So I’m a travel addict. I have bad Wanderlust. I also have two small children and a job that requires me to plan vacations 10 months in advance (hello, being a doula and birth photographer). We’ve had some US trips since having the children, but here is our story and my top 5 tips for traveling overseas with small children. In my case, a 4 year old and a mid-potty-training 2 year old.
The past 6 years have been completely devoid of international travel after a life that up until then had included trips to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, China, Tibet, Central America, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Canada and others. My husband and I both restructured our lives, retooled our careers and then proceeded to have two children 25 months apart. But this was the year!! The year we finally started back on our path of travelling away from home.
I am a crazy bibliophile and one of my all-time favorite series is the Outlander series by Scottsdale’s own Diana Gabaldon. I’ve read the entire series, including the Lord John novellas at least 9 times and have of course watched the show on Starz. I also could rattle off just about every ruler and important historical happening in UK history starting with the Romans, so when it was time to pick a location for our first overseas adventure as a family, it was a no-brainer for me! The UK here we come!
Tip 1: Travel as fancy as you can afford! This is some bougie stuff right here. It’s embarrassing to say it. But we travelled on New Zealand Air direct from LAX to Heathrow London on Premier Economy and it was 100% worth the extra money. It’s no Business Class to be sure, but the kids had plenty of room to sleep, great food (like bizarrely good and we are foodies), tvs with headsets in all the seats with a full selection of kids offerings, blankets, pillows, snacks, and wine and champagne included for me and my hubby! My kids didn’t even blink an eye and we arrived in London none the worse for wear! It was like a freaking miracle.
Tip 2: Rent a car. When you’ve got small kids who need potty breaks and food and naps and all the things that come with small kids, having the ability to pull over, stop and deal is a no-brainer. We mostly used it just to get from place to place and then walked when we were in the different cities, but it was really great to be on our own schedule. Also, kids require a ton of stuff including but not limited to one bag for each of us, carry ons (the kids each had their own small backpack), and 2 car seats. Hauling that stuff on trains and buses is NOT my idea of a relaxing trip.
Tip 3: Skip the hotels and go Air BnB. Nope, not interested in a conversation about how Air BnB’s are ruining the world. Nope. Hard stop. They are amazing for traveling with families and I won’t be convinced otherwise. We traveled for part of the time as a family of 4 and part of the time my in-laws were also with us so being able to easily accommodate all of us and our various needs was amazing. I can only enjoy eating out for every meal for a maximum of 3 days therefore I needed the ability to cook at least one meal a day for my family. My kids really preferred it to being asked to behave at restaurants three meals a day and I could save money and time and aggravation by being able to buy foods and prepare them in a way my kids are used to. Also, my kids are used to sleeping with us! GASP! Yes, we still bed share for at least part of the night so we wanted accommodations that would allow that easily. We stayed at beautiful places in each of the cities that we stayed in, close to everything we wanted to see and saved a pant load of money vs what it would have cost us to stay in even semi-comparable hotels. Plus, I also feel that this gives a much more authentic feel to the experience by actually living in homes and shopping at the shops and walking to and fro. My kids really loved it. Also, extra pro-tip here…. Neighborhoods have parks and playgrounds! And little kids need to be able to be little kids no matter where you are! This was a key element to our travel.
Tip 4: Minimum of 3 nights at each location when traveling overseas with small children. This is a hard one for me as I love to see things, but with all the packing up and unpacking and the limited amount of things you can actually go see in a day with two littles, that seemed to be our perfect time frame. We spent 5 glorious nights on an estate just outside of Inverness that was life-changing! What we learned was that when we only had two nights, that meant we really only had one full day to see things before moving on to the next place with packing and drive time etc. And when you need to mix in naps and food and playground time, I can promise you, one day is NOT enough. I’m happy to share our itinerary with anyone who wants it!
Tip 5: I feel like this one is a parenting tip, not just a travel tip. Skip the stroller. Don’t do it. Cobblestone streets and strollers are not friends. Castles, not stroller accessible. Tiny ancient doorways, nope. The small trunks of European cars that are already full of luggage, uh uh. Leave them at home. Make your kids walk, carry them on your shoulders, and bring a sturdy baby carrier like a Tula or some such for longer jaunts. Here’s what I can tell you: I never once wished I had brought one. I never once had a day with less than 10,000 steps on my FitBit and my kids did just fine. Plus they loved riding on our shoulders and seeing things from up high, and they slept like a dream at night since they got so much exercise.
Do you have any tips for traveling overseas with small children? Share with us in the comments!