Tips for traveling with young kids

We travel often with our kids who are now 6 and 3. From our travels, I’ve learned some lessons and shortcuts that I picked up along the way. These tips have made travel with my kids easier and I wish to share them with parents who seek helpful tips to make their travel easier as well.

Two kids experiencing the Louvre for the first time

1. Quarantine. When my son was sick with horrible cold before leaving for a trip, I considered canceling our trip to New York and losing all our money. Luckily, my son looked better the day we planned to leave and I didn’t have to cancel. After that experience, I quarantine my children the week before departure. To reduce risk of catching a cold, virus, and even the flu, minimize contact with other children who may be sick. We skip summer camp, preschool, play dates at indoor jungle gyms and even Sunday school. Instead, we have more time outdoors at the beach, or our backyard where there is plenty fresh air and sunshine. Also, boost their immune system before traveling by giving them extra fresh foods loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber like oranges, flaxseed, greens…

2. Stay near a park. Staying in a safe location near a park makes it easier on us, parents. My children love going to the park and when we visited London, we stayed at a hotel across the street from Hyde Park. Since my children have tons of energy, we visited the park everyday after breakfast and before bed. Simply walking across the street to visit the park before hitting a museum or attraction really allowed them to run out their youthful energy and play in a safe place.

3. Vacation rental or hotel. I’ve done both. I like the idea renting an apartment because usually there is more space and it cost less than a hotel. However, after our experiences of staying at both hotels and rentals with young kids, I prefer staying at hotels with young kids. Hotels may cost more, but they provide service and convenience that vacation rentals do not. To call traveling with kids a vacation means that you shouldn’t have to do the same daily chores that we do at home but in a strange place. For example, in a hotel, I don’t have to clean up after my kids and husband. I don’t have to make the beds, clean the bathroom, or do the dishes. If the neighbors are noisy or the hot water is not working, I can complain and get moved to another room or get compensated. If one of my kids throws up on the sheets, I can just ask for another set of sheets. When we stay at a vacation rental, there is no daily housekeeping therefore I am doing the usual chores in someone else’s home plus more. We rented an apartment in New York, and it took my 1 year-old son less than 1 minute to find and tear the cover of a vintage copy of a magazine. At a rental, I hover around the kids to make sure they don’t break or ruin the owner’s property or hurt themselves because most rentals are not childproof, plus still do the dishes, wash the linens, and clean up after everyone. We lost time cleaning up after ourselves at the rental when we could have been enjoying the city.

If you decide to book a hotel, try booking a hotel with breakfast and self-service laundry. Keeping the kids in their pajamas and walking to breakfast in the hotel beats getting all dressed, leaving the hotel to look for a breakfast restaurant.

4. Buy a cheap stroller. Leave the heavy expensive stroller at home and invest in a cheap $19 stroller. It will be the best $19 spent. Strollers get beat up or even damaged in the in plane transit. Plus the light weight stroller is an easy push when it is carrying a child or not.

5. Pack smart. Prepare a detailed list for each person in your family, electronics, medications, baby gear… My advice is to make a list and start packing a week before departure. Don’t procrastinate. Try to avoid over-packing as baggage fees are crazy high nowadays. Plus traveling with kids, baggage, stroller, diaper bag, food/snack bag, and carseat are a lot to physically handle at the airport. If you are going for more than a week, consider packing light and plan on doing laundry on your vacation. Lastly, invest in travel cubes. Use them to organize and compress clothes.

6. Think about your expectations. Traveling with kids is a different experience than traveling without children. Set reasonable expectations for your family and be flexible. For instance, you can’t expect to spend several hours in an art museum with a hyper 3 year old. Save the art museum for when the kids are napping in a stroller or take turns with your partner. When my husband and I travelled before kids, we would spend the entire day out exploring on foot. After having kids, we realized that we most likely couldn’t do that. On our last trip to London, we were able to spend most of the day out of the hotel exploring the city, markets, parks, and walks while pushing two strollers and we briefly visited the Tate for an hour while our 2 year old napped in the stroller. By the way, when the kids nap in the stroller, consider it a free time to go to a nice restaurant or museum…somewhere kid unfriendly. Also, my pediatrician gave me great advice before our first overseas trip with my 1 year old. She told me not to stress about keeping eating and nap schedules. Kids will eat when they are hungry and sleep when they are tired. My kids did just that. I didn’t worry when my one year old would only have breast milk and crackers the first 4 days of our trip to England.

Don’t over plan and if you don’t hit all the sites, it’s ok. Enjoy the time traveling with your family. Traveling is fun! Try to experience the new place through the eyes of your children.