I have met many capable, intelligent adults over the years that make their way easily through the world of business and power lunches, but if you mention the idea to them of taking a trip to parts unknown with their children, the reaction is often the same – a shake of the head, a shudder and an “Are you crazy?” I have traveled all over the place with my children and the experience doesn’t need to be daunting, but you must go into the adventure like you would anything else in life, armed with the knowledge to make it a success.
Manage Your Expectations
When my husband and I were moving to Europe with our 4-year-old twins I remember saying to him that I wasn’t really sure we’d get to travel very much because we had small children. We agreed that our experience might be limited to the area we lived in. Our expectations going into the adventure were set extremely low and guess what? At the end of the year we might have won the award for the ex-pat family who traveled the most (if there was an award.) What if we’d gone into the year with high hopes, big plans and an intense travel schedule? We would have been disappointed the first time we had to cancel a trip because a child was sick or a last minute meeting was planned that my husband had to attend. Keep your expectations for any trip reasonable and family-friendly. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Stay in One Place a Few Days
I remember chatting with a nice American couple while eating lunch at an outdoor café in Rome. They were on a 10-day, 5-city tour. They were in Rome for 24 hours. One day. We were in Rome for a week. Don’t do the whirlwind tour with kids. Any major city in the world has enough to see and experience that you can devote a few days for a visit. If you are more interested in smaller villages, devote a few days to a region. Stay at one hotel and make day trips. Kids need to have a place to call home. Hotel hopping just makes them unsettled and cranky. Every time we checked in to a hotel my kids immediately sectioned off their own corner of the room for their toys and books. They would fondly refer to our hotel as “the house in” Rome or London or Tuscany…
Move Slower, Except in Museums
Find a pace for sightseeing that works for you and your child. Meander. Stop to admire statues and gardens. Take a lot of leisurely pictures. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you’ll see if you slow down. The exception to this tip is in a museum. Most kids could not care less about museums, so expect to spend less than half the time you would if you were on your own. There are magical museum moments, of course. We had one in Vienna, Austria when I let each of my kids pick out a sight they’d like to see (I read ideas to them out of the travel book.) My son chose the Kunsthistoriches Museum because he wanted to see the “shining armor.” We spent several hours in that museum working our way up to the armory floor. His imagination went wild and we got to see the fabulous Hapsburg art collection.
Make Sure They Get To Rest
Don’t push your child to the point of a melt-down. Even you get tired sightseeing and, let’s be honest, it’s your trip. Kids have boundless energy, but it’s not travel/sightseeing energy. If your child still needs to nap, take a break and head back to the hotel. Even if they don’t need a nap sometimes it’s nice to take a break and go back to their “house” to relax, play, read a book. Many countries actually have a time built in to their day for this. They call it siesta, and many things are closed so you don’t even need to feel guilty. You and the kids will be refreshed and ready to make the most of the second half of the day.
Include Kid Sights in Your Itinerary
When you’re in your travel planning stage, make sure to think about some places the kids would enjoy. We planned on one kid sight each day, although often we’d stumble upon others. After a morning in a museum, stop at a nearby park and let the kids run. Eat ice cream, visit the local Children’s Museum or go to the zoo. Castles are enjoyable places for both adults and children. Our entire family enjoyed Edinburgh Castle in Scotland – the adults for all the history, the kids for the people walking around in costumes and the bagpipers (ok, the parents liked this part too).
Say Goodbye to Nightlife
Your travels prior to the kids may have included spending half the night in the pub or disco or bar, depending on where you were. Do yourself a favor and don’t even read the Nightlife section of your travel book. My guess is your nighttime activities may include a slightly later than usual dinner, followed by a stroll around the center of town (sometimes you may stumble upon an outdoor concert or festival) and ice cream. You’ll be having so much fun seeing the world through the eyes of your kids during the day, not to mention working a little harder than when you traveled without them, that you’ll be ready for a good nights sleep.
Feed Those Kids
I fondly remember a trip to Austria where we were having a very difficult time finding food that my daughter would eat (picky, picky.) We ended up eating dinner every single night at the Champions Sports Bar in the Marriott Hotel. Every single night. Did it ruin my trip? Nope, and I love to try new foods. Everyday at breakfast and lunch I’d try some new local delicacy while my daughter filled up on bread or cornflakes or fruit. At night we’d eat American fare. Your kids will get hungry, which could mean unpleasant moments. Feed them regularly. Carry snacks and look for the American hotel restaurant if you have to.
There are days when things just don’t go quite as planned. Someone doesn’t feel well (you or a child.) You misread the hours of admission and your sight is closed. Your toddler has just simply had enough. We recently were in Beijing, China where we had planned to spend a couple of hours at a museum, followed by a visit to an outdoor temple. After we entered the museum I began to wonder why I had chosen it. It had a lot of semi-nude 1960’s paintings hanging on the walls. My husband asked me why we were there. My kids commented on the nudes. We left, but it had started to rain, so instead of going to the temple we went back to the hotel and the kids swam. I don’t feel like we missed a thing. It was a great trip.
If you go in to your adventure with the right mind-set, the right expectations, flexibility and prepared for the reality of traveling with your kids, you are going to build memories that will last forever. You’ll open up the world for yourself and your kids. It’s worth every minute.
About the author:
Deanna Hyland lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and 10 year old twins. When she’s not writing about travel, she’s dreaming about or planning her next trip.