it’s no secret that we love to travel and explore and have adventures together as a family. we definitely don’t have all the answers when it comes to how to travel smoothly with little ones, but i have rounded up a lot of answers to some of our most frequently asked questions when it comes to traveling with kids (especially abroad) below!
for your reference, i have also written this post about traveling abroad with little ones a few years back (more applicable to if you’re traveling with two year olds and younger) as well as handling airplanes with kids HERE.
IS TRAVELING WITH CHILDREN ACTUALLY WORTH IT?
i know some people feel strongly that taking kids around the world when they won’t be able to remember it all perfectly is such a waste. josh and i disagree with this argument because we believe exposing our children at a young age to different cultures, smells, tastes, languages and people, helps shape them as human beings and these experiences can leave a lasting impression that is hopefully for the better. we have also found that in our experience, not many things have topped the memories our family has created as we have spent time together exploring and learning, discovering and trying new things together. if anything, it has truly helped build a special bond i am thankful for. also, we kind of love to document through photos and videos and our kids ask often to watch our travel videos again over time or look at pictures from past trips. sometimes a certain photo or video will spark a memory from that trip we never documented and it’s fun to realize they are remembering much of it all on their own and holding it near and dear even years later.
DO YOU TRAVEL WITH A STROLLER? WHAT ABOUT TRAVELING WITH CARSEATS?
we are big believers in bringing the stroller along if you are visiting a city. we have brought our double stroller on the majority of trips we have taken (including abroad) because it serves as a home base during our days of exploring where the kids can sit and relax or sleep and nap when needed. i think we have an advantage here though, because we live in new york city and our kids have been accustomed to stroller naps, etc. since their earliest days. and since we usually enjoy wandering by foot in most places and sometimes walk several miles in one outing, having the stroller as backup for our kids has always been wonderful. also, it truly helps in the airport! we don’t ever check ours with our luggage but use it throughout the airport and check it at the plane doors.
as for carseats, we do not travel with them. mainly because we live in the city so we don’t use them often here. if we are renting a car on our trip, we will usually rent the carseats as well. not having them and carrying them around especially helps us achieve our goal of packing as light as possible. i know it can add up quickly if you are renting 3 carseats per day on a trip, but we don’t even own 3 carseats here in new york and we also don’t rent cars a whole lot when we travel. i know many prefer to travel with a carseat for the main purpose of using it on the airplane, but we have always just used regular seatbelts with our kids on our flights. everyone is different, so it’s probably just your preference!
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE TIME CHANGE WITH LITTLE ONES?
this can definitely be tricky (ie. that trip to australia last spring where we were on the completely wrong schedule after returning home to new york for like 2 solid weeks straight!)
one of the biggest things that helps our family is to jump straight into whatever time zone we are in once we arrive. so if you arrive in paris and it’s morning there, but middle of night where you came from, just hit the ground running for the day instead of going to the hotel and sleeping for a few hours. daylight really helps you out here, and can trick your kiddos rather easily. also, black out curtains in a hotel room can also help trick everyone into sleeping if it’s nighttime where you are but daytime where you came from.
it’s also important to remember here that this time change can be a big shift for little ones and they might crash at 4PM for the day and it’s okay. the biggest thing we’ve learned when it comes to traveling with kids in general is to just be as flexible as possible and not feel too tied down to structured sleep and nap schedules when you’re away from home. but do note that if they are crashing at 4PM for the night, it might be a good thing to get to bed early as well, because sleeping when they sleep is kind of key. the plus side to this way of thinking is that maybe everyone will be wide awake and completely ready to head out for the day at the crack of dawn, and maybe you will get to witness a beautiful sunrise together because of this, or have the city to yourself before it gets crazy and crowded… little things that may have not happened otherwise! there is always a silver lining, even with littles and a time change, trust me!
HOW DO YOU HANDLE BEDTIME AND SLEEP SCHEDULES IN SHARED HOTEL ROOMS?
this has gotten a little bit trickier for us as our family has grown. if we can’t find a hotel room big enough for all of us (usually 2 queen beds and a rollaway), we get connecting rooms. this is helpful since our kids might go down for the night a little earlier than we do, and this way we can stay up for a few hours working or planning the following day’s itinerary, etc. we keep the adjoining room door always open between the two rooms so it’s kind of like a mini apartment. but connecting rooms can be really hard to find in europe, and last summer while in italy, we actually had to book two separate rooms that were not connected. this meant we all hung out in one of the rooms during the daytime hours together and then at nighttime, josh and i split up and each took one or two of the kids. i hated it, but we made due that trip.
HOW DO YOU HANDLE MEALS OUT WITH KIDS WHEN TRAVELING?
the biggest thing we do is eat early! before the crowds! i also wrote this post all about other restaurant tips and tricks we have found to make eating out with kids far more enjoyable for everyone! (things like games and conversation to have at the table, asking for a booth or corner table and ordering right when you sit down/asking for the check when your food comes, etc! see all the tips here.)
we also always do a grocery store run when traveling and keep lots of healthy snacks and water on hand everywhere we go. because no one wants to deal with anyone that is hangry (hungry and angry) including mama when traveling. ;)
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT PACKING AND HOW MUCH LUGGAGE DO YOU RECOMMEND BRINGING?
this varies depending on the destination and how long we are away. but the main goal is to pack as light as possible! i talk a lot about how we pack for trips with kids in THIS POST if you’d like to check it out. the less you have, the freer and happier you will feel. you might remember our very first trip to italy when eleanor was just 19 months and samson was 5 months and we did the entire 2 week stay in italy with just two large carry on backpack bags. we were doing a lot of train rides in-between cities on that trip and it really saved us to have our hands free with the little ones and not weighed down with overly large suitcases. we have tried our best to keep to this mentality since, although for longer trips we now usually check 1 big rolling duffle bag (this one) and take our things for the flight and electronics in our carry on back packs. we were actually just at the airport in morocco last month and the guy behind the ticket counter was so confused as to why we only had one bag to check! he wouldn’t let it go! i guess it appeared kind of crazy to be a big family with one bag?! haha! (to stay organized and hands free, we make sure to have an extra bag for the airplane to keep all our coats or layered clothing in, and we have one bag dedicated for food, water, toys, games, puzzles, and other things to keep everyone entertained, which you can read about in the next question.)
i try to keep to just a few outfits for each child that i can interchange and usually just one pair of shoes. we also bring detergent and a bleach pen with us and i usually wash a few items at night in the hotel bathroom depending. (we made the mistake on one of our first international trips to have the hotel do our laundry and it’s true what jim gaffigan said about that, they must have been washing everything in champagne for the price!) so bring along some detergent or see if you can’t find a local laundry mat close by depending on where you are!
we also buy bulkier items like diapers after we arrive wherever we are going. they take up so much room in your luggage, that we only bring as many as we might need for a day and a half or so of travel and then buy them again once we arrive. we also try to wear all of our heavier coats or hats or things that are trickier to pack on our travel days so we aren’t having to pack them away.
HOW DO YOU MANAGE LENGTHY FLIGHTS AND PLANE TIME WITH KIDS?
i have written a few posts on some tips we have learned when it comes to flying with kids in the past. you can find those posts HERE and HERE! but don’t stress yourself out too much about having little ones or babies on a plane! you got it!
YOU’VE DONE OVERNIGHT RED EYE FLIGHTS AND DAYTIME FLIGHTS, WHICH IS BETTER WITH KIDS?
i think this depends on you and your kids! josh and i both used to be able to take red-eyes like they were nothing before our kid days, and i think we have really aged lately because they are truly torture now! like, everything hurts for days afterwards! the last redeye flight we did with the kids was a 10 hour flight home to new york from hawaii a few years ago and while our kids slept the entire way, josh and i didn’t! haha! i think it’s just a tradeoff depending on if your kids do well at night and you know they’ll sleep, and also if you know you can manage as well! sometimes the redeye flights are so significantly cheaper than other flights it’s hard not to consider. we actually just booked a trip for a few months from now and are taking a redeye flight home because the airfare was undeniably cheaper and i feel like i have ample time to mentally prep for the steady back ache that will follow me around for a solid 4 days afterwards. but since our kids do ok on them, we just went for it. so you know, definitely your preference!
i will say though that if you can swing a direct flight, it does make all the difference when it comes to a long day of travel with little ones and managing jet lag. in our experience, breaking it up with a leg in-between just extends the travel day in a not great way. having to endure an additional take-off and landing can also be rough on the kids ears, so i do think it’s worth springing for a direct flight if you have the option!
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT INTERNATIONAL TRANSPORTATION? DO YOU TRAIN, BUS, RENT A CAR, ETC?
this depends on the country or where we are. we definitely prefer public transportation since we love the subway and train system in new york and are accustomed to it. it’s also a great way to really get a feel for the country or culture you are experiencing when you get around the way the locals do. so if we can get around without a car, we definitely prefer to make due without one. when we do rent, we make sure to call ahead to make sure we can reserve 3 carseats ahead of time to rent as well. sometimes some rental car companies don’t keep many on hand, so be sure to check before!
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY OF TRAVEL LOOK LIKE WITH YOUR FAMILY?
we like to plan about 2 big activities or major sites to see per day, one for the morning and one for the afternoon. traveling with little ones is definitely a different kind of trip where you aren’t really able to spend countless hours in every single museum and site or walking tour. we have learned that remaining really flexible is what makes the trip more fun for us, because we are all more relaxed this way. only having about 2 big activities planned is also a great way to see where the day takes you. we will try to figure out a few different options for food or other activities based around our two main events for the day ahead of time, so we are prepped with more ideas or options while we’re out, and then we just keep it open ended depending on how everyone is feeling and doing as the day goes on. we also always get a lay of the land in terms of where the nearest parks or playgrounds might be ahead of time! you never know when you might need to make a detour and just let the kids run free in a playful space for a little while!
we usually like to have breakfast at the hotel before we head out, and then try to stay out to tackle our 2 activities for the day and whatever else we do around them before heading back to the hotel. we have found it difficult to try to come back to the hotel during the day to regroup. we try to bring everything with us that we will need and stay out as long as we can. some days that means we come back by 4PM because we’ve had a successful day out (or maybe not a successful day out) and we are all done for the day, while other times it’s meant we have still been out far past 9PM because by some stroke of good luck, we are still doing well and the kids napped at some point earlier in the day and are happily still going strong. i feel like i’m repeating myself a little bit here, but i really think it’s all about remaining flexible as you start your day and not trying to cram too many things into your itinerary for the day. it can be a really fun way to travel when you leave room to wander and take it at a slower pace with your little ones.
HOW DO YOU MANAGE SCHEDULING ACTIVITIES AND OTHER OUTINGS THAT KEEP BOTH THE ADULTS HAPPY AND ENGAGED AS WELL AS THE KIDS?
through a lot of trial and error, i think we have found the magic solution for this set up! it can be tricky when there are 5 of us and sometimes what josh and i want to do or see or eat is obviously not of interest to the kids, or vice versa. when they were much smaller and little babies, it was kind of a breeze, because they’d just sleep on you in a carrier or in the stroller as you’d wander around museums or shops and they didn’t really have a say in the activity because they could care less! (we would often time meals at ourdoor cafes during stroller naps!) as our little ones are 6, 4 and 2 years old, we have to juggle a lot of differing interests.
josh usually always takes the lead in planning our daily activities and itineraries and finds a lot of incredible options for the kids. we love seeing them so happy and engaged when we travel that josh and i usually don’t mind spending several hours poking around different kid museums or playgrounds when we travel. we spent an entire morning at the science museum and then another entire afternoon at the transport museum in london last month because our kids were so freaking happy in those spaces, that we were happy and content as well.
but something we have found to work really well especially with samson and eleanor as we plan our outings is to involve them in it. samson in particular really loves maps and navigating and it’s been helpful the last several trips to bring them into the planning stages and discuss and make plans together. it’s also a great way for them to learn about the country or city beforehand and get acquainted with everything we are about to experience! josh actually suggested that on an upcoming trip, we should help them learn all about what that particular city has to offer and leave it completely up to them to plan the entire thing (giving them the proper tools and outline to do so!) so, we are going to do that on an upcoming trip this summer and i’m really excited for it.
another big thing we have found that is helpful for keeping everyone happy with the itinerary is a sort of “something for you, something for me” mentality. we tried this out last month in england and it worked so well. for example, one of the main things i wanted to do was have teatime at sketch and obviously that wasn’t something my kids were crazy about wanting to experience (although truth be told, they loved it!). but samson also really wanted to go back to the hotel midday for a hot bath (he is the cutest with his baths!) and so we agreed that if we paused all our activities to go back to the hotel so he could have a bath, that i’d put a timer on my phone for an hour or so and once it was up, we’d head back out together and mama and papa would choose the next activity. afterwards, eleanor would choose something for us to do. the great thing about this, was that samson came out of the bathroom very excited after about a half hour of having his bath and to say, “ok! i’m ready! your turn, mama! what are you going to choose for us to do?” so we are definitely going to do more of this taking turns sort of thing for future trips since it worked so well this last time and teaches them to think about what others want to do too and taking turns for everyone. ;)
we also often travel with a few little cameras (and now journals) for the kids so they can really document the trip for themselves and learn to really see and feel things on their own. (you can see more about the cameras we bought for them that we bring along on trips right here, as well as some of the photos they have taken on past trips!)
i think the most important thing to remember (and sometimes it takes me a while to get there), is to just have fun! sometimes there is a mentality around traveling with little ones to kind of rush because you have to go-go-go to fit everything in and try to do it all, but what works best for us, is to kind of slow down and just be as present as we can in whatever we are experiencing or doing with our little ones. in our experience, i don’t think many things in life can top traveling with your family. once you get over that first panic attack of “are we crazy?!” it’s all worth it, i promise! :)
ps. if i missed anything you are curious about, feel free to ask in the comments and i will do my best to respond!