The writer with her two sons in Bled, Slovenia // © 2015 Keryn Means
Feature image (above): According to Keryn Means, it's not impossible to travel with toddlers — in fact, it can be simpler than exploring with older children. // © 2015 Thinkstock
Walking through the train station in Milan, Italy, with my 5 month old strapped to my chest and my 3 year old safely tucked into the stroller, I reminisced about the last time I had been to Italy. My husband and I had toured around Rome and Venice pre-kids. We barely knew the language, making the trip difficult at times, such as trying to exchange money at that same train station and getting cut off in line by other customers. But, we certainly had a lot of fun.
The trip with my boys was a different kind of difficult, of course. But at the Milan train station, the language barrier subsided when locals saw a mother in need of a little assistance in getting her bags on and off the train. If anything, our train changes were easier with the kids because people came to our aid. During our previous trip, my husband and I, as two lost-looking 20-somethings, didn’t seem to attract much help from the locals.
Stranger assistance aside, traveling with a baby and a toddler taught me to slow down when I traveled. No longer could we rush from sight to sight to cram it all into a weekend trip; an aggressive pace just couldn’t hold up to nap times, feeding schedules and the need for rest.
Our travel itinerary had to evolve and become much more relaxed. These days, we pick one spot per day to visit. We savor the place, really dig into what is there and don’t worry about fitting four or five more attractions in before dinner. If we are able to visit one other site that day, we are more than content.
Our luggage has also taken on new purpose. My husband and I no longer carry overstuffed bags, cramming five pairs of unnecessary shoes and extra clothing into our bags until the bags are barely under the weight limit.
Our own items have been pared down to the basics, with a lot of accessories to change things up. The boys’ clothing is small (for now), and we manage to pack the clothing of one kid into each of our bags. Our children are too young to always carry their own bags, particularly if we are traveling internationally and feel jet-lagged when we land. So, our luggage has to be manageable in order to carry sleeping boys, push strollers and pull bags at the same time. We assume we’ll do laundry when we arrive at the destination.
Baby and toddler items also have to pull double, if not triple, duty. Strollers are not only for the kids — this ingenious item becomes a pack mule in airports; a high chair at a restaurant or in a hotel room; and a portable nap area when we are checking out a city’s sights.
A simple backpack is now the diaper bag as well as a grocery bag to load up on baby food, milk and supplies while traveling. Every item that we travel with, especially when we fly, has to have multiple uses or else it gets left at home.
Traveling with babies and toddlers isn’t harder; it’s just different than travel before kids. Babies and toddlers are more portable than older children. They also don’t have many opinions about the itinerary, as long as they are with their family and are fed on time.
Young children are happiest when they are with their parents. Sure, there occasionally are tears, tantrums and full-on meltdowns, but parents deal with that at home as well. Not every parent can wait until his or her child is old enough to appreciate travel or stop having bad days.
Looking back at that walk through the train station reminds me just how much easier it was to travel with my boys. They are a bit older now, and I can’t strap one to me and push the other. Now, one has to walk with me without wandering off on his own, while I push the other in the stroller, praying all the while that he does not jump off and run away, which he is prone to do.
Both boys also will voice their opinions, which is making effortless itinerary planning a thing of the past — there are now four personalities to consider, instead of just two.
Parents should take advantage of those earlier years. The easiest time to travel with kids is when they are very young; in my experience, it can get more complicated as they grow older.