When you have kids you’ll find that your priorities about travelling completely change. I used to spend hours scouring websites for the cheapest flight deals and didn’t mind a bit if it meant camping on the floor of the airport or a few inconvenient flight changes. Now with a 2-year-old and a 1-year old? I’m more than willing to pay double the price for a flight at convenient times with no stopovers.
Life changes when you have children but it doesn’t mean that your travelling life is over. Travelling with kids brings up new challenges but also new rewards. Children see the world in a different way and can really help you appreciate new places and sights in the most surprising ways.
For proof that travelling with kids can be fun rather than stressful, just check out the growing number of travel blogs published by families who have packed up their lives and chosen to travel the world together. Travelling with your kids gives them access to other cultures and viewpoints and you’ll probably find the lessons they learn are more valuable and memorable than those learned in school.
You’ll also find that travelling with your children opens up doors and opportunities that may not have existed otherwise. There’s nothing like a cute baby to make people smile and help break the ice. If you’re nervous about meeting new people, you’ll probably find that your kids do the hard work for you.
So you’ve decided to take the plunge and take a trip with your kids – now what? Your preparations and where you travel will probably depend a lot on the ages of your children. Travelling with a baby is a completely different ballgame to travelling with a teenager.
You may also want to test the waters by sticking to domestic travel for your first couple of trips so you can ease yourself into it and get to know how your children personally cope with travel. A couple of weekends away in your own country are an easy way to get started and build confidence about travelling further afield.
It’s rarely a good idea to tear through countries at a breakneck speed but this is even truer when travelling with children. Hours on a bus or train are boring for kids and stressful for parents. Aim to stay in one place for longer rather than racing around trying to see everything. It’s reassuring to have a home base to return to after a day of sightseeing and you’ll get to really know where you’re staying instead of just scraping the surface.
Scope out kid-friendly attractions
You’ll find that most of the time your children are probably happy enough tagging along to the usual guidebook favourites. But sometimes it’s a good idea to pencil in some special days just for the kids to help them blow off steam and stop them from getting bored.
Zoos, aquariums, water parks and play areas are always popular with kids of all ages and make a nice change of pace from the typical tourist circuit. If you’re staying in a big city there will probably be plenty of these attractions around. In more far-flung areas think more along the lines of parks, beaches and other kid-friendly places to explore.
Ditch the stroller – pack a baby carrier
Strollers are heavy, unwieldy and a general pain when you’re travelling. Depending on where you’re travelling to, the pavements might not be up to wheeled baby transportation devices and you’ll probably end up swearing and wishing you’d left the thing at home.
If you have a child of infant to toddler age, a baby carrier is a must-have item for travelling. They keep your child up off the ground away from potential dangers and keep your hands free. You don’t have to worry about your naughty toddler running off and your child will probably be much happier getting a good view of their surroundings rather than seeing nothing but feet.
There are lots of different carriers available. For general travel I like the soft structured type carriers made by companies like Ergobaby and Beco. These are soft and light enough to be rolled up and tucked in your bag but supportive enough to wear all day. Most of them are suitable for newborns to toddlers and you can do front and back carries with them.
Snacks are your friend
Like most humans, when kids are tired or hungry they tend to get cranky. It can be tricky fitting in regular meals around train timetables and sightseeing so to fill the gap, make sure you always always travel with snacks.
If you’re travelling somewhere where the cleanliness of food establishments is somewhat questionable, it’s also better to stick to pre-packaged food where possible than risk your kids getting sick. Traveller’s diarrhoea is a common affliction but can be quite serious in small children.
Don’t be too worried about trying to keep the snack healthy. If you can find something healthy and portable that your kids will actually eat, consider it a bonus, but a couple of weeks living on bread and crackers won’t kill them. And don’t underestimate the power of normally ‘banned’ foods. A lollipop can work wonders for a fussy toddler on an airplane.
Pack a smart phone
You may be against small children using electronic devices in principle but iPhones, iPads and the like really come into their own when you’re travelling. Games and movies will help keep little kids quiet for hours on a train or bus and white noise apps are very helpful for getting babies and toddlers to sleep and stay asleep in unfamiliar surroundings. You can even get electronic copies of many picture books now so if your little ones have a favourite bedtime story you can bring it with you without the added weight.
They’re also really handy for accessing websites in Wi-Fi cafes so you can look up the nearest child-friendly attractions or book your next hotel room from the road.
Lower your expectations
You’ll just have to come to terms with the fact that you won’t be able to do everything the same as you did pre-children. Trying to fit too much in one day, attempt long hikes or plan anything around naptime is sure to end in tears for all around.
The last time I took a short trip with my kids I had a long list of shops I wanted to visit, cafes I wanted to eat at and so on but when we arrived it soon became clear that it was a mission even leaving the hotel – it was too hot to be out for most of the day and my daughter was happiest playing in the hotel pool. Remember your reasons for travelling and there’s no shame in having a few days of doing absolutely nothing but enjoying your time together.