Traveling with young kids has been on my mind a lot lately. My children are currently 4 and 18 mo and I’m constantly asked if it’s worth it, traveling with them.
Is it worth it!?
I guess it depends on what you’re hoping for in your vacation. Are you hoping for relaxation? Spa? Time to yourself? Then you probably shouldn’t bring your kids.
If you’re hoping to share experiences, broaden horizons, make fun memories, basically perform the same tasks as you would at home but with a prettier view: bring your kids.
Traveling with young kids isn’t always fun. I’m not going to sugar coat it. We spent 8 weeks in Europe with our kids last year and I didn’t sleep nearly the entire trip. My son doesn’t sleep well outside of his home crib. He’s not even awesome at home. I cried a lot, I was cranky a lot, and my back hurt from carrying that fat baby every day.
We recently spent a long weekend in Sunriver. Again: no sleep for me. My son woke up, on average, every 2 hours to say hello.
Were both trips worth it?! YES. I’d repeat them both in a heartbeat. I’m not traveling to get sleep. I’m traveling to keep my kids flexible, keep them curious about new places, to raise them as explorers, to widen their worlds. I’m traveling to spend family time together in new places, to get away from the screens and away from the same old same old.
One of the funniest things I hear is: wait until the kids are older so that they can remember the trip. Why?? Why should I delay my own enjoyment in traveling until my kids are older? And why is their memory so important? Don’t we fill our children’s days with activities that sustain them, nurture them, fill their brains, that they won’t necessarily remember clearly? We read to our kids every day and I guarantee they will not remember every single book as adults, but they’ll remember the feelings of love and affection in those moments. Just as I’m convinced young kids who travel young will absorb the sense of adventure.
Here are five things you can do to make your trip with young kids easier:
- Lower your expectations. Sorry to start with this one, but I truly believe it’s THE key to enjoying your trip. Don’t expect to travel at the same speed you could before kids (hitting up multiple museums, big sightseeing excursions, traveling at the rate your GPS says it’ll take, etc.). Your kids are going to slow you down. They just are. Don’t plan 8 hours of activities. You’ll all get frustrated and lose steam and regret all of your life choices that led to the miserableness. I’m not saying to lower your expectations down to the ground, but do lower them. Think about running errands with your kids. Is that always fun? Times that by 1,000 when you’re traveling. Everybody is off routine. Take it easy, and don’t plan too much in each day.
Related: if your kiddo is still being potty trained, relax on the plane. Going back to a pull up during the day will NOT set them back years. Would you rather have pee in the airplane seat? Or let them relax and pee in the diaper? Up to you. Racing to the potty isn’t fun to do multiple times during a 6 hour flight.
- Keep snacks and distractions on hand at all times. For my daughter, we pretty much always get a Lunchable for the plane ride. Don’t judge; she loves it!! It’s something she doesn’t usually get, it’s food she’ll eat (hello, crackers, meat, cheese?), and the novelty goes a long way to keeping her a fun human to sit next to for hours on end.
Same with distractions! I let Eleanor pack her carry-on bag, so she knows exactly what’s in there. It gives her a sense of empowerment that I think is important, travel or no travel. But, I always sneak a few surprises into my own bag to pull out when she’s bored with what she packed. These sticker books or these dry-erase marker activity books are great for keeping kiddos from getting antsy in the car or on the plane!
Now, this tip is great for the car or plane, but keep in mind snacks and distractions can be well-used the entire trip. With all the extra stimulation, and potentially extra walking, blood sugars will drop and your kids will turn into angry beasts. Having snacks to pull out of your bag can be a game changer. Plus, for our daughter, it was a really fun way to pick out new foods wherever we were. I’d let her choose any item at the store, so long as it was something she’d never had.
- Travel light. Unless you’re camping in the middle of nowhere, chances are you can buy diapers, wipes, emergency items, etc. Kids exist everywhere, so stores sell kid items everywhere. When we went to Europe, we didn’t bring a stroller. We didn’t want the hassle of carting it around in the airports. Instead, we decided if we needed one, we’d buy one there. (We ended up not needing one at all, since I just wore Sam nearly everywhere we went). But, places also rent cribs, strollers, high chairs, etc., whether you are in a hotel or renting a home. You don’t necessarily have to bring or buy. Traveling through airports with kids is hard enough without being overly weighed down.
That being said, I urge you to “travel light” however that means for you. I know some people would rather barf than wear their kiddos. If a stroller is a necessity for you, then traveling light might mean finding a lightweight travel stroller. You don’t want your double BOB, ok? I promise you don’t want your BOB. Unless you’re going to Disney. Then, the airplane hassle is worth having that at the park. Says, me.
- Do your research. If you found this via the googles, awesome!! You did it! You were researching!! Know your area, know where parks are, know whether your hotel or Airbnb has kid perks. You can’t be spur of the moment hostel dwellers (or, hey, maybe you can! You do you, boo). I’m all about surprises, yay surprises! But it’s not a fun surprise to discover there are 8 flights of stairs to your room and no elevator. You need to know that ahead of time. Airbnb makes it easy to search for homes that are kid friendly, you can filter for elevator, whether there’s a crib, high chair, etc. Hotels are great, they usually have cribs, but, don’t assume. Make sure your hotel SAYS they have cribs available. Message them. Ask. Do your homework.
When we went to Paris, we made sure to be within walking distance of a great park to be able to get wiggles out and make sure the kiddos had fun in between the parents having fun. Use google maps to zoom in on the areas you are considering. Read the reviews. Listen to other parents (but, also, it’s ok to ignore other parents…not everybody cares about the same thing). For example, I know there are people who would rather walk around naked than be without their beloved strollers on a trip, whereas we just aren’t stroller people. I run with my stroller; I don’t do errands with my stroller. So, traveling without one was fine for us! Especially in Europe! Where sidewalks aren’t easy and doors aren’t wide.
And last but not least:
- Just go. Do it scared, do it now. Don’t let the unknown of how crazy your kid will act, or how much you know it’ll suck, get in the way of your traveling. Think about your own childhood. Think of your trips. Aren’t they a HUGE part of your memories!? Even if you only did one vacation, I bet you remember it. These are the key experiences to give your child. I’m not saying you have to go to Disneyland every year. But go to the beach, go camping, go to a different country!! Just go.
Whether or not your child remembers the vacation though, you have to go. YOU will remember it. And it WILL shape your child, even if they can’t articulate the memories. Your sense of adventure will get passed on. There is absolutely no reason to put your life on hold, just because you have kids. That includes your dreams of travel. KEEP TRAVELING. Keep exposing yourself to new places/cultures/food. Keep exposing your kids to new places/cultures/food.
Do not listen to people who say it’s hard to travel with children. It’s different. And yes, some moments are hard. But some moments are hard even without children. Just roll with it. Every obstacle is a chance to model how to respond to a hardship in a healthy way.
HAHAHA Ok that made me laugh to type. Let’s be honest: it’s also a chance to model creative swear words. Either way, it’s important to experience and get through together.
But, reread tip #1. It’s the only one that truly matters.
Where have you traveled with your kids recently?