I absolutely love travelling and exploring new places. I loved it before I had kids and I love it now, even though the two experiences are vastly different. I think that, no matter how old your kids are, showing them the world is always a positive thing. Even if they are “too young to remember”, every experience when they’re younger comes together to form who they are as a person when they’re older. That’s why we sing with our kids before they can talk, why we read them books before they can read themselves. With travelling, we as parents are teaching our kids about different cultures, religions and ways of living. And we’re showing them just how stunningly beautiful the world is. That appreciation will be ingrained in them as they grow older and start understanding the environmental impact we as human beings have on the earth and hopefully will turn them into advocates for protecting all the beauty around them. Plus travelling gives them so much dedicated family time with mom and dad that they might not have at home with our long todo lists and never-ending household tasks.
With all the travelling that we’ve done as a family (more than a dozen countries visited during our 30 or so trips over the past four years), I’ve learned a few things about how to make travelling with young kids as easy and stress-free as possible. Read on for my top 5 tips for how to make family travel more successful.
[ 1 ] Pack as light as possible
My least favourite part of travelling with young kids is the packing and all the stuff you seemingly need. Our first trip was a road-trip to Salzburg from Munich with then 5-week-old Isabelle and our entire SUV trunk and back bench was stuffed full of gear. But most of that baby gear really isn’t necessary. For warm-weather travel, I highly recommend carry-on-only travel. It seems daunting with young kids, but it IS possible – I’m a serial packer and even I managed a 5-week Europe trip with my two kids (sans my husband aka someone who can take even more carry-on luggage) and I actually found quite a few things I had packed that I would leave at home next time around.
My number one tip here is to start planning your packing list well in advance and even start packing a day or two before so you don’t get yourself stressed out and willy-nilly throw things into a suitcase that take up a lot of space but are actually not needed. Create a packing list that applies every single time (you can always get rid of individual items not needed for certain trips) and keep working on that list to reduce what you’re bringing. Analyze every piece carefully and decide if it’s absolutely necessary. Clothes can be washed, baby gear can be rented, and – with a little creativity – lots of bigger items can be left at home or replaced with compact items that work just as well (e.g. baby carrier instead of a stroller for cobblestone streets in southern Europe or blow up bed rails for safe co-sleeping instead of bringing a travel crib).
[ 2 ] Make travel days faster, quicker + easier
I have learned over the years that a stress-free travel day is worth a few extra bucks. By that I mean take the direct flight over the indirect flight if it’s easier (for longer flights I actually find a stopover works better for my kids unless it’s nighttime). Go with the mid-day flight that is a bit pricier to avoid having to wake up your kids at 5 am to head out the door. Skip the lengthy bus/subway/bus trip and order an Uber instead, which is a fast, affordable, and safe way of getting to the airport (and is usually not much more than paying for the full family to take public transit anyways).
Now, this is coming from the ultimate budget traveller. I love travelling for less and I thoroughly miss the 50 Euro flights I could get when I lived in Germany that flew into some obscure airport way outside of the actual destination city. But, in all of my travelling with my kids (and I’ve done a lot), what I’ve learned is that it’s often worth paying a bit more to lessen the hassle and save you travel time.
uberXL is a great option if you’re travelling as a family and want a quicker (and more stress-free!) option to get to the airport than public transit or don’t want to deal with the hassle (and crazy high rates) of airport parking. uberXL provides the same great service as uberX, just in the form of an SUV or van that seats up to 6! Perfect for all your luggage and getting everyone into a single vehicle.
What I love most about Uber is that you can easily order one from your phone, see where your driver is and when he’ll arrive, plus it’s also available in 80+ countries and 600 cities globally so there’s a good chance you can take an Uber at your destination as well. In New York City (where we’re staying right now), uberX also gives you the option of booking a car with a car seat, which I think is really amazing. If you’re not planning on bringing a car seat with you, this is such a wonderful feature that I haven’t found anywhere else.
[ 3 ] Book an apartment or house rather than a hotel room
Putting your kid(s) to bed and then having to sit in silence in the dark for hours until it’s time for you to go to bed is no fun. And hungry kids (aka cranky kids) in the morning as you’re all getting ready to head out is also not my idea of a good time. Having a kitchen and a separate bedroom where the door can be closed is invaluable when travelling with young kids. These days there are so many options – from airbnb to vacation rentals to family hotel suites that have a kitchenette and multiple bedrooms.
[ 4 ] Plan only one adult travel must-see per day
It’s just not possible to do the same number of touristy things with kids as you used to do in your pre-kids days. At least not without major burnout after only a couple of days. This has been the biggest adjustment I’ve had to make because I love packing a trip full of a million must-sees. Decide which items you’re mainly doing for you and then cut that number down to around one per day. Then pad the rest of your day with a few kid-friendly activities, whether they’re tourist attractions or not. For example, here in NYC we spent one of our days in Dumbo, Brooklyn (and by “day” I mean about 4 hours in the morning/early afternoon before heading home for the obligatory toddler nap followed by playtime in the apartment we’re staying at and then dinner somewhere close by). We checked out the skyline and the bridge at the waterfront (adult must-see) and then added the Jane Carousel and NYC Transit Museum to the list for the kids. It was one of my favourite days this trip since the kids had so much fun (read: parents also had a great time) and I still got to see parts of Brooklyn that I had never seen (e.g. the north side of the bridge where the carousel is located).
[ 5 ] Be flexible
I feel like “be flexible” is the best mantra for parenting in general and it absolutely applies to travelling. Whilst I think it’s really important to plan the big items like flights, hotels, and transportation, it’s good (and often times necessary) to be flexible in your day-to-day activities. What you can accomplish on any given day is dependent on so many factors: weather, kids’ moods, exhaustion levels, etc. It’s good to have a list of possible todos and then to pick what you’d like to do on any given day. Oh and always know where the nearest playground is just in case.
For my fellow travel-happy families, what are your top tips?
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Uber. All thoughts and opinions are my own.