Traveling with kids: 12 tips from moms
For new parents, traveling with a kid for the first time is an adventure.
And, as any adventure, it can come with challenges, but can be immensely rewarding and memorable, too. It can also be a learning experience, a way to open the child’s world further. Some moms who frequently travel with their kids attest to this, and give their tips below to make travel easier with fewer hitches:
1. Research and plan accordingly, and take child-friendly places and activities into account.
As always, research on the place, possible itineraries, the culture, weather, and other factors you usually take into account for trips. This time, though, plan your itinerary with anticipation of traveling with a child. Check out kid-friendly places and activities.
Reese Tirona-Rojas, entrepreneur, resort owner, and mother to 3-year-old Andres, advises checking local parks, children’s museums, playgrounds, and more.
“Don’t limit yourself to popular tourist spots,” Tirona-Rojas, who has traveled with her husband Carlo and her son around cities in Asia and the US, advises. When parents pick places locals also go to, Tirona-Rojas assures that: “Your kid will be much happier playing and interacting with the local kids than strolling around the mall or seeing monuments.”
She also advises researching restaurants ahead of time and to be on the lookout for kid-friendly menus.
2. Be mindful of your child’s energy level when planning your itinerary.
When researching your destination, you might get excited seeing all the child-friendly places and activities, and may plan to go to and do as many as possible. If it will be your first time traveling with your child, though, it might be best to travel slow.
“Let your kids enjoy the place,” Missy Penaverde-Ilarde, travel agency owner, blogger, and mother to 3-year-old Skye, says. “We discourage a day of full-packed activities. There must be a time for the child to rest for at least 2-3 hours. Also, end the day around 7 pm to give your child time to recharge. You do not want traveling with a grouchy child so make sure to prevent him/her from being such.”
With more travels, you will be able to take note of your child’s energy level better and adjust accordingly, but on the first trip together, taking it slow won’t hurt.
3. Pick a child-friendly accommodation, or a place where you know your child can comfortably sleep in.
Tirona-Rojas further advises researching online and reading reviews of accommodations in advance to check if they are kid-friendly. It would also depend on your preference and budget. Some hotels, for example, have playrooms, kid-friendly menus, and offer free use of cribs. Check the facilities beforehand too. For example, if you are traveling with an infant, an electric kettle will be handy if you need to boil water to sterilize feeding bottles.
There is no problem with trying different places, too, especially if you are going off on outdoor adventures. Where your child sleeps depends on his or her comfort level, which you can assess better with more travels and more time spent together. Penaverde-Ilarde, who loves climbing mountains, says that: “We can sleep soundly in a cottage, a tent, posh hotels, hostels, in a hammock, and even under the tree (We slept under the tree when we had our beach camping in Batangas as it was hot inside the tent).”
4. Don’t forget safety.
Safety is important, even moreso now that you are traveling with a child.
Gretchen Filart, travel writer, magazine editor, and mother to 6-year-old Lia, recommends checking online resources on the place you are planning to go to.
“For beaches and other bodies of water, I note which ones have gentle slopes and which ones have box jellyfish, rip current, and other hazards, along with the presence (or lack thereof) of nearby hospitals and or help (lifeguard, local community) for emergencies,” she adds.
Gretchen has climbed mountains with Lia since she just two years old. Gretchen says she chooses “kid-friendly ones like mountains that don't require scrambling or that have dangerous ridges or cliffs to walk on.”
When traveling especially in crowds, Tirona-Rojas advises dressing up your child in brightly-colored clothes. “Make your child wear bright clothes, or unique clothes like tracksuits, so you can easily spot them,” she says.
5. Pack light, but with an extra set of clothes in case. Consider mobility too.
Don’t overpack but bring an extra set of clothes or two. Choose clothes that are versatile and can be used for different activities if possible.
“I just bring one set of daytime clothing for each day, one "pantulog" (sleepwear) for every 2 days, and one extra underwear and one extra set of clothes for the entire trip – all made of lightweight, quick-dry fabric like polyester,” Filart shares. “I bring powdered detergent just in case we need more clothes. You can always wash clothes if you run out.
Both Filart and Tirona-Rojas also recommend carrying a backpack when going around during the day to keep your hands free, especially when you need to help your child.
6. Help keep your child occupied during long commutes.
For long-haul flights, Tirona-Rojas advises bringing a few toys – and books, depending on the kids’ age – to keep them busy. “We use the iPad (with education games and Andres’ favorite shows) as a last resort,” she says.
Sometimes, the commute itself can be engaging, with the child seeing the scenery and the locals they ride with. This is Filart’s experience with her daughter Lia.
“I'm a fan of public commutes, especially bus rides,” she reveals. “They are a great way to reduce carbon footprint versus bringing your own car. They also help introduce your child to various types of people and keeps them entertained with new sights from a public commuter's perspective.”
7. Maximize mobility with practices like “baby wearing” and using portable strollers.
Penaverde-Ilarde strongly recommends wearing your baby in a sling to keep him or her close while keeping your hands free, too. “I babywore Skye during our Palawan trip and when we climbed Mt. Tibig in Batangas. We also used a baby carrier when we climbed with her to Mt. Pulag when she was 14 months old,” she recalls.
“Babywearing and traveling with a child in tow is easy as you can just strap your little dove to your chest while roaming around.”
Being a breastfeeding counselor, she also advocates for breastfeeding as it kept her luggage lighter. “There’s no need for me to bring milk bottles, cleaners, and all those,” she says. Also, she could easily feed her daughter once the latter is hungry. (READ: 14 travel tips for breastfeeding)
If you are using a stroller for going around, use a travel-sized stroller, Tirona-Rojas advises. “Bring something that fits the overhead compartment of a plane and which can easily be carried around in a bag. This comes in handy when places are not as kid-friendly,” she adds. She relates how she had difficulty getting around with her son in a regular-sized stroller in Taiwan one time when the place they were passing through had no elevator.
Meanwhile, for kids’ mobility and comfort, especially toddlers, Tirona-Rojas also suggests letting them wear a tracksuit. “For the kids, they love it because it is very comfortable and easy to move around in. If they start feeling hot, they can just remove the jacket. But when it becomes chilly, they can just put it back on,” she says.
8. Work as a team when you are traveling with your spouse or partner.
Discuss with your spouse or partner how you will work together in looking after your child.
“When we traveled around the US, my husband Carlo and I alternated days in changing the poop diaper (which is always a challenging task!),” Tirona-Rojas recalls. “I would bathe Andres and Carlo would be the one preparing his clothes and changing him. We’d also take turns playing with him in the park or museum. We acted like a team and worked together so there won’t be ill feelings of doing too much and not enjoying.”
Of course, traveling with just you and your child is doable, too. This is what Filart usually does with her daughter Lia and also what Penaverde-Ilarde occasionally does. With planning and experience, they are able to have fun in their mother-daughter jaunts.
9. If you don’t know where to start, take baby steps like small trips first.
If the idea of planning for a big trip is daunting, start with short trips or day trips first. Filart even recommends a trip with your kids to the local park or even to the market as these can already help prepare them for longer trips.
Filart also recommends traveling with your kids as early as possible. “The earlier you start, the better! Kids are more flexible and more resilient than we ever give them credit for,” she shares.
“The earlier they are exposed to other environments and people, the easier trips get in the long run – less tantrums, less fuss. Lia and I have been traveling on our own since she was 6 months old and it really helped boost our confidence and made trips a lot easier for both of us.”
10. When traveling with older kids for the first time, start with activities comfortable to them before introducing others.
For older kids who will be traveling for the first time, let them enjoy activities that are both fun and comfortable for them before introducing them to other activities. Outdoor adventurer and blogger Sheilamei Abellanoza first went with her then-9-year-old daughter Alexa May on a Boracay trip, and later introduced easy treks like to Taal Volcano.
“You have to make triple efforts to make their first trips and adventures pleasant, safe, exciting, hassle-free, and memorable. Your goal here is to instill a positive first impression about traveling,” Abellanoza says.
While she and her partner Gian Carlo Jubela are extreme adventurers who are no strangers to rock climbing, bivouacking, and more, Abellanoza only lets her daughter take part in adventures she is comfortable with and ready for.
“Our approach is gradual. For example, when we first introduced her to outdoor camping, we booked a glamping activity at a resort,” Abellanoza says. “Due to the comforts offered by the resort’s facilities, it is convenient and comfortable for her, making her first camping experience a pleasant one. As time went on, Alexa became comfortable with camping in more wild places.”
11. Let them develop a love for travel – and let them learn from it, too!
Abellanoza encourages allowing your child’s curiosity and desire to try new things.
“If your child wants to try out rock climbing, sample a strange delicacy, or explore a forest trail, allow them to do so – with supervision for more dangerous stuff, of course. Don’t be afraid to let them experience new things – that’s the purpose of traveling!” she says.
She also recommends taking away kids’ phones and gadgets during trips so they can fully immerse in the experience, and to give them some responsibility when they can take it, like packing for themselves.
“Teach them early how to pack, carry, and take care of their own stuff. It teaches them responsibility and organization skills at an early age. It also hones their analytical skills as they decide between which stuff they should bring with them and items that they have to leave at home,” Abellanoza says.
Abellanoza proudly says that Alexa, now 15, has learned much over the years. “She realized that there is more to the world than just what she sees in her phone, computer, or books,” Abellanoza says. “Alexa is slowly developing a love for nature, history, and culture while nurturing an increasing sense of patriotism and responsibility."
12. Let go and trust.
When you have done all you can like planning and exercising safety precautions, let go and trust that things will work out.
“We parents tend to worry too much about our children not letting go, but in truth, it's us who are finding it hard to do so,” Filart says. “But I learned you can teach a child anything and nurture independence by allowing them to discover how to handle themselves, not by telling them what to do. That includes allowing them to fall, to get bruised, to fail, and to stand up again. There's a lot of power and greatness in those little bodies!”
While it can be difficult, Filart suggests trusting the good in people. “[T]rust in humanity is crucial to survival. It's hard to do that when you have a child,” she relates.
“Of course, there should be a certain extent of precaution in everything, but it's also necessary to learn to trust strangers, because only when you do so do you truly see – and in the process, also teach your child – that there is basic goodness in everyone.” She adds that she has been on the receiving end of many a kindness on the road like strangers going out of their way to help her and Lia.
Trusting, of course, includes trusting yourself and your decisions. “There is a lot of pressure on mothers to conform to a conventional approach to parenting. As a mother, I get told a lot that I shouldn't be traveling alone with my daughter, that it isn't safe to hike mountains with her, that we can't, simply because we're women,” she reveals.
“It's easy to get dissuaded to travel with your child and second-guess yourself. But you have to trust yourself and defy, if needed.”
She adds: “There is no universal guide to parenting. Go for it if your heart says it's the right thing to do.”
Claire Madarang is a writer, researcher, and documenter whose work and wanderlust takes her to adventures like backpacking for seven weeks and exploring remote islands and bustling cities alike.