When it comes to traveling with toddlers, which trip planning camp do you fall into? Are you a Type A Traveler, filling each day with sights to see, places to go, and making restaurant reservations? Or are you Chill Traveler, doing . . . well, not much and hoping for the best?
No matter your style of traveling, with kids, there’s got to be a balance between researcher and relaxer. You’re going to want to have some things planned, or at least have an idea of what your days will look like, but you’ve also got to be ready to take one giant Chill Pill for when those plans inevitably go awry.
You’ve taken the plunge, booked the tickets, and found a place to stay, but now what? Here are some ideas for preparing a flexible itinerary filled with activities to keep your little ones entertained and you completely relaxed. Well…there’s always hope!
Map it out
There are lots of ways to do this online, probably a bunch of apps, but I like to simply “save” places on Google Maps. You can create a custom map through Google My Maps as well, personalize things in all sorts of ways, but I prefer just saving places (which ends up marking them as stars) on the general app so that I can pull it up easily when I’m on my trip without any fuss.
I start by marking where we’re staying and then add interesting spots as I research the location. To start that research, here’s what I do…
Hello, Bébé Voyage!
Well, duh! Of course, I always start my trip planning with Bébé Voyage, and I do this in a few different ways. First, I search the site for articles on my destination and mark recommendations that sound interesting for my family on my map. Bébé Voyage also has great, super-detailed guides for several popular destinations. These are full of ideas for kid-friendly places to visit, eat, and stay, but we also have incredibly handy information on things like trusted local kid brands to look for in the grocery stores, what to do if your kid gets sick, places you can rent baby gear, and even information on babysitting services. They’re an excellent resource that I’ve used myself.
From there, I head over to our members-only Facebook group and do a search on our destination to see tips that have already been shared. If it’s been a while since a conversation has happened, I start a new one! It is extremely likely that other members have already been there and will have great recommendations for you, or you’ll be able to connect with parents who live there who can give you all the insider info.
It’s easy enough to find the “top 10” sights to see and things to do in a location. Those are nice to mark to get a lay of the land but to get some personalized or more unique ideas, try doing some searching with more specific search phrases. Here are a few that I like to start with:
- “Kid-Friendly (Paris, Rome, Tokyo, etc.)” – naturally, this is an important one to start with when traveling with kids. You’ll get all sorts of ideas for activities, places to go, and will likely come across some local parenting blogs
- “Best playgrounds in _____” – playgrounds and parks are crucial to locate so that you can always be prepared with a place to give your kid a break, burn some energy, and let them have a little fun, too. They’re also great spots for picnics.
- “Restaurants with play areas in _____” – it is not uncommon these days to find a restaurant or cafe with a play area set up for kids. These are excellent places for families for obvious reasons, but they also give a great glimpse into life as a local parent.
- Wherever I travel, I like to make sure that we’re supporting small businesses and local communities that haven’t historically been well-represented in the travel industry. Depending on where we’re going in the world, I search for “Latino-owned”, “Black-owned”, “Indigenous-owned”, “LGBTQ+ owned”, “immigrant-owned”, etc.
- “Best coffee in _____” – I mean, obviously a necessity. But beyond the much-required caffeine kick, local coffee shops are such gems – many of them are beautifully designed, thoughtful spaces where you get a peek into the trends and spirit of the particular place that you’re visiting. They will also typically be a good spot to grab a snack for your kids. More embarrassingly, I’ve also tried “trendy or hipster coffee in ____” to really find those pretty little shops in cool neighborhoods. If coffee isn’t your thing, try “bakery” or “trendy snacks in ____” for some fun ideas.
- “Oldest (restaurants, cafes, bakeries, etc.) in _____” – but just as cool as it is to find those trendy new hot spots, I also love searching for businesses with a little history behind them. There’s often a reason why these places have stood the test of time for decades, or even hundreds of years. Some have great historic significance or had famous patrons. If you can have cake and coffee in the same place that Mozart did, why wouldn’t you?! We did right here!
- “Best Instagram spots in ______” – Even if you’re not a burgeoning social media celebrity yourself, getting inspired by pictures of beautiful neighborhoods or photo spots isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Doing a search for “best Instagram spots” or “most photogenic spots” can lead you to iconic, beautiful viewpoints perfect for shots of your little ones. Just be warned, looks can be deceiving . . .
Do it for the Gram
Speaking of Instagram, it can be a really great tool for trip-planning. Find local accounts and inspiration by searching different tags and specific locations. From there you’ll find a myriad of styles and focuses, like foodies or fashionistas, and you’ll even likely have a few parents in there, too. What’s great about Instagram as a tool is that it’s in real-time; you’re seeing images and activities that are currently happening, so you’ll know the information is up to date. Instagram also has a “save” feature. If you come across something that looks interesting, tap that little “flag” looking icon on the bottom right of the image. You’ll be prompted to “Save it to Collection” and from there you can create an album of saved images to refer back to for your trip planning! So handy.
Of course, I highly suggest checking out our Bébé Voyage Instagram account for ideas (@bebe.voyage). Each week this summer, our account is being taken over by a traveling parent to share their favorite tips and destinations! It’s a great way to connect with parents in real-time and get inspired for your next trip.
Create an Itinerary
Remember at the beginning when I talked about being a mix between planner and relaxed traveler? A generalized itinerary is a good way to put that into action. By an itinerary, I don’t mean “Monday, 9:00, be at this place” necessarily. But once you have a bunch of places starred on your map, you can start to get a lay of the land things may start to fall into place. All families work differently, but if yours is anything like mine, with a couple of extremely high-energy kids under 5, “flexible structure” is necessary.
What that looks like in practice is something like: kid loves dinosaurs, so you definitely want to hit up the Natural History Museum. In doing some basic planning maybe you’ll see that, oh, it’s closed Mondays. Ok, so that goes into the plan on Tuesday. Whew, crisis averted. Definitely don’t need to be in a position where you can’t deliver upon a promised t-rex sighting! And, then look – that really cute coffee place you found is just a few blocks away! Post-museum snack time sorted. And how convenient, from there you can walk through that pretty neighborhood you found on Instagram to get to that awesome playground. A must for getting those wiggles out before you have an early dinner at the restaurant the parent on Bébé Voyage recommended.
It’s planning, it’s itinerary making, but it’s flexible enough that you can switch days around when possible given weather, kids’ mood swings, and all those other things of which we cannot control. My preferred method is Google Sheets or Docs as I can easily share and edit it along with my husband or other travel companions.
So that’s how I go about structuring my family’s trips. It’s all about being prepared beforehand so that we can relax as much as possible when we get there, and have solutions in our back pocket for when things don’t go as planned.
What about you? What are some of your favorite things to do to plan for a trip? Share them in the comments!