Five tips for travelling with young children
Traveling with young children can seem daunting and at times, a bit like herding a bunch of wild animals, but with a little know-how, travelling with children can be an incredibly enriching and rewarding experience for everyone involved.
After six months of full-time travelling around the United States and New Zealand with a preschooler and a toddler (all while pregnant), I'd have to say that I consider myself somewhat of an expert on travelling with young children. So if you're heading off this holiday season with your little ones in tow, take notes of the lessons we've learned along the way to make it an enjoyable experience for all involved.
1. PLAN AHEAD FOR MEALS
This is probably the number one difference between a good day on the road and meltdown city. You don't want to wait until everyone is hungry to figure out where to eat. There is nothing worse than 5 o'clock coming around, you're in a new place with no idea where to find a child-friendly, affordable restaurant that everyone will like, and pretty soon the kids (quickly followed by yourself) start to lose patience.
This is one lesson we learned the hard way. We found that if we didn't think about meals ahead of time, then inevitably hunger would suddenly strike and we would be sitting on our phones frantically searching for a place that was open while the kids lost it (as did my pregnant self). However, if we planned out where we were eating and planned to arrive BEFORE hunger striked, it made our days run a lot more smoothly.
2. CHOOSE CHILD-FRIENDLY ACTIVITIES AND SIGHT-SEEING OPPORTUNITIES
When looking up and planning your adventures for the day, always keep your children in mind. When you pick activities with all age groups in mind, not only will the kids enjoy themselves, but it will make everything that much more enjoyable for yourself as well. If your children are crying and complaining because they aren't having fun, then you aren't going to enjoy yourself either.
In each location that we visited, we choose adventures that were child-friendly and found that honestly, we, as adults, didn't miss out on much that we would have wanted to see if we were travelling alone. Keep in mind that an art museum where children are going to need to be quiet and not touch anything might not be the best option for a toddler because you will inevitably spend most of the time chasing after him or trying to distract him while he attempts to wriggle out of your arms. That's not to say that we didn't visit museums with our children, but we walked in with the mindset that when the kids had had enough, it was time for us to move on to something else.
3. TAKE YOUR TIME
Plan less and allow for extra time in everything that you do. Something that would take you a half hour to do on your own will probably take double or triple the time when you have kids along. Sometimes playing in the mud with sticks is more fun for the kids than powering through the 20 minute hike. Plan for a slower pace than you might usually attempt if you were travelling on your own or just you and your partner.
If you want to see more than one place, be realistic about what you can cover. The less you feel you have to pack in, the more enjoyable and stress-free your travels will be.
4. BYO SNACKS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Be prepared to battle hunger, thirst and boredom on long car rides, flights, and even during down-time in your accommodations. When there is nothing for your kids to do in the one-room hotel or the Airbnb that isn't outfitted for children, it ends up not being the picture-perfect relaxing evening you envisioned for your family holiday, but instead turns into you constantly asking your kids to quiet down or to not break something.
We found that the toys and activities we carted with us for the plane and car ride were life-savers when we were hanging out in our accommodations, keeping the boys happy and entertained while allowing us to relax and enjoy ourselves at the same time.
5. BE FLEXIBLE AND BREAK ROUTINES
We try to have a pretty strict nap and bedtime schedule with the kids at home, but that all went out the window when we were traveling. When away from home, there is a chance that a nap or two may get missed or the kids might be getting to bed a little later than usual. I always recommend trying to get the kids as much sleep as possible, but be realistic - while out adventuring or visiting friends and family your schedule probably won't be exactly the same as when you are at home.
Come to peace with this ahead of time and don't stress; the memories are worth it!