Philip and I both grew up traveling a ton. His dad is a travel agent, and my parents always made travel a priority, so when we got married we continued to get out of town often and put most of our money toward that. In those first few years of marriage without kids, we decided that even after we had babies we wanted to continue to travel and just make it happen.
There are definitely a lot more logistics that go into traveling with kids, but we’ve made it a priority and have found that traveling with our boys has been just as fun and rewarding (although definitely not as relaxing…).
Over the years we’ve discovered a few tips that make traveling with kids easier
1. Make an itinerary, but prepare to be flexible. Philip loves making a schedule for each day of our trips, and doing all the research to find the best parks, restaurants, events, destinations, etc. It’s so helpful for us to have each day planned out before we arrive so we know what to bring and plan on each day. BUT, we try to be really flexible and have a few backup plans and extra time built in because nothing ever goes exactly as planned when you’re traveling with kids, and it’s good to be flexible so no one is upset when an activity or destination is missed. Neither of our boys nap anymore, but make sure you schedule those in if your kids need them so everyone stays happy! You can choose to come back to the hotel, or schedule a long walk through the city during nap time so baby falls asleep in the stroller.
2. Make a large part of your activities kid-focused. As our kids get older, our destinations and travel activities will definitely change. But for now, we try to choose vacation spots that are interesting for us as adults, but also have plenty for the kids to do. We’re steering clear of guided tours, art museums, and other activities that would completely bore them, and instead choose walking cities, or resorts, or other places that are geared toward families. We spent a huge portion of this trip at various parks around the city (we researched ones with good ratings and found several amazing ones!), and spent an entire morning at the Exploratorium museum on the wharf (which was so fun and we highly recommend….we could have spent days there!). We also went ice skating as a family, which was so fun.
3. Pack lightly. When all four of us are traveling together, we try to stick to two suitcases (I share with one boy, and Philip shares with the other). When I’m traveling alone with the boys, we bring one large suitcase for all three of us. Having only one suitcase per adult makes it so much easier since little kids are easily tired out by dragging around their own luggage. Then each of the boys get a backpack (that they’re in charge of carrying, filled with activities and snacks for them), Philip brings his backpack and I bring a large purse — both of which fit our laptop and camera so we don’t have to bring separate bags for those. It’s easy to bring along tons of things on vacation, but consolidating as much as you can makes traveling so much easier, especially if you’re flying to your destination.
4. Take advantage of what the city has to offer. We are big believers in experiencing the culture, food, and history of each place we visit. Having kids shouldn’t stop you from doing that! Especially when it comes to food, we skip all chain restaurants and love researching local spots and letting our boys try food from different cultures. Traveling gives perspective, and opens your eyes to the world, and I want my children to experience that (even when we’re not that far away from home). Yes, they still order chicken nuggets frequently, but we also make them eat pork buns from Chinatown, clam chowder down at the wharf, authentic thai food in the city, and a Ghirardelli sundae (no complaints about that one, obviously). We also walked the Golden Gate Bridge, took rides on the historic trolleys and street cars, went to the Union Square Christmas tree lighting, spent a morning walking through Chinatown, and other things that gave us a true San Francisco experience. Oh, and Philip is really good about teaching them as much about our location as he can so they can appreciate the history of the city, architecture, buildings, events, etc. Fos is still too little to understand a lot of it, but B loved learning about San Francisco.
5. Come prepared with time-killing activities. We just started this tradition on this trip to San Francisco, but it’s definitely one we’ll be using for all future vacations. We went to the bookstore before our trip and chose one family book — something small and paperback that I could easily carry around in my purse. And every time we stood in line, sat at a restaurant waiting for our food, or just had a few minutes of down time when typically I would get on my phone, or the boys would beg to play a game on the phone, I brought out the book and read them a chapter or two. I wrote more about it on my instagram right here, but it was an excellent way to keep the family happy, kill time, and make some great memories. My brother-in-law also introduced us to a game over the summer that he calls “Drop the Point.” It’s a trivia game where each child gets an imaginary bucket, and for each correctly answered question a point “drops” from the ceiling into their bucket. My boys love playing it when they’re feeling bored, and it’s a great game because it requires nothing but your imagination and brain. If you’re road-tripping, we also recommend books on CD! Download them to an iPod so they can listen on their own without interruption, and for smaller children try books on CD that have a follow-along hard copy, since listening to a book is an acquired skill.
A few other bonus tips: bring a stroller (even if your child is older!) because as much as B dislikes riding in the stroller like a baby, he loved it on this trip once he feet would get tired from walking. It saved us lots of complaining. Also, of course this doesn’t work for everyone’s budget, but we dedicate a good portion of our vacation funds to our hotel so we can upgrade to a suite. Having the boys in a separate room from us makes Philip and my vacation so much more enjoyable so we can spend time together in the evenings after the boys go to bed instead of being forced to go to bed at 8pm with them. Like I said, it doesn’t work for everyone (and if you have a baby, the bathroom or closet often works great as a second room), but it’s one thing we’ve done since we had two kids and it’s made our vacations as adults so much better.
I’d love to know your tips for traveling with kids — we’re always looking for more ideas to make our family vacations better!