This is the third and final post in a small series on travelling with a toddler. Check out the first post here if you want to read up on my thoughts about to what to pack, and the second here for tips on flying with a toddler!
Travel will be different
Below I’ve written a few practical tips to help you as manoeuvre the ever-changing landscape of travelling with a child. The most important advice I feel I can give you is to have an open mind, and be open to change. If you’re able to adapt, and not stress over things not going to plan, travel will seem so much more achievable and enjoyable.
Travelling with kids is all about improvisation. Don’t have a high chair? Use the floor, or sit them in your lap. Don’t have a baby spoon? Use a teaspoon. Use what you resources you do have, and don’t stress too much over the things you can’t change.
If you approach your trip thinking you’ll be able to travel like you did before you had kids, you’re most likely going to be disappointed. Just like your life radically changed when you had a baby, travel changes too. Getting out the door every morning will take more time. Jet lag won’t just mean being awake in the middle of the night, it’ll probably mean you being awake for a few hours, and just as soon as you nod back off to sleep, your child will wake, wanting to play. Being out from dawn to dusk going from one museum to another will probably not be as feasible as before, and you might not be able to watch the 10 movies you normally would on your flight to your destination (everyone knows this is the best part about flying, right?!). And that’s all OK. Get excited for this new season of travel, and how it will look with kids. Think about what you absolutely love about travel, and come up with solutions so that doing it with a child isn’t so scary.
We’ve experienced trips where Isla has kept us up at night wanting to play, and trips where we’ve barely been affected by jet lag. I’ve noticed this probably relates to the direction we’ve been travelling in (read more here), and I feel like there’s not a lot you can do about avoiding it altogether!
Our biggest piece of advice with jet lag is to anticipate it, and not get too stressed about it. Know that you’ll probably experience it, it’ll most likely suck for a few days, but that, like everyone, you’ll get over it (and so will your kids), and you’ll be able to enjoy the rest of your holiday.
Our goal when dealing with jet lag, is just to try and minimise its affect on us as much as possible. We try to make sure we keep to Isla’s schedule (i.e. she normally has a nap between 1-2pm, so we make sure to put her down at that time, and then keep her busy so she stays up until her normal bed time).
Going outside when the sun is up is also incredibly helpful, as it helps show your kids that it is daytime, and that they should be awake. We don’t try to fight it when Isla wakes up in the middle of the night, rather we keep the lights dim, and play time quiet and calm. When she shows any signs of tiredness or restlessness we try and put her down for bed.
At some point we grow accustomed to the new time zone (they normally say that each hours’ time difference equals the amount of days it will take to readjust: i.e. 8 hour time difference will take 8 days to adjust to), so give one another grace during that time, and do your best to enjoy yourselves, even when you’re dead tired.
We almost always stay in an Airbnb, as we are often in one place for a while, and love to have the comforts of home with us. Staying in an apartment, rather than hotel, means we can put Isla down for a nap and not be in the same room as her. We are able to cook, and still feel at home.
Always look at the reviews, check out the area it’s in, and communicate with the owner prior to booking. Often when the owner is attentive and quick to respond in the booking process, they will be quick and attentive when you’re at your destination. This has definitely been the case where we’re currently staying, and has meant our stay here has been really relaxing, and not stressful.
This section is mainly about my experience while I’ve been here in Paris, and travelling with Isla by myself. When in Paris, I’m on my own with Isla 90% of the time. Dave normally leaves for work by 8:30am, and usually isn’t home till after 8:30pm – often later – by which time, Isla is already down for the night. My experience with public transport, especially in Paris, comes from the point of view of being by myself with no one else to help when it comes to stairs and carrying a pram.
Last year in Paris we had a huge pram, that folded down in to two bulky pieces. Isla was about 7 or 8 months old, and wasn’t walking, and I remember the first time I tried to catch the metro by myself, I was pretty much in tears. My understanding is that most older cities with large metro/subway systems are definitely not easily accessible except by stairs, so if you’re travelling by yourself, this is something to note.
I remember trying to push the pram down flights of stairs, folding it up to get through turnstiles, pushing the two pieces through all while holding Isla, to try and fit on a busy train, and then get off to catch the second connection and then go up the stairs, get out of the metro, and finally be at my destination. I quickly learned that for me, the metro was not the right solution. Last year I ended up spending the summer catching the bus around Paris, which although I was hesitant to do initially, I ended up really loving. It was pram friendly, I got to see all of the city, and although it often took 5 or so minutes longer, it was a stress free solution to getting around Paris by myself.
This year, however, Isla is 21 months old and walking, we have our Mountain Buggy Nano, which folds up to a tiny size, and I can easily catch the metro just by folding up the pram and carrying it with the shoulder strap, my backpack on my back, and holding Isla’s hand as she walks beside me. Isla has absolutely loved the train and it’s been one of the highlights of our trip.
Obviously whichever place you go to will have their own different system, and depending on how long you’ll be there for, and if you’re travelling solo or with a partner, your circumstances will be different, so do what works best for you. When we were in New York, Dave and I would carry one side of the pram each down the stairs, and although it was a bit of effort, it was fine, and we made the subway work. (P.S. if you are headed to New York, Love Taza has a great post about public transport with kids in New York, which you can check it out here)
If you feel overwhelmed by public transport, Google the destination, and there should be some sort of information that will help guide your decisions about moving around the city.
If you are in Paris without kids, or like us, have one person working here, and travelling around without a child, I cannot recommend the bike system here highly enough. Vélib’ costs 1.70€ a day, 8€ a week, or 39€ for an annual pass (Dave has this), and they have over 23,000 bikes all over the city. Biking is hands down my favourite way to see a city, especially in a place like Paris, where bike lanes are everywhere, cyclists are respected, and it is incredibly safe to ride.
Things to do
Gosh, we have absolutely loved travelling with Isla. She brings such a fresh and unique perspective to the places we travel to, and it brings me so much joy to see her enjoy wherever we go.
One of my favourite things to do with Isla is to go to different parks in different areas of wherever we are. I love looking at a map, picking a park, and heading to that destination. Isla is a big people watcher, so she loves the time in the pram, walking to the destination, and it is such a fun way to explore a new neighbourhood or different area. I often organise my days around which park we’ll go to, and that way get to see a new area.
To be honest, the way we travel hasn’t changed dramatically since having Isla. Perhaps that’s because we’ve always travelled slowly, or perhaps that’s because Isla is a really calm and adaptable child who has incredible patience, and allows us to do things like have coffee out, visit museums, and explore new areas, without kicking up a fuss.
If you’re used to a fast pace when sightseeing, and visiting 20 different monuments in a day, be aware that this will most likely no longer be possible (or at least, possible to the same extent). Travelling with a kid is slow. Getting out the door takes forever, stopping to play in parks takes time. Adjusting your rhythm to allow for naps changes the outline of the day. But if you acknowledge that, and you’re ok with knowing that you won’t see everything you’ve planned, you’ll really enjoy yourself.
I’ve made sure I do fun kids activities while we’ve been in Paris. We’ve gone on a boat ride along the Seine, we’ve caught trains for the fun of it (Isla’s favourite thing to do right now), we’ve gone to outdoor puppet shows, and I’ve been trying to visit at least one museum. I wouldn’t have thought to do some of these things prior to having a kid, but it’s been so much fun to see this side of a city, and see how child friendly a place can be.
Visit museums that might interest both yourself and your family. If your baby is young, time the museum trips for their nap time. Bring some toys along for when they wake up, or engage with them by talking about the painting you’re looking at, or by asking them which their favourite is.
A lot of museums in Paris won’t let you take your pram into the exhibits but most will have baby carriers that you can borrow for free, or for a small surcharge if you don’t have one. Super handy when you forget to bring yours along with you!
Always pack snacks, and spare nappies and wipes. I’m a pretty relaxed Mum (i.e. I can be way too relaxed), and this is something I really struggle with. I am so often (literally) caught in a sticky situation, with no wipes, or in the middle of the afternoon on a Sunday where all the supermarkets are closed, with a hungry toddler, and no food to give them. I guess this is common sense, and something you probably already do at home, but having a bag full of yummy, healthy, and filling snacks are such a lifesaver when you’re out all day!
Not many European cities have change tables in their bathrooms so come prepared with a portable change mat, and know you’ll probably be changing your baby in the pram, rather than a bathroom.
If you’re heading to Europe, expect stairs at some point. Our place in Croatia didn’t have a lift, so every day for 5 weeks we carried our pram up and down flights of stairs every time we went out. Dubrovnik, and lots of coastal cities in Italy are all situated on steep hills, so anticipate this, and make sure you have a baby carrier on hand, or a compact pram that’s easy to carry.
If you’re in a city for a while, and are by yourself with your kids, search for a play group. I did this this year in Paris, and it has been a lifesaver. It has been so nice to meet up with other Mums once a week (I attended an English speaking play group, so everyone spoke English, which was so nice!), have other kids for Isla to play with, and get ideas of fun things to do for the rest of the week.
And finally, enjoy yourselves! Give yourself grace, and see what works for you and what doesn’t. Know that at the end of the day, having fun is the biggest goal, and that if you’ve had a ball and haven’t seen the inside of any main tourist attractions, that that is better than having seen them all and being miserable. Take photos, document your trip, your feelings, and look forward to reminiscing with your kids about your holiday when they’re older.