Traveling with Small Children? Here's How to Survive

Hi travelers!  So often I speak to pregnant women or families with young children and they bemoan the lack of travel in their lives.  But what if you could continue to live your travel dreams even with your brilliant tots? 

To find out how we sat down with Lizz N., traveler-with-kids extraordinaire, to learn the best tips and tricks for traveling with the little ones. 

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Whisked Away Surprise Travel:  Traveling with Kids

1.)  Hi Lizz!  Please tell us about yourself and your family!

Hi! I’m an American living overseas for the last six years with my diplomat husband and two young daughters, Cora (3 ½) and Zella (1½). I work for a small Agroforestry NGO doing East Africa Communications from the field.  We have been based in Nairobi, Kenya for the last two years and we really enjoy life here. The weather is perfect year-round and there is beautiful scenery and wildlife just outside our door.  My oldest daughter gets dirty while exploring at a forest school and we can drive an hour away to camp among zebras and giraffes on the weekend. Life is good!

2.)  Where have you traveled with your children?  

Our travel has not slowed down much since having kids. Both my husband and I really love the experience of going new places, seeing new landscapes and cities, trying new foods, and meeting new people. Since having children, we have included them in these adventures. We now have completely different considerations and expectations, but still enjoy a trip together. We were living in Dhaka, Bangladesh when our eldest, Cora, was born. After birthing her stateside, we returned to Dhaka and also traveled to: Thailand to enjoy mango and sticky rice; Bhutan to climb the majestic Tiger’s Nest; Nepal to be among the Himalayas; Turkey for the food and friends; and Zanzibar for sunshine and walks through the beautiful streets of Stone Town. En route back to the states  (8 months pregnant to birth my second daughter) we took a long layover to tour Tuscany, Italy and ate everything in sight. Since returning to Kenya with baby Zella, we have been to Ethiopia for Thanksgiving among expat friends, South Africa for wine-country and cool Cape Town, as well as the Seychelles to relax in paradise.  And of course we continue to travel throughout Kenya, camping, swimming at the coast, and going on safari.

Whisked Away Surprise Travel:  Lizz and Family in Kenya

3.)  Do you have a favorite story or antidote from your family travels so far?

I especially enjoyed our time in both Turkey and Italy as I have found these countries to be so child friendly. I recall in Istanbul, a man in a business suit bent over to pick up my toddler and give her a kiss on her cheek, while proclaiming “Masha'Allah."  In these countries, it was not odd for a waiter to come over and take our child on a walk around the restaurant to allow us a much-needed break. I have found most every country we have traveled in to be more accommodating and welcoming of children than I have experienced while traveling in the US.  Parenting can be rough – I have found it refreshing to be places where children are celebrated as opposed to being nuisances (although they certainly can be!).

 4.)  What would you tell parents who are about to travel internationally with their children for the first time?

You are going to have an amazing adventure! Yes, things will be different than travels you had before kids.  You will need to consider naps, car seats, sleeping arrangements, and ensuring everyone gets something enjoyable out of this experience. With that said, what a gift to expose your children to the world, and to do so as a family!  Plan to stop for gelato/churros/fresh fruit on the side of the road. Remember to slow down, be patient… and also expect it to sometimes be difficult for your children. And then, let them surprise you in their ability to acclimate and be flexible!

Whisked Away Surprise Travel: Baby Love

5.)  What tips/tricks have you found that have really worked for you when traveling with children?

We have focused on ensuring everyone’s basic needs are met. Firstly, this means we all get good sleep.  For us, this means we travel with our own travel crib,  along with a travel blackout shade, two sheets for the crib, a thin blanket, a mosquito net, and a white noise machine- all tucked inside the travel crib bag.  Our oldest now sleeps in a bed or cot, which most hotels or rentals provide.  It is an extra bag to carry (although it is usually free to check a baby item), but we are ensured our child has a familiar and safe place to sleep wherever we are.

If your baby/kids go to bed early, it’s worth it to book an apartment or a suite hotel. When we only had one kid, we were able to fit her crib in closets (really) and dark, quieter corners of our hotel room. Although my husband and I are content snuggling in bed watching a movie on the iPad while eating room service, we now try to avoid bedtime-imposed quiet and lights off for everyone at 7pm.  Now with two kids, we book at least a one bedroom or preferable a two-bedroom rental, so they can sleep without being bothered. When we are in urban settings, we spend a little more to book an apartment near the center of town so we can return to our home base for naps or meals as needed and have no need to worry about taxis or travel without car seats.

Both of our children have always been most comfortable in a carrier (Ergo) as we have never lived in stroller-friendly cities, so we often forgo a stroller.  That is what works for us, but might not work for you. Try to think how you get around day-to-day at home, and how you might do so in your destination.  A cheap umbrella stroller works well for many, or if you have a system you depend on, it’s probably worth it to bring it along.

As for planning our days, we currently forgo long museum stays, and instead plan lots of outdoor activities, as well as trips to playgrounds and parks to break up our days. Simply exploring an ancient fortress and then stopping for gelato in the town square can satisfy our whole group. I am hoping in a few years I’ll be able to read more plaques and spent more time browsing boutiques, but for now I appreciate travel during this season of life. It won’t last forever!

I can universally say to all that I would suggest packing a small first aid kid with children’s basics for fever and allergic reactions, as they might not be readily available (or understood) overseas. Also, if traveling with a little one, I have been impressed how long a piece of bakers string made into a necklace of Cheerios can occupy a child!

6.)  Is there anything that you would tell parents not to do when traveling with kids?  Something that you tried that was an epic fail?  (Or maybe it was an epic fail, but you'd still try it?)

This just depends on your children! Our girls are horrible in the car – crying, screaming, and sometimes getting sick. We have cleaned vomit off our baby and car seat on the side of the road in scenic Tuscany and endured hour-long screams en route to wine-country outside Cape Town.  I sure earned that first glass or wine! We try to avoid long car trips, but sometimes we just have to do it. Thankfully as they have gotten older, the car rides are not quite as bad.

On the other hand, we have dined with toddlers at fancy restaurants in Franschhoek, climbed mountains to ancient monasteries with an infant in Bhutan, and camped among wildlife in Africa, all without incident. We have successes and failures every trip (everyday, really). You know yourself and your children; try to make life comfortable for yourselves while overseas too. With that said, you should also try to push yourselves and your children to experience new things. I would suggest not packing a suitcase full of food or toys – there are most certainly children living where you are going and your kids can eat what they eat and play how they play!  I do usually travel with a few small containers to pack snacks in, often some extra fruit from breakfast or a few slices of sausage, as when kids get hungry, it is best to be prepared!

Whisked Away Surprise Travel:  Lizz and Family

7.) Is there anything that you tried that worked out way better than you thought it would, traveling-wise?

My children do not really sleep on long-haul flights. Thankfully they are not screamers, and my husband and I take turns with the girls, but this does make travel exhausting. The silver lining is we always arrive to our destination dog-tired and can easily go to sleep at bedtime at our new location. Jet lag has never been a huge issue for us.

8.) Your family not only travels, but is growing up around the world.  Have you noticed that your children are more globally-minded because of this?  Do you think they will have a different outlook than most kids growing up just in the states?

My daughter has a pretty excellent grip on geography for a 3 year old!  She asks thought-provoking questions and makes astute observations of the world.  I am thankful for the gift we are giving our children by exposing them to the world.  I do, of course, worry they will not have the same deep roots and ties my husband and I grew up with.  We try to spend solid chunks of time in the States every few years, bonding with friends and family, exploring public libraries, and excellent National Parks.  We love this life overseas, but always know to take it day-by-day and do what is best for us as a family as we grow and evolve.

9.) Anything else you'd like to add?

Get out, and explore! To follow along with some of my family’s adventures, check out my Instagram:

Thanks so much, Lizz!  Do you travel with your children?  What tips and tricks would you add to help other families live out their travel dreams, and show the world to their kids?  Share below!