Traveling around the world with twin toddlers sure can be challenging to say the least. Everything requires planning far ahead and plans change constantly when something distracts them or they need a break or nap. For all the difficulty though, adapting to traveling with them has actually taught me a ton about traveling and making the most of a trip. From slowing things down to being more friendly, it’s amazing how much two two-year-olds can teach their parents about enjoying travel.
After trips to Norway, Portugal, and Seattle with the boys, I started adjusting how we travel to ensure we had good trips together. Now though, even when I go somewhere myself, I find myself following some of the things I’ve learned and picked up from them. Even though we picked up a lot of these practices in order to make traveling with kids easier, we found enough to be beneficial that we’ve started following them even without the kids.
1. Get going early. Between jet lag and a schedule which usually sees our days begin before 7am, if not earlier, we get going early when we have the boys with us. Now, I, never a morning person, tend to wake up the same time and get going early on. It means time to enjoy a coffee and get out to see whatever city and sights I’m exploring for the day. It does also tend to mean going to bed early too, but at least I end up maximizing the daylight hours and see most of the sights before others have even begun their days.
2. Don’t skip the museums. I’ve never been a big museum fan, even the most famous ones like the Louvre, Prado, and British Museum weren’t places I’d choose to spend a day. I also never thought a museum would be a good place to entertain a child, but discovered I was wrong in Seattle. The museum of flight kept our kids busy for most of a day. When we went to Stockholm, we visited four museums over two days and loved each one due to different interesting things to see and learn about, from ABBA to medieval carriages to a 17th century ship. These are especially good ways to spend days with less than perfect weather.
3. Don’t be a transportation snob. With kids that love every form of transportation, we’ve ended up taking just about every type of car, boat, bus, plane, and train there is. While I had preferred using taxis and Ubers when traveling alone, the difficulty in traveling safely with two toddlers meant we relied heavily on public transportation. Now when possible, I skip the car and use whatever public transportation I can find. In many places this is actually the best way to see much of the city as well as get a better sense of the local culture. In Sweden we ended up discovering beautiful art across the subway stations and got incredible views of the city skyline from a unique perspective on the water on the ferry.
4. Use them walking feet. I used to think getting anywhere more than a five minute walk meant I needed a taxi. With kids, packing up the stroller, getting buckled in to seats, and then reversing the whole process meant that we became much more willing to walk around. We also found that walking meant seeing more of a place up close and gives access you wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s also way more healthy and means enjoying more of the local cuisine without guilt. It’s rare for me to have a day on vacation with fewer than 20,000 steps.
5. Enjoy al fresco dining. With kids, especially toddlers who can get rowdy, the best choice for dinner seating is outside where possible. Even in colder months, as long as there is a heater, I prefer to sit outside now. More and more time siting outside with the kids means that now even when alone, I prefer a good restaurant with a great outside to a trendy upscale one inside. Siting outside often means there’s a better view of town or the surrounding area as well, fitting in with exploration of the area.
6. Skip the tourist traps. I suppose I never really spent a lot of time at tourist traps, but exploring around with kids means there’s just no time to spend and get caught up in a trap. Now I avoid the traditional tourist spots like the plague both with the boys and without. There’s just no time to see the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota.
7. Eat anything and everything. The boys never turn down a meal or refuse anything on offer. They’ve enjoyed Portuguese grilled liver and blood sausages, Norwegian herring, and squid. I’ve learned that not only is it not worth it to be a picker eater from them, but that it’s best to embrace the local culture through the cuisine and not to turn anything down. It’s the best way to discover something I never expected to like, such as a herring focused buffet in Stockholm that was incredible, or discovering a love for raw Norwegian salmon.
8. Say hi to everyone. As a WASP from Pennsylvania with Danish descent, I’m usually a pretty quiet and inwardly focused person, especially in unfamiliar locales. On vacation, I usually try to fit in by being as quiet as possible and don’t get dragged into many conversations. I don’t know where they got it from, but my boys are like two candidates for mayor parading around town waving and yelling “hi” at everyone. Taking a page from their book, I’ve tried to open up more when away from home and actually engage in conversation with locals. I’ve discovered recommendations and hidden gems already this way, including discovering breweries in Stockholm and fantastic restaurants in Berlin.
9. Enjoy the journey, not just the destination. Most people on airplanes and busses are miserable, just looking forward to getting off and to wherever they are going. I’m usually one of them. My kids though, literally enjoy planes so much they bounce up and down on the seat and get yelled at for shoving their faces against windows. I was expecting our flight to Seattle to be an epic tribulation involving hours of their boredom. Instead, they sat and watched out the window and told everyone that they were on an airplane for the entire trip. I don’t get to the point where I point out every car, truck, and airplane I see through the window, but I have learned to take things more positively and sit back and enjoy the ride.
10. Stop and enjoy the sights. Just like the flight itself, the best parts of vacations aren’t always the planned sights and destinations. My boys love to disrupt plans by stopping to take in something unplanned like watching boats on the water, chirping at birds, or deciding that we have to go another way. Like them, I now try to stop periodically just to take in my surroundings and look for new experiences. In Berlin we discovered an awesome beer garden tucked away from sight this way.
Kids are never to young to teach their parents new tricks. When the boys were born, I didn’t want to change my approach to traveling and sacrifice what I loved. Instead, I’ve actually learned a much better approach from traveling and observing the boys and how they take in new experiences. Learning to fully embrace the local sights and culture and to slow down and look for enjoyment in every moment has made me enjoy travel even more. While I prefer to travel and share experience with the boys, when that isn’t possible, these lessons have also improved my solo travels.