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I love traveling and I married a guy who loves to travel to, so it was no surprise that our first years of marriage included a lot of trips. Everyone warned us, though, that once we had children, it'd come to a crashing halt. From the way some people talked, we'd be lucky to visit the mailbox ever again.
Fortunately, that hasn't turned out to be the case, and we've taken many many trips since our oldest daughter was born nearly five years ago (and the subsequent addition of two more little girls). We even spent four months in Europe, including a month touring the continent and then three months living in London. In that time, I've learned some good tricks about traveling with children to make sure the only tears are over the trip coming to an end.
Take the stroller. A stroller is a pain to drag along, but it's definitely preferable to having to carry a five-year-old who is worn out from a day of trotting around the city.
Don't skip naps.It's tempting to skip naps since you didn't pay a boatload of money to stay in your hotel room with a napping child, but you also aren't paying to be dealing with a melt-down in a very public place. Squeezing in a nap will make everyone's life a lot better. Not only will your child be better rested and better behaved, but you can take a nap or enjoy some time with a book or magazine. And that sounds like a vacation to me!
Stay somewhere central. I've learned my lesson about trying to save money by staying outside of town. You end up spending more on a rental car and wasting tons of time looking for parking, driving in and out of the city, and it's harder to get back to the hotel if your child has an accident and needs new clothing or for a nap.
Be serious about bedtime the first night. Let your kids know you mean business when you put them down for naps and bed the first day or you'll end up fighting them every single day the rest of the trip which, at least for me, is a quick way to ruin a good time. Put them in their crib or bed and don't get them out unless the hotel catches on fire. If they know you'll crack under pressure, you won't get a moment's peace.
Over-plan and expect to do half of it. I like having a good list of things to see and places to eat while we were there, but I also know we won't get to all of it. If something ends up being closed, I need a backup plan or if it's clear that one of our children won't be able to deal with a museum, I don't want the whole afternoon to go to waste. I'd rather have a great time at one thing with the girls than push to do two things and have us all miserable throughout it all.
Pick kid-friendly things. This might seem super obvious, but this is likely not the time to try to spend 4 hours at an art exhibit (unless your kids are accustomed to doing so). We try to visit the public library, walk a lot, scope out parks or zoos, visit the children's museum, and run around at outdoor gardens and memorials or monuments. I also am not interested in eating at lousy places when we're on vacation, but I recognize a fancy meal might not be a great fit with three small and tired children. This is a great time to visit hole-in-the-walls and food trucks.
Don't rush. I'm one of those people who likes to GO GO GO, but I've learned the hard way that it makes the whole family miserable if I can't let go of my itinerary. I remind myself that the point of vacation is to have fun together and if that means we walk slowly, stop to look in store windows or skip something, that's okay. I don't want to ruin vacation for everyone just because we missed one art museum.