Katerina from Happy Breaks is a mom of nearly three year old twins and a wife to a wonderful man who also loves to travel. Katerina and her husband travelled extensively before their twins were born and, soon after the babies came into their lives, they started planning vacations as a family.
Travelling with young children is nothing like solo or couple travel and it presents its own unique challenges (in other words, you need to start preparing yourself for the chance that someone in your travel party will wee through their pants, drop food all over their clothes, or throw up at some point in the trip). These are my five top tips for travelling with babies and toddlers, which have proved helpful with my family, and I hope they assist those of you who long to travel but need a few practical tips to get started.
Tip 1 - Discuss the trip with your kids ahead of time
Of course, the extent to which this tactic will be helpful will depend on many factors, primarily your child’s age but also their character and ability to understand and retain the information you give them. Repetition with young children is in our view key.Younger toddlers or even older children who get scared easily or are fairly shy will benefit most from this. Telling your kids what they’re about to experience will prepare them for the inevitable influx of new places, people, smells, food, feelings, weather and other unfamiliar things on vacation without being overwhelming and scary.
We started talking about our first overseas vacation with the twins two or three months before we left. We were booked on a 15-hour flight from Sydney to San Francisco about two months after they turned two. We talked to them about the long plane ride, what would happen when we got to the airport in San Francisco, the customs and immigration checks we’d go through. We talked to them about hiring a car and going on a roadtrip. We talked about Disneyland rides, about travelling with their grandmother for part of the trip (who lives in Europe and whom they only knew from Skype until that holiday) and generally tried to install a sense of excitement into them even though they did not yet understand the words “holidays” or “vacation”.
It’s hard to know how much the kids understood before the trip but it became so clear how quickly they both realised what “holiday” meant when we started our roadtrip. Kids thrive on routines and if they can’t have them, knowing what to expect is the second best thing.
Tip 2 – Do fun things for the whole family
We firmly believe that even if your child is still young and even if he or she won’t remember any part of this particular trip when they’re older, it’s the time spent there and then that counts most. So it’s important to make it nice for everyone.
You and your partner might have been devout sightseers prior to having a family but why not split your holiday time now so that every member of your family has a turn in doing something fun for them?
Yes, vacation time is precious and we might not want to do any of the things we do at home when on holidays, but unfortunately that’s all part and parcel of parenthood. Plus, holiday can represent a special bonding time for the whole family and that’s a chance not to be missed, with our normal crazy busy schedules and commitments.
For example, why not do some sightseeing in the morning and spend the afternoon at a park, indoor playground, a children’s museum or a waterpark? Not only will your kids thank you (and will get nice and tired and sleep better) – they will likely put up more with the things you want to do! Plus, you may discover cool places you never would if you only stuck to the tourist traps and, really, is there anything better than seeing a smile on those little faces and hearing their little excited squeals?
Tip 3 – Spend more to relax more
Consider paying for an apartment with at least one bedroom, a full kitchen and a laundry (ideally), rather than a hotel room. Or perhaps check out Airbnb or HomeAway and see if there’s an entire house or timeshare you could rent?
Yes, the cost of the trip will go up but we find that with babies and toddlers, you tend to spend more time at your accommodation overall than you would if you were travelling as a couple or solo traveller.
Plus, being able to put the kids in their own bedroom and close the door after they go to bed allows the parents to have dinner, watch TV or read a book in comfort without sneaking around in the dark and going to bed early every night (because, that wouldn’t be much of a vacation, right?). We find that one bedroom is enough if two bedroom places are hard to come by, the kids sleep in their travel cots and we sleep in the bed and you still get that separation from the rest of the apartment for their naps and sleep.
We also think that staying in a house in the suburbs gives us a unique perspective on what life is like overseas which a stay in a hotel just can’t achieve. Coming from Australia, we love to see how Americans live. We especially love the beautiful architecture in the States (which is so different to Australia) and after finally booking our first Airbnb house last year, we were so happy to stay in a lovely house with large windows in the Bay Area straight after we arrived. The kids, of course, thrive on having space, especially after being cooped up on the plane and then a car for a long time, and a yard, no matter how small.
Finally, I don’t have to explain just how fabulous having a laundry or a kitchen is with kids! The comforts of home while you’re on holidays can never be underestimated when you have little ones in tow.
Tip 4 – Try and hire what you can
If you have a couple of babies like we did, you need a lot of stuff. Stuff you can either take with you (which is cheaper, but lugging it can be so painful!) or hire. Hiring is obviously more expensive, so firstly ask your hotel or Airbnb host if they are able to supply high chairs and/or travel cots (with sheets) and at what cost, and then think of what else you may need to hire elsewhere or take with you: a booster seat, playpen, bottle steriliser, toys, pram, baby bath and even trikes can all be hired. Check with your car rental company how much they charge for car seats and consider if it’s worth bringing your own. Since we have two kids, it’s always worth it for us and we also like that we know that they have never been in an accident and that we’ll have no trouble installing them.
Generally speaking, it will all depend on where you’re going, for how long and what you’re prepared to live without. Places frequently visited by families and capital cities will have a choice of equipment hire providers and good competitive rates. If you’re however looking at flying into a smaller city, your choice may be a lot more limited.
That said, the older the kids get the less they need, and we increasingly find ourselves contemplating what else we can leave behind (which is completely opposite to the thought process we had when we started travelling with them, which was “What else should we take with us?”). On our next overseas trip, we’re planning to only take their car seats and travel cots and won’t need any carriers, strollers, booster chairs, playpens, sterilisers or anything else of the sort.
So it seems that it does get easier to travel with kids, at least in the amount of stuff you need to bring!
Bonus tip: test at home all the things you plan to take with you, in case you’re buying new things or taking equipment you don’t use much – like a cheaper stroller because you’re worried your Bugaboo will get damaged or broken. There is nothing worse than lugging everything to your destination and then discovering there that your baby no longer fits in the cheaper stroller or that its wheel is broken, or that you brought something you cannot use – like a toddler harness your child refuses to put on, or something you thought would make your trip easier but it turns out to be another thing you have to carry around. Have a think about these things before you start packing and set off on your trip, it might save you a lot of heartache and sore muscles!
Tip 5 – Think about your kids’ security
I thought about this a lot before our first overseas trip with the twins. I was worried about them getting lost at the airport or while out and about overseas. If you have a little runaway baby or toddler, you may want to think about how to make sure that they can always be identified and you can be easily contacted if they get lost.
There are a number of ways – for example, you can buy ID bands which have a Velcro closing and their details written in a little slot inside the band. This was great until the twins figured out how to take them off (it’s not that hard to be honest, I figure that for them to work, you need to have an older obedient child who will either like to wear the band or will understand they need to keep it on for a good reason. Unfortunately we do not fall into this category yet and the twins like to do what the other one does, especially the naughty things!).
Next we decided to order iron on labels to iron onto their clothes, with their names and our telephone number. This is a great idea but if you are buying new clothes overseas, you run the risk of the child not having the label on the clothes they are wearing each day (though you could always take more labels with you and iron them on as you go, if you’re super organised).
There are also devices you can use to keep them close by – like carriers, if they will stay in them, or walking harnesses.
Whatever you end up using, this is a topic which may require some thinking about ahead of your trip – how will you keep your toddler close if you’re distracted by check in, or in a crowd of people and your child refuses to wear a harness, or stay in a carrier? What will you do if they get lost – how can they be identified? What details can you provide when you travel overseas and stay in different hotels? Will you bring your phone, carry it with you and have it on?
My extra tip for family travel is to be more prepared and organised ahead of your trip than you would otherwise be.
I find that you do end up doing a lot of spontaneous things on your vacation anyway (like going into a park you’re walking past on the way from the shops or the bus stop), so it’s not likely that you’ll be totally limited by the research you do at home, but on the other hand I also believe that kids are way more impatient than adults and having a suggestion or two of things to do will come in handy quite often. This is more important in places where you don’t have mobile reception or can’t google everything on your phone for fear of high roaming charges.
Last year, we planned a birthday picnic for me in a great park but it was Saturday and when we got there, there was a huge line of cars waiting to enter the national park in which the picnic spot was located. The kids were hungry and, not willing to wait for a long time to get in, we checked our pre-prepared itinerary stored in the glove box of the rental car and off we went to another park with great Yelp ratings only 10 minutes away. Being prepared helps but if you’re willing to wing it, I bet you’ll find some great spots too.
If you enjoyed reading these tips, you can visit our website at www.happybreaks.com.au and register your email to access the members only page which contains a free pdf download of further tips for travelling with babies and toddlers and more.
About Happy Breaks – Travel Planning
Happy Breaks is a family travel assistance service based in Australia which can help you research and plan your family vacation. Their business idea is unique – you give them your requirements and tell them a little about your family’s interests, and they will get to work for you, finding family-friendly options for your accommodation and designing a detailed itinerary for your trip, entirely customised to your family.
Apart from accommodation and itineraries, Happy Breaks can also help with finding deals on flights, car hire or cruises, locating high-rated baby equipment hire companies, discovering the best family friendly activities in town, suggesting lovely spots frequented by locals and not tourists, researching which tours and organised activities might be suitable to your family and many more aspects of your trip.
This sort of assistance can help you save hours of research time, so you can concentrate on the things you really love doing (or the other responsibilities you have). For a limited time, Happy Breaks is offering a 20% discount for Rock-a-boy subscribers “ROCKABOY20”, valid until 25 March 2017 (CST) off your total order.
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