We have traveled as a couple and with the kids and traveling with little ones is the best. They bring a new dimension to the same vacation.
Little ones are the greatest travel companion
When we found out that we would be moving to Germany with our 2.5-year-old, I was over the moon. Not only would we have a chance to explore Europe on the weekends and holidays, but Munchkin would be able to learn new cultures and languages. We were so excited at the idea of showing him the world and exposing him to the traveling way of life.
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Little did we know that during all of the planning and packing and relocation, we were expecting Baby Girl. Traveling with little ones was going to take on a whole new meaning.
Scary and overwhelming, but worth it
I can hear you cringing now. “What is she thinking? Traveling with little ones? That’s crazy!” At first, I almost agreed. On the one hand, these little guys needed so much of my attention had so many little-human demands, and their daily schedules really don’t coincide with a traveling schedule. Between nap time, bedtime, potty breaks, and tantrums, I figured we would spend half of our vacation in the hotel room. On the other hand, we didn’t really have a choice. I wasn’t about to spend the next 4 years stuck in my house just because I popped out two babies. Children live in Europe, they go away for weekends, why can’t I have that?
So once the initial shock of being pregnant wore off, we started “practice traveling” with the munchkin. Not only did this help him get used to the idea of being out and about on the weekends that didn’t involve a park or visiting my parents, but it also helped us get into the rhythm of preparing and packing with children in mind. During the next 9 months, we “perfected” our packing list, our hotel requirements, and itinerary expectations to better suit children, and eventually a newborn.
Why newborns are the easiest to travel with
Honestly, Baby Girl was easier to travel with than Munchkin. It was probably the lack of opinion. As a newborn, we started traveling with her when she was 3 weeks old. My parents came to visit and we didn’t want to spend 2 weeks in our little house, so we went out for a series of day trips. Baby Girl kept us from exploring too fast, which is great because I still needed to heal (figuring by the time my 6-week appointment arrives, she will be ready for a little more exciting travels), we sat often and just people-watched while I fed her, or changed her, or just soothed her back to sleep.
Since I was breastfeeding, we didn’t need to pack any extra food or snacks, we changed her diaper when Munchkin needed a potty break and held her when she woke up and continued exploring the area with a tiny baby in our arms. Hotels often have playpens available free of charge, so I really did not have to bring anything new with us during any overnight trips, it was great. All of our practice vacations with Munchkin actually paid off.
How awesome it can be to travel with kids.
I’m going to skip the cliche statements about loving the wonder I see in their eyes, or how much character and experience they are gaining even if they don’t remember the vacation specifically, though you can read more about that in “Why I choose to travel with kids”. Instead, I will focus on the “adult” side of taking the kids.
Traveling with little ones gives us that excuse to splurge on a hotel room or apartment rental instead of a hostel (though the cost savings would be nice). Having a private room, with a private bathroom, and space to throw your luggage around without needing to stuff it in a locker right away is definitely appealing. Until they are 6 years old, little ones get into most attractions and can ride most public transit free of charge, they can share our meals (since the serving sizes are crazy large anyways), and they tend to get their fair share of freebies whenever we enter a business, grocery store or attraction.
The number of locals that just walk up to us and start chatting, is amazing. They want to tell me how cute they are, or how well-behaved they are. They want to shower us with local advice and tell us where to go for extra kiddy fun that most tourists don’t know about. Locals like to see families, and they feel safer with families, but mostly they feel their city isn’t being overrun with site-destroying tourists if the tourist looks like a precious 2-year-old Baby Girl. There is familiarity in families that locals are attracted to, and so we are treated very well.
Fellow travelers also look at us differently. Sometimes it is with pity “oh look, they can’t-do this list of things because they decided to procreate”, looks of worry “those kids better not ruin my trip” or just curiosity “Are they locals or tourists? Can I ask them questions? Where are they hiding all the baby gear? I thought kids cry a lot, why aren’t those kids crying?” I love proving them all wrong at the end of the attraction. “Yup, my kid was awesome!” I like the bragging rights of surviving Oktoberfest with kids or visiting the Matterhorn with kids.
Having kids changes the way you travel (for the better)
When we travel with the children, we are literally forced to slow down. Unless they are both in a stroller, they have little legs and just can’t tour as quickly as we can. We slow down on the touring, take regular breaks in strategic locations, and eat at decent times (we don’t skip meals either). I know this doesn’t sound like much, but put it all together, after a few days, we have seen and done more with them than we would have if they were left behind with the grandparents.
We also choose attractions that would be appealing for the children, like Dinosaur Museums or miniature cities like Mini-Europe, and have also found them to be fascinating. We are thankful that we decided to make them part of our itinerary and wonder how adult groups can skip them for being “too child-oriented”.
They notice the smallest things; this is probably because the big things are too big for them to really focus on. I can’t count how many times Munchkin would point to a random building “that looks strange” and it turns out to be a national heritage site, or demand to walk down a certain alleyway and the architecture is breathtaking.
We discover local places to see, shop, and eat, that many solo or couple-travelers walk right passed. While I know there are a few things I am missing out on because the kids won’t be welcome, I am not an adventurous person so I wouldn’t want to do those things anyways, so I don’t feel that I have lost anything.
More flexible, less adventurous
The key to surviving your children is to be flexible. Being too rigid with plans is only going to cause tantrums – from both you and the children, but mostly from you, because let’s be honest, they won’t cooperate and you’ll be kicking yourself in the pants for wasting all this time over-planning the vacation and accomplishing only half of it. These fights can also lead to accomplishing less than if a “laissez-faire” approach was taken to the daily itinerary. We (I) point out the must-do’s, want to do’s, and would like to do’s. In this order, we start our morning relaxing at breakfast, start at point A and work our way through the list. If only the must-do’s are accomplished, I can leave the city happy, knowing I did exactly what I came here to do. We usually get halfway through the want-to-do’s before heading back home.
Flexibility allows us to stay sane. If a place is closed, no longer allowing children, or the kids just aren’t interested in it, we can’t shut down for the day because we have nothing planned. We always have Plan B, C, and D just waiting to be implemented. This started way back when we were doing practice vacations and Munchkin fell asleep before we could enter the attraction. Do something else and come back later.
This also leads to our next must; spontaneity. Especially in Germany, but for life in general, if the weather is favorable, GTFO and do something. I have a major list of day trips that I plan on using on any nice weekend when we don’t have anything planned. They are a mix of inside activities and outdoor activities so as long as we can physically get to the attraction, we have something “planned” yet still spontaneous. That’s parenting logic, don’t try to understand it.
Traveling with little ones |Bottom line
I am not much of an adventurous person, even before we had the kids, so I don’t feel I am missing any attractions or locations because of them. Hubby would like to do a few things that we will be doing when the kids are a little older – either they can join us, stay with the grandparents or have moved out by then, but these types of activities are a little further down the bucket list – but not removed. My big item is Antarctica; at $15,000 per person (times 4), I will wait until they are old enough to pay for themselves or stay behind. Or I strike it rich, whichever comes first.
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