The only place I’ve visited that doesn’t allow children under a certain age is the ‘Ioliani Palace in Hawaii.
7. Are there any places in the world you wouldn’t travel with a child?
Anywhere that I don’t understand the language or culture well enough to seek help should my child need it – at least while they are small. I realize this greatly limits my prospects over the next five years and I’m ok with it. I learned this the hard way. My son became violently ill our first night in Paris – to the point that the question of “do we need to go to the hospital?” was asked. I felt really stupid and vulnerable not knowing where the closest hospital was or even how the medical system works over there. Thankfully it all ended well. And I’m sure I could have found help if I really needed it. But it was still very nerve-wracking to not know the fastest way to the local urgent care or pharmacy. I’ll be better prepared next time.
8. Anything else you’d like to add for those readers who have kids of their own?
It’s always easier to stay home. Always. But, it’s also worth it to get out there and see the world. Ignore it when people say “oh, it’s too bad you aren’t taking your kid to [blah blah blah] when they are old enough to appreciate it.” I personally feel like any person at any age can appreciate any location. A two-year-old will appreciate London through the eyes of a two year old. There is Big Ben, double decker bus spotting, and Kensington Gardens. A six-month-old will appreciate the way the sand feels and watching the waves at the beach. A 15-year-old will appreciate Rome differently than a 45-year-old. Who’s to say which age can appreciate it the most?
When I was eight years old my parents took my sister and I to Holland and Germany for two months. I can tell you now, over 20 years later, I have beautiful and vivid memories of those places. Castles. Parks. Bike rides. Windmills. Hikes. The working farm we stayed at in the Black Forest. Eating pickled Herring.
It’s all there. Thoroughly appreciated.
Still have questions? I bet if you leave them in the comments I can get Anna to take a crack at them.
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I would add “Know what your children can tolerate” to #6. If you are doing things that are not inherently kid-friendly (museums or tours that involve a lot of sitting), know if your child(ren) can handle it – and be realistic. I recently went to an art museum with my kids and my sister and her kids. My kids lasted about 30 minutes, her kids lasted 90 minutes. I knew this going in and made plans for what to do with that extra hour.
Also, setting expectations with the kids is important, whether it’s “We’ll look at these paintings for 30 minutes” or “Don’t touch anything in this museum” or “keep your feet on the floor at all times.”
I agree that at any age, people can get something out of travel. It gets easier as kids get older, but always remember to build everyone’s tolerances into plans.
Really excellent points. Thanks!
Yes! This is true. Meals and naps are also good to consider. Low blood sugar and exhaustion can bring on a meltdown even in Disneyland. ;)
Love it! Anna and her family are living proof that travel and parenting aren’t mutually exclusive adventures.
I feel like Anne Shirley with the “Rollings Reliable Baking Powder”. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts. The photos look great!
Thank YOU. It’s an absolute pleasure to feature you here. Also, all these pictures make me miss you guys. Please time your next trip to Europe when I’m there so that I can hang with you guys at the Eiffel Tower. ;)
Sounds good to me!
Wahooo! Thank you so much for this post…I feel even better taking my 4 year old to visit her grandpa even if it is in Nebraska but, it will still be fun and we can still make good to great memories. We are both really excited about taking this trip.
Haha! I thought you’d like it. :)
For me, the secret to traveling with my little girl is to always pack an extra pair of leggings in my carry on. That way if she spills something on her pants, or gets cold, it’s easy for her to slip them on. Plus, they pack really small! My daughter’s favorite brand is http://www.twirlygirlshop.com/girls-capri-leggings but obviously there are lots of places to get them.
I know I’m asking months after this post but I hope my question can still be answered:
I’m flying to Thailand in January with my 18month old. I’m not worried about being there, I’m worried about the 32 hour door to door trip. Do you have any toy, app, magic you could recommend for the trip? I’d rather not drug her either, unless it’s holistic. Danke!
Love the blog, you’re such an inspiration, and from what I can gather, a really really nice person. :)
I just sent Anna a quick note to ask her…will get back to you asap.
Your trip sounds amazing! 18 months is such a fun age to travel with.
I’m a little intimidated on giving advice for a 32 hour journey, seeing as how I never have traveled longer than 12 with a baby. But, I’ll tell you what helped us.
Try to manage some resemblance of your at home routine while you are traveling. For example: play time, meal time, go to the lavatory change diaper/wash up, read books, nap time. And just cycle through the routine as the journey continues. I found this helped to save my sanity on long trips and it provided some stability to my son. We were both less stressed.
If you have a long layover I suggest looking into a hotel that is onsite at the airport. I think Singapore has one. Otherwise, try to bring some kind of set up so that baby can stretch out and take a proper nap in the airport. We have a KidCo PeaPod for that purpose.
As for entertainment/toys, bring a few. Some new, some favorites. There are many apps for toddlers these days. I’d say experiment at home with a few and see which ones captivate your little one most. Download those and don’t use them again until you are on your trip.
The Bubble app was a favorite: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bubbles/id284288607
A few odd tips: Bring a lightweight blanket from home, don’t wash it for a week so it smells familiar. If your baby uses a pacifier (mine LOVED his) bring a few spares. Pack a change of clothes, plenty of diapers and wipes.
Best of luck to you and bon voyage!
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