5 Tips for Traveling With a Small Child (Even If You Aren't a Millionaire)
Traveling when you are an adult can be difficult. Add a child to that mix and you're basically left sitting at your house getting through each day with any small bit of sanity you have left. Sometimes you may look at social media and see people going places and think, "man, to have that freedom again!" Obviously I wouldn't trade my child for any ounce of added freedom, so I have simply had to make some small adjustments.
When I was in college, childless and single I could pick up and take off to anywhere my heart desired. I moved to Italy when I was 19 for the fun of it. I took an internship in Florida simply so I could see the other side of the country. I took countless road trips and many week trips with friends without having to think much about any of them other than enjoying myself.
Fast forward a couple (more like a few, or several, but who's counting ;) years and now I have a husband who works more than full time (any wives of independent contractors can attest to that) and a small child. Both of these things make it difficult to satisfy my wanderlust. Below I have my 5 simple tips for satisfying my need to adventure, even on a budget. I understand that some people can afford (both financially and taking the time off) to travel to far off places. To those people I say GOOD FOR YOU (sincerely, not ironically). To those people looking for those tips, I would advise you to visit www.barefootblonde.com and search for her tips on traveling with children. She has many and they are great. Most of them just don't apply to me because either my husband's job demands he not take the time off, or because we are saving money for this thing or that and don't want to spend thousands of dollars on travel. I aspire to be just like The Bucket List Family someday. However, if you didn't invent an app that sold to Snapchat for $54 million and don't have that to fall back on, it's ok to make a more reasonable bucket list, at least for now (no disrespect @thebucketlistfamily, you are my idols).
Everyone else (the normal people ;) listen up! Here are my tips for getting out and about with your littles.
1. Be a tourist where you are! This may seem obvious to some, but it's really not sometimes. We think of traveling as having to go to some far off place, but the odds are pretty good that you live within driving distance of something that other people would fly to see. I grew up in northern Arizona and didn't go to the Grand Canyon until I was 18 years old. That's the truth! I lived in San Francisco and still have never seen the Painted Ladies or biked the Golden Gate. If you are at a loss, do a quick Google search of "things to do in ____" with a city or state close to you and see what pops up. There is so much around us we tend to take for granted. A few of my upcoming travel plans involve Acadia National Forest/Bar Harbor and Niagra Falls. Both are within one day turn around driving distance to my home. Save money on hotel, save time on a trip.
2. Always include something to entertain your child. I recently went to NYC to visit the Museum of Natural History. That is NOT something my 8 month child cared to do. After the museum, I was sure to spend plenty of time in Central Park so he could play/crawl/explore freely. If there is something specific you want to see, make sure you also think of something specific that will allow your kid to be a kid. Also, I always bring my ***Gathre mat and snacks for him in case he starts to get cranky. Fruit leather and veggie straws are my go-to (because those are also tasty for a mom who gets hangry far too easily).
3. Go with the flow. I repeat: GO. WITH. THE. FLOW. Traveling can be a disaster if you set too high of expectations on things you want to see. You are most definitely setting yourself up for frustration or disappointment if you don't allow for freedom in your travel day. Recently we went to Newport, Rhode Island. They are known for their many beautiful mansions that people are able to tour. I planned to see 2 or 3 of them. We ended up barely making it through (by making it through I mean seeing the first two rooms then hastily carrying my child quickly toward the exit through the others) because 8 month old babies aren't interested in italian renaissance architecture, apparently. Who would have thought? Rather than be upset I had spent the time to get there and seen nothing I intended to see, I simply rearranged our plans. We went on a walk along the Cliff Walk with the reminder of our time. It was still something worth doing even if it wasn't my original plan.
4. Do some research. Often there are events or activities that can be done at a discount or for free if you plan ahead of time. Many museums are free on Wednesday evenings. Many activities have groupon type discounts. Many cities have enough free events that they are worth visiting! New York City is within reasonable driving distance to me. I can spend a fortune by eating at the fanciest restaurants, parking my car in the city, going to the top of all the tall buildings to catch the view, etc. It can also be very INexpensive if I bring snacks and eat Sabrett's (my mom's personal favorite NYC food), take the subway, visit Central Park, etc. Obviously if there are certain things you want to see and do that cost more money than you are ready to spend at any given time, spend the time to budget and prepare for that trip. If you are simply looking to see a new place and satisfy your wanderlust, think about the less expensive options.
4a. Find ways to get things discounted. I have a friend on Instagram (@thriftytravelsandliving) who is a great example of where and how to earn and redeem points from different places to get free or discounted travel. Through Southwest, Hyatt, etc. cards she has been able to take SO many trip with her family and her husband that are either free or extremely discounted. She earns points through paying her bills with the cards, then uses the points to pay for hotels and flights. There are so many programs like this. I haven't paid for a flight in a while thanks to my Southwest points! Reach out to Amanda @thriftytracelsandliving and she can give you all the best details for how to travel this way.
5. Find alternatives to paying to stay overnight. I have a friend who lives in a van with her husband and her little baby girl (@ourhomeonwheels). Watching their travels via social media has really encouraged me to spend more time outside exploring places I might not have thought about before. If you want to go somewhere, think of camping out. With a child that can be a bit tricky, but if you are really interested in it you can make it work. Bring along your rock & play or some other easy bed for them that can fit in a tent. We sometimes just grab the memory foam mattress from the top of our bed and throw it in the car. We put it in our tent and we are good to go! We are not co-sleepers, so I do not intend on sleeping my child on that with us. However, if you are a co-sleeper then it's even easier to find a bed. You can also use apps that help make the cost of a hotel less expensive. Expedia, Travelocity, etc. Then if it is easier to sleep in a hotel than carry around everything to spend time outside, you can find great deals (especially if you look during that particular place's off-season). Or, go with friends or family that can help split the cost of an AirBnB. Get creative! You can still explore while being a budget-conscience mom. I believe in you!
*Extra tip: If you are wanting to travel by plane somewhere, use the app SkyScanner. I have heard my fave babe Amber Fillerup mention several times that she uses this often to save money on flights for her family. Also, Cheapo-Air can be useful.
***Gathre mat can be found at the link below. We take ours nearly everywhere.