Last week, we went to Munich for a few days. It was hot, but it was also sunny and beautiful. We visited the Audi factory in Ingolstadt (oh, man, did I want to drive off with one!), explored Marienplatz where we happened upon a festival, watched the Glockenspiel, ate (and drank) in the Biergarten at the 700-year-old Hofbräuhaus (pronounced hof- broy-house) and explored the Viktualienmarkt.
One reason we don't travel as much as we would like is because we have young children. Simply getting somewhere becomes much more complicated when you are dealing with kids. That said, Boss Man and Snuggle Monkey have traveled a lot for their years (Boss Man has visited 10 countries, Snuggle Monkey has visited 6). So here's a bit of what I have learned about traveling with children.
Pack well Pack clothes that you can layer, shoes that won't cause blisters, and at least two extra outfits per child (I assure you, you will use them). Also take along a piece of laundry line and some clothes pins, and some detergent you can use to wash clothes. The sink works wonders, particularly if you encounter something like horse droppings after a parade, a dirt hill that the kids just must slide down, car sickness (we've been known to buy new shirts for that one), or overfilled diapers/lack of toilet.
Be a boy scout Be prepared for everything. Kids are guaranteed to get hungry and thirsty at the very moment when you have nothing to give them. Don't leave without snacks and drinks. Many countries don't have drinking fountains, so don't count on them.
Be prepared to be a pack animal Public restrooms are not always easy to locate, and sometimes you have to pay to use them. Have extra diapers and changes of clothes (more than you think you could possibly need) on hand at all times. Plastic bags, too, for getting soiled clothes back to base camp.
Our diaper/travel bag contains the essentials mentioned above, food, drinks, bandaids, two coloring books, a baggie with broken crayons, a small deflated beach ball, straws, and a few new balloons. We've used each and every one of those things on more than one occasion, and I won't travel without them.
Don't try to see everything. Yes, it's very tempting to run around seeing all of the sights, particularly if you have traveled a long way from home and don't think you'll make it back. But for the sake of your sanity, don't do it. Pick the few most interesting places and stick with those. Dragging your kids from place to place will only make everyone really grumpy. And your back will hurt from toting luggage day after day.
Take a tour If you really must see all of the major sights, do it by tour bus. Take one of those on-and-off tours, so that you can ride around all day, get off to see things up close, then get back on another bus. Buses are also good for naps (kids... adults... doesn't really matter).
FIND THE RIGHT PLACE TO STAY
Find a base This should probably have gone at the top, but I'm too lazy to move it. The most successful trips we have taken are the ones for which we have rented an apartment and have made it our base. Major benefits:
- We make day trips, but we don't have to deal with luggage.
- There's a kitchen so we can eat at our "normal" times, rather than waiting for restaurants to open (also saves a fortune).
- And (perhaps most important) the kids get their own room, so we don't have to read in silence by book-light for two hours after they go to bed.
DO AS THE ROMANS DO
Know the local customs This goes along with the previous point (believe it or not). Find out when people usually eat. For example, if the locals eat lunch around 1pm then everything closes for two hours, you need to plan your activities accordingly. In such situations, dinner probably isn't served until late (9pm or later)—after the kids are in bed. Restaurants don't open early just to cater to the American tourists, so have lots of snacks and an alternate plan for feeding the munchkins.
This also applies to the clothes you wear. In some places (e.g., churches in Italy), it is considered offensive to wear sleeveless tops and shorts. Be respectful and dress appropriately. (This point is for the parents, not the kids.)
Try the local foods Yes, there will be things that just don't sound very appetizing (even in Tuscany), but try them and have your kids try them. These are local specialties for a reason. The people there like these foods. They are edible, often even tasty! I finally tried Leberkäse (translation: liver cheese) last week, and it was quite good. No hint of liver, definitely not cheese, kind of meatloaf meets bologna.
Learn a few important phrases in the local language I cannot stress this enough, but if you (and the kids—this will win you MAJOR points if the kids do it, too) learn a few important words, you will be miles ahead of most tourists, and the locals will really appreciate your effort.
Learn the local words for hello, goodbye, please, thank you, I'm sorry, excuse me. Your pronunciation doesn't have to be perfect (in fact, my bad pronunciation has made more than a few people smile, but I think it made their day.) Do not expect everyone else to speak English, and be respectful. Teach your children to be respectful, too.
KEEP THE KIDS ENTERTAINED
Do your research Know when (and where) the trains/buses run (if you're taking them), where the playgrounds are, and where you can find a park where your kids can run off their extra energy (and they will have it—there is nothing like visiting a new place to get them hyped up).
If all else fails find a fountain. Winter or summer, it doesn't matter. Kids love to play in/on fountains.
Have the kids pack their own backpack with books, toys and games But do a check to be sure there aren't too many little pieces that
Transportation IS an experience Chances are, your kids will be far more excited about taking new/unusual forms of transportation than they will be in seeing museums, ancient artifacts, or whatever else it is you want to see. Make a point of taking buses, trains, boats, as much as possible. The kids will love it.
OTHER THINGS TO REMEMBER
Attach beloved stuffed animals to the luggage We made a loop on the side of Boss Man's backpack for Bear II, after he left Bear I in the Glasgow airport.
Take a stroller Young children may be active, but their legs are short. They walk several steps to your one, and they will get tired quickly. When they're under 3, you will want a stroller, and if you don't take one, you will kick yourself for it. We spent much of last week wishing we had taken ours, and our backs and shoulders are still recovering from carrying Snuggle Monkey 50% of our time in Munich.
Don't let yourself by distracted by your kids Think pickpockets will leave you alone because you have kids? Think again. They provide the perfect distraction, so be sure to keep important things (passports, large sums of money) in a very safe location, and pay attention to what's going on around you.
Personal story: when we were in Prague, waiting for the Metro, there were quite a few people waiting for the train. Several men were in front of the doors when the train arrived, and they (very kindly, I thought) moved out of the way for us (Boss Man was in a stroller and I was 7 months pregnant). When the last of us entered the train, they bounced him around and tried to steal his wallet. Fortunately, he had the presence of mind to realize it and stopped them from getting away with it. I also had someone try to open my purse on the Prague Metro (my bulging belly made it a nice target, I guess). The apparently inexperienced thief worked away at my purse while his very large and intimidating friend hovered over me. Fortunately, my wallet was inside my jacket, and all he got was a package of tissues. The point is: anyone can be a target, so pay attention.
I hope this helps a few of you with your future travels. The world is full of amazing places, people, and cultures, and I think children should learn to appreciate them early in life.
If you have other tips or suggestions that I have left out, please post them below. Or any stories of travels with kids that you'd like to share.
What is your favorite travel destination? I have lots of places that I love, but I think Delphi tops my list.