With summer on the horizon, travel season will soon be in full force. In carefree, childless days, travel was often a spontaneous affair that required only a passport, a carry-on backpack and a spirit of adventure. And then you have kids, spend eight hours in a car with a toddler, and realize you will never travel the same way again. The logistics alone of a trip with children can feel insurmountable, a complex puzzle of where to go, what to pack, and how to keep everyone fed, rested, and entertained. However, there are certain strategies that can make a vacation with a child not only survivable but actually enjoyable for everyone.
If possible, book two rooms.
A sleep-deprived vacation doesn’t really feel like a vacation, which is why having a second room can make all the difference. Hotel suites are pricey, but you’ll be surprised how easy it is to find affordable accommodations with two bedrooms once you look into a condo or home rentals.
There is a time for sensible limits on screen time. This is not that time.
If there’s one situation where rules need to be bent, it is during travel with little kids. You may not let your kids watch hours of screen time at home, but a tablet cued up with kid-friendly movies, shows, or games can be the key to not only your family’s sanity but also the peace of the people around you.
It’s your trip, too. Go somewhere you all can enjoy.
Some adults genuinely enjoy amusement parks or cartoon-themed cruises. Some people would rather spend a week at the DMV. If you’re part of the latter group, maybe don’t spend a small fortune on a trip to a place you’re going to be miserable, just for the sake of fulfilling some kind of parenting ideal. It’s a great big world. There are plenty of places both you and your kids can enjoy.
Buy as many of the bulky supplies as possible once you get there.
Unless you’re going to Kathmandu or a remote village in the Amazon, chances are there are going to be convenience stores are your destination. Babies all over the world need diapers and wipes. These items are essentials, but they take up a boatload of luggage space. Bring enough for a few days, but buy the rest once you get there. And if possible, ask your hotel if you can donate any extra supplies you have before returning home.
Do everything on the early side.
In many places in Europe, locals don’t eat dinner until 10 pm. If you have any romantic ideas of adapting this type of lifestyle while on vacation with kids, you need a hefty dose of reality. With kids in tow, there is no such thing as too early, whether it’s a trip to a museum, use of the hotel pool, or dinner. Everyone will be in a better mood, and you’re much less likely to encounter crowds, lines, or judgmental kid-free diners.
Don’t leave the stroller at home.
It’s tempting to leave strollers behind because they are heavy and take up a lot of room. But they are at the top of the list of travel essentials. Not only are they useful in the airport (and able to be gate checked), they can double as portable nap and changing stations while exploring your destination.
Boarding early is a trap.
Unless you have impeccably behaved children, do not fall into the trap of boarding a plane early. All it really means is that you will have an extra thirty minutes of stationary seat time with a squirming, bored, increasingly agitated toddler. Don’t squander your last precious minutes of airport terminal freedom. Let your kids run and hopefully tire out before the journey to come.
The last thing you want to do on vacation is head out into a foreign city in the middle of the night in search of a pharmacy. Your kids might be perfectly healthy the day you leave, but between the germ explosion that is an airplane and the changes in routine, sleep habits, and food, they may not stay that way. Be prepared and pack over the counter essentials (think acetaminophen, saline drops, Benadryl, a thermometer, etc) with you.
Keep the itinerary simple (and flexible).
You may be someone who loves to pack your travel days full to the brim with activities and sights. If you have kids in tow, that all goes out the window. Pick one activity per day that you really want to do. Maybe choose a couple of smaller, secondary activities in case the stars align, and everyone remains happy and rested. Flexibility and patience are key.
Keep the toys to a minimum.
It’s useful to bring a few small, noiseless books and toys for the airplane or car ride. What you don’t want to do is pack up your entire playroom. The thing about children is that when you take them somewhere new, they are most interested in that new place and all of the non-toy items in that place. Any boring old toy from home will be cast aside in favor of exploring the ice machine or the chairs in the hotel lobby. So, save yourself the time and luggage space and leave the puzzles and activity cubes at home.
If you’re going somewhere with water, bring an inflatable baby pool.
It seems somewhere counterintuitive to bring a pool to a body of water, but particularly if you have very young children, a baby pool will be a lifesaver. It will keep them contained, entertained and out of the hot sand, so you might actually be able to sit back for a minute and flip through a magazine.
Relax and give yourself some compassion.
Traveling with kids is hard, but if you choose to do it, you should know that all of the stress and worry are ultimately worth it. Traveling will broaden the edges of their little words and make them better and more tolerant global citizens. You’re going to have meltdowns and lose beloved stuffed animals or keep them out too long in the sun. It’s okay. It happens to everyone. At the very least, it will make a funny story (someday).
But above all else…enjoy. It’s vacation after all!