Creating little globetrotters: family travel tips
"Oh, we are going to wait to have kids; we want to travel first!"
I have heard that so many times. Don't get me wrong: of course everyone is free to decide if and when they want to have children; I would never presume to patronize anyone by giving them a speech on why they should have children now!
But I felt it might be helpful to travel lovers out there if I did my bit to bust the myth, since in my experience, children and travel are by no means mutually exclusive.
Actually, I happen to think that kids can make wonderful travel companions – better, in fact, than a large percentage of their adult counterparts. But that's a post for another time. (Or never. Yeah, possibly never.)
Traveling with kids is a different experience from traveling on your own, but I really enjoy introducing my daughters to new places, languages and cultures, and see them point at landmarks and watch the new landscape with wide eyes. Loving a view, or a new experience, and then looking at their reaction and being able to make that experience again, looking at things through their eyes... I think it's really something.
Someone recently asked me for tips for happy family travel, so I thought I'd share a few things here that might be helpful if you are considering traveling more with your kids.
1. Book your flights and hotel in advance, whenever possible. You generally get better rates and a better selection when booking well in advance, and when traveling with little ones it will allow you to organize things like a front row seat and bassinet for the plane or a portable crib at the hotel, which means you will travel with less stuff, less worry and more comfort.
2. Do a little homework. Find out a few things about the area(s) you are planning to visit. Go on Yelp to find restaurants that fit your budget and tastes; visit the city's website to find out more about specific attractions. Some museums and attractions offer tours tailored to specific age brackets, but sometimes they need to be booked in advance. Finding something that keep the kids interested will pay off!
When we went to London together for the first time, Stella and Sarah (then 4 and 11 years old, respectively) both loved our tour of the Tower Bridge, where they not only got to see how the bridge works and how it was built, but also got a little booklet they could fill in with stickers they had to get at different stations in each of the two towers. It was fun, kept them interested and they actually learned something. And I enjoyed my visit too, because I didn't have to rush my way through or make much effort to keep them entertained.
3. If you are a planner, be flexible. If you like to make a schedule for your trip, or plan your itinerary to get the most out of your visit, make sure you leave some time for random stuff – browsing a cute shop or stopping at a lovely bakery, or taking a longer route through a park so the kids can run around a little without you holding their hands, instead of taking the shortest route to get to where you want to go a little faster.
Make room for the possibility that it might take you longer to do what you planned. In that case, it's good to have a shorter version of your itinerary, so you can hit the main spots without stressing everyone out. Your kids will enjoy the visit a lot more if they also have a chance to take their own time looking around and getting acquainted with the place. That's not a waste of time, it's how children acquire a passion for travel!
For older kids, you might also consider getting them excited about your destination by giving them their own little guide book a couple of weeks in advance.
4. If you are a very spontaneous traveler, consider doing a little bit of planning. Getting "lost" in a new city, walking around without looking at the map and exploring randomly and spontaneously are some of the great joys of travel. But if you have little people with you, it's good to be a little prepared.
So if you don't want to check the restaurants because you don't know what area you'll be in by the time noon comes around, then make sure to keep some nutritious snacks handy: fresh fruit, a bag of nuts, some organic turkey jerky, whole-grain crackers will keep little tummies from rumbling while you find your way to a good lunch spot. (By the same token, hydration keeps headaches away and energy up, so keep water handy as well!) If you have little ones, make sure you bring baby food with you.
Also, it's always best to dress in layers and bring a cover-up along even when it's sunny, so you don't have to rush back to the hotel if the temperature drops or you stay out later than planned.
5. Prevent boredom. Boredom increases the chances of whining and mischief, and it makes the travel time seem incredibly loooong. Bring along a few things to keep the kids (and yourself!) entertained.
I usually prefer to skip the portable DVD player (so they have a chance to look out the window and enjoy the scenery a bit) and instead packing portable games, coloring books, stickers and maybe a magazines or a favorite book, instead. Car games and audio books are great for road trips; music can be very soothing, so consider loading your iPod with a few of your kids favorite tunes, get some small earbuds and get ready to share.
6. Consider travel insurance. If you want to feel a bit more prepared, consider a travel insurance policy. You can get coverage for medical expenses, accidents, loss or theft, or even cancellations. If you are nervous about traveling as a family, it might bring a bit more peace of mind.
7. Take it easy. Keeping everyone fed and hydrated and scheduling breaks – for a coffee, a snack, a walk on the beach or through a park – will help keep the spirits and energy high, so you can do and see a lot. But at some point, your tots will be ready to take a nap or call it a day. When that time comes, just let it happen. Try to do most of your activities (or the "musts" on your list) first thing, when everyone is fresh; don't push too hard, and be ready to call it quits when it's time.
Traveling with kids can actually improve your travel experience by encouraging you to slow down and really enjoy what you are doing, and to focus on a few things rather than spending the whole day running around, frantically trying to take it all in.
Do you have any experience traveling with kids? If you have any useful tips, please share them in the comments! And happy travels, everyone!
Originally published on Globetrotting in Heels.