We recently got back from a 10 Day European Adventure with our 3 year old twins, and man was it a marathon. 4 Plane rides, a cruise ship for 7 days, 5 cities, 9 hour time difference – it was a huge undertaking, but it was so worth it. And I like to think we learned a thing or two about surviving a trip with littles. If you’re getting ready for a trip, or even maybe considering a trip, or maybe thinking about considering taking a trip with toddlers, here are my best tips for big trips with tiny humans.
- Choose Your Vacation Wisely. We did a 7 day European Cruise in Norway, plus a day in Paris and a day in Copenhagen. I’m not going to lie – it was a big trip and it took a lot of effort to get us there. But there are a few key things about our trip that made it much more doable. First being – we took a cruise, and a Disney cruise at that. Now we all know that we Moms Without Answers love us some Disney, but even if it weren’t for The Mouse, I’d cruise Disney every single time. Nobody accommodates kids and adults in every age and stage quite like Disney. There was childcare, kids activities, adult activities, entertainment, and the best part – we went to 5 different cities and always had the same home base nearby to have a mid-day nap. And all of the food is included, which we all know how much toddlers can eat in a day #amiright? Basically, what I’m saying is to choose your vacation so it makes your life easier, not harder. Vacations can be a ton of work, and less play. All inclusive is always a good idea, having somewhere to get away and take a snooze, and somewhere that will make it just as fun for your kids as it will be for you, and vice versa.
2. Give Them Room on the Plane – and lots to do. Our first (and last) flights across the pond were from Seattle to Paris, which is a LONG flight. 10 hours we were in the air each time, and that’s a long time for anyone but especially with two 3 year olds. The best decision we made was to just book an entire center row. On 747s, there’s a bank of 4 seats in the middle which meant my husband and I could sit on either end and then the boys had the entire center of the row to make a mess, make beds, play with stuff, whatever. And on those plane rides, don’t be afraid to pull out all the stops. Screens are awesome, but after a while they get stir crazy. Go for sensory stuff – play dough, stickers, coloring, making Cheerio necklaces. Pinterest has about 1,000 ideas for busy bags for toddlers, and I don’t think you need 1,000 things but I think having a few key items and LOTS of patience is key. Also melatonin gummies. Those help too 😉
3. Feed them and let them sleep. There will be about 500 gift shops, all with approximately 6 trillion refrigerator magnets but no goldfish to be found and your toddler will not care about fridge magnets in the midst of hangry-ness. So pack snacks, and bring lots of them. They’ll buy you the time you desperately need sometimes. We packed a bag full of snacks going there that was great for bringing souveniers back in. And it took me a few days to realize that they were going to need naps randomly and more frequently than they do at home. So when they’re acting tired, be prepared for stroller or carrier naps. And sometimes just take one yourself, because sometimes parents also just need some good ol’ American cheese crackers and mid-morning snooze… Just me?
4. Give them (and yourselves) down time. It’s easy to want to pack your vacation full of fun. But that’s the quickest way to get into meltdown mode for everyone. It’s so important to give yourself down time. Especially for little kids, it’s hard to have a week full of waiting in lines, doing this and going there. Give them time to let loose, rest, run around like crazy people. Just get their kid on. And you do the same. There’s plenty of time for intense memory making, but you won’t have any fun if you don’t pace yourselves. On our cruise, we’d schedule morning excursions only, and we might roam or explore for an hour or two, before heading back to our boat for the remainder of the day. The empty boat was awesome for our boys to just run around, and we got to have plenty of fun in the morning when everyone was most rested and just play the rest of the day by ear. It was the best combination and really helped us survive that long of a vacation abroad.
5. Know before you go. Google, Pinterest search, ask around on Facebook. Gather as much knowledge about where you’re going as possible. Tours are awesome, tour guides are awesome, but having some notes about things to do or bucket list items helps SO much, especially if you plan to venture out on your own. Look up restaurants close to your hotel or boat that you can walk to, have a basic idea of things you want to see or do so you’re not scrambling in the morning. Being nomadic is great and all, but we all know that as parents, having a plan is crucial. And pro tip – download a map. Have an offline map of everywhere you’ll be or might be going. If you’re in airplane mode, don’t have cell service or wifi, downloaded maps and GPS should still work. There are also translator apps that will let you download certain languages. That’s also super helpful in a pinch. And have a place to meet back at if you lose your group, but that’s just basic travel safety. Like I said, don’t plan every single moment and overbook your trip, but having a good idea of what’s most important will insure you have a great time and see what you want to see, while also having down time and enjoying your vacation from real life.
6. Pack less. I know I just told you I packed an entire bag of food. But that was essential. What I’m saying here is don’t overpack. Travelling with toddlers is an Olympic event without 3 bags per person. Designate one or two bags for ALL clothing (seriously!), knowing that you can probably do laundry or hand wash in the bathtub. Remember y’all – everywhere in the world has children. And if you take my point in No. 1 to heart, you won’t need to make up for being far from home. And if you’re a perpetual over-packer like I am, do a packing purge. Pack the first time. Then go through it all and get rid of anything you don’t absolutely need or aren’t sure you’ll wear. Then do it again, until you are squeezed into as few bags as possible. Trust me – less stuff equals easier travel. Every time.
Oh – except I will say this in regards to things you should pack – when in doubt, bring a stroller. The single best purchase we made for the trip were these AMAZING travel strollers. They were durable enough to handle miles and miles of walking, but they fold up into backpacks that weigh less than 15 lbs. They also don’t have to be gate checked and fit into an overhead bin, and the seats recline for stroller naps, AND they have baskets underneath for storage. Thank me later, but do buy them. They’re worth every penny and I’d buy them again and again for every single trip we go on. Get them for yourself here.
7. Breathe. I don’t want to have to be the person to break this to you, but your toddler does not care that you’re on a very expensive vacation to Europe. Their tantrums know no country lines. We were lucky enough to have had meltdowns in three different countries, by both children,including but not limited to: Notre Dame, The Danish Royal Palace, in a 700 year old hand-built house. Am I sorry I went? No. But it is inevitable. They’re in a new place, with new expectations and just like they test your boundaries at home, they’ll probably try even harder on your trip. My best advice is to breathe, just breathe. Teach your kiddo to breathe, and know it’ll pass. And you probably won’t remember those tantrums in a few years when you think back to this amazing trip. Probably. Though the sound of my child’s screams ringing through a Queen’s marble lined work chamber over a pair of shoe-cover booties… that might stick for a while. Point is – we’ve all been there and these trips are worth taking in spite of it. I look at it this way – they’re going to have tantrums regardless of where we are, we might as well be making new memories and having new experiences at the same time. And also Mickey Mouse. That helped a lot too.
I think the biggest piece of advice I can give, besides these 7 tidbits is to just do it. Go, and have fun, and realize it’s not going to be perfect but that’s okay. It’s worth it. I promise. Travel is always worth it, and in doing so you’re making new memories, you’re gearing your kids up to be amazing travelers their whole lives, and you get to see a new part of the world. Doesn’t that sound amazing? Even after 24 hours on planes with twin 3 year olds, I’m still willing to keep traveling. And I think that in itself says a lot!
Are you planning an big trips with tiny humans any time soon? Even small trips? I am excited to take a beach vacation next I think, and maybe a good old fashioned road trip, maybe where I get to pick the music? Ahh. That’s what dreams are made of.