babies & toddlers
About 10 years before I was married with kids of my own I was traveling in China with a friend. Climbing the steep sections of the Great Wall at Mutianyu, I was surprised and inspired by a young Australian couple climbing alongside us… with a 10 month old baby strapped to their back. I hadn’t yet met my husband but I swore to myself in that moment that the man I’d marry would share my love of travel and like that Australian couple, we’d never let kids stop us from exploring.
13 years and 2 kids later, its not as easy as that amazing Australian family make it look but we still do travel with our kids. My hat goes off to those amazing families we probably all follow on IG — the ones who sold it all, live life on the road and travel to the farthest corners of the world with little ones in tow. They inspire us all but for most of us that lifestyle is not realistic - maybe not even desirable. For our family, there’s a long list of reasons we’ll never be that family that packs it up and sets off for a year. But that won’t stop us from exploring and traveling every opportunity we can.
We’re often asked by friends & colleagues how (and why) we travel with such little kids - now 1 & 3. Like us, they love to travel but now with kids and jobs don’t have the freedom they once did. They feel intimidated trying to figure out where to go that’s kid friendly enough without sacrificing their own fun. Here to tell you, it is possible and doesn’t have to be hard.
Here’s our top tips & ideas for trip planning & survival, even with the littlest kids in tow:
1. Throw out your pre-kid rule book & list of “I’d never go there” places.
Giving it to you straight, right upfront. You may have climbed the Great Wall, swam with sharks, found hidden waterfalls in rainforests and ate at Michelin star restaurants before kids. But if you want to survive traveling with little kids, you need to open your mind to new experiences and new ways of traveling. I’m not saying you need to cater every decision to what kids want over you. But traveling post-kids is not as easy as just adding baby + all of their stuff. Before you pick a destination and map out your plans, consider the experience for your kid(s). Consider eating, sleeping & playing routines. If the next place on your bucket list isn’t conducive to them, maybe stick a pin in that one and move on to the next. There’s always time for that when kids are a little bit older and/or you have the chance to escape without them. Keep the kids happy and you’ll actually be able to enjoy your experience - for yourself and as you watch them explore & discover.
2. The right stroller is your key to the world
Traveling with a stroller can make or break you - and I’ve lived it both ways. What you want in a stroller is 4 things: Light weight, easy collapse, easy washing & a great recline. Forget those expensive, heavy, Rolls-Royce of strollers - all it will give you is stress and a sore back trying to get it on/off planes, buses, subways, elevators, etc. If it’s too heavy to pick up & collapse with one hand and too expensive to cooly watch be showered with applesauce, this is not the right stroller for traveling. Standard umbrella strollers are also a big no-no for us… they’re not comfortable for the long-haul and terrible for sleeping/napping.
For us, the City Mini / GT’s are #1 — they’re light, collapse with one hand and unlike umbrella strollers or smaller travel strollers they offer a full & comfy recline. This is KEY for giving kids a safe haven & comfy place to relax when they’re ready to check out of your adventure and take a great nap. They also offer some life saving accessories like the click-on cupholder & tray which has doubled as my kids’ dining table & “stay right there” restraint when I can’t get the harness on fast enough.
3. Consider Cities
Maybe city vacationing hasn’t historically toped your list of favorite ways to relax. But some of our favorite & easiest vacations post kids have been in cities. And now knowing what we do, I’ll opt for a highly pedestrian city over a beach vacation with little ones any day of the week.
Not every city is as easy as some others (i.e. LA is not the easiest). But there’s a healthy list of options where you can easily plan a trip that works equally well for you and kids. Consider this checklist:
Safety & walkability - can you freely walk from place to place?
Public transportation - if you don’t need cabs, you don’t need a carseat
Parks and/or kid-friendly public places - they need a chance to run!
Weather - Not the most critical but it predictable and moderate weather means less stress / less stuff you’re carrying to keep kids cool, warm, dry, etc.
Some of our favorites to date have been London, Barcelona, Lisbon, Copenhagen and Paris. State side we love D.C., Boston, Chicago, New York and Savannah. Many runners up (Santa Monica, Austin to name a few) but we prefer more pedestrian places where we can minimize need for a car.
4. Opt for Apartment-style hotels & AirBnbs
Don’t get me wrong, I love the luxury of a great hotel but once we discovered the wonder of apartment style vacationing, its hard to go back. The right hotel / home rental can give you perks that far outweigh room service & maid service: more space, a kitchen and LAUNDRY! It’s nice to tuck the kids away into their own bedroom at the end of the night. Having a kitchen makes it easier to tend to picky kids and avoid the pressure of constantly running out for meals. We don't do crazy cooking but Mac & Cheese and PBJ are standard travel fare. And Laundry is a complete game changer… you can easily pack lighter if you know you have easy access to a washer & dryer at the end of each day.
5. Don’t discount Disney
I know there are many fellow Disney Lovers following me but I also know many people who shudder at the thought - although I’m not sure why! Disney doesn’t HAVE to mean long days in parks, waiting on insane lines with screaming kids. if you wanted to, you can avoid parks and characters all together (although I don’t recommend that either.). What Disney DOES offer is super easy, kid friendly and kid understanding EVERYTHING. Flying to Disney World - you can check your luggage at your home airport and have it delivered directly to your hotel room? Kid throws a fit at dinner / throws a full plate of food on the floor - no worries, they got it. Whatever it is, they are ready for your kids and any of the curveballs they throw. There are nicer restaurant options if that’s your thing and an abundance of non-park related recreation. Skip Mickey if he’s not your guy but this is a super easy way to get away with babies.
6. Want it all? Cruise!
Same folks who rolled their eyes at Disney are probably doing the same about this recco. Some of us aren’t cut out for the backpackers life - even without kids! Just because we need a little ease & luxury doesn't mean we don’t want to see a lot! Will cruising give you the deep, live-like-a-local experience? No. But consider it like a tasting menu vs. ordering one full entree. You’ll get a taste of everything and then decide if/when you want to return!
With kids, especially little ones, this is by far the easiest way to travel and can be cost effective. We’ve tried multiple cruise lines, some cheaper than others, but found Disney is worth the splurge — beautiful cabins, great service, better food than most (especially at upgraded dining) and kids’ clubs/nursery options that make it easy and guiltless to run off to the spa, have a kid-free dinner or even leave the ship for bigger adventures not conducive to kids.
You also can’t discount the convenience of unpacking once and still getting to travel to many different destinations. We opt for window rooms in close proximity laundry to make it that much easier and enjoyable for traveling with babies!
For more details on our most recent cruise, check out the previous “Halloween on the High Seas” blog post!