When we last met, I shared a few tips about travel with children based on my recent trip to Boston. If you missed it, you will want to check out Part I first before reading on. We talked about who to bring (your parents!) where to stay (neighborhood apartment!) and how to eat (picnics!). Now I'd like to share more about what to do on your trip from preparing your children, finding kid friendly activities, and how to plan (or not plan) your itinerary.
Rule # 4 Prepare and talk about trip before departing.
We were lucky with our trip to Boston that there was such a sweet children’s book showcasing the city and creating a popular destination to keep in our itinerary. Make Way For Ducklings is the sweet story of a mother duckling making great attempts to raise her little ducklings in the city of Boston. And the darling ducklings are celebrated with their very own statues in the Public Garden. We read this story a number of times before leaving so Caroline knew where we were going and what we might see. She couldn’t stop talking about the ducklings and we made sure to choose that destination on the very first day, or else we might have been bugged about it for days. Seeing a story come to life is mind blowing to kids; it’s why Disney World is such a big hit. As soon as she spotted the mother and her ducklings, she wrapped them in a hug and beaming smile just as I expected she might. And to top it off, there were real ducklings to feed nearby only adding to the mind blown factor. No, not every city has a little vignette showcasing your favorite storybook. But just about every major city has a book made for kids. In the least, look for books specific to the area or at least about a big city, or mountain, or ocean, or whatever location you are visiting. Books are the best way to prepare children for something new and different so they feel more comfortable about what to expect. You will likely be hearing about that part of the trip for days after. (However, believe it or not, when I asked her what her favorite part of the trip was, I expected to hear the ducklings visit. Instead, she said “seeing Uncle John!” That’s my loving little girl. Always more excited about the people she loves than the fun.)
Rule #5 Walk and play.
What does just about every day consist of in our house? A good long walk and play time, usually at a playground. So in keeping with routine, I made sure every day involved both of those things. How lame, you might think. Not true, I say. One of my traveling mantras is being a part of the city. I mentioned it above when talking about staying in a local neighborhood. But one of the best ways to see a city is not just though the local attractions in the guide book. It is walking the streets and the parks. Going where the “people” go. Being a part of the heartbeat of a city. It is one of the reasons we moved closer into Austin, and it is one of the best ways to begin to learn about what keeps the city alive when you travel. My kids are used to being strolled or carried around so doing this felt natural to them. Meanwhile, we got the chance to explore the grounds of Harvard, the quiet pedestrian only side streets, the beautiful Public Parks with colorful leaves just beginning to peek through. Instead of taking cabs, you are forced to travel by train or by bus and in doing so Caroline got to see how other people go about their day. A little bit differently but also a little bit the same.
In addition to walking, we found space and time to play wherever we went. We explored some amazing city parks and playgrounds. My favorite was one found at Cambridge Gardens right next to Harvard. Each element was so thought out and unique with space to climb, and slide and dig and splash. Taking a break at a playground gives you a chance to take a deep breath and relax your plans just a bit. Kids can run and scream and laugh and no one is worrying about catching the right tour time or bothering other travelers. We also tried to choose some of the local attractions that had appealing options for children, and the Science Museum was a great example of this. There were spaces for any age to explore so Caroline had fun while Dad learned a little something. Again, win-win. My suggestion to anyone traveling to a larger city, find a local blog featuring activities for children. Here in Austin, I regularly follow Free Fun in Austin with helpful weekly schedules for activities with kids as well as articles about all sorts of great things to check out in Austin. I found a similar sight in Boston called Mommy Poppins which guided me towards a number of the activities we did. Often, it can be the same suggestions as any other travel website but told from a kid perspective as well as local families so you basically get two stamps of approval.
But to make the walking and the playing as enjoyable as possible, you need good transportation accessories. Number one favorite item I brought with me? My baby carrier. Obviously, we still use this every day. There is no other way to parent two children without it, in my opinion. But traveling I was once again reminded how essential it is to an enjoyable trip with a baby. So far I have spoken mostly about how to keep a toddler entertained. What does a baby need when traveling to stay “entertained?” A carrier to feel snuggled close, to take a nap, and to allow for two free hands. He took every morning nap and a few afternoon naps on the go, as happy as could be nuzzled under the chin of his favorite person. The only time I ever heard that child complain was when it was time to eat. This made my nursing cover my second favorite item. I would love to feel comfortable at any place and any time to nurse my child without question. But I am still a people pleaser at heart and I know this makes people uncomfortable. When we were on our history tour in the middle of Granary Burying Ground, Elliott decided there was no better time like the present to have a snack. So on top of Benjamin Franklin’s parents’ grave I sat, comfortable to nurse, because I could be covered, not disruptive, and keep everyone happy. If you want to get the best baby gift on the planet for someone, skip the hooter hider (although the name alone is so awesome) and get a Covered Goods. You never know when she may need to sit atop Benjamin Franklin’s grave and nurse a hungry baby. Finally, we brought a simple, lightweight umbrella stroller for Caroline (actually by “we” I mean Mike’s parents. Did I mention we were thankful they were there?) I longed for my beloved BOB. They just don’t make umbrella strollers like they do a BOB. But we were so thankful to have a way to push her around when making long walks but also the ease to quickly fold it up to jump on the train or stick in the corner at the museum. Oh, actually, finally finally, a big sturdy back pack. While I did most of the child carrying, Mike did most of the stuff carrying in our big back pack. No tiny little day packs for us anymore. With two kids, their food, extra clothes, diapers, and who knows what else, we needed a hefty carrier for most of the day. But diaper bags can be cumbersome for that long. A strong backpack was enough to hold everything we needed so as not to ever say “shoot, I wished we had packed that.”
Rule #6 Have a plan but be ready to break it.
I am an itinerary girl when it comes to travel. I like to break down each day like a puzzle fitting in all of the favorite sights in a way that makes sense. I like to think I would be a great concierge someday. And this trip was no different. When you have two kids who wake early, need afternoon naps, and have an early bedtime, you don’t want to waste any time wondering “huh, what should we do today.” I wanted to be ready to go with a plan each morning so we knew what time we needed to roll out, and what we needed to pack. However, as soon as I made this plan, most of it on the trip shifted. Weather played a big part in our decision. There was a lot of rain in the forecast during our trip so if we had a clear day, we wanted to take advantage of it. Vice-versa, when it was just too cold to enjoy a long walk along the Charles River, the plan was nixed and we spent a little more time inside the museum. Also, I learned this, and I should have known this already, but DO NOT PLAN ANYTHING FOR TRAVEL DAY. The day we arrived the weather was very kooky, off and on raining and chilly winds. We decided to push through the afternoon skipping the scheduled nap, which I am glad for because it meant there was no fight to go to bed. However, as we made our way to the Duck Tour we had planned for the late afternoon, it took longer than planned to get on our way. And then the weather was not cooperative, and we were all tired. Although spirits were still up, it became clear that maybe we should end on a high note and nix the evening plans. Instead, we found ourselves on the steps of the public library. You mention “library” to Caroline and that can perk up any mood. We shifted gears and stepped into the warm building only to find ourselves surrounding by one of the most beautiful libraries I have ever seen. Cathedral ceilings stacked high with books and amazing architecture. A stunning courtyard that made me long to sit and drink coffee and read a book. And to top it all off, the most incredible children’s library sponsored by the authors of Curious George, H.A. and Margaret Rey, local Bostonians themselves. The Children’s Room as it was called was HUGE and set off by itself behind closed doors, so, once again, no one was bothered by the squeals of kids. There were play spaces and reading spaces. Books covered the floor, reminding me much more of our home where books are pulled off to read and rarely re-shelved. To see Caroline running between the secret passageway through the book shelves, I had only been on our trip for a couple hours but I knew already it was going to be a good one. For an hour we explored that library and it never would have even made it onto the itinerary if we had not stumbled upon it needing sanctuary from the weather and respite for an almost toddler meltdown. We read a few books, grabbed our take out dinner down the street, and jumped on the train to head home to bed. It was exactly what I needed to prepare myself for the rest of the week of travel with children.
My overall take home message, travel with kids is difficult but worth every bit. The pace was different, it’s a much more selfless approach to vacation. But I am also enormously thankful for what my children taught me. I saw things I don’t think I would have noticed before. Children have a way of noticing the subtle differences in life. They see less of the big picture and more of the interesting details, especially when they are at their level. And because they need time to stop and rest, they force you to do that as well. A vacation is better spent in relaxation mode but sometimes this gets away from me when traveling to an exciting new city. While the children rested, we read a book, watched a movie, or just talked to one another. Imagine that!
So, travel with kids? If you can, do. Open the eyes of your children to big adventures and little hideaways. You will forever be grateful for this trip for you and for your family.
Thinking about traveling to Boston? Stay tuned for a complete day by day run down of what we busied ourselves with for five days in one of my new favorite American cities. A Boston Family Travel Scrapbook coming soon!