As a veteran travel TV show host who has visited more than 250 cities around the world over the last two decades, Samantha Brown knows how to travel. But even for expert travelers, there’s always something new to learn -- for Brown, a big challenge was adjusting to traveling with kids, after her twins were born in 2013. “I do a lot of speaking engagements all over the country, and I've started some of the speeches by saying, ‘I just want to apologize to all the people I gave traveling-with-kids advice to before I'd had some of my own, because I did not know what I was talking about,’” laughs Brown during an interview with Oyster. “All bets are off when you travel with children, especially young children!” Brown and her husband have learned quite a few tricks while traveling with their kids, and we’ve asked her to share her top tips for families on the go.
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1. Make it easy.
“Step one, right off the bat, is make it easy,” says Brown. “By easy, I mean a direct flight. If you’re doing a road trip, make sure it’s not 12, 15 hours — maybe six, tops.” Traveling with kids is certainly doable, but it’s in everyone’s best interest if you make your trips as stress-free as possible. “If you have something in mind that you really want to do, and you have the destination in mind, see if there is something that’s closer to home that is very similar,” advises Brown. You might be surprised at what you might find. For instance, you don’t have to travel to the to find an overwater bungalow — .
2. Choose hotels that are right where you want to be.
Riffing on the “make it easy” mentality, it’s a good idea to book a hotel that’s right near the sights or activities you want to see or do. “If we want to go to the beach, we are going to spend a little extra to stay at a hotel that is right on the beach,” says Brown. “We don’t want to get in the car. We don’t want to load up the car seats, all the bags. We’re already there!”
3. Visit locations where you can get local advice from parents, like playgrounds.
“When I have my children with me on a trip, we always get out to local playgrounds,” says Brown. “There are other parents there, and they’re local.” These are the people to ask for tips about local family-friendly events, sights, or even insider secrets that aren’t often published in travel guides — like the best times to visit a restaurant with kids. As Brown says, “They’ll know there’s a really great restaurant, and it’s really hip and cool, but at five o’clock, it’s mostly families. So you as parents will get a really great meal, but you’re not going to be worried about your kids acting up.”
4. Don’t overschedule.
When you have young kids in particular, keep it simple. “Just do one thing a day, and do it when you’re fresh in the morning,” says Brown. “In the afternoons, people get a little cranky — it doesn’t matter how old you are!” Consider leaving afternoons completely open so you can play it by ear. If everyone still has plenty of energy, you can continue sightseeing, but if everyone has had enough for the day, you can keep it low key, whether that’s napping or letting loose at a playground.
5. Stay at a hotel that serves free breakfast.
It helps if you start your day out right in the easiest way possible. “You’re not trying to find food. You’re not trying to assemble bowls of cereal in your own hotel room, and the milk spills, and now it just smells like sour milk on the carpet,” says Brown. “You go down, you have your cup of coffee, and everyone has pancakes and cereal and eggs, and you just feel better. You’re ready to start your day.”
6. Pack bubbles and balloons to entertain young children on a long travel day — or in the hotel room.
“Two things I never leave home without are bubbles and balloons,” says Brown. “Bubbles allow children to jump up and down and wear themselves out, and for the most part, without running around.” Even better — you can buy containers of bubbles that are less than three ounces, so they’re TSA-friendly and can be taken through security at the airport. Balloons are also very travel-friendly, as when they’re deflated, they barely take up any room in a bag. Plus, “you might be staying in hotels or maybe at relatives’ homes where you can’t necessarily kick a ball around, because you’re going to be destroying things,” says Brown. “But you can never destroy anything with a balloon. It doesn’t make any noise, but it definitely wears kids out. And they have fun!”
7. Choose planes with TVs.
While most planes have in-flight entertainment systems these days — or at least an app for your smartphone or tablet — you might want to double check with your airline to make sure the amenity is offered on your specific flight. “We were traveling during the only snowstorm of February last year and we were stuck on the tarmac for three hours,” Brown recounts. “Those TVs really were little godsends.”
8. If you’re taking a road trip with older kids, listen to podcasts.
It’s easy to lose older kids in the vortex of smartphones and tablets, but if you want to connect with your kids in the car, consider downloading age-appropriate podcasts. “They’re usually fascinating stories about how things work or mysteries,” says Brown. “You’re all kind of gathered around the radio like back in the ’40s, listening to great information coming out. Maybe you can find something that’s actually about the destination you’re going to.”
9. Bring snacks everywhere — even to restaurants.
“The meltdowns happen when the kids are hungry,” says Brown. “And the worst situation to get into is if you’re going to a restaurant and there’s a wait.” Even if you plan on getting to a restaurant at 5 p.m., there could be a wait to get a table, and if the restaurant is particularly busy, there might be a wait for service, and the food might take a long time to come out.
10. Divide and conquer when boarding a plane.
If you’ve flown recently, you’re probably aware that certain groups get to “pre-board” before the rest of the passengers — that includes families with small children. “Usually the whole family goes on at the same time, but that’s not the best tactic,” says Brown. Instead, it’s best to divide and conquer, if possible. Her husband boards early with the car seats and bags, securing the overhead bin space and getting the seats prepared, while she stays at the gate with the kids. “I wait with the kids, and we’re the last people to board the plane,” Brown says. “By the time we get on the plane, the seats are already filled, people are settled, and then we put the children in their seats. Within 15 minutes, knock on wood, we’re leaving.”
This way, children aren’t subjected “to the most stressful part of the plane ride, which is the boarding process,” says Brown. “People are stressed. They’ve been waiting in line. They’re anxious about getting their bags overhead — they shove bags over your head. There are announcements being made. This is tough stuff for a three year old.”
There are the time considerations, too — boarding isn’t known to be the quickest process. If you bring your children on the plane during pre-boarding, they could be sitting onboard for an extra 45 minutes before the plane even pulls away from the gate. “It’s just good to keep the kids away from that,” says Brown.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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