We all know that travelling with children, especially those under five, can be an absolute shit show of epic affairs. I can’t tell you that this post will change that because you never really know what those sweet sweet angels will throw at you in a 24 hour period. What I can do is help you to make things easier.
Below are my five top mantras when travelling with small children.
1. I promise to take this trip at a steady pace.
First, take a deep breath, look in the mirror, smile and repeat to yourself;
“I promise to take this trip at a steady pace. I will not let hiccups – big or small – ruin the outcome of the day. And I accept that some days might feel like they are going to be a ‘failure’ but I will find joy and peace in every day of my trip.”
Why do I start with this? Because during our campervan honeymoon roadtrip around The Baltic’s with our two year old there were often days where journey’s took double the time, where we couldn’t relax at the end of the day with a wine because she wouldn’t sleep, or some other reason that meant I couldn’t tick off all the things I wanted to do that day.
But every single one of those days had something unique, joyful and peaceful, just not always the way we had planned it.
I know for those of us that aren’t as laid back as others that’s a hard pill to swallow but trust me, if you think like this each and every day and apply this as your mantra you will have the best trip and so will your children.
2. The plans that work best are the ones that we all will enjoy.
And by this I mean; plan for the little ones. Even on our own honeymoon (you know, the one holiday that is absolutely supposed to be romantic) the days that worked best were the ones that all three of us would enjoy. Don’t attempt a guided tour, a historic building or a museum unless you’re certain that there’s something that will entertain them there, or do it whilst they’re napping. You will only be disappointed and potentially upset when you get angry looks from strangers who are there to enjoy it too, without screaming kids.
It sounds unfair but I totally get it – and I had to experience it to understand…
We attempted a trip to Trakai Castle near Vilnius during part of our roadtrip, it was on a list of things I wanted to do so we thought we’d give it a go and see what happened. So we paid and went through to the main exhibition, and all our daughter did was run from room to room, attempt to climb things she shouldn’t and then finished it off with some high pitched screams for ten minutes whilst a group of people were enjoying a guided tour. Needless to say we took full advantage of the torture props on the way out.
My advice to you is this, go to that damn castle; but don’t pay to go in, walk around it if your kids are happy in the pram or are at least feeling entertained. Then when you go home read about it on Wikipedia, you’ll get more out of it anyway.
Side note: in the UK museums are often free and have children’s activities so you can enjoy the best of both and not have to feel like you’ve wasted money if it doesn’t work out. Money Saving Expert have a great list of all those which are included.
I’m not an expert on other countries but check out what’s on and plan ahead. If the landmark you want to see is a bucketlist thing for you ask your travelling partner to be on kid duty so you can go by yourself for an hour or two whilst they go to a park or a cafe.
3. I will research the heck out of my trip.
If you are going on a city break or if you plan on visiting several cities like we did recently on our honeymoon (we did four capital cities, Tallin, Riga, Vilnius and Berlin) then research and check out reviews for kid friendly restaurants and toddler friendly activities. Also don’t forget parks are very toddler friendly and free (weather dependent) so check how many playgrounds there are in the city centre and surrounding areas for when you need a quick backup plan.
I did my research through blogs and asking friends for their advice, plus checking out local social media accounts such as; Riga Stories (@rigastories on Instagram), Visit Estonia etc and insearchofs.com. Luckily we lived in Berlin a few years ago and have friends there with kids so we used our own local knowledge there but I do follow @mum_in_berlin on Instagram who has some great tips on playgrounds and things to do with young children.
I’ll be writing about our favourite cities in a future post but to summarise our kid-friendly highlights:
Best overall; Riga – probably the most child friendly city I’ve ever been to. Many of the cafes have children’s areas and we went to an incredible place for dinner called BibliotekaNo1 that treated our daughter like royalty. Fair enough there wasn’t a play area on that occasion but it was very spacious and we resorted to our resident babysitters; the iPad and Peppa Pig without any shame, it was our honeymoon after all.
There are parks and playgrounds at every turn and a very chilled out open air drinking area in the Old Town where she napped and we drank and read our books. Pure bliss. We actually returned to Riga three times on our trip and was never disappointed.
Best family restaurant; Casa La Familia – a vegetarian Italian restaurant in Vilnius. If ever there was a child focused restaurant this is it. All the families were sat at tiny tables on the floor and there was a huge kids area with a castle slide and so many fun toys for the kids. The food was incredible, service was terrible but we didn’t care because we had lots of time and lots of entertainment. Plus a kind couple shared their food with our little girl as we had to wait an hour for pizza. Basically take snacks and go just before tea time if you don’t want to starve.
Best for toddler friendly activities; Berlin – there are a lot of toddler friendly day activities in Berlin. My favourite is Tierpark (literally translates to animal park). It’s huge and has pretty much everything you need to enjoy a family day out, parks, animals, a train ride, beer (very important) and great food. Plus loads of green space so you can just chill if your kid still naps. It’s a brilliant day out and trust me, you need an entire day there.
Fun fact, Tierpark is apparently “Europe’s largest adventure animal park”.
4. Transport is important.
This is very important. Do not gloss over this unless you are already an expert on travelling with kids.
Here are the biggest
mistakes things we learnt with regards to transport:
Know your taxi’s
We jumped in a taxi at Riga airport, after a few mins lightly quarrelling with the drivers about the price and car seats for small children (it’s the law in Latvia to have a kids seat but not all of the taxis have them). We were exhausted and Emmeline was kicking off so we gave up the fight and jumped in the metered cab. Its cost us almost 50 euros. BIG mistake. We had been told to expect 10-15 euros from our Air BnB* host so obviously we were freaking out. Needless to say we had been conned.
So what did we learn? There are no Ubers in Riga but there is Bolt* which is similar so we downloaded that the next day and found out that indeed taxis from the airport to the city are only about 10-15 euros. This was also helpful as my husband had to return to the airport the next morning as we left our daughters Trunki on the inbound flight (more about that in another post).
Overall we thought Bolt was just brilliant, you can pay with cash, they were really cheap (approx 4 euros per journey) and they were always really quick to arrive. We used them all over The Baltic’s without issue. Some had car seats suitable for a toddler and some didn’t but all drivers were happy to take us.
Know your taxi’s (but also know it’s not always going to be cheap)
In Berlin it is so hard to travel on the train from the airport to the city with a toddler and all your suitcases, a lot of stations don’t have step free access and Schonefeld to our hotel had several changes which would have meant us doing the old farmer and chicken, corn and dog riddle several times – except with baby, 2 suitcases and a backpack, so we had to get a taxi. Again, it’s the law to have a car seat but there’s no way of indicating you need a taxi with a car seat on Uber* (please sort this out Uber!) so be prepared if a taxi driver won’t pick you up.
Also taxi’s in general in Berlin are crazy expensive – I knew this was the case but never had to deal with it before when I lived there as I cycled or used public transport. There’s not much difference in price between Uber and regular taxis so expect to pay between 40-50 euros for a taxi to Mitte from Schonefeld. It’s really not far so personally I think it’s outrageous considering this is many people’s only option.
If in doubt, put your best foot forward
Save the big guns (taxi’s) for essential trips. If you’re in a city then travelling by foot (you know, walking) is your best option. Most cities are relatively compact cities and it’s the best way to get around in my opinion. You get to see so much of the city and you really clock up those important steps.
If you’re in a big city then they will usually have great public transport options which will be relatively cheap and fast if you need to travel some distance around the city.
Lastly I know what you’re thinking, yes in our most recent trip we hired a campervan but when it came to the cities it was much easier to leave the camper at the local site and travel in rather than drive what is essentially a bus full of 2.5 people in to a small city with limited parking options. Plus, I almost always really want a wine.
5. Do you really need that toy?
We packed just a few things; four books, a scrunch bucket & spade a pocket kite, some flash cards and a compact puzzle game, crayons and activity books.
I imagined Emmeline playing with loads of other kids and running around the beach but in all honesty this wasn’t the reality most of the time. She often wanted to sit in the driver seat of the campervan and pretend to drive, play outside running around the campsites and of course we spent hours and hours in parks. When we were driving or if we needed to do chores we resorted to the iPad, I think this has now led to a TV addiction and we’re dealing with a lot of Hey Duggee related tantrums but it really was a godsend at the time.
So that’s my top tips for travelling with small children, I’m definitely not a pro at it yet and I’m sure I’ll update the blog in the future with more tips – especially as she gets older and the usual tricks stop working.
We’ve got six countries under our belt with her now (and countless UK minibreaks) so I feel confident when travelling with a toddler. I feel that she learns and grows so much on our trips and for me that is priceless (and worth the mini bouts of stress). I hope that by introducing her to everything our planet has to offer will mean she grows up to be adventurous and open to new experiences.
Let me know if you agree, have any other tips for travelling, or what about any disasters you learned from? Please leave a comment below!
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