In my travel experience over the years, I’ve seen many people split their travel lives into two – before kids and after kids. If you say, “I’m traveling solo, without children,” that immediately paints a picture of stress-free vacations, honeymooning on the beach, Instagram worthy moments, romance and easy, go with the flow atmosphere. A lot of the times, after kids become part of the family – people hold off on traveling entirely because it’s just “too hard.”
I hear this all the time from families – Anna, how do you do it? How do you manage taking your 4-year-old and flying with him – getting to the airport, security lines, long flights, transfers, packing and unpacking, etc. It’s really not as complicated as it may sound. To make the matters “worse,” this time around we traveled with friends and their toddler because we like a challenge and we wanted to show you that if it is it is doable for us, it is doable for you, too.
Together with another family with a small child, we’ve just returned from a 12-day trip to the UK and Switzerland. I’d like to share my 10 tips for stress-free vacations with kids (or how to survive almost two weeks in Europe with two toddlers):
1. Plan ahead – pick a destination and the best time of year to visit – shoulder season is perfect to minimize crowds and enjoy cooler temperatures. Based on kids’ ages and how well they travel, pick a location that’s an easy (direct, when possible) flight away and is the right climate. We picked Switzerland because of the mountain views, nature, great food, kid-friendly activities, and the ease of traveling within the country via their rail system. Stay in a centrally located hotel close to major attractions. You don’t want to spend half of your vacation time and money in cabs going to and from the hotel when your child will need a nap or leaves their favorite toy in the room.
2. Pack lightly but strategically – it’s not easy to travel with a full-size stroller and a million bags. There are ways to downsize the suitcase while making sure you have the necessities. Packing cubes are great space savers! I always bring a change of clothes for all of us in the carry-on luggage, because with kids – accidents happen.
3. Use airport facilities – make use of airport kids lounges and breastfeeding areas for nursing moms when possible. Many airports in Europe offer kids playrooms that are great for getting all the energy out while you wait for your flight to depart.
4. Avoid lengthy layovers – long flights with layovers are hard on anyone. If possible, spend a little extra on a direct flight. For example, Zurich’s international airport is large and requires lots of walking between the check-in area and baggage drop, security checkpoints, and the departure gates. Running from gate to gate to catch a connecting flight can be difficult with a small child. Likewise, with a 3-7-hour layover there is not enough time to leave the airport and it’s a recipe for restless children running around, wreaking havoc in the airport.
5. Pack new toys/gadgets/books for the flight to keep kids entertained – this is a must, and the key word here is “new.” I always bring a few favorite toys and something new as a surprise to keep my son excited about our trip. We brought Paddington books to read on the flight to London and he loved it.
6. Book your airport transfers or car rentals ahead of time – private transfers make it easier to get to your hotel after a long flight, without having to figure out public transportation (often in a new language) on the spot.
7. Decide on your must-see destinations and activities ahead of time but be flexible if you need a day to just take it easy and hang back at the hotel or spend an afternoon at the local playground. Temper tantrums, bad weather, or an unexpected sore throat can throw off your travel plans. Be flexible about the things you want to accomplish and leave room for downtime in your schedule. In places like Switzerland, where most of the travel is done by the train, having a rail pass (pass for unlimited travel on trains) means you can choose your destination the night before based on the weather, everyone’s mood and energy levels.
8. Trip insurance is a must for any unexpected medical or travel-related issues like baggage delays, cancelled flights, medical emergencies and more.
9. Map out cafes and supermarkets within walking distance from your hotel – in case you need any quick baby/kid items that the hotel can’t provide or any snack food like fruit and yogurts. When I travel with my family, I prefer hotels with a kitchenette, a microwave and a mini-fridge. It saves time when you need a quick meal or to reheat something for the kids. In Switzerland, we booked a studio room with a separate kitchen and dining area for family breakfasts. We saved time and money on eating breakfast at home and always had a variety of snacks, fresh local bread, cheeses and fruit available.
10. Ask a travel agent for help – last but not least! We offer a wealth of knowledge about specific destinations, which locations are kid-friendly, age-appropriate tours and more. I have an active 4-year-old and first-hand experience with international travel, both for my family and our clients.
My most important takeaway? Don’t be afraid to travel with kids, it’s enjoyable if you plan ahead and prioritize what matters.
Anna Fishman is the owner of Olegana Travel Boutique and plans incredible, unique and authentic luxury experiences around the world for couples and families based on her first-hand experience of traveling through 25 countries and visiting over 200 luxury hotels and resorts all over the world. Anna promises you a stress-free travel planning process with an easy to follow itinerary that will save you a lot of time and energy so you can relax and escape to your own paradise where you will feel at ease that every detail has been thought out and taken care of exclusively for you. Olegana Travel Boutique is a five-stars rated travel agency, a member of Travel Leaders Network, Destination Weddings and Honeymoons Association, Adventure Travel Trade Association and is featured on The Knot and NJMom.