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In the last couple of months, we’ve traveled across Europe with our two young kids. Ellie is three. Eli is now nine months. Yes, we’re those parents who decided to make their kids’ names almost identical (my parents find it very annoying). Since we started traveling with young kids, I’ve noticed that everyone has an opinion on traveling as a family.
Some people think it’s great. They believe it molds children into world citizens as they grow up. The kids will grow up to be kinder, more respectful, and more well-rounded humans.
Others think it’s dumb. They say it’s a waste of money until the kids can remember the travel or that they will never appreciate it.
For Alyssa and me, we’ve traveled together since our wedding day. It’s always been a given that we would travel with our kids. We love traveling and are bringing the kids along for the journey. That means we’ve been traveling with Ellie since she was four weeks old and now have added Eli to the mix.
We may have thought traveling with one kid was easy (it was.) But traveling with two kids adds a whole new level of logistics. I wanted to write and share this blog post (which was originally a journal entry reflecting on our most recent trip to Europe) to share our honest experiences traveling with two young kids.
Flying With Young Kids (or babies)
I think flying is a good starting place for this conversation. If you haven’t already flown with your kids, maybe this is intimidating. We’ve done a handful of flights with our kids. Not going to cover all of them here, but wanted to at least share our experiences from different ages (and numbers of kids).
Flying with a two-month-old domestically 👶🏼
Difficulty level: easy
Our first experience flying with a baby was back in 2019. Ellie was two months old and we took a two-hour flight to San Diego. We were both nervous, but she did amazing. This is probably one of the easiest phases of travel with a kid. They essentially sleep, eat, and poop. A tip we received was to nurse Ellie (okay, this was advice to Alyssa. I couldn’t help out here) while the plane was taking off. Babies’ ears may pop during take-off and landing which is uncomfortable. Alyssa didn’t nurse for every take-off and landing of this trip, and Ellie’s ears were fine! She slept for most of the flight in Alyssa’s arms.
We brought along a stroller and a car seat for this trip, adding to our baggage, but overall traveling with a two-month-old was easy.
Flying with a four-month-old internationally 👶🏼
Difficulty level: relatively easy (but a little more logistical in trying to find the right seat)
Our next experience was an international flight. We’d found a Faredrop deal for $500 round-trip tickets to Venice. I booked them immediately. It was several months before Ellie was born and the Delta agent told me to call back when the baby was born to add her name and birthday to the ticket.
The plan was to spend a month RVing around Italy. Flying with a four-month-old was pretty close to flying with a two-month-old as far as difficulty level. We got to the airport early and requested a bassinet seat (a huge win if you can snag one and most international flights have them in the bulkhead seats).
Ellie slept a decent amount on the flight and was generally cheerful. The loudest moment was when we landed in Paris (layover) and she was squawking excitedly. I thought it was cute but it was 6 AM and I’m sure other passengers didn’t feel the same. Nobody said anything about her cooing. At this age, babies aren’t very mobile so sitting still for a flight—even if it’s nine hours long—isn’t difficult.
Our first couple of times flying, I was really nervous about annoying other travelers with a wild baby. This feeling quickly went away. Parents of other young kids know exactly what it’s like and have empathy for you. More often than not, we’ve experienced kindness from fellow travelers. Every now and then you might run across someone who is vocally annoyed. These people likely never had kids or maybe are just having a bad day (who knows). At the end of the day, after many flights, we have encountered way more kindness than anything else.
Flying with two kids domestically (one month 👶🏼 and two years 👧🏼) 😷
Difficulty level: Easy to medium
After Eli was born, I had a three month paternity leave. We decided to make the most of it and booked a trip to Disney World for Christmas. Ellie hadn’t been (but loves Mickey Mouse) and we figured Eli would sleep and be content no matter where we were.
The flight with a two-and-a-half-year-old and six-week-old was relatively easy, but a bit more challenging than just one kiddo. Eli slept the whole time. Ellie watched her iPad and we brought along a few toys. Being able to still be man-on-man with our kids helps a ton. Ellie being old enough to be content watching a show or movie helps too.
The hardest part for Ellie was convincing her to keep her seat belt buckled, now that she’s no longer a lap child. I decided to keep a few small pieces of candy in my pocket as an incentive for good behavior.
Flying with two kids internationally (six months 👶🏼 and three years 👧🏼)
Difficulty level: Medium
Okay, things are getting more difficult.
Flying to Italy, both Ellie and Eli slept most of the flight. When you fly from the States to Europe, the flight is almost always overnight. You leave in the afternoon or evening and arrive to the sun. This makes it easier with kids and to adjust to jetlag.
On our most recent flight back from Italy we had Ellie (3) and Eli (then 8 months). Eli learned to crawl and stand in Italy, meaning he was fully mobile and wanted to stand up all the time.
Our seats ended up being booked across the aisle from each other, but it worked out perfectly. Alyssa had a row of two chairs to herself with a gap next to the window. This meant when Eli was awake we could let him stand up and move around a bit without having to block an aisle.
He definitely wanted to move more, making this more difficult than any flight to date. But he slept around six hours in Alyssa’s arms (she watched a lot of movies) and generally did great. Our flight was supposed to leave around 10 AM but was delayed until nearly 6 PM. This was a blessing in disguise—we hadn’t made it to the airport yet when we got the delay update, so we spent the extra day in Paris walking around Disney Village and checking out of our hotel room late.
This meant we once again had an “overnight” flight and the kids slept easily and then landed in the sunshine.
I cannot emphasize enough how helpful this is for jetlag.
At three, Ellie is a trooper on plane rides. She’s probably been on 30 airplanes at this point. She watches her movies happily and sleeps. In general, she only gets her iPad when we have long travel days, so I think she views planes as a treat. She can watch as many movies as she wants and there are free snacks. She’s great.
Takeaways from flying with young kids
There are hard moments.
We took an early morning flight back from Florida when Eli was six weeks old and I had one overwhelming moment. Eli had a diaper blow out and everyone was hungry and Ellie started crying and the moment compounded on itself. I had poop all over my hand while my kids made a big scene in the airport.
I just took a breath and recognized that
1) this was bound to happen and we’d get through it and
2) we chose to do this.
Ultimately, we made the sacrifice to choose harder moments in traveling with kids versus sitting at home. Our kids were being stretched too. These moments pass.
Early boarding is awesome.
We fly Southwest often while in the US and I love getting to board early. This is the same for other airlines as well. Make sure to take advantage of this and snag your seat early.
Family bathrooms are handy at every airport.
There are almost always family bathrooms at airports and we use them 100% of the time. It’s huge, there’s a changing table, and everyone can take turns using the bathroom while someone changes a diaper. There are also, sometimes, nursing and pumping rooms which are also helpful.
I think we have it easy.
Our kids have really been great travelers to date. The story in my head is that it’s because we started them traveling from an early age. It could also be because Alyssa and I have a decent amount of experience rolling with the travel punches. We go into travel expecting delays and lost things and so when anything comes up, we’re mentally prepared. I’ve heard from close friends how their kids have screamed or kicked on planes. This blog would sound very different if that had been our experience (although Ellie does love kicking the seat in front of her on airplanes).
My Experiences Traveling with Young Kids
While we’ve had a lot of travels with our kids, I’ve realized there are two different ways I’ve experienced our travels: how I feel in the moment versus how I feel after.
Specifically referencing our most recent two-month trip in Europe, my retrospective view is much nicer than my in-the-moment experiences. For instance, I’ve been scrolling through our photos from our time on the Tuscan beach and taking Ellie to Disneyland Paris (yes, we went twice in one year) and all I feel is gratitude.
However, I know that if you’d asked me how I was feeling in many of our travel moments I may have responded differently. I likely would have told you that I longed for a break or to eat a meal without having to tell Ellie to sit down. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy many of our travel moments, I just feel the narrative in my head appreciates some of the moments more looking back than living them. Maybe it’s always like that, but it feels especially true for travel with kids.
There’s an interesting book I read called The Paradox of Choice that talks about this phenomenon more. Essentially, the book talks about how we often don’t remember what experiences are truly like. We typically judge our prior experiences based on how they felt at their peak (good or bad) and how they end. If a trip ends on a high note, we’re more likely to remember positive feelings toward that trip versus it just ending on a neutral note.
I remembered this idea of ending on a high note when we nearly ended our last trip on a low. After a couple of weeks of gut punches (including losing our rental car, rebooking flights multiple times when we kept getting separated, and getting cursed out in Italian by our Airbnb host, a story for another time), we woke up to depart Italy with a notification on our phone.
Our flights were canceled.
Flying and airports have been overwhelmed as of late, especially in Italy. Eli was sleeping, so Alyssa, Ellie, and I sat out in the hotel hallway and tried to game plan a new route home. The morning was off to a stressful start. Then, Ellie threw up in my lap as a group of people walked by and into the nearby elevator. They looked at me with a mixture of pity and I don’t even know what else because I was covered in throw-up and trying to handle one problem at a time.
The day was on a downward spiral and getting worse.
This was the opposite of ending on a high note. At this rate, I felt if we went home then we might not try traveling again until Ellie was in high school.
I looked at Alyssa and told her we should cancel whatever flight we were rebooked on and go to London and Paris. We wanted to visit both places and we were already in Europe. Why not? We could end on a high note versus ending on a sour moment. Our schedule was flexible, why not take advantage of it?
The last week we spent being spontaneous. We took the kids to London parks and Ellie and Alyssa had a tea party on a Peppa Pig-themed double-decker bus.
We ate pastries and had a picnic at the Eiffel tower and spent nearly three whole days at Disney Village—thanks to that last flight delay.
We decided after this to create a rule for our travel: when things don’t go according to plan, do something awesome instead. This doesn’t always mean a trip to Disney or something big, but maybe if a flight is delayed we can enjoy a nice meal or buy a mini bottle of champagne at the airport.
If we couldn’t adapt or deal with random circumstance changes I don’t think travel would be enjoyable, and definitely not with kids.
What It’s Really Like Traveling with Young Kids
There’s good and bad. Maybe that’s not the best way to describe it and it’s a little cliche, but I think it’s the best place to begin.
I feel like this is a subject that if I don’t start with the bad, people may not believe me (so I’ll start with the bad):
The Bad (or Hard) Parts of Traveling with Young Kids
Everything is harder.
This sounds dramatic as I type it, but I honestly feel it’s true. We took a 6-month-old and 3-year-old to Italy and it really does just make everything 2-3X harder than traveling without kids. Eli still wasn’t sleeping through the night and everything is literally harder when you aren’t sleeping. Whether you’re trying to buy groceries or walk to a coffee shop, you’re keeping two humans alive and out of the street. Flying was probably the easiest part.
What isn’t harder: making friends or meeting people. Kids make this 10X easier. People want to interact or say hello when you’re traveling with kids.
It requires way more planning.
When it was just Alyssa and me, flying by the seat of our pants was fun.
Now, when I do it I feel like an irresponsible dad and parent to my children. For instance, I rode in a bike packing race in Italy and needed to ship my bike back home. In order to do that, I needed to carry it in a very tiny European car along with two car seats for our kids and all of our luggage. I’d never taken a bike apart before. I ended up barely packing it into our car and taking it apart as a thunderstorm brewed overhead and the kids were getting antsy in the car while we were checking out of our campsite and none of us had eaten lunch.
Tensions were high.
The car seats barely fit jammed up next to the bike. The tightness of everything slightly made me worried that I’d prioritized this silly bike over my children’s safety.
This was just one example, but the point is that it just requires more thoughtfulness all around. Kids need meals packed, car seats, or attention and so there needs to be more planning. When we’re booking Airbnbs, we look for spaces that can accommodate kids and don’t have a spiral staircase. When airlines rebook our tickets due to a cancellation, we have to doubly make sure they don’t place us across the plane from our three-year-old (yes this has happened, luckily caught it beforehand).
It’s more expensive (like, by a lot).
This depends on your travel style, but I’ve found that travel with kids is way more expensive. I think this is largely due to the fact that with kids I’ll pay for additional conveniences.
For instance, we had a long overnight flight from Dallas to Italy. After our all-night flight, we had two options.
Option #1 We could take a bus to the train station and then take a three-hour train and pay €30.
Option #2 Hire a private car that would take an hour and cost €300.
It wasn’t even a question.
I knew we’d have an exhausted toddler and baby, so I booked the private car. It was 100% worth it. Our driver was waiting on us with water bottles and a sign and I got to be one of those people who feel super fancy at the airport.
Not only did the car transfer save us two hours after an all-night flight, but our airline lost our baby bed. If we would have went the train route, we would have had to sort the baby bed problem and THEN go snag a long train ride. Convenience for the win (side note: after 30 minutes of waiting, we ended up not filing a missed item report. Bought a new baby bed at a grocery store so we could get the kids to Airbnb to rest. More $$$).
Even if we didn’t shell out for some conveniences, we now have an additional airline ticket to buy for Ellie (since she’s 3). We also prefer to have larger Airbnbs so the kids can have their own room, which makes for better sleeping. And unlike our early travel days where price dictated everything, I want to make sure that we’re staying in a safe area where I feel comfortable.
This might not be the same for every family traveling with young children. However, I can clearly see an uptick in what we spend traveling with kids versus just the two of us.
You’re ON full time.
I love getting to have date nights with Alyssa. While we’re at our home base in Colorado, this is something we can plan for and do on a semi-regular basis. While adventuring in a new country, this is not really an option. Ever.
As a result, we are full-time parents 24/7. I’m grateful for the time with our kids but also recognize that as a parent we need time to ourselves. This is something we’re factoring in for future trips and a big reason why we aren’t currently traveling full-time (but having a home to go back to).
We were lonely.
So this definitely isn’t specific to traveling with kids, but something we experienced with long-term travel. Being in a country where we didn’t speak the language well for two months meant that our only real conversations were with each other. I did get to go biking with some local friends a few times and we even had friends join us in Italy at the end of the trip to bike the Tuscany Trail together. But as far as day-to-day life went, we felt a little isolated and lonely. We decided that for future travel, we wanted to prioritize going on adventures with other families.
A month after returning from Europe, we went to Mexico for a week with Ellie’s cousins. There were five kids and nine adults all staying at the same hotel and the experience was completely different! The kids had even more fun—Ellie is, unsurprisingly, an extrovert—and we had plenty of adult time during the week too. Plus we could take turns with who watched all the kids, giving us short breaks to go off on adventures. All the guys ziplined in the morning, all the girls in the afternoon.
We came back from Mexico exhausted but also rejuvenated from such good quality time with people we love. As we plan future trips, we’ve started thinking about how we can caravan or meet up with friends on the road.
The Good Parts About Traveling with Young Kids
We made new memories as a family.
We took Ellie to a Tuscan theme park on her birthday. They had roller coasters, animals, and shows. We watched all of the shows in Italian and it made no difference to Ellie. The dinosaur show captivated her nonetheless. Eli took an awesome nap in the middle of the day and we had zero tantrums. It was truly an amazing day.
Because our Airbnb was on the beach, we also played in the ocean every day. For ten days, we were Airbnb neighbors with a German family who had a boy near Ellie’s age. Neither of them could speak each other’s language but they became fast friends and loved each other. Each day when they woke up they’d peak into each other’s kitchen windows.
While touring London we probably visited 15 parks. All were incredible. The city was so clean and kid-friendly. The museums in London were free and had a great toddler section with blocks and activities. Both Ellie and Eli had a great time.
After our flights were canceled celled, we called an audible and took Ellie to Disneyland Paris. This was the highlight of her experience. She keeps asking to go back to “Ratatouille’s house” which is what she calls France. We even stayed at a Disney hotel so we walked to the park in the morning for Magic Hour—which was 100% worth it and we rode four rides before the park even opened—and took the kids back to the hotel for naptime. The walkability with the kids was great and we could even take the stroller we rented all the way back to the hotel.
While Alyssa and I didn’t have much 1-on-1 quality time for two months, we did have a ton of quality time with our kids. I feel like I got to really know Ellie and her quirks and the things that make her who she is. Yes, she’s only 3 but towards the end of our trip, I just thought of her as my little friend.
As I think about what our days are like now that we’re home in Colorado, I’m truly appreciating my quiet moments while Ellie’s in school. I’m enjoying space and the ability to have her in daycare and potentially getting a date night soon with Alyssa. The downside is our quality time is now cut to a few hours after 4 or 5 PM playing around the house and yard. It’s still great and I cherish it, but I recognize how easy it is to slip into a routine where we go on autopilot and just hang out around the house (versus going on activities together).
While different, we still experienced some of the best parts of travel (great food, new places, new people, new culture).
Travel is not the same with kids, not even close.
I think if I went into it hoping I’d do the same things as before, it would be depressing. For instance, I love history. I’m a nerd and enjoy sitting at the plaques of old churches and historical monuments and could read for hours. Psssh. I don’t do this now. I’m lucky if I can read the name of what building I’m looking at.
But while I’m not reading old church plaques, Alyssa and I did eat incredible Italian food for a month. We became locals at a coffee shop, pizzeria, and gelateria in the little town we stayed. The baristas knew my order and played with our kids and the waitress at the pizzeria would always give Ellie a lollipop. To me, these are fun travel experiences. I also love being able to eat pizza 3X per week and not feel awful (better ingredients, not Papa Johns).
We also still met people from different countries. Many of which had kids who Ellie loved playing with.
Sure, some travel moments were incredibly tough. The day we saw the leaning tower of Pisa Ellie threw a fit in the courtyard because she didn’t want to wear her shoes. It went on for what felt like hours (realistically like twenty minutes). I was embarrassed and could feel everyone looking at us. Yet, this was the worst freakout we had for the entire two-month trip. As we went on more adventure days, Ellie improved.
All kids are different. For us, we learned with Ellie that sugar and watching an iPad earlier in the day don’t make her a great version of herself. If she has either to start the day, she’s in a mood all day long. We’ve worked to avoid those as much as possible and it’s made a world of difference. Finding out the quirks of our kiddos has helped a ton in navigating longer days of activities or sightseeing.
I touched on this in my first answer, but we had so much quality family time. Some days I felt like it was too much. But then again, I don’t think I’ll ever look back on my life and wish I’d spent less time with my kids. I just don’t believe that. I feel like there’s a good chance I’ll regret working too much or worrying about the future too much, but I don’t think there’s a scenario where I regret spending too much time with my family. In fact, I have the opposite fear. I have a fear that one day I’ll regret not appreciating the moments I have with them enough.
Takeaways Around Traveling with Young Kids
I think travel for us right now is less about the travel and more about quality time.
Looking back on our trip to Europe, I believe travel is more of a vehicle for spending quality time together so we don’t get stuck in a standard routine.
Even being back in Colorado for two weeks, I can see how easy it is to get into a flow and time flies by. Some days I feel like I’m missing seeing my daughter grow up. Soon Ellie will be in Kindergarten, but in this season she and Eli want to spend time with us. They want to be with us, play with us, cuddle us and I know it will not be like that forever.
Could we have quality time just staying at home? Of course.
But I think the model for how we spend our time at home (versus traveling) is different. We work on our computers, we write and focus on our businesses. We send Ellie to daycare and found a part-time nanny to help with Eli. That’s how we’ll spend our time here.
It’s not a bad outlet for our time and we LOVE Colorado. We also enjoy writing, working on new business ideas and projects like Alyssa’s new book are important to us. Being home means work and rest and simplicity.
Travel, on the other hand, is often fast-paced. We wake up and go on adventures together. We eat meals together. We learn.
I also think there are windows of time where travel is more feasible (aka we’re healthy and our families are healthy). Alyssa has a dream list of places she wants to see around the world. We spent years working on starting and growing businesses and in the past year have sold three of them. We have a window of time right now to see some of these places and bond with our kids. It’s hard to get as excited about jumping back into a new work project and let this moment pass.
I think one-off vacations with kids are harder than extended trips.
I could be very wrong about this.
We recently took a one-week trip with Alyssa’s family to Mexico. In talking with my brother-in-law, he shared how his three kids weren’t used to getting out on a regular basis. The start of the trip was rough.
It took some time but toward the end of our vacation, they started doing great on excursions. The story in my head (that could be wrong) is that many parents feel travel with kids is miserable because they only try it once a week per year and then quit. Because we’ve been doing it with Ellie since she was four weeks old, she thrives and has incredible endurance for day-long activities.
Of course, naps are still needed.
But we’ve found she does better on our travel days versus when we sit at home and play with toys. She likes to go and I think that comes from us spending time on the road.
Spending a month in one place was harder than hopping around new cities.
We had a hypothesis about how to make traveling with kids easy: Travel slower and spend more time in each place. We were wrong. We booked a month-long trip in a small Italian town and after two weeks we were ready to go. Not because it wasn’t gorgeous or being beachfront wasn’t amazing. We had simply done everything within an hour’s train ride and were ready for the next exciting new place.
I think a couple of weeks in an area we want to explore is cool, but a month was a really long time. It didn’t feel like travel, it just felt like our normal days at home in a slightly prettier place with better food and less of our normal stuff to entertain the kids (i.e their rooms and beds and toys, etc). Once we started actually exploring and moving around, things improved. Not only did we feel like we were truly traveling, but it was easier to manage the kids because we were doing fun things together.
Airbnbs > Hotels.
When we decided to hop over to London, we booked our hotel the same day. It was so spur of the moment that we didn’t have time to look for Airbnbs in the city.
Our hotel room in London was tiny. Microscopic. Eli’s baby bed barely fit and it was one of those hotel rooms where all the lights are connected on one switch so when Eli went to bed at 6 PM, we sat in the dark in a closet. It was one of those things that was hectic in the moment, but even worse when Eli would cry in the middle of the night and we were inches away from each other. Separate bedrooms would have been amazing.
With little kids, especially babies, we’ll opt for the Airbnb route.
Will We Continue Traveling with Our Kids?
There is something about this window of time with our kids that is special. I want to make the most of it. I want to play with my kids and make memories and be the best version of myself. I know it’s going to fly by, whether we’re at home or out in the world.
However, there are fears I have with doing more travel with our kids while they are young (or perhaps, voices in my head).
Some of those fears are:
- We’re still young and maybe we should be working more. Even with a few business wins under our belt, it’s not like I’m at an age where I can retire.
- Burning out from lack of breaks while traveling—a privileged problem to be sure.
- Whether travel is actually “good” for our kids or not.
- If I’m being wasteful with money and should just wait until the kids can remember our travels.
I’m not saying any of these fears are true or not. But I have them.
My mindset is that at their current age, what matters for our kids is being loved and having quality time with Alyssa and me. They want to be with us and play. At some point, having long-term consistent friends and a community will be important. Until then, we can split our time between family adventures around the globe and our Colorado home base.
For these reasons, we actually booked another month-long trip to Europe in the fall. We’re taking some of our own advice into consideration though. For instance, on this trip, we’re going to spend more time going to new places versus posting up in one city for a month. We’re traveling with friends for the full month—caravanning in RVs so we all have our own space. And we’re only going for a month total, versus 2+ months.
After having two months at home in between trips, we feel re-energized and ready to hit the open road again. We’re renting an RV in Paris and exploring France and Spain for a full month and can’t wait.
So the answer is, yes. Yes, we will continue traveling with young kids. I know every moment won’t be perfect. Some days there will be fits or blow outs. I might sip a little less wine and have a little more spit up on me. But this is our one life and in this moment traveling with our kids makes us excited.
More than anything, I love the idea that we’ll be making memories together (even if they won’t remember them, we will).
Have you spent time traveling with your kids? What was your experience like? Good or bad?