Traveling with young kids often gets a pretty bad rap. People talk all the time about wanting to do certain types of trips “before we have kids,” as if the baby’s first cry sounds the death knell for travel ambitions.
I say, to hell with that.
I’m not going to dispute at all that traveling with young children is going to be a lot different than your pre-kid trips. Slower, most likely. Less relaxing? Yeah, probably. And you definitely aren’t going to get to pop a sleeping pill before a flight and wake up in Prague. But that’s not to say you can’t still have an amazing trip with your small companions — and in fact, we’ve found that traveling with tots has come with some surprising benefits for us as parents, well beyond just expanding our kids’ horizons.
1. Preboarding, baby. You know how at beginning of boarding, the flight attendents call for parents with small children or people who need extra help come to the front for preboarding? When you travel with kids, that’s you! We never worry about having enough space in the overhead for our bags because we’ve almost always been able to get on the plane first.
2. Skip the lines! (somtimes). Depending on the airport, or perhaps the employees working at the airport on a given day, you can end up hustled through security and customs when you’ve got a couple of littles with you. The first time I experienced this was on our trip back to Chicago last year, when I was taking the kids on the flight by my lonesome. We got to security in Rome and found an EPIC line — the kind that makes you doubt whether you’ll make it through in time for your flight — but I didn’t even have time to begin freaking out because an employee grabbed us and sent us to the front of the line. Score!
Less waiting in line = more time for squeezing lambs, amirite?
3. No school to plan around. My parents took us out of school for two weeks during our backpacking trip to Europe when I was a kid — something schools weren’t wild about back then and I’m told like even less now — which meant we had homework to do on trains and some serious catching up to do when we got back (totally worth it, by the way). When you are traveling with younger ones, this isn’t much an issue because they probably aren’t missing anything earth-shattering in preschool. Having that flexibility in trip planning is incredibly valuable. Summer is the most expensive time to travel to Europe and popular tourist spots tend to be more crowded and more expensive duing those months. For this reason, we love traveling in the spring and fall, and since the kids are in preschool we don’t feel any guilt about skipping it for a week here and there. These times are coming to a close in another year and I’m already dreading it: I was looking ahead to next year’s travel plans* and was thinking about traveling for a week somewhere after Labor Day before I realized that would mean him missing the entire second week of kindergarten. I’m not averse to him missing some school here and there, but I figure missing a whole week right away won’t do much to help him settle in. Moral of the story: enjoy the freedom while you can! Or homeschool, I guess.
Going to Paris in mid-April instead of June was almost certanly a factor in us being able to go up to le sommet of the Eiffel Tower without waiting for hours.
*Yes, I’m looking at Labor Day 2018 already. In fact, I’m attempting to draw up a rough map of all next year. I might be crazy, but there are some solid reasons for the madness. I’ll do a post sometime about my reasoning and our wish list.
4. Connecting with people. One of our favorite things about traveling is meeting new people, and for some reason kids are a great ice-breaker. We might not speak the same language, but that look that says “can you believe this shit?” when your kid is tantrumming is universal. In Sicily, people are particularly obsessed with the kids and always want to talk to them, and us. At our very first agritourismo meal, my kids started playing with another little girl and the next thing I knew I was talking to her mom (she spoke a little English, which was fortunate because my Italian remains abysmal) and agreeing to meet up sometime so the kids could play.
The kids learning about Rome during a tour we took last November.
5. Making memories. As I talked about in this post, we don’t really buy into the idea that there is no point in taking kids somewhere if they don’t remember it. They might or they might not, but we will — and often the moments that seems embarrassing or annoying at the time will end up being our favorites. For instance, I might have remembered how much I liked Sainte-Chappelle in Paris, but the memory of Fiona ducking under a railing and getting busted by security will go down in Husk family lore to the end of our days. How do I know this? My family’s European vacation was 16 years ago now (literally more than half my life), but references to that trip come up just about every time we’re all together. And the references are almost always something ridiculous or embarrassing, OBVIOUSLY.
Salt mine with me and my siblings, circa 2001
6. Slowing down. A common criticism of traveling with kids can actually be a benefit — a slower pace. I have always had a tendency to want to cram as many things as possible into a trip, my impulse being to rush from one thing to the next. Traveling with kids by necessity tends to require you to stop and smell the roses (literally, if it is my kids). An example is one of the days we visited Paris and, having already seen Sainte Chappelle and Notre Dame and walked past the Louvre, I was feeling hurried to get to the Musee de L’Orangerie because it was on our schedule for the day. Walking through the Tuileries Gardens, the kids started whining about being hungry so
I we reluctantly agreed to stop. We ended up having a beautiful hour or so break to have a couple cocktails, get the kids some ice cream and people watch in our gorgeous surroundings. It was a good reminder that it isn’t all about just checking things I want to see off my list, but actually taking the time to relax and take it all in along the way.
Jardin de Tuileries, Paris
7. Early wakeups. I don’t believe I’ve met any parents yet who have kids who routinely sleep in as late as they would like, and most of you know that vacation isn’t an exception. While an adult-only vacation would have included some glorious sleep-in time (yes, I do miss this …) getting out early to sightsee often means beating the worst of the crowds. If you were going to be up early wherever you are, you might as well get some benefit out of it!
I recommend drinking all the coffee to help with this whole “morning” business. And Coke Zero. Signed, Not A Morning Person.
In short, traveling with children is what you make of it. If your expectation is to vacation the exact same way you did before kids, then yeah, you might be frustrated. Try instead to embrace it not as a “kid trip” or a “grown up trip,” but as a family adventure. And have fun!
I’d like to hear from you! What do you like about traveling with children? What drives you nuts? And most importantly, what is the craziest thing your kids have gotten you in trouble for while on a trip?
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