In my travel experience over the years, I’ve seen many people split their travel lives into two – before kids and after kids. If you say, “I’m traveling solo, without children,” that immediately paints a picture of stress-free vacations, honeymooning on the beach, Instagram worthy moments, romance and easy, go with the flow atmosphere. A lot of the times, after kids become part of the family – people hold off on traveling entirely because it’s just “too hard.”
I hear this all the time from families – Anna, how do you do it? How do you manage taking your 4-year-old and flying with him – getting to the airport, security lines, long flights, transfers, packing and unpacking, etc. It’s really not as complicated as it may sound. To make the matters “worse,” this time around we traveled with friends and their toddler because we like a challenge and we wanted to show you that if it is it is doable for us, it is doable for you, too.
I always say this, so here it goes again – a travel agent can play an important role in simplifying the whole vacation experience – taking the planning and stress out of your vacation planning but letting you enjoy the fun parts. If you like picking a destination, researching must-see attractions and activities – no problem! We can work side by side and develop a custom itinerary that works for you.
I take the time to understand your family dynamics and your unique travel needs – for example, I would not recommend a 5-hour walking tour in the middle of a day when you are traveling with a toddler who still takes naps. On the flip side, if you want to be completely hands-off in the entire process, that works, too. At Olegana Travel Boutique, we listen and suggest different ways we can make travel EASY and FUN again. There are no cookie-cutter itineraries, everything we do is completely custom.
Together with another family with a small child, we’ve just returned from a 12-day trip to the UK and Switzerland. I’d like to share my 10 tips for stress-free vacations with kids (or how to survive almost two weeks in Europe with two toddlers):
1. Plan ahead – pick a destination and the best time of year to visit – shoulder season is perfect to minimize crowds and enjoy cooler temperatures. Based on kids’ ages and how well they travel, pick a location that’s an easy (direct, when possible) flight away and is the right climate. We picked Switzerland because of the mountain views, nature, great food, kid-friendly activities, and the ease of traveling within the country via their rail system. Stay in a centrally located hotel close to major attractions. You don’t want to spend half of your vacation time and money in cabs going to and from the hotel when your child will need a nap or leaves their favorite toy in the room.
2. Pack lightly but strategically – it’s not easy to travel with a full-size stroller and a million bags. There are ways to downsize the suitcase while making sure you have the necessities. Packing cubes are great space savers! I always bring a change of clothes for all of us in the carry-on luggage, because with kids – accidents happen.
3. Use airport facilities – make use of airport kids lounges and breastfeeding areas for nursing moms when possible. Many airports in Europe offer kids playrooms that are great for getting all the energy out while you wait for your flight to depart.
4. Avoid lengthy layovers – long flights with layovers are hard on anyone. If possible, spend a little extra on a direct flight. For example, Zurich’s international airport is large and requires lots of walking between the check-in area and baggage drop, security checkpoints, and the departure gates. Running from gate to gate to catch a connecting flight can be difficult with a small child. Likewise, with a 3-7-hour layover there is not enough time to leave the airport and it’s a recipe for restless children running around, wreaking havoc in the airport.
5. Pack new toys/gadgets/books for the flight to keep kids entertained – this is a must, and the key word here is “new.” I always bring a few favorite toys and something new as a surprise to keep my son excited about our trip. We brought Paddington books to read on the flight to London and he loved it.
6. Book your airport transfers or car rentals ahead of time – private transfers make it easier to get to your hotel after a long flight, without having to figure out public transportation (often in a new language) on the spot. A travel agent can suggest options that work well within your budget.
7. Decide on your must-see destinations and activities ahead of time but be flexible if you need a day to just take it easy and hang back at the hotel or spend an afternoon at the local playground. Temper tantrums, bad weather, or an unexpected sore throat can throw off your travel plans. Be flexible about the things you want to accomplish and leave room for downtime in your schedule. In places like Switzerland, where most of the travel is done by the train, having a rail pass (pass for unlimited travel on trains) means you can choose your destination the night before based on the weather, everyone’s mood and energy levels.
8. Trip insurance is a must for any unexpected medical or travel-related issues like baggage delays, cancelled flights, medical emergencies and more.
9. Map out cafes and supermarkets within walking distance from your hotel – in case you need any quick baby/kid items that the hotel can’t provide or any snack food like fruit and yogurts. When I travel with my family, I prefer hotels with a kitchenette, a microwave and a mini-fridge. It saves time when you need a quick meal or to reheat something for the kids. In Switzerland, we booked a studio room with a separate kitchen and dining area for family breakfasts. We saved time and money on eating breakfast at home and always had a variety of snacks, fresh local bread, cheeses and fruit available.
10. Ask a travel agent for help – last but not least! We offer a wealth of knowledge about specific destinations, which locations are kid-friendly, age-appropriate tours and more. I have an active 4-year-old and first-hand experience with international travel, both for my family and our clients.
My most important takeaway? Don’t be afraid to travel with kids, it’s enjoyable if you plan ahead and prioritize what matters. You know your family best but travel agents can lend a helping hand and take the stress out of the process so you can enjoy family time and make unforgettable memories.