Hello friends! I've had many people ask over the past two years for tips on traveling with babies and young children that I thought I would go ahead and just put my thoughts/experiences down in a post for you.
I'm not an expert jet setter, but we have taken weekend trips a few hours away (Bath and Paris), as well as longer trips with drives around 7 hours (Edinburgh) and flights up to 9 hours (United States)--so I certainly have found things that work well for us! My two boys are currently 8 months and 3.5 years old, although we started traveling fairly regularly when my oldest was 20 months.
Here are a few things we've found that have helped us:
1. Your mindset. It can make or break your traveling experience! Have a plan (more on that in a moment), but also know without a doubt in your mind that not all things will go to plan...and be okay with that. Meltdowns will happen. Holidays with kids will never be the same as they used to be. And that's okay. Remember to laugh and just carry on.
2. Plan. Then keep planning. I can't say how many times I've been sure I'd thought of everything and planned everything, only to remember something I didn't think of a day or two away from leaving. For me, aside from planning tickets and/or driving routes, it's been very helpful to plan snacks and meals. If you'll need to eat at the train station or airport, plan for that. If you want to find a nice place for dinner once you get to your destination, plan for that and have a few options available. Nothing ruins a trip faster than cranky, hungry kids whining at cranky, stressed (and hungry) parents.
3. Embrace modern technology. If you have an iPad, tablet, laptop or smart phone...let your kids use it! We downloaded a bunch of Peppa Pig episodes for our train ride to Paris, and it was splendid. R also really loves playing with puzzle apps on our iPhones. Once the novelty of riding the train wore off (which was pretty quick since R is used to train travel by now), it was great for him to just sit and relax (so we could sit and relax!).
4. Let your kids be mobile. This is harder to do in car travel than planes and trains, but we've noticed R has really benefitted from walking around at pit stops. Instead of going through the drive thru for lunch, maybe go in and walk around. We've found that even 10 minutes of being out of the carseat helps. On planes and trains, it's not always the easiest to do, but again, kids really benefit from walking up and down the aisles, saying hello to the stewardesses, etc.
Once you are at your destination, especially if it's a city, try to find playgrounds or large patches of grass where your kids can roam free. One of my fondest memories from Paris was sitting on a park bench feeding Baby A while R ran around a playground right by the Eiffel Tower.
5. Buy cheap (read: charity shop/Poundland/Dollar Store) toys to give your kids, especially on longer trips. We've gotten matchbox cars, sticker books, and little etch-a-sketch writing pads, and small books. We've done this a few times, and it's been great! If you get more than one toy, mete them out slowly. The key is to use up as much time as possible!
6. Snacks are your best friend. My oldest is not a big eater, but he loves snacks! I try to make them fairly nutritious, in case all the snacking ruins his appetite. Dried fruit, fresh apples, granola bars, and goldfish are favorites of ours.
7. Finally, just have fun! Remember to take photos and have something tangible to remember your holiday (I'm about to order a canvas of our Paris trip from Tiny Prints). Even if you don't get to do all the things you might want (in Paris we didn't go to the Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, or tour Notre Dame) but we did enjoy just being there. We went to the Eiffel Tower, played in a park nearby, had a pizza picnic, and walked along the Seine River. Someday I'll enjoy traveling without little ones and will be able to do all the "grown-up" things, but for now, we just enjoyed being on holiday together, making memories.