Traveling to a Big City with Little Kids

Before our boys came along, Mike and I lived in NYC for a year. His job brought us out there and I was able to work from my NYC office for the year. It was an amazing experience – we LOVED the city. We miss it a lot, and like to visit often. We have taken my oldest son, Maximus, several times, and he talks about NYC all the time.

Some people think we are crazy for vacationing in a big city with kids, but honestly, it’s so much fun! From our NYC trips and our recent London trips, we’ve learned how to navigate, manage and have fun on a big city trip with kids. Here are our tips for traveling to a big city with kids!

London Science Museum

1) Have realistic expectations
This is not going to be a vacation where you spend hours on end in museums, in long lines waiting for touristy things and shopping. Do your research on the best spots for your kids (natural history and children’s museums, aquariums, toy stores, kid friendly restaurants etc.) to visit ahead of time and make sure these are on your itinerary. Websites like Mommy Poppins have great kid guides for cities. Here are a few of my own kid-travel posts:
Toronto with a Toddler
Overnight Trip to Cleveland

Also, be flexible. If your kids are tired or having a cranky day, you’ll probably NOT want to take them to a history museum, and instead nap at the hotel. If kids are napping, take turns as to who can go out and explore in peace, and who is on nap duty at the hotel.

Beautiful school playground in London

2) Map out the parks

Always have options mapped out where kids can run. Depending on how busy the city is that you are in, kids may have to spend more time than usual in their strollers. We always use Google Maps to search for the nearest parks or playgrounds where kids can run. Instead of eating lunch in a restaurant, we’ve been known to get to-go options and have picnics so kids can play and get wiggles out. I usually use Google Maps to add these places to my Favorites list so I can easily locate them later.

London Science Museum

3) Baby carriers, backpack harnesses, and more!
I use to say I’d never be the kind of mom to put their kids on a leash (I also told myself I’d never take my kids to Chuck E. Cheese – snow days call for desperate measures!). My oldest son never really strayed far from us. My second son, on the other hand, is a wild man. He just runs, without looking, without care, he’s gone!

I was gifted this Stephen Joseph Little Buddy bag and it was a lifesaver on our trip to London. The backpack itself is super light and quilted. It’s very cozy and could double as a pillow in transit! My son is very large for his age, and the backpack fit very comfortably on him with the adjustable straps. There is an optional waist/chest strap as well, so he can’t slip the backpack off. He wasn’t happy with it for the first few minutes it was on, but then once he realized this still allowed him to run around (as far as the leash would let him) he was extremely comfortable in it. In return, we had peace of mind that he couldn’t wonder off and we were able to enjoy the sites as well. This backpack is also nice for you to keep a diaper, wipes and a snack in.

If you have an infant with you, make sure you pack your baby carrier. Sometimes it just takes a change of view to pacify a little one.

4) A stroller + Mommy Hooks
Most people were surprised to see us bring a double stroller to our last trip to London. Most people assume that a 4.5 year old will walk everywhere….not mine! My oldest son spent more time in the stroller than my younger one. Don’t be turned off by the thought of flying with a stroller…it’s so easy! In my opinion, strollers make airport travel with kids even easier. You can use the stroller to push kids (or luggage!) right to your gate, and gate check the stroller as soon as you step onto the plane. Most airlines let you gate check your stroller for free (side note: I’d recommend a stroller travel bag to prevent scrapes and tears in stroller fabric).

Strollers are also great for napping. If you’re lucky, you can tire your kids out and then enjoy a peaceful lunch like we did in London (the above picture is what 3 museums in 4 hours will do to kids).

5) Snacks + reusable water bottles
Water bottles and snacks can get expensive when traveling. Make sure to bring kid-friendly reusable water bottles from home, and plan on stopping at a grocery store when you get to your destination, to stock up for your days sightseeing (snacks are extremely marked up when you are around touristy spots). I like these water bottles since I can push the straw in and it won’t get dirty when they drop them (because you know, they WILL get dropped!).

I’d love to hear where people have been with their kids in the comments below. Please share any tips or must-see stops that are kid-friendly!

5 thoughts on “Traveling to a Big City with Little Kids

  1. Some good tips. I don't have kids but for myself, I definitely bring snacks, and stock up on water bottles when I get there, especially if my hotel or Airbnb has a fridge (and if my hotel doesn't have a fridge, I usually ask if they can drop off one in the room, too).

  2. Great tips! We traveled quite a bit with our first child. I kind of miss the convenience of strollers and diaper bags now that my kids are older and carry their own things when we travel! LOL

  3. These are great tips. Kids being tired or hungry will ensure a meltdown. Heck, I meltdown if I'm hungry or tired. I love that you're making these memories with you kids.

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