Yes, travelling with young kids is not easy and has its own challenges. As parents, we need to adjust our expectations and take our child’s needs into account. While this is not always easy, these changes often that our own experience will be that much better.
We’ve already looked at seven reasons why travel is good for young children. But now let’s flip the focus: How is travelling with young kids good for the adult? What do the adults get from the experience of travelling with kids and the additional challenges it presents? Here are seven unanticipated ways that travelling with young kids can improve your own experience.
Kids force you to slow down
Little legs simply take longer to get places, especially if they have to walk. Travelling with kids forces you to slow down, too. This gives you time to slow down from life and look at the little details or wonderful random places that you might otherwise miss.
Even if your child is in a stroller, you might have to go the long way around and use the ramp. And there is the time that is ‘lost’ getting ready in the morning when Miss 3 decides she just has to put on her shoes herself, or the regular breaks you need to take for the toilet or because Mr 4 just needs a snack. Use this time to breathe and admire things you would otherwise rush over.
Slow travel has other advantages, too. As adults, when we are not concerned about rushing from this museum to that statue to the rooftop view from wherever by a certain time, we can slow down. We let our heartbeat slow, take a deep breath, release some of our anxieties and stress and just be more in the moment. This makes travel more beneficial for us, even if it is only a short trip.
Make sure your itinerary is not that full because you will not fit in as much as you do when travelling solo or as a couple. The other added bonus of this is that slow travel generally also costs less as you won’t be visiting as many places.
Kids force you to be flexible and realistic
Travelling with young kids forces us to be realistic about what we can and can’t fit in the time that we have.
On our first few trips as a family, I know I had aspirational lists of things that I wanted to see. Quite frankly, those lists were too long and were not realistic. They did not account for it taking longer to get somewhere, or for the additional breaks that we would need.
Practice has made us much more realistic about what we can comfortably see in a day. We’re not forcing a meltdown because we are pushing Miss M too hard.
It has also forced us to be more flexible. Just when you think you have everything planned perfectly, your child will decide that:
- they are hungry
- their feet hurt
- they need the toilet
- the museum is boring
- it’s too loud or crowded
- the water in the fountain is fascinating
- the water in the fountain was too fascinating and now they are all wet and need a break to dry off (as Miss M did in Munich or the Valsanzibio Gardens in Italy)
When you are on a road trip, these needs can even mean that you stop at some interesting little places that you would never have seen if it wasn’t for the bathroom or food break your child needed.
These unplanned interruptions force us to adjust. This is easier if we are more flexible and have more of a vague plan or area we want to see, rather than a specific route with 20 set stops.
It doesn’t hurt to have an alternative plan up your sleeve either. Weather or your child’s mood or needs on the day may make some of your plans, however vague, unsuitable. If you have a couple of optional activities in your arsenal, you can be more flexible and adapt as needed on the day.
If you can be both flexible and realistic, it will make travelling with young kids less stressful for all and more of an adventure.
Kids give you a different perspective
No, I don’t just mean that their perspective is different because they are looking at something from a lower angle. However, sometimes, this can be enriching, especially when it comes to taking a great photo.
Kids will notice different things as they try to process what they are seeing. We might be looking at a Roman ruin and marvelling at how some structures are still standing – what an engineering feat – while Miss M is counting the cats that live in the ruins. While we were in Munich, Peter and I were admiring Marienplatz and working out what we wanted to see next, when Miss M noticed the lift to the viewing platform.
Miss M’s perspective is also clear from her questions and comments. They are becoming more inciteful as she grows and it is forcing Peter and me to think about the answer. And the question. And to see something that we had not seen ourselves.
Kids force you to book accommodation in better locations
This does not mean that your accommodation will necessarily be more expensive.
When travelling with young kids, you will find that you look more at the safety, convenience and noise level of the accommodation and not necessarily end up in the centre of the touristy area of town. Proximity to parks or playgrounds or easy food options becomes more important. You may also find yourself looking more at apartments, which give you the opportunity to go home for a nap or cook something for your little one if the day’s sightseeing gets too much for them and a tantrum is imminent. Bonus point: apartment walls are often thicker than hotel walls.
Quite often, if you aren’t looking to be in the centre of town, the accommodation will be cheaper and possibly more unique. Instead of a four-star chain hotel, you might get a lovely apartment at a farm or converted convent a little out of the city. Such accommodation is often more relaxed and more of an adventure for your child.
If you are book accommodation in the city (because you might not have a car with you), make sure that there is public transport not far away. You don’t want your child to be exhausted just walking from the hotel to the tram.
Kids give you an excuse to see some cool things
So many really fun things are aimed at kids. Amusement parks and zoos, for example, are marketed with kids in mind. Major sights often have tours specifically for kids which can be much more fun than adult tours. To encourage parents to take their kids, children’s tickets are cheaper, sometimes even free.
As adults, we can feel odd visiting some of these kid places without any children – you may find that you can’t even visit some without a child in tow, like the Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Playground. Travelling with young kids means you can visit these places guilt-free and see things that you might otherwise miss. The Natural History Museum in London, for example. You kids will probably want to see the dinosaurs, while you will find the ornate wall and ceiling carvings fascinating.
Kids force you to pick a base
Once upon a time, you may have tried the “If today is Tuesday, this must be Rome” approach to travelling. That does not work when travelling with young kids.. Trust me.
Instead, you will get much more out of your experience if you pick one or two locations to use as your base to see things in the area. This means that you will have more time in an area to get to know the local sites and customs, and more opportunities to see things that you might otherwise ignore. It is also easier to take a day off if you or your child need some downtime to relax and unwind, process what you have experienced or recover from jetlag.
On our last two visits to Italy, for example, we stayed on farms near Verona. We spent time in Verona and at the nearby amusement parks, but we also visited a number of small towns that we would not have seen if we were just jumping from accommodation in one major city to the next. We would have missed out.
It also means that you won’t have to pack and move your child’s things too often. Kids do tend to accumulate a lot of stuff, and somehow, when you are travelling, it multiplies. Not having to move so often is less stressful for you (because you would probably do most of the packing and repacking) and will feel more like a holiday. You might even be able to establish a holiday routine to reduce meltdowns.
Travelling with young kids forces you to meet people
Children are great ice breakers. Often, we will be at a playground or zoo during our travels and Miss M will turn to the child next to her and strike up a conversation. Eventually, we feel rude not conversing a little with the parents of that other child.
In foreign countries, there is even more contact to others – even where there are language barriers. People tend to come up and start talking to Miss M and even want to take a photo with our beautiful little blue-eyed girl. Hotel and airline staff bend over backwards to be nice to Miss M and ask her questions. She knows how to work it.
Even if you choose not to engage with other people in many of these circumstances, you will still have the opportunity when you need to ask where the toilets or baby change room is.
Get the most out of travelling with young kids
As parents, travelling with young kids means re-thinking how we travel and letting go of our own expectations. We need to become realistic and flexible and not bind ourselves to picture-perfect postcard memories. Instead, it will be the unexpected stops or child’s perspective that will become highlights of the trip.
If we adjust to the needs of our young travelling partners, we may even find that the trip is less stressful for us. We won’t have to move and repack every other day, we’ll see more of an area and get to know where we are, and we’ll be forced to slow down, breathe and appreciate the little things.
Raising little travellers is exciting and tiring. But so, so worth it, even for our own experience.