Traveling with kids is not like traveling before (or without) kids. Kids are prone to the same tantrums, meltdowns, big big feelings, and picky eating while traveling as they are at home. But while traveling with your kids may not be effortless and it may look much different than traveling before kids, there are ways to alleviate the added stress that exhaustion and frustration from travel may cause.
Read on to see my tips for traveling with kids.
1. Plan to have no set plans for the first day.
Your first full day in a new city should be spent close to your accommodations - or entirely at your accommodations, depending on amenities. If you are staying at a hotel with a restaurant and a pool, let the kids swim, eat at the restaurant (or order room service, which is so exciting for kids), check out the gift shop, and just relax on site. If you are staying at an AirBNB or extended stay hotel with a full kitchen, wander around the surrounding neighborhood, pop into a local grocery store or market to stock up on drinks and fruit to have in the room, find a local pizzeria, and just see where the day takes you. Keep a close eye on your kids for exhaustion, and when they need a break, head back to the hotel or B&B for quiet time (books, TV, or whatever else will help them wind down and recharge).
If you are traveling long-term, spend at least one day a week like this. Rest, relax, recharge, and then get back out and explore.
2. "Chunk" your days.
This is especially important if you have littles who still take naps, but can be equally helpful for older kids (and parents). Separate your day into three chunks.
Morning: Visit the children's museum and nearby park. Or go to the zoo. Or spend the morning in an area that has a giant ferris wheel, a walk along the river with scenic views, a farmer's market, and a fabulous playground. Then have lunch. Either eat out, grab something carry-out to take back to the room, or (if you have a full kitchen) get supplies to make something quick and easy. Again, you know your kids and can tell when they are close to their breaking point. Act accordingly.
Break/Nap Time: After lunch, spend time in your hotel or B&B. Younger kids can take their nap. Older kids can relax with a video game, a TV show, or a good book. You can take a nap too (it is vacation, after all!) or sip a glass of wine on the balcony (it's 5:00 somewhere!).
Afternoon/Evening: Time to explore some more! Pick one area (or two nearby areas) of the city, see the sites in that area, eat a fantastic meal, wander around, and enjoy your vacation. This is the time to check off some of those things you really want to see.
3. Slow down.
This goes hand-in-hand with number 2. You do not need to go everywhere and see everything. You do not need to cover 15 miles of terrain each day in order to have an enjoyable trip. In fact, trying to see too much while toting kids around will just make them exhausted and frustrated, which will make you exhausted and frustrated. Slow down. Do some planning, but be flexible enough to allow plans to change as needed. It is much better to skip that 4th museum and just have an impromptu picnic at a park than to wear your kids out and end up dealing with an epic meltdown.
4. Sit outside.
Weather-permitting, opt for outdoor seating if it's available. Most kids much prefer fresh air and people-watching than sitting indoors. Your animal lovers will get excited each time a dog walks by or a bird comes by to scavenge crumbs, and if one of the kids does have a bit of a tantrum, it's much less noticeable outside than inside.
5. Plan outdoor activities.
Some of our most memorable experiences have been wandering through botanical gardens, playing at an outdoor playground, walking along a river or the beach, hill-climbing, or taking an open-air carriage ride. Let the kids stop and smell the flowers. Allow that "one more time" down the slide. Remember that kids are kids even when they are in another city and that fresh air and exercise are good for everybody.
6. Allow them to help in the planning.
If your kids are older, invite them to help you in the planning. Pull up your Pinterest board for the city you'll be visiting, look through blog posts and Trip Advisor together, and let them choose some of the activities they want to do. If their list of activities is extensive, set the expectation that you may not have time to do everything on their list and have them choose their top 3 activities. Allowing them to give their input ensures that they have something to look forward to and they don't feel left out.
7. Visit family and friends.
If you find traveling with your kids overly frustrating, at least for the next one to two trips, visit friends or family members. Having others around, especially if there are other kids to play with, makes things much easier.
One of the best trips Emmett and I took last year was to Scotland to visit cousins. He had the best time playing with their three kids (and the cats). He followed the older ones around trying to do everything they did. They played with sticks and ride-on cars outside. They played with cars and trucks inside. On rainy days, they watched Paw Patrol together. He had an absolute blast.
8. Plan a day of rest once you return home.
If it is at all possible, plan to get home early enough to have one day of rest at home before jumping back into the normal routine (whether that is daycare, school, soccer practice, work, etc.). This gives the kids a chance to take a nap in their own beds, unwind, and mentally prepare to get back to the "at home" routine, and it gives the parents a chance to unpack, do laundry, catch up on emails, and whatever else they need to do before getting back to their normal routine. Don't add any unnecessary work to your load. Don't cook. Order pizza and let the kids eat it while watching a movie in their PJ's (or whatever will help you and them relax).
9. Bring along a family member to help.
If your budget allows it, bring their grandma (or their aunt or your cousin or whomever) along to help, especially if you are traveling as a solo parent. This may not stop a meltdown, but it will give you a second adult to help manage the meltdown. Just make sure that the person you bring also enjoys traveling and will be a help, not a hindrance.
10. Plan strategically.
This does not mean you need to have every minute of every day planned out. And again, plan as much as you can, but expect plans to change. But do get an idea of what the city has to offer and where each site/museum/park is in relation to each other. To make the most of your time, it's best not to be spending your entire day taking the train from one area to another area to another area, only to return to two of those areas the following day to do different things. As I mentioned in number 2, pick one area to explore in the morning or in the evening and do all the things you want to do that are located in that area. In order to do that, you need to know what is located where.
I hope this not only helps motivate you to travel with your kids but also gives you practical advice for how to travel with your kids without going crazy.
You will notice that this post does not contain tips for flying with kids, since I covered that in another post.
I also want to be clear that I'm not saying that you need to do everything your kids want to do and nothing that you want to do, but remember that they are people with wants and needs just as you are. They may not express those wants and needs very well and will need you as the parent to watch their behavior and know when they need a break or a meal or something else.
I also want you to understand that traveling with kids is not all rainbows and butterflies and Insta-worthy photos. One of the most difficult trips I have ever taken was this past year with Emmett while he was just starting potty training. He traveled well, having only a minor meltdown when we had to stand in line to wait to board the plane. But we arrived in Tampa and got to our hotel and things started going downhill almost immediately. He instantly, entirely "forgot" how to use the potty. We had so. many. accidents. There was screaming (from him about not wanting to use the potty) and there were tears (I am embarrassed to say, from me, over the debilitating number of times I had to change his clothes and my clothes and clean up pee off the bathroom floor). There were nights I called it a day at 6pm because I just could. not. any more. And still, looking back, I would do it again. We visited family, we walked along the Riverwalk with my friend, we ate ice cream and ate some meals on the water, we went miniature golfing with my friend and her two kids who were so good with Emmett, and we swam in the Gulf and played at the splash pad. He had a great time, and in spite of the potty training problems, I did too.
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