Traveling with kids can be one of the most enjoyable things you can do as a parent. There is nothing more exciting then seeing the look on a child’s face as they see and encounter new things. Unfortunately, traveling with kids can also be one of the most aggravating experiences of your life. Here are 5 things we’ve learned over the years that has helped us reduce the stress of traveling with small children.
The most stressful part of traveling with young children is the transition. This can be any transition which can be as complex as traveling on a 13 hour flight or as simple as moving from a car into the restaurant. While small children require a large amount of stuff, it is still imperative to travel as light as possible. If you are a couple traveling with a stroller, you will have at best a total of two hands free as two out of the four hands are pushing a stroller. With only two hands, it can be very challenging moving all the luggage and car seats around. A baby carrier can free up two hands, but some of the walks in the airport can be very long. Depending on the weight of your baby, it can be very taxing to carry an infant for those distances, but it is an option.
Regardless, of how many hands you have free, one of the most stressful times when traveling is trying to manage an exhausted cranky child through baggage claim after some very long flights while trying to find the train/rental car/bus/shuttle with a mountain of luggage and car seats. While the buggies available at the airport can help, it can be difficult to fit all the luggage and car seats onto one buggy. Also, more often than not luggage will fall off despite your best efforts while you are pushing it. If you are on a road trip, dragging a minimal amount of luggage into and out of a hotel as you hop from hotel to hotel can save tons of time and reduce the stress of constantly changing locations.
Also, cruise ship cabins, European cities, and larger US cities like New York City have VERY small rooms. Sometimes the rooms can barely fit a bed and adding a large amount of luggage only makes it even more cramped. In those situations, having an excess amount of luggage can severely hinder your ability to roam about your room or cabin. The bottom line is that efficient packing reduces the stress of traveling enormously.
Avoid Bus Tours When Possible
The joy of traveling is going to new places and experiencing new things. The typical guided bus tour is a great way to see a destination and get some education and background on that place. However, with small kids it can be very taxing. While shorter bus tours of 2-3 hours of duration are manageable with small kids or babies, keeping a small child entertained on a 4 hour or longer tour can prove to be a little difficult. Adults start to wane at the 4 hour mark, so you shouldn’t expect much more from a small child. There is nothing worse than being stuck on a bus with 50 of your closest friends and your child is melting down because it’s past naptime. The one caveat is if your child is still an infant. Most babies will just sleep through a bus tour without much problem, so if you were to do a bus tour, under one year of age would be ideal.
Tours that you can go on your own pace and are less regimented such as a Hop-On Hop-Off bus are a much more kid friendly way to do some sightseeing. Sometimes bus tours are inevitable, but they should only be used when other options aren’t available.
Have Food and Drinks Available at All Times
As I’ve said before, kids are always hungry except at lunch and dinner. A sure fire way to stoke a brewing fire is to have a bunch of hungry children. When a young child is hungry, nothing else matters to them except that they are hungry. When traveling, food may not always be readily available, so it is definitely a good idea to have some snacks handy at all times for when hunger strikes. Keeping everyone in your party watered and fed is imperative to having as smooth of a trip as possible.
No matter how much time you have in a city or location, you never feel like you have enough time there. There is always one more thing you wanted to do or wish you had done. When you are vacationing with small children, you will be extremely tempted to try and over schedule, so you can see and do everything you want to do. Here’s a word of advice. DON’T.
While you can redline your child maybe one or two days in a row, at some point most small children will start to crash. Only you know just how much your child can take before they start to get cranky, fussy, and unmanageable. Some kids can go nearly for forever, and some can take maybe a day of hardcore sightseeing at most. Ultimately, you just need to accept that you will not see everything you were hoping to when you have small children. Taking things at a slower pace will definitely alleviate a great deal of stress on both you and your child.
Accept That Things Will Go Wrong
We go into every vacation with the expectation that we are unlikely to get anything accomplished, and anything we do is a bonus. While this may seem extreme, it definitely sets the bar pretty low for expectations. All too often one of the great pitfalls of vacationing with children is the expectations everyone has about what they are hoping to accomplish.
While everyone should have goals while traveling, when you are traveling with young children there is a great deal of chaos involved. They don’t care that you spent thousands of dollars and countless hours planning a trip. All a 2 year old cares about is that they are hungry and tired at that moment, and no amount of reasoning or logic will make them understand. You just have to accept that going in, and know that sometimes a young child will throw a wrench into even the most intricately planned vacation. Thinking that your child is going to enjoy every moment of a vacation and always be happy will only leave you disappointed and stressed in the end.
Accept that things will inevitably go wrong, so once they do go wrong, you are at least more mentally prepared. More often than not, it’s the things that go terribly wrong that will be the memories you most cherish and laugh about years down the road.
If you enjoyed this article feel free to check out our other travel tips!