Having kids definitely slowed my husband and me down. When you’ve got a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old, it can be hard to get to the grocery store—forget horseback riding in Patagonia or partying all night on a houseboat in Paris.
Still, we’ve managed to keep traveling without resorting to, um, resorts. The key to being intrepid with small children is being willing to go with the flow—but smart travel strategies help, too. Here’s what a travel editor has learned from flying, driving, pushing, carrying and sometimes dragging her two children around the world.
1. Plan your packing, so you don't forget the essentials
We try to pack light, but especially when you have little kids, there are some things you simply do not want to be without (like wipes, bottles, and enough diapers to last for a couple of days). I start my packing list a week before we leave, because thoe everyday items can be easy to forget—when I use them, I add them to the roster. I have no desire to repeat the Vancouver Car Seat Incident, which was made infinitely worse by the fact that we had run out of baby wipes.
2. Pay up for good gear
Travel cribs, strollers, and the like can add up. But it’s worth buying equipment that is durable and lightweight—an extra five pounds feels like 50 when you’re running for a flight. Our phil&teds travel crib cost about $200 and is a little complicated to assemble. But it clocks in at just seven pounds and can even fit in a large suitcase. Another option is to buy inexpensive gear, like an umbrella stroller, when you arrive at a destination, and donate it before you leave. Just know that it can be time-consuming.
3. Ask (and ask again) for the baby bed
On many (though not all) international flights you can get a baby bassinet—a little cot for infants that attaches to the wall in front of the bulkhead seats. They’re free, but you have to reserve them in advance. Book as early as possible, call at least once before the flight to confirm the bed, and remind the flight crew when you board that you reserved one. It’s a hassle, but the payoff for your arms is huge.
4. Sort out your in-flight entertainment in advance
Crinkly books, nesting toys, small puzzles, Legos, and other small toys kept my son occupied when he was a baby. Save a shopping trip by spending 15 minutes on Amazon. Now that he’s a preschooler, we load an iPad up with movies and “educational” games the night before the trip. Read that last part again: we learned the hard way that you don’t want to have to wait for Penguins of Madagascar to finish downloading so you can leave for the airport. Over-the-ear headphones are a good idea, too, since earbuds don’t sit well in little ears. Friends in 18B: You’re welcome.
5. Know how to find a kid-friendly apartment
We rent houses or flats equipped for young children whenever possible. You generally get more space than in a hotel, you can cook or eat in, you won’t have to worry as much about safety or damage, you might be able to borrow gear like cribs and strollers, and there’s built-in entertainment for your little ones. (What kid doesn’t love playing with someone else’s toys?) My trick: when searching Airbnb, I check “family friendly” in the amenities list, then look for listings that have photos of children’s rooms.Kid & Coe is like Airbnb for families—all of its properties are kid-friendly and upscale. But I’ve also found them to be more expensive.
6. If you stay in a hotel, shoot for a suite
Another reason we usually stay in rentals is that can be such a hassle to reserve hotel suites or connecting rooms. But sometimes we need last-minute lodging, or the rental options are unappealing. And it is not cool to have to go to bed at 7:30 because you’re sleeping in the same room as your two children. My secret weapon is Book a Suite, a website that’s exactly what it sounds like. When reserving, make sure that the “suite” is actually more than one room and not just a larger-than-normal guest room.
7. Bring plastic bags
I always pack a few big black plastic garbage bags, a few grocery sacks and a wad of painter’s tape in our luggage. Classy, I know! But the big bags work as blackout curtains in too-bright rooms (the tape won’t mark walls). The little ones are good for dirty laundry, used diapers and snack trash, and can cover less-than pristine seats (see: the Vancouver Car Seat Incident).
8. Carry lots of small bills
You’ll probably need them for luggage carts, vending machines, and tips (extra small people = additional luggage = needing more help from bellmen). Open your wallet for anything else relatively inexpensive that might make the trip easier. That includes but is not limited to: priority boarding, checked bags, and airline seats with extra legroom.
9. Be ambitious
I was really anxious before a trip we took to Europe. Was I completely insane to take two babies on a three-week-long, figure-it-out-along-the-way adventure? I kept reminding myself that I wanted our family to be adventurous. The takeaway from trip: Children are almost always capable of exceeding expectations. You can even take a toddler to a contemporary art museum without anyone crying (including you).
10. Know when to back down
One evening at an upscale sushi restaurant on the other side of the country, my normally well-behaved son started hollering and trying to scale the velvet banquette. “What’s wrong with him?” my husband said. What was wrong with us? You can’t take a 2-year-old sightseeing all day, let him skip his nap, and then expect him to behave in a fancy restaurant. We’ve learned that sometimes you need to quit while you’re ahead. And, that you can have pizza delivered in Paris.*
Disney World travel tips
You may not know it by the weather, but spring is actually here. Which means your summer vacation (should be) right around the corner. So when it comes to travel packing tips, air travel tips and travel tips for america, read on.
This morning, TripAdvisor released its “Best Time to Book” report, which suggested that travelers could save an average of 20 percent on hotels around the world by booking at prime times. Still planning your trips for June, July, and August? According to the travel planning and booking site, there are less expensive times to book.
In some cases, travelers could save as much as 55 percent on a hotel room: if theirsummer holiday was to Moscow, that is. (Interested? Book 4-7 months out for your visit to the Russian capital). Dubai was another destination with significant savings. By booking within two months of your trip, you can score 40 percent off a hotel room.
A European getaway, booked 3-5 months in advance, could be 23 percent below peak prices. Popular cities with even more value include Prague, Paris, Rome, and Barcelona. Here, you could save 27 to 33 percent.
Generally speaking, however, savings are nothing to get too excited about. And they’re certainly not worth the stress of changing existing plans. If you’re traveling anywhere within the United States, for example, you’re only going to find rates seven percent lower than average summer fares if you book within two months of your trip. The same savings can be found in the Caribbean, though the range is wider: you can book within four months of your tropical getaway.*
Don’t drink the coffee, bring your own headphones, and don’t bother locking your suitcase. Those are just a few of the tips being offered by anonymous airline and airport employees in a recent discussion thread on Reddit. Here are a few tips and tricks picked up from the the conversation:
Locks on Zippered Suitcases are Useless
According to user royalsiblings, “You can pop a zipper with a pen and drag the locked zipper pulls around the bag to close them back up. I've done this many times to identify bags that are tagless and locked. Exactly like this."
Bring Your Own Headphones
“I used to work for warehouse that supplied a certain airline with items. The headsets that are given to you are not new, despite being wrapped up. They are taken off the flight, “cleaned”, and then packaged again,” said Reddit user ichigo29.
Remove Old Flight Tags
“Not a secret, just common sense; the reason some bags miss their flight or get misrouted is because passengers don't remove old tags. It confuses handlers as well as the conveyor belt scanners. I see it happen all the time,” said Redditor –aurelius.
Be Kind to Employees
“The nicer you are to us, the more we can do for you. Ran out of beef? Ask politely and we will get you a fillet mignon from first class. Your neighbour is noisy? Tell us nicely and we might be able to get you a better seat,” said flight attendant and Redditor ihatcoe
“Be nice to the ticket agent and they will pretty much always let you get away with overweight bags. If you were funny, I'd even not charge you for bags,” said WorseToWorser.
Buy and Fly on a Tuesday
“I work Revenue Management for an airline. On average, the cheapest time to BUY a ticket is Tuesday afternoon. The cheapest time to FLY is Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday. This applies to US flights in my experience,” said Redditor Drama_Llama
Maybe Skip the Coffee
“The coffee is absolutely disgusting because the no one washes the container that goes out every morning. The station agents who get paid way too little don't care about cleaning it. I certainly didn't when I worked for AA. Also, because we weren't given the proper supplies to clean it. We pretty much just rinsed it out and dumped coffee into it,” said WorseToWorser.
Put Your Pet’s Name on the Carrier
“If you checked your dog there's about a 30 percent chance it's terrified before it even gets on the plane, who knows how scared it gets during the actual flight. Bag room agents will usually try to comfort a scared animal, but all we can really do is talk to it, so if you write your pet's name on their carrier it usually helps a lot,” said Redditor RabbitMix.*
The amount of time spent in the air for somebody traveling from—oh, let's say London to Australia—is about 22 hours. That's 22 hours of screaming children. Twenty-two hours of cramped conditions. Twenty-two hours spent listening to the perpetual roar of the airplane's engines. All, of course, served up with the always delightful inevitability of severe jet lag waiting for you at the end. The nuisances of long-haul travel can range in severity from the mildly inconvenient (the dude with the loud, grating laugh watching "Dumb and Dumber" on repeat) to the downright dangerous (deep-vein thrombosis: no joke), and a poorly planned journey can be enough not only to ruin your day, but a few more afterwards too. Luckily, there are some easy ways to make a long flight infinitely more bearable.
1. Book your tickets early
This should go without saying. The earlier you book, the better your chances of scoring your favorite seat—it's that simple.
2. Sit in the back
Just in case you don't have a favorite seat (or the ones in the front with all the legroom are taken), go for the back. It'll be noisier, sure, but if everybody else is scrambling for the front, you've got a far better chance of ending up with an empty seat or two beside you.
3. Stay away from family routes
Sometimes there's nothing you can do about it, but if you have the option of not including (for example) the weekend New York–to–Orlando route on your itinerary,always take that option.
4. Use those air miles
If you've got 'em, flaunt 'em. You'll thank yourself when you're reclining in your first-class seat, sipping on a 2004 Château Latour and pretending to like caviar.
5. Shell out for Premium Economy
Because, sadly, we don't always have the miles. A step up from regular economy class, Premium Economy might be slightly more expensive, but the benefits—priority check-in, extra legroom, seats that actually accommodate a grown human's body—far outweigh the cost.
6. Try for a free upgrade
Worth a go, isn't it? Arrive early, travel by yourself, dress nicely, and put on your best, most winning smile. If that doesn't work, you could try convincing the check-in desk that you're on your honeymoon, though that might be a bit of a stretch if you're travelling alone.
7. Prepare for jet lag
There are several things you can do before your flight to help avoid jet lag, or at least mitigate it. Spend the days before your flight adjusting your sleeping patterns (a few 4 a.m. or 7 p.m. bedtimes should do it, depending on what time of day you'll be flying), book your flight so that it arrives during the day, make the most of your stopovers, and, most importantly, be well rested before you fly. Trust us, staying awake for the 24 hours before the trip because you're sure it'll balance out once you arrive just doesn't work.
8. Check in early
The last thing you need before your pan-global flight is to be panicking your way through a busy airport. Or to miss your flight.
9. De-stress before you arrive
Have a nice breakfast. Go to the gym. Read a book. Go to the gym again. (You'll be sitting for the next day and a half, so work off that king-sized box of Toblerones you plan to eat on the plane now.)
10. Don't overdo the carry-ons
You'll need more for a long-haul flight than you would for a short one, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to bring three backpacks full of duty-free booze, electronics, and half-read John le Carré novels.
10. But do bring your own pillow
A small pillow is a staple carry-on item for all long-distance travelers. Every airport on the planet will sell travel pillows, and looking faintly ridiculous is a small price to pay for not destroying your neck.
12. Noise-cancelling headphones are your new best friend
If you can't afford them, some high-quality earplugs will do just fine.
13. Build a scarf tent
On the off-chance there's nobody in the seats behind or in front of you, and you're by a window, whip out a few lightweight scarves and place them over the seats to create your own private den and cinema.
14. Pack an eye mask
An eye mask is especially useful if you're flying during the day, or the person next to you is wearing particularly garish clothing.
15. Dress right
Keep it loose and comfortable—you're not here to impress anyone. Remember to bring layers for when it gets cold, and don't rule out packing pajamas.
16. Try to relax
Do whatever it takes—meditate, listen to some calming music, do some breathing exercises—not only will it help you sleep more easily, but it's also pretty good for your psyche in general. And if all else fails, there's always Valium.
17. Travel blankets exist for a reason
Don't bring anything too thick (remember, it has to fit in your carry-on) but make sure it's enough to keep you warm when the plane's air conditioning is going full blast. Cashmere is probably the way forward. Alternatively, buy a lightweight poncho-style blanket designed for travel online, or at the airport before take-off.
18. Stick some back-up movies onto your tablet
In-flight entertainment systems are not always reliable. They sometimes fail, and when they do you'll be glad to have something to do in reserve.
19. Charge those devices
Because the absolute last thing you need is for your iPad to run out of juice halfway through the season finale of Narcos, one hour into an eleven-hour flight. Especially if your in-flight entertainment system isn't working.
20. Podcasts, podcasts, podcasts
Load up as many as you can. Listening to podcasts uses up less battery life than watching a movie, and are often more distracting than music. You can get through an entire flight on podcasts alone.
21. Stay healthy
Sitting in a cramped metal tube for the better part of a day (or more) is not good for you. Fight off dehydration and deep-vein thrombosis—your two biggest enemies in the sky—by regularly drinking water, stretching, and walking around the cabin.
22. Stay hygienic
This is for everybody else's sake as much as your own. Bring toiletries in your carry-on and make sure to brush your teeth, throw on some deodorant, or even change your clothes. Just make sure you do it in the bathroom, please.
23. Get creative
You rarely get the chance to sit down for such a long time, more or less distraction-free, so why not make the most of it? Bring a notebook, a sketchpad, or whatever else you need to give the right-hand side of your brain a workout.
24. Get productive
If you've got your laptop with you, this might be your best chance to catch up on any busywork that needs doing. Bonus: everyone else on your flight will think you're a sophisticated international jet-setting businessperson, right up until they notice that Netflix tab you've got open.
25. Befriend the crew
Simply not being horrible to the flight crew is a given, but you could always go one step further and make an active effort to be nice. (Giving out chocolates never hurts.) Not only will you up your chances of preferential treatment, but you'll be doing something lovely for the folks who look after you up there.
26. Pack extra snacks
Airline food is not usually plentiful, even on long-haul flights, and it's important to stay well-nourished. No need to overdo it, of course, but no one was ever sorry to find a couple pieces of fruit or granola bars in their carry-on.
27. Adjust your watch
It's important to acclimatize yourself to the time zone of wherever you're going. As soon as you get on the plane, change your watch to the local time of your destination and then alter your routine accordingly. This will be especially useful inside your scarf tent, which exists beyond the natural constraints of time.
As far as plane-situated recreational activities go, drinking is a pretty good one. Alcohol is usually free on long-haul flights, and, if nothing else, it'll make the whole affair much more interesting.
29. Don't drink
That said, don't treat booze as a way to cope with your flight. You'll end up using those horrible bathrooms far more frequently, plus alcohol is dehydrating and will mess up your sleeping pattern. And that's to say nothing for the hangover. Keep it sensible.
30. Bring your best conversation
A lot of people dread it when their seatmate turns out to be chatty, but you're just as likely to be seated next to a genuinely interesting and friendly fellow traveler as you are anyone else. Don't bother anyone if it's not appropriate, but don't be afraid to strike up a conversation with your neighbor either. Long flights can get really boring.
31. Practice your death glare
That child across the aisle from you, running havoc at 30,000 feet? Death glare. The guy behind you who's been kicking your chair for three hours? Death glare. Those four party animals trying to lead the cabin in a drunken rendition of Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" at 4 a.m.? Death glare. Hone it. Perfect it. It will serve you well.
32. Achieve total zen
Small issues can feel like major injustices when you're stuck on a plane, but it'll all seem insignificant if you keep one thing in mind: once you're in the air, there's nothing to be done. You're on the plane until you get off. Close your eyes, take a breath, and come to terms with this truth, and suddenly the aircraft running out of alcohol won't seem like such a big problem.
33. Combat jet lag
The flight isn't over just because you've disembarked. To fight jet lag, get as much daylight as you can, take a quick nap if you have to, and exercise at every opportunity. Do all of that for a day or two and you'll be back to normal—just in time for the return trip.*
If you’re here, it’s because you and I share something (deep in our hearts); we are travel nerds. We have wanderlust. We’re totally addicted to the nomadic lifestyle (or at least backpacking on the weekends), and there’s nothing we can do about it.
And maybe, if you’re like me, you also have a little furry friend who likes to tag along. I know I do. In fact, I’ve been a hopeless dog lover for as long as I can remember, and my pup has been one of the most loyal traveling compadres over the years (you can read about how I travel with my dog here).
That said, taking your dog on your adventures isn’t always the easiest thing in the world. Over the years, I’ve most or less mastered it, and I wanted to share somee of that knowledge, which will hopefully help some other folks avoid some of the headache that comes along with globetrotting as a human/dog team.
1. Stock up on dog supplies and double-check your inventory.
I can tell you this first hand: there is absolutely nothing worse than being on a trip and not having something you need for your dog. Maybe it’s something simple like a doggy bag, which probably isn’t a huge deal, but what if it’s food? Or what if it’s a doggy first aid kit?
It pays to be organized when you’re packing for your next excursion. Here’s a super-quick rundown of what you need:
Food for the entire trip
Food and water containers
Leashes and collars
A crate with a plastic bottom
Current medical and vaccination records
A couple extra dog tags
A dog-orientated first aid kit that includes hydrogen peroxide and tomato juice
A few favorite toys and blankets
An extra warm emergency blanket (especially if traveling in the winter)
A crate or kennel
2. Brush up on your crate training.
In my view, crate training is one of the most important skills for your pup to have under her belt is she’s going to be traveling with you–mostly because on most trips, she’ll have to be in her crate at some point.
For example, there are plenty of dog-friendly hotels out there, but most require your dog to be crated if you leave them alone in the room. Or, if your flying, FAA regulations mandate that your dog travel in some kind of carrier, crate or kennel.
For our dog, who is already crate training, that typically just means we spend some time reinforcing all her positive feelings about her crate before we set out. A few days of treats and dog massages can go a really long way toward helping your pup feel safe and happy in her kennel.
3. If you’re not driving, understand the regulations for whatever mode of transportation you’re using.
I had to learn this the hard way and believe me, there’s pretty mus nothing worse than showing up to the airport and finding our your dog can’t fly. And it’s even less fun if you could have avoided the problem by simply reading some rules.
So, whether you’re taking a plane, train or boat, you need to know the rules. Even more importantly, you need to know the rules for the general mode of travel (e.g. federal guidelines for how pets should travel by air) in addition to the guidelines set by individual transportation companies.
In other words, if you’ve got a flight booked with United, you need to understand both the FAA’s rules and United’s rules for having a dog on a flight.
Here are a few resources:
U.S. State Department’s general guidelines for pets and international travel
FAA’s guidelines for traveling by air
Guidelines for most major airlines
4. If you’re traveling internationally, research how your destination views and treats dogs.
There are so, so many amazingly dog-friendly cities out there. And in most places, you and your dog are going to be perfectly safe.
However, some places have very different attitudes towards dogs, and you’ll need to take some precautions. For example, if you’re traveling to a city that’s not dog-friendly, you’ll need to do a little bit of extra preparation, so you can make arrangements for your dog to stay somewhere while you trek around.
Or, you might be heading to a place that’s not as safe as others (e.g. Venice is notoriously dangerous for dogs, since they can eaisly fall in the water).
And at the most extreme, some places are actually violent towards dogs. For instance, duringChina’s Yulin dog festival, dogs are captured, killed and eaten.
So, if you’re planning to take your pup abroad, spend a few minutes to read about the cultural attitude toward dogs wherever you happen to be going.
5. Don’t be afraid to leave your dog at home.
Listen, I know it can be a total bummer to leave your best furry friend at home. No one wants to do it. But sometimes, traveling can be more harmful than fun. So, if you’re dog isn’t well-adjusted, struggles with aggression, is prone to accidents, has health problems, or is an anxious pup, it’s a good idea to take a step back and seriously consider whether or not she’s actually enjoy traveling.
Some dogs just don’t do well on the road, and others are absolutely terrified on noisy, bumpy plane rides. If traveling with more stressful than fun for you or your pup, don’t feel bad about leaving him at home.
The most important things about traveling with your dog are (1) to be safe and (2) have fun–in that order. Hopefully these tips help, but if you have others, shout them out in the comments!