Here are some tips to help you plan your trip, no matter the destination. In general, just remember that traveling with kids is not a vacation – it’s a family experience! No, it won’t be easy or the same as when you traveled before kids. However, look at it as a way to see the world anew through your children’s eyes. Even the not-so-great things that happen will one day be a funny story that you tell.
- If you are traveling to Europe, you must check out the gold standard in guidebooks, Rick Steves. He also has a TV show on PBS and a great podcast. We use his information so much that our kids have a funny chant using his name!
- I am a big fan of lists so books like these are always helpful (these are Amazon affiliate links):
- For great information on how to make any trip educational, check out The Educated Tourist and Kids are a Trip.
- For help with planning the perfect trip, particularly in Europe, we utilize the kid-friendly knowledge of Ciao Bambino. Its staff provides you access to kid-friendly accommodations and tours at no extra cost to you. It’s well worth the free guidance to use them to help plan your next trip, whether at home or abroad.
- As your kids get older, it may be worthwhile to check out travel agents through Virtuoso. This program has great discounts and access to lodging and tours around the world.
Hotels vs. apartments:
In general, it is great to find a short-term apartment rental with kids. There’s nothing worse than being cooped up in a small hotel room with a toddler who won’t go to sleep! If you are staying in one location for more than 2 nights, it makes more sense to find an apartment rental. Even if it costs more than a hotel room, factor in the savings of eating breakfast or other meals at the apartment, doing laundry, and having more space. Going through one of the preferred travel planners listed above ensures that you won’t be stuck with a dirty or unsafe apartment. Some of the sites we’ve used or recommend are Baby-friendly Boltholes, Plum Guide (affiliate link), One Fine Stay, or Kid & Coe
Hotels can also be great for families with some advance planning. Many hotels have family suites available, with perks for the kids like an xBox and candy. Or you can ask for connecting rooms if no suites are available. Using a travel agent like Ciao Bambino can help you find family-friendly hotels.
Be forewarned that most European hotels are very small so when in doubt, ask. You may need an additional room, even for just two children. Also know that older children may be an additional charge. Ask when you make the reservations so there is no surprise.
A friend shared with me an ingenious packing tip with kids – use packing cubes! We used this for our Europe 2018 trip and it made a huge difference. Each child had their own cube(s) so they could keep their clothes separated. We also could then keep clean and dirty clothes separate. It was so helpful! I picked up my cubes from TJMaxx but you can order similar ones on Amazon (affiliate link).
To help with packing, plan to wash clothes at some point during the trip. If you are renting an apartment, that is easy to do and can be a lifesaver! If you are only in hotels, it is a little harder. Don’t be afraid to go on Yelp to find a local laundromat that washes, dries, and folds your clothes for you. We dropped off a huge bag of clothes at a laundromat in Florence, Italy at 9 am and picked up our clean and folded clothes at 6 pm for only 30 EUR. Definitely worth it!
European countries have more formal dressing rules than your typical city in America. Be sure to pack collared shirts and nicer shorts (cargo shorts are fine) if you are planning to spend any time in the major cities.
Talk to your pediatrician before you go to see what medicine you might need. When we were traveling in England in 2011, we all caught a terrible stomach bug. We asked our cottage owners for a local doctor to see and paid out-of-pocket to see him. Did you know that Tylenol is not called Tylenol in the UK? All was fine but I wish I had brought a few basic medicines with me. My typical medicine bag for travel includes:
- Antibiotics – both pills and powder (from the pediatrician, ask the pharmacy to not mix with water)
- Zofran for nausea
- Benadryl – both adult and kid versions
- Pepto Bismol
Transit while traveling:
In Europe, trains are usually the easiest way to get to different cities and countries. On our Europe 2018 trip, we used trains to see 4 countries in 10 days! The trains are efficient and work like clockwork. We bought our tickets ahead of time to guarantee seats but learned that this also limits your options if you decide you want to change times. One of the best sites to purchase train tickets through is Rick Steves’ site.
Remember with trains, you are responsible for your luggage so if that is too hard to handle with strollers, kids, etc., a rental car might be a better way to go. If you are spending some time in a city, it may be worthwhile to use public transportation while there and then either head back to the airport to rent the car for the rest of your trip or have a rental car company deliver the car to your hotel.
If you are staying within a major city, no need to rent a car – use public transportation! It is usually fast, safe, and easy. If you purchase one of the city cards, many times the public transportation tickets are included. Be forewarned that many European subways are very old, which means that they are not stroller-friendly and usually the elevators (lifts) are not working. Also double check the stops to see if what looks like an easy walking connection between two subway stops is really quite a long walk! We were fooled by that several times in London!
Also be sure to double check the best way for you and your family to get to and from the airport. In some cities, it is an easy train ride, while in others, it can be more complicated. Depending on your luggage and the ages of your children, it may be worth the expense to hire a driver to meet you as you leave customs and to drive you directly. No need to worry about taxis or trains – they will take you quickly and most efficiently to your hotel. After a long, red-eye flight, it is a nice luxury!
Check out my Road Trip Planning 101 post to get helpful tips and suggestions!