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How to travel the globe with toddlers in tow

Michelle Swadling

Travelling overseas has always played an important part of my life. 

I love experiencing different cultures and exploring new parts of the world.  Days filled with shopping, scenic day tours and  walking around foreign cities.  Nights spent experiencing the local nightlife, dining in restaurants and trying the local tipple.

Travelling with children is a whole new game. My husband and I have been crazy enough to head overseas with our two boys—the first time my eldest was 16-months old and I was pregnant with my second. A year later, we again hit the road with a 10-month old and a two and half-year-old.

The way we approach travel has definitely changed and yours might have too since having children. Whichever stage your at in parenthood, it’s always a challenge when travelling with children. Here are my five tips for travelling with toddlers…

Prepare before you even leave the house

Research the airports you will be passing through.  Many have little playgrounds tucked away. At the Fiumicino Airport in Rome,we found a great playground.  My eldest could burn up some energy before the long-haul flight and we had a chance to relax after offloading our luggage. If you have an airline lounge membership, many lounges have entertainment areas for the kids too. At London’s Heathrow Airport, we were in the British Airways Lounge and had the entire kids’ room to ourselves. The complimentary food and drink is also a winner with the kids!

Airport Transfers

I’m not a fan of using taxis or buses because there are no car seats for the kids. When we are not hiring a rental car, we hire private chauffeured cars to take us to our accommodation. They always include car seats and the drivers will fit them for you. The price is very similar to a taxi fare and there is the additional bonus when the driver helps with the piles of luggage!

HerCanberra founder, Amanda Whitley loves to travel by train as it allows more space for the kids to move about rather than confined to a car. If hopping aboard a train, be sure to check for kiddie discounts. Most train companies offer free fares for infants and toddlers, and reduced fares for those in primary school.

Car Hire

If you are hiring a car, it is sometimes cheaper to purchase a car seat when you arrive at your destination rather than hiring car seats from the rental company. We are lucky enough to have family in England and we ordered our car seats from an online UK baby store. We also ordered bedding and a porta-cot. It saves luggage space, money and we can use it the next time we visit.

Research, research, research!

For each destination we travel to I find local websites with recommendations for kid-friendly restaurants and activities. In Prague, we ate at a restaurant with a 400-metre miniature train running around the place. It even delivers drinks to each table! We also visited a dinosaur park and my now 4-year old still talks about ‘The Dinosaurs in Prague’.

When we were in Rome, we joined a tour of the Colosseum. Bad idea. Firstly, prams and the Colosseum don’t go well together (so many steps!). Secondly, 16-month olds are not particularly interested in historical facts! During the tour, one parent would entertain the toddler while the other managed to listen to the tour guide. I can safely say my trip to the Colosseum did not increase my knowledge of the world’s largest amphitheatre!

Here’s a list of Europe’s most kid-friendly cities.

Guided tours v Private tours

The following year when we travelled, we were wiser and hired private tour guides. The tour consisted of just our family and the local guide. We could choose the time and duration of the tour, working around our kids nap times. Our guide in Prague was called Jana and she was fantastic! We could go at our own pace and make pit stops for nappy changes. Jana pointed out a great playground just minutes away from our apartment and directed us to a quaint restaurant that was off the tourist path. Hiring a private tour guide is a good opportunity to gain local knowledge and all in your own time.

Travelling overseas with children is nothing like our holidays pre-kids. Not only is it a new experience for my children; it’s a new experience for me as a parent. But it does warm my heart to see the joy and wonder in my children’s eyes as they see or discover somewhere new. Forever etched in my mind are images of my then two and half year old stomping his feet as he danced on a table in the Hofbräuhaus in Munich; my eldest enjoying ridiculously priced gelato in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome and my boys chasing squirrels through St James’s Park in London.

The key is to be flexible and know your child’s limits and enjoy showing them the world!

What are your tips and secret tricks to help me travelling afar a little less stressful? 

 Feature image of toddler at airport window courtesy of Shutterstock.


Michelle Swadling

Michelle worked in radio before moving to Canberra several years ago. She loves the opportunities the city offers, whilst still having that "country town feel". Michelle's life is a whirlwind of full time work, studying and raising two active little boys with her husband. More about the Author