Our Top 10 Tips for Traveling with Kids
Here is a list of our top ten tricks/hacks/pieces of advice for traveling with kids. What you will notice is they are not as simple as “buy this specific piece of gear”. They are more general in nature and will apply whether you are exploring the area around your home or heading off to some far-flung corner of the world. We hope you enjoy and reach out if you have questions!
1. Involve kids in the planning process
Getting buy-in is not only for adults! Talk about the trip with the kids. Get them excited! Research the region you are traveling to and familiarize them with it. Let them pick a place of interest or thing to do (ride the train, head to a local playground, explore a castle, surf, etc.) and do it.
Not everything has to be touristy. Hit up local playgrounds and local spots. Plan a walk around the area without a single sight-seeing goal and let them be the leaders. The world through their eyes is quite unique and you may end up in some really cool places!
We never would have explored the historic alleyway sword shops in Toledo had they not shown interest.
2. Be flexible
If you are like Kristen, then you love to plan. We learned through experience that having a rough outline is important. Setting daily goals is important and booking your hotel ahead of time is SUPER important! But filling out your day to the brim is not.
Leave time to enjoy a late breakfast, a long swim, or a walk around town. Take advantage of the unexpected- Stop at that playground you walked by , swing into some random shops, or explore a farmers market. Enjoy the freedom to choose!
Some of our best experiences came on the way to one of our daily goals including the time we ran into the town festival in Nelas, Portugal and ended up spending the whole afternoon eating churros and watching a parade!
3. Never leave home without snacks
We mean it. Don’t step foot into the airport without snacks and few treats, and not just for the flight. We always have some staples along just in case . Sometimes you arrive late and everything is closed. Maybe you are too tired, or someone came down with a cold, or your two year old is mid meltdown. It’s amazing what a simple Starburst can do.
We like to pack PB&J or tuna sandwich ingredients before leaving home. Its nice knowing we have a quick meal for everyone up our sleeve should the need arise. We may not always enjoy it, but they sure were cheaper on our ferry ride from Copenhagen to Oslo than the food on board.
4. Don't be afraid to buy groceries and cook
We stop at the grocery store upon landing. We buy some basics (snacks, wine, etc.) and plan some EASY dinners. By easy we mean super easy (salami, cheese, and some bread works in southern Europe). We prefer to eat breakfast at the hotel/B&B/farm stay, etc., lunch while we are out exploring, and dinner back at our lodging.
On a related note, make sure you research common mealtimes where you are traveling. We were once in a small town in the Apulia region of Italy and we were tired, crabby, and hungry. We learned the hard way that they eat late! The only restaurant in town didn’t open until 8PM, so we ended up napping in the car until it opened. From there on out we did our research or avoided dinners out.
5. It's ok to bring games and toys
We also always pack some easy-to-carry games (deck of cards, simple dice games, etc.). We’ll play while waiting for food, on public transport, etc. An added bonus is at night Mom and Dad can play some cards and drink some wine while the kids are sleeping.
We also let the kids pack their own carry-on bags (with supervision). That way they have input into the process and hopefully some toys they will enjoy. Once they were old enough, they also had to carry their own bag, so that helped keep the weight down!
6. Screen-time is ok
I’ll be the first to admit, we are largely a no-screen family. That is a personal choice. That being said, both kids bring iPad minis on long flights and have free range to watch until their eyes pop out of their heads. Sometimes you have to pick your battles and this is one we choose not to fight!
Make sure you download some new shows, movies, or games. We’ll try to find some content related to where we are going (i.e. if there is an ocean, maybe some Nat Geo whale documentaries). We’ll do anything to build the hype!
We would not have survived five years traveling back and forth to our temporary home in Malta without it!
7. Stay outside of the city
We have visited many of the major metropolitan areas in Europe, however with kids we normally stay outside the city. We rent a car and prefer Airbnbs (by SuperHosts), VRBOs, or more frequently, Agritourism/Farm Stays. Staying outside of this city gives the kids tons more room to play, scream, cry, run, etc., often authentic locally cooked meals, and unique small-town and rural cultural experiences.
On our trip to Seville, we stayed at an Agritourism outside of the city. We were able to head into Seville to see our key stops while also exploring small towns along the way. Stress levels were much lower and everyone had far more fun.
8. Leave the "Top 10 Must See" lists behind
We get it. You are traveling somewhere unique and deep down know you will likely never visit that place again. It truly is a once in a lifetime experience. You want to see it all and some. That sounds great in theory but does not work in practice.
Google any city and the first thing you will see are Top 10 Must See lists. They are often full of churches and historical monuments. While these are cool, they are not always cool with kids – especially for days on end! Pick a couple that really stand out and then leave the rest.
We promise you that you will never look back on a trip spent zipping from must-see site to must-see sight as fondly as you will one where everyone in the family was immersed in the culture and free to explore.
While we can remember visiting the Colosseum, we all have vivid memories running around at our agritourism stay north of Rome.
9. Forget the stroller
Regardless of the age, we most often left the stroller at home and instead opted for carriers. For infants, we loved the Ergo Baby 360. For toddlers we liked the Deuter Kid Comfort. Many places we travel to do not have wide sidewalks or are just too busy to try and navigate a stroller around.
Carriers make it so your hands are free to do whatever, like sip Glühwein at a Christmas market in Vienna while your son is asleep and snuggled in close. The added benefit is you aren’t lugging that stroller everywhere you go!
10. Rent a car
Driving in a foreign land can seem scary. We hear you. We also know from experience that it is our favorite way to travel with kids. The freedom it buys is immense and well worth the stress of learning to drive somewhere new. We will admit, driving on the other side of the road takes some getting used to. Just go slow and you’ll be fine!
You have a safe place to keep gear, opportunities for car naps, diaper changes and the chance to explore parts of the world inaccessible by public transport. You also have total control over your schedule, which is perhaps the most important.
Most of our trips just wouldn’t be the same without renting a car. Just rip off that band aid!
Remember, going on vacation is all about having fun and experiencing something new. Don’t let others dictate what you should do or see. Plan some fun sights, get the kids involved, and follow our advice above. Let them have that ice cream cone, play at the local park, or throw rocks into the ocean for hours. You will all remember those experiences more than waiting in line for an hour to see La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona for five minutes.