I’ve started planning our summer vacation and a day or weekend trip to Jersey for this spring. As you might know, I love traveling and getting out as much as our budget will let us. You don’t have to go far to get a breath of fresh air in your daily existence–day-tripping is a great way to break up your weekend routine! Don’t let anyone tell you it’s impossible to travel with kids until they’re bigger. Yes, it does take a bit of planning, a little forethought and a healthy dose of flexibility but it shouldn’t stop you. Here are some of my thoughts on traveling with babies and small children in general:
- First and foremost, do not expect your children to give up their routines (for example nap time(s), meals, snacks) just because you are on vacation or out for the day. Work around their biological rhythms and you will have a happier trip! If your child is like mine, they will be grumpy and unpleasant if they miss their nap. I won’t even tell you how much fun mine are if they’re not fed on time! My kids have always been early risers and eaters. We visit our must-see sights early when the girls are at their best. Eating early means fewer people in the restaurant, making you less of a ‘nuisance’ and increasing your chances of coming across a helpful waitress/owner. It also means that you might be able to slip in a quick lunchtime visit to a museum or exhibit while everyone else is out eating! Head back to the hotel for a break or plan to drive in the afternoon while your kids sleep. A. and I have taken turns watching the girls sleep while the other gets out for an extra visit or a more adult tourist experience.
- If you’re breastfeeding, you’re in luck, you have one less thing to carry with you! If not, most restaurants or cafés will heat your bottle or baby food if you ask politely. Always have crackers or cereal or some other small snack for your child with you. Sometimes despite your best efforts, you lose track of time when you’re out–my kid’s stomachs on the other hand are set better than a Swiss watch! It is much easier to pass your child a cracker, than have them melt down in front of hundreds of strangers because they’re hungry. Picnicking is also a great option when the weather is nice and you won’t have to worry about your kids not wanting to stay seated in a restaurant.
- Diapers and baby food can be bought (almost) everywhere. Pack the minimum that you need, you can always buy more during your trip. When you’re out for the day, bring a day pack–your child can get by without that perfect organic cleanser for one day and you will be much happier without the extra weight! As long as you have a diaper pad, you can change a child anywhere. Make sure you have water and sunblock with you at all times. Small children cannot tell you that they’re thirsty, you need to make sure that they are drinking enough. Dehydration and/or sun burn can ruin your day out but both are easily avoided with a little effort.
- While traveling by car you can bring your big pram or stroller but remember it will be with you everywhere and what might be nice for a simple stroll around the neighborhood is much less pleasant in a museum or on cobbled stones. A simple folding stroller is your best ally if you want to push your child around or fly anywhere. (I have seen more than one angry parent have their big and bulky stroller turned away at the airport or have to pay extra baggage fees due to its size.) Even if you have a stroller, invest in a baby carrier with good back support–it will give you more options; you can carry a baby anywhere. Think of the Paris metro with a baby carrier or with a stroller, then imagine all the stairs. Enough said.
- If you’re flying transatlantic, call your airline and reserve a bassinet for your baby. I have never been able to do this online. I have always had to call–don’t expect to be able to reserve one the day of your flight at the airport. Even if you pay to speak with an agent, it is worth the money. Your child can fly on your lap until they turn two but 8 hours is a long time to hold an infant especially if there are other options available. (The same ask-ahead philosophy is also true with hotels and bed and breakfasts. We tend to stay at family run B&Bs when we travel in France. With one exception, I have had owners go out of their way to find a crib for us to use by simply asking if they took babies.)
- Take advantage of children’s discounts and ticket prices. Babies and toddlers often ride public transport for free as long as they are on your lap. Museums and most major sites also let little children in for free. Don’t underestimate your children–Elise surprised all of us by being fascinated by the Bayeux Tapestry last spring! Laura will look at paintings and see details that we have missed. While their attention span might not be the same as an adults, with a bit of flexibility the entire family can enjoy the arts.
- Remember that your child, no matter how small, might have their own interests. The highlight of our trip to London for Laura, at the time 9 months old, was playing with the leaves in Hyde Park.
Parks and playgrounds might not be standard sightseeing fare but they are wonderful for little kids. Running around, making as much noise as they want, and touching everything in sight is the perfect counterpart to museums and more formal visits. Kids are also great ice breakers–we’ve gotten great recommendations on what to see/where to eat with small children from local people out at the park with their kids. This last-minute local information is priceless and you will never find it in a tourist guide. Street performers are free entertainment for kids–find a café, enjoy a drink and let them enjoy the performance!
- Know when to call it a day! Sometimes you might feel like going to one more sight, spending 5 more minutes at the museum, etc but your child is tired and beginning to lose patience. You will not enjoy whatever it is you still want to do with a tired, cranky child in tow. Have your partner take the kids back to the hotel while you keep going, return home together, take a break–you can always come back again another time. Don’t push a baby or a toddler over their limits, everyone loses. Remember you’re on vacation! Happy travels, happy memories!