The long flight. The jet lag. The strange bed and unfamiliar foods. Just thinking about taking a far-flung journey with your kids can be exhausting. If you don’t want to end up in need of a vacation from your vacation, the key is to relax and roll with it. You won’t enjoy seeing five cities in five days with a 5-year-old anyway, so why try?
Follow these tips to insure happy travels for the whole family:
1. Establish a home base.
Even the most intrepid junior travelers need a daily dose of downtime. But who wants to waste precious vacation time hanging out in a hotel room? Give your kids a real home away from home experience by renting (or swapping) a house or apartment instead. Shop in the local markets for breakfast provisions and snacks, get to know the neighbors, and enjoy your destination more knowing you have a comfortable home to return to between adventures.
2. Embrace new experiences.
Kids thrive on routine. But how will they learn to enjoy new things if we don’t mix it up a bit now and then? Your six year old may stick to a menu of noodles and nuggets at home, but when in Paris, encourage her to try the crepes or croque monsieur. Rather than focusing on the familiar, celebrate what’s different about the places you visit and your kids will be inspired to do the same.
3. Explore local parks and playgrounds.
Museums and monuments may be at the top of your must-see list, but there’s only so much “look but don’t touch” your kids can take. Ask a local mom or dad to point you toward a nearby playground, or do a web search for parks with children’s activities in the area. It’s amazing how much local color you can absorb while your kids climb on Beijing-style monkey bars or Barcelona’s take on the tire swing. And there’s no better way to bribe them into one more walking tour than a return trip to their favorite carousel.
4. Don’t over pack the essentials.
Unless you’re traveling to an underdeveloped nation, there’s no need to bring the whole box of Pampers or to cram every corner of your carryon with your daughter’s favorite cereal bars. High quality diapers, wipes, milk, and many familiar foods are available almost anywhere (and chances are your daughter will discover a more interesting local snack than those boring old cereal bars anyway).
5. Plan a parents-only night on the town.
Entertaining your kids 24/7 can be tiresome on your own turf, let alone in a foreign country. Preserve your sanity (and your eardrums) by planning at least one evening alone with your spouse. Most innkeepers and concierges will have a list of reliable local babysitters, and many cities have established agencies that are experienced in providing childcare to visitors (such as Sitters in the UK and Australia’s Rock My Baby).