I’ve always loved to travel. Travel is one of the reasons my husband and I agreed to his expat opportunity in the UK from the US. We figured it would be an amazing opportunity to travel across Europe. As we arrived in London in January 2020, COVID19 struck the world. Now that my husband and I are fully vaccinated, and we have determined certain precautions to take for our two-year-old son and seven-month-old daughter, we have been excited to resume traveling where we feel like we can safely do so.
Regarding traveling with two, two and under, people ask me regularly “how do you guys do it?”. The answer is that even if things are not always perfect or easy, we enjoy travel so much, we simply figure out how to make it work. Traveling with young kids comes with it’s own hurdles and nuances, but if you are able to manage, it is such a blessing to make these memories with your babies. Here are my main three tips, based on our experiences, regarding planning a trip with a toddler/baby!
Tip 1: Set Expectations
It is essential to remember that a trip with a toddler and baby is not going to be the same experience as traveling with your significant other or a group of friends. It’s more-so an experience to make memories with your family, enjoying a new location, culture, language, and food. It is so special to take your young kids to explore the world and watch them absorb the new sights, accents, and scenes around them.
There are going to be some very non-vacation aspects, in that a baby/toddler, generally, does not care about sleeping in or truly understands proper etiquette of sight seeing (i.e., our toddler insisted on high-fiving every member of our walking tour during COVID). It is just the reality of having young kids. It’s a short period in our lives, and for me, even if there are difficult moments, it’s worth it to experience the trip as a whole, even if some moments feel difficult (and there will absolutely be moments that feel difficult).
Traveling with such young kids for our household means that, there is generally just one ‘big activity’ in a day, whether in the morning or afternoon, and the other portion of the day will be more ‘relaxation’. Before traveling, it could be beneficial to draft out what the ‘big activity’ will be for each day, so that you can be sure to prioritise what is most important to you. The rest of the day might be resting by the pool or even lounging somewhere with a nice view and wi-fi. Our ideal lodging is walking distance to the beach, pool, park, or city where your toddler can walk around as well. Pre-kids, I could have never imagined just lounging around for hours each day, but this truly does help us manage the “one big activity” much better.
Additionally, because of COVID, you might feel safer taking certain precautions like avoiding indoor venues or eating inside restaurants. In this case, destinations that offer options for outdoor activities/sight seeing might be best. You will likely not accomplish everything on your bucket list or do as much as a tourist without kids, but you will likely get to experience enough to satisfy your travel bug. It can still be special. And who knows, one day you can come back without those little goobers. Until then, I’m savouring all the moments with them.
Tip 2: IMPLEMENT A Flexible Schedule
Schedule: When we are at home, my kids are on a fairly strict schedule. Research shows that kids benefit from a routine, and I can see that impact on my toddler and baby. When they stick to their bedtime and nap schedules, they sleep better, eat better, and are in overall better moods throughout the day. This has a direct impact on me. The same thing applies for a trip.
Our daily schedule for our 2-year-old toddler and 7-month-old baby at home and while vacationing is as follows:
- 7:00 am: Nurse baby
- 7:30 am: Breakfast for toddler and baby
- 9:15 am: Nap for baby
- 10:00 am: Nurse baby
- 11:00 am: Lunch for toddler and baby
- 12:00-2:00 pm: Nap for toddler and baby
- 2:00 pm: Nurse baby/Snack for toddler
- 4:00 pm: Nurse baby/Nap for baby
- 5:30 pm: Dinner for toddler and baby
- 7:00 pm: Milk for toddler and formula for baby
- 7:30 pm: Bedtime
Even if there is some jet lag, I recommend trying to stick to a ‘flexible schedule’ as much as possible. If we don’t stick to the schedule exactly, it is okay, as long as we don’t drift off too much (up to 30-45 minutes works fine for our household, but any longer will make us miss our window to get them to eat or sleep). In summary, I am fairly strict about the timings, but I make the execution of the schedule more flexible. For example, the timing for meals or sleep remain about the same, but the approach to do may differ based on the day.
Sleep: When it is nap time or bedtime, I don’t want the kids energised and running around, although I will be flexible on the method of ‘how’ to get them to fall asleep. At home, our kids sleep in their own beds/cribs, with minimal exceptions. When we are traveling, if we are back at the hotel by nap or bedtime, we use the Doc-A-Tot for the baby and request a cot for the toddler. If he doesn’t sleep well in it, we allow him to sleep in our bed (following safe sleeping guidelines). If either the toddler or baby struggle to sleep, I place them in the stroller (one at a time, of course), put it in full recline, hand a bottle of warm milk, turn on a lullaby, turn off the lights, and face the stroller into a corner. When they fall asleep, I take him or her over to the cot or Doc-A-Tot. If we are still out at a restaurant at bedtime, my goal is to have them wound down and confined to the stroller and baby carrier, with a sound machine on next to them and try to get them to fall asleep. For daytime naps, I usually try to get the toddler to nap in the stroller and the baby to nap in the baby carrier, so I can enjoy some time browsing the streets or shops while they sleep soundly. If that does not work, I take the same approach as their night time sleep within our lodging.
Mealtimes: Regarding meals, we ask around and read reviews on the restaurants we should visit for lunch or dinner. I always plan to be there for about 1-2 hours. I make sure it is clean, offers food that my kids and I both enjoy, provides good customer service, is stroller-friendly, and has good wi-fi. I immediately wipe down the table, chairs, and high chair. I get the toddler settled in a chair at the table with his disposable mat under his food, use child-friendly utensils that I bring with me, get his bib on (if he will let me), set his sippy cup of water next to him, and turn his tablet on (I know, I might be judged, but it makes life easier at restaurants). I place the baby in a high chair or let her sit in the stroller, get her bib on, and feed her as well. If they refuse the food at the restaurant, I have back-up snacks and fruit pouches in the diaper bag. Once they have eaten, I place the toddler into the stroller and pray that he falls asleep. I nurse the baby, and say a second prayer that she also falls asleep in the baby carrier. Then, in pure bliss, I eat and browse the internet, regain my energy, and either stroll around with my napping children or head back to our hotel or AirBnB for them to sleep properly.
Breastfeeding/Formula/Milk: I nurse our baby throughout the day, give her a bottle of formula in the evening, and pump the milk that I produce in the middle of the night. I give our toddler one bottle of warm milk before bedtime. I try to limit all ‘middle of the night feeds’, the way that I do at home.
- Breastfeeding: Nursing my baby for the majority of feeds works well for our family, because I can breastfeed anywhere when necessary. Especially in Europe, the culture is very ‘breastfeeding’ friendly, and I keep a light muslin cloth to use as a cover. I also feel good that my baby is hopefully getting antibodies from my breastmilk, as I have had the COVID vaccine.
- Formula: Giving our baby a bottle of formula in the evening allows me to take a break, for my husband to bond with the baby while feeding her, and making sure she is full and satisfied from the feed before, hopefully, sleeping through the night. We use bottled water for the formula, which we heat up a bit in our lodging, and use the formula powder we bring from home.
- Pumping: If you pump, make sure to check the adaptor situation for your electrical pump; or if it is a short trip, it could be helpful to simply bring a smaller manual pump to carry around in the diaper bag. I opt for the manual pump, as it is less of a hassle to carry around internationally. However, check with a lactation consultant or doctor if a manual pump might impact on your supply. For me, using it for trips does not substantially impact me. Once pumped, you could store the milk in the hotel fridge or ask them to keep the milk in their main fridge. I like to add a bit of the pumped milk into my toddler’s morning oatmeal in order to help get him some COVID antibodies as well.
- Whole milk: For milk, we try to identify spots early on where we can obtain warm milk for our toddler ahead of time, so that when the time comes, we know where to get it for him. I also like to confirm with the restaurant or store that the milk is pasteurised, because not all milk in Europe always is.
I pack a few extra bottles and sippy cups, along with bottle cleaner and a brush to thoroughly clean the dishes after use.
Having to factor in this schedule and logistics into a trip, is not everyone’s ideal vacation. For us, it allows us to balance a healthy routine for our kids (which is of course is a priority), while enabling us explore a new destination.
Tip 3: Plan and Prep
I was already a Type A trip planner before kids. I thoroughly researched the destination, solicited feedback and recommendations, and compiled all the information and bookings into a spreadsheet with a detailed itinerary and packing list. Now, planning trips with two young kids has stepped up my Type A planning. Doing thorough research and itinerary drafting helps you with packing, saves time at airports and day-of events, and also might help you accomplish your bucket list! Throw in the COVID19 situation and ever-evolving guidelines, it is essential to plan ahead.
Here are some things to consider:
- Booking Lodging: We particularly love Booking.com and AirBnB to conduct our research. We generally like family-friendly lodging, with either limited stairs or an elevator, as close to the city as possible. To me, it enhances the entire trip if I can avoid lugging around the stroller on public transportation, and rather walk right to the city center or beach. It is also great if the lodging has a pool or amenities that the kids will enjoy.
- Plan for Weather: Check weather forecast and pack accordingly for the kids and yourself.
- COVID Guidelines: Check COVID guidelines for the city, especially for unvaccinated kids. It doesn’t hurt to call the embassy and ask directly.
- Packing Checklist: Make a checklist of items for yourself and each kid (and your partner if you’re more helpful than I am :)) and check what you have at home or if there are items to order/purchase beforehand. Our list of travel essentials includes:
- Baby Zen YoYo Stroller: The best parts of this stroller is that it is lightweight, easy to manoeuvre, and can be folded/stored in the overhead compartment bin of a plane. The con is that it cannot be converted into a double stroller.
- Baby Bjourn Carrier (for our baby): This carrier is easy to adjust on yourself and can hold up to a 26 pound child. Also, I have figured out how to nurse my baby while wearing her, and a few times, I was able to keep walking while doing so (never felt prouder of myself).
- Diaper Bag (stocked with changing pad, diapers, wipes – I plan for 6 diapers per day per child)
- Enough outfits/accessories per child (I plan for 2-3 outfit changes per child per day)
- Meal gear (Bottles, sippy cups, plastic or disposable utensils, bibs)
- Bottle cleaner and sponge
- Extra blanket and covers
- Amazon Kids Kindle Tablet (only for the toddler)
- Children’s sunblock
- Favorite snacks, food, or drinks (i.e., formula, microwaveable oatmeal for the mornings, granola bars, baby food pouches, disposable utensils in case the lodging doesn’t have them)
- Itinerary: Draft out an itinerary, based on blogs and reviews, on what you would like to accomplish on the trip. Blog post with an itinerary template on traveling kids coming soon.
- Travel: The actual travel portion is one of the components that parents feel most nervous about. Whether you travel by plane, car, train, bus, or ferry, my main philosophy is to do what you need to do to get yourselves to your destination, safe, sound and sane. This might mean extra snacks, nursing, milk, or screen time. Make sure to plan ahead for these extra treats to pacify your child in transit. Blog post coming soon on more details on how we take flights and trains with our toddler and baby and how we manage the associated jet lag!
You can’t prepare for every scenario, but spending time researching and packing might save some major headaches whether at the airport or when you arrive on your trip. Plus, it is a great way to get excited for the trip!
I have a few blog posts planned highlight more specifics into managing an airport experience/flight, jet lag, packing, and more details on the specific travel products that we love – stay tuned 🙂 I am an Amazon Affiliate Partner, which means that if you click on my affiliate links, I may receive a commission at no cost to you.