Before we moved to Europe, it seemed as if all of our friends either stopped traveling once they had kids or they only went on Disney vacations (or to visit the grandparents). And while there’s nothing wrong with an occasional Disney trip (the first place I want to travel to after we move back to Seattle is Aulani) I couldn’t imagine that being the only kind of vacation we ever took.
This mentality hasn’t been quite as prevalant among the parents we’ve met since we moved to Europe. Since many of them are also expats, travel is obviously in their blood and their kids will naturally be traveling a little more than most for those regular trips “home.” And in general, Europeans tend to embrace vacations much more than their American counterparts, such that it is normal to take your kids on at least one big trip a year that probably involves getting on a plane.
I’d like to think that we’re proof that you can go on “adult” trips even when you have a child (or two, or three). That said, while it is definitely possible, it won’t always be easy. But there are some things that you can do to make it better.
- Be realistic about how much you can do. Even before I had a kid I was often shocked by how much certain guidebooks pack into their recommended itineraries. In many cities, the only way to do everything they recommend is to start early in the morning and end late at night. And even then, there often wouldn’t be time for a leisurely wander through a museum or writing in your travel journal over a cup of coffee. But once I had a child, their recommendations became truly laughable. Although we usually get a fairly early start (when we don’t, it’s usually because of breakfast), evening activities are out of the question because of L’s 7:30 bedtime. Add in naps if your LO isn’t down with stroller naps and meals (I still can’t believe how many times a day toddlers eat) and your days are about half as long as those guidebook authors think. So when I’m planning and trying to figure out how much time we need to complete (most of) that recommended itinerary I usually figure we’ll need 1.5 times the recommendation. In other words, if the recommendation is for two days, I try to give us at least three full days in the city.
- Have each adult pick ~2 things that they most want to do during your trip and build your itinerary around that. Unfortunately, you won’t always be able to add extra days on to your trip. Or perhaps LO is just going especially slow one weekend and it’s taking you longer to get to all the places you want to see. Either way, the likelihood that you are going to get to see everything is pretty slim. For this reason, I like to decide on the top two things that I want to see or do in our destination and I ask my husband to do the same. If we have time to do more than that, great. But if we don’t, at least we can say that we experienced what was most important to us in the destination.
- Incorporate movement into every day. Full days of sightseeing can be hard on little kids, especially if they want to walk but are stuck in a stroller (or carrier) most of the time. So make sure to give them an opportunity to get out their wiggles. How you do this will depend on where you are, what and how much you HAVE to see, and your own energy level, and it can take many different forms. We’ve done it all. Trips to the aquarium so that L can run around and laugh at the animals—check. Playing for a couple hours with local kids at a playground near our hotel—check. Taking an extra half an hour at a square that we might otherwise have just quickly walked through—check. How you fit movement into your day is up to you but you’ll definitely want to do it. Not only will your little traveler be happier, his tummy will too.
- Invest in a good travel stroller that your little one can nap in. Even more than meals, naps will really cut into your sightseeing time—especially if you have to go back to your hotel each afternoon in order to get one in. And while some kids are great at napping on the go, L generally wasn’t one of them. Until, that is, we bought the Mountain Buggy Nano. This thing is amazing. Not only does it lean almost flat for purposes of naps, it actually handled the Prague cobblestones better than our main stroller. As a bonus, it fits into the overhead compartment on the airplane, so unless you are traveling through OSL, you don’t even have to worry about it getting damaged by the luggage handlers.
- Find alternatives to museums and guided tours of buildings. This is a hard one for me. Before L was born I loved to wander through art museums and I still really (want to) enjoy guided tours of important buildings. But every time we take L to one, I end up regretting it as I’m overcome with anxiety as he runs around screaming and I imagine how everyone else is judging me. I definitely don’t avoid these kinds of activities completely, but if a tour of a beautiful gilded building isn’t on our top 2 lists, I try my hardest to stay away. And if I do decide to go to an art museum, I try to see the piece(s) that I’m most interested in at the beginning—so that if L starts to have a breakdown, we can leave without me feeling like I’ve missed out on something vital.
At this point L’s been on almost two dozen trips ranging from resort vacations to Champagne tasting with lots of European city breaks in between. So while we certainly aren’t one of those super-adventurous families going on multi-day hiking trips with our toddler, I think we’ve shown that with just a little extra planning (and perhaps tweaking your old travel habits) you can still travel like an adult, even after you have a baby.
What are your best tips for traveling with kids?