Don’t miss Christie’s 6 part series “Moving Abroad!”
Our family spent the last year traveling throughout Europe. We lived in Slovakia, but over the course of our year there we took our two boys, ages four and two, to a total of 16 different European countries. (This doesn’t even take into account the number of different cities we visited!)
We logged hundreds of miles of traveling via plane, train, car and bus. We crisscrossed the continent in all four seasons and it wasn’t until November, near the end of our time there, that we hit a country where the official language is English.
Blanket advice doesn’t fit every family, of course, but here’s the list I give out when people ask about traveling with little kids:
1. If they’re young enough for a stroller, use it. It holds extra stuff. It allows nap time without the hotel. You’ll do a LOT of walking, and it’ll be worth the hassle to bring.
2. When you find a playground, stop. If possible, grab coffee nearby and sit down while the kids play. It’s good for them to run off energy and get “their” time after sightseeing (which, let’s be honest, is more for you than them). Some of our favorite memories from the year include watching our kids play with children who spoke other languages. Our oldest used to talk about his “best friend in Zagreb” after finding another boy his age to run around with in Croatia. Playground games often transcend language.
3. Dress the kids in similar bright colors. You may not be able to get away with wearing a loud tee shirt in Europe, but your kids can. They don’t have to match exactly, but when you’re in a crowd or trying to keep an eye on kids running by at a busy playground, knowing exactly what color to look out for is both reassuring and incredibly helpful. Plus, if they’re young enough, they won’t care that they’re dressed alike.
4. Have snacks and table-top games handy. Restaurant service is simply longer in Europe (and usually worth the wait!). But hungry children asked to sit on a chair for 45 minutes will, inevitably, get cranky. Have a couple of snacks on hand and bring “travel games”–we carried small matching games, crayons, or paper puppets. One important note: play with your children as you wait–handing them games and pulling out your smartphone will likely cause kids to lose interest after five minutes. Engage with them and their attention spans increase exponentially.
5. Keep your routine, but throw the “schedule” out the window. Kids thrive on routine, but holding to a specific schedule while traveling is both stressful and nearly impossible. There are too many factors outside parental control. Keep the loose daily routine (breakfast time, midday rest, bedtime with familiar books and stuffed animals) the same to provide comfort, but don’t pressure yourself and your family to make the hotel Home Away from Home. It’s not, and that’s the point of traveling.
6. Have uniforms for everyone. Simplify mornings by keeping your wardrobe and your kids’ clothing choices easy. In winter I stuck to leggings, boots and a tunic; in summer, flats, maxi skirt and light tee, varied with scarves or jewelry. The boys had shorts with (same-color!) tee-shirts in summer and long sleeves and sweatpants in cool weather.
7. Bring your own laundry soap. You’re traveling with kids. Accidents and spills happen–and it’s difficult to locate and use a laundromat in a new city, especially when you want to be out sightseeing. Hotels can send out your clothes to be cleaned…but for a hefty fee. A quick bathtub wash and hanging clothes up to dry can save a lot of hassle. So that’s what those towel warmers in European bathrooms are for!
If you’re relaxed while traveling, your kids will be much more relaxed as well. They pick up our cues and run with them: If it’s 10pm and you’re angry because they still haven’t fallen asleep, your attitude will wind them up more. Take it from our well-traveled but overtired family…you can make up the sleep, but the memories stay. Enjoy your trip!
What worries do you have about traveling with little ones overseas? Do you have any tips to traveling with small kids internationally?
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