Welcome back to the Real Talk with Real Moms series! I’m honestly humbled to be a part of this crew of incredible mothers, each different and amazing in her own way. Be sure to check out all of the other posts on today’s topic!
I could talk about traveling with kids allllll day long. Ryan and I met traveling. The first two years of our relationship we saw about 35 U.S. States. Now we’ve seen almost all of them, along with 7 countries and countless road trips. And as we speak, we’re traveling through Italy with our 4 year old and 2 year old.
Suffice it to say, we decided a long time ago that having kids wouldn’t derail our love of travel. More accurately, we decided that we would teach our kids to be good travelers, and good ambassadors wherever they went.
This is not to say that traveling with kids is always easy. It’s decidedly… not. But! It IS incredibly fun and amazingly rewarding. And once we cracked the code during each stage of our kids’ lives, we were able to enjoy traveling ourselves, and not just feel like we were sherpas for a couple of tiny jet setters. 😉
Traveling with Kids Age 0-1
I think the key to traveling with infants is to try to keep their basic needs (food, sleep, etc.) consistent. We always tried to stay as close as we could to their schedules as far as naps and sleeping; I always think that a well-rested and fed kiddo is leaps and bounds ahead of a kid who is cranky from lack of sleep, or hangry, or missing his routine. If you can stick to that routine as much as possible, it’ll make it so much easier on mom and dad.
Sometimes that will mean giving up a few precious travel hours to nap in a hotel room, or to find somewhere quiet to feed the baby. But the peace of mind that you’re giving the kiddo the best opportunity at staying healthy and rested while you travel is so worth it. Then for the rest of his waking hours, you can adventure! Here are some other tips for traveling with kids age 0-1.
- If you’re flying, try to feed or nurse on takeoff and landing to smooth over that tough transition.
- Use those naps! Get comfortable with baby napping in a stroller or in a carrier so that you don’t always have to be grounded while he sleeps.
- Once baby is a little older and more alert, it helps to have a couple of small toys that he’s never seen before, especially on a long car ride or flight. Try to spread these out if you have a long haul and not give them all to the kiddo right away.
- Snacks, snacks, snacks! As soon as they’re able, bring along some baby crackers or puffs for baby to munch on.
Traveling with Kids Age 1-2
To me, this is the trickiest age to travel with kids. When they’re infants, they’re totally pliable and just go with the flow. Around the 2-year mark, they’re much more clear on what’s going on and can manage themselves a bit more. But from age one to two, it’s a toddler crapshoot. So I recommend being ready with lots of tricks up your sleeve.
Again, we try to stick to a nap and meal schedule as much as we can, to head off any meltdowns before they even happen. But the truth is that they will probably happen regardless, so just keep your expectations realistic. This is a tough age because little ones just want to run, explore, and exert a little authority. If you try to incorporate some free time for them in your schedule, they’ll get what they want and you can have a more relaxed time as a parent.
- Bring a bag of tricks. Make sure you have their favorite (small) toy or stuffed animal, and a few familiar things from home. At this age, I still bring one or two small new toys or goodies for them to get interested in. You can also start incorporating things like stickers, coloring pages, sticky notes, calculators, and more. Anything that will keep them busy on a plane, in a car, or at a restaurant. (We love the Imagine Ink coloring books for mess-free coloring on the road.)
- Temper your expectations as far as what you can accomplish in a day. With kids this age in tow, everything is probably going to be on their schedule. And that’s okay! Get into the idea of “slower and happier.” Maybe you can’t see three museums in a day, but you CAN see your kids explore somewhere new at their own tempo.
- Try to schedule at least one thing every day that’s for them AND you. Think cool children’s museums, beautiful parks, beaches, fun new toy shops, and more. Try to find a place that will interest them and will let them run a little wild to blow off some steam, but that you would find fun too.
- Don’t be afraid to schedule something for the grownups too! One small thing every day that challenges them to be a little patient or learn something new is a good guide. And it will start making great little travelers. Find a way to get them interested and invested.
- At this age, we start introducing a little bit of screen time on trips. At age one, we couldn’t expect Maggie to sit down and watch a whole movie, but we did start teaching her how to wear and use kid-friendly headphones, and how to sit still through a short episode of television. We don’t do a ton of screen time at home, but our rules are different on the road. A kids’ tablet is a great tool if you use it right.
- Again, pack the snacks! Allllll the snacks.
Traveling with Kids Age 2-4
I love this age! They’re adventurous, they’re curious, and they’re game for most things. At this point, some kids start dropping naps, but still might need them while traveling because it’s just plain exhausting. If your kiddo still naps at home, try to get them to nap on the road, too. Rested kids = happy family.
My number one travel trick at this age range is mental preparation. They’re old enough and smart enough to start retaining concepts, so before we head out on a trip we talk a lot about what to expect. The things we’ll see, what we’ll do, what we’ll learn, and more. That way, when they get there and see these things in real life, they’re more invested and more likely to enjoy and absorb them. It’s really amazing seeing them make those connections.
- At this age, we have a travel rule that before we pull out any screens on a car or plane ride, we visit/chat/sit patiently for about an hour. I don’t love the habit of getting in a car and immediately starting a movie, so we try to teach them a little patience. We’ll up this time as they get older.
- That being said, screens! For long hauls, we always let the kids watch moves or tv shows after that hour is up. Not the whole time, but we do rely on them much more than when we’re home. We also make sure to have a few kid-friendly apps loaded that the kids like. On travel days, screen rules are out the window.
- Bring a busy bag! Ours has a set of colored pens, small coloring books stickers, sticky notes, stencils, and more. I also have a few small toys that I keep in my bag for when we’re waiting around at a restaurant, in lines, etc. The kids are also starting to want to bring their own backpacks with a few of their favorite things, which we do for longer trips.
- Let them take the lead every so often, especially for the kids on the older end of the 2-4 age range. We find that when Henry and Maggie feel like they’re making some decisions about the things we’re going to see or do as a family, they are so much more invested, joyful, and open to what we’re doing.
Traveling with Kids Age 4 and Older
I’ll have to keep you posted on this one! Henry is four and a half, and right now our biggest transition is the stroller situation. We did bring a stroller to Italy with us, because we knew we would be doing a LOT of walking and he’s still not quite able to keep up. But on the flip side, we recently took him on a 3 mile hike and he did almost all of it himself. So I’m curious to know if you’ve hit that stroller threshold and how you’re handling it!
Honestly, this is a huge post and it just barely scratches the surface of all my thoughts on traveling with kids! But I think if you could take away one thing from this, it would be: DO IT. Don’t be scared or turned off by it. Adjust your expectations and take those babies with you. Traveling creates compassionate, aware people. And exposing our kiddos to new and different places is such an honor.
And now a couple of questions for you! Do you have any tried and true tricks for traveling with kids that we missed? Or do you have any specific travel topics you’d like to see us expand on? Leave a comment and let me know. And be sure to read what the rest of the moms in the series have to say about traveling with their kids! xoxo
See the rest of the Real Talk with Real Moms posts below!