When put in context, travel planning is pretty easy before having kids. True, you probably spent time searching for the best flight deals and scoping out the coolest neighborhoods to explore before leaving home, but most of your travel decisions likely came down to personal preference.
Once you have kids, though, things are decidedly trickier. Finding destinations that have plenty of child-friendly eating options, manageable activities, and family amenities are sometimes so tough that it can be tempting to just head for a kid-friendly resort and call it a day. While there’s definitely nothing wrong with opting for a family resort, we talked to mothers who have taken their kids on untraditional trips—and said it was the best thing they ever did.
Here, 10 stylish moms recall their favorite kid-friendly destinations and share their best tips to make it memorable.
Get Everyone Involved
Zoie Kingsbery Coe, founder of Kid & Coe, mom of two
Considering that Coe’s business is a hand-picked collection of beautiful places to stay with kids around the world, it only makes sense that she would have a ton of knowledge to share when it comes to making the most of a family vacay.
“I think it’s important to find a place that will keep everyone happy and entertained. For example, we just visited Madrid, where we were able to mix a bit of the Prado museum for myself and my artistic daughter, balanced out by a soccer stadium tour for my footy-obsessed husband and son. And of course we all enjoyed visiting the oldest spot in the city for churros con chocolate caliente.”
Coe also has an amazing trick for keeping the whole family happy that’s definitely worth a try: If your kids are old enough, spend a little time before the trip doing research together, and let each family member pick something they really want to do when you arrive. “I find a little forward thinking and planning makes the trip easier,” she says.
Embrace a Different Culture
“The best, most unique trip was when I took my kids to Hong Kong and Tokyo,” says Chan. “We stayed at an Airbnb a little bit away from the city, so it was kind of fun to experience the suburban living and pretended we were locals. But I love seeing my kids being exposed to different culture, languages, and food. I love witnessing their curiosity through travel, especially to foreign countries.” Though international travel with kids isn’t always easy, Chan thinks it’s 100% worth it. “I won’t say it will always go in your favor, especially when it comes to food, but I think it’s a good thing to open up their minds at an early age.”
Go Somewhere Meaningful
Rebecca Minkoff, fashion designer and founder of Rebecca Minkoff, mom of two
Sometimes a destination you already know really well can be the best place to bring the whole family. “Last year my family and I went to Italy. Not only was the trip itself memorable, but Italy also holds a special place in my heart,” says Minkoff. “It is a source of creative inspiration, a place where I’ve traveled many times, and also where my wedding was. Our trip was incredible; we were so relaxed. I miss it just thinking about it.” In terms of practical stuff, Minkoff recommends you “plan your packing ahead of time, and only pack the essentials! If you have a long flight, make sure you have plenty for your kids to do on the plane and lots of snacks.”
Get Off the Grid
Seasoned traveler MacPherson says the trips that create the most lasting memories usually have one major thing in common. “As a general rule of thumb, the harder a place is to get to, the better the vacation will be,” she says. “We like to push the limits. Tomorrow we are heading to see my 80-year-old surfing mother-in-law who lives part-time in Scorpion Bay, Baja. It’s a seven-hour drive north of Cabo and has limited resources (read: no Wi-Fi, no electricity). It is breathtaking. When we go places like this I make sure to pack a carry-on with things like puzzles, coloring books, etc.” As for her number one tip for traveling with kids? “Just do it! In the end, the mishaps (and there will be many), will just add to the memories.”
Choose a Family-Friendly City
Justina Blakeney, founder of The Jungalow, mom of one
“We took Ida (now four) to Denmark for six weeks when she was still a baby. That trip was just incredible,” says Blakeney. “Copenhagen is a very family-friendly city. There are parks and playgrounds everywhere. Many restaurants, cafés, and museums have areas designed just for children, and within a short train ride there are beautiful beaches, castles, and lush forests to explore.” Finding a destination that has lots of kid-oriented options and attractions is absolutely key.
Mary Helen Bowers, professional ballerina and founder of Ballet Beautiful, mom of two
When you’ve got kids to consider, little conveniences, like the ability to make your own food, can go a long way. “We travel frequently, and I love to bring the kids,” says Bowers. “One of my favorite trips with the girls was going to Paris last December while working and training with the models in the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.”
While there, the family rented an apartment in their favorite neighborhood, complete with a cooking area. “Staying in a house or apartment with a kitchen helps to keep kids on a routine where they can eat and play in a home environment,” she says. “Our kids are still very young, 1 and 3 years old. I try to limit eating out to once a day. I think the more you can get in a groove and relax, the better!”
While it does take some strategic effort, the experiential takeaway is totally worth it. “I’ve found that traveling with our children makes us more open to exploring together, trying and experiencing new things. There is nothing that Lumina, our 3-year-old daughter, loves more than getting out her suitcase and packing for a new adventure! Some of our happiest memories are scooting through the Tuileries in Paris, running through the dunes to the beach in Martha’s Vineyard, and dining alfresco in Rome.”
Bring a Stroller
Graciela Gauna, Instagram blogger, mom of two
“My lifesaver when traveling with kids is a baby carrier or a really good stroller,” says Guana. “We have taken our baby carrier and stroller to so many places around the world, from big cities like Istanbul, Barcelona, Berlin, and Buenos Aires to more quiet places like Ardennes, Iguazú, Normandy, and Palafrugell. Every time I was so glad I brought these two traveling essentials because you can do everything, and the kids can nap in the stroller or carrier.”
Spend Some One-on-One Time
Aya Brackett, photographer, mom of one
“We went to Paris for two weeks this February for work and vacation. My 2.5-year-old, Miya, and I have traveled a bit domestically, but never internationally, so it was extremely exciting to finally get abroad again,” explains Brackett. “I was also pretty apprehensive about the flight and how much eating out, museums, and other fun things we would actually be able to do with a volatile toddler. It turned out we had a great time, and it has emboldened me to take more trips together soon.”
Her favorite moment of the trip, though, was actually when she got to spend some alone time with her daughter. “One day we spent just the two of us and had a very sweet dinner together. Our apartment was in the center of the Marais, and we had a simple dinner seated outside a bistro. We sat at a small table and clinked our wine and water together to cheers a dozen or more times, shared a prosciutto and goat cheese salad, and watched the passersby on the street. I didn’t feel like heading inside our nearby apartment yet (not the normal routine rush for bedtime), so we headed to another café to have a coffee and ice cream. It all sounds mundane, but it was total bliss that we were able to sit at not one but two restaurants with no meltdowns and lots of giggles.”
Create a Routine
Kirsten Carriol, founder of Lano, mom of two
“Going through airports is usually fun and exciting, especially when we first depart on a journey,” notes Carriol. “I have this weird tradition of dressing my children in matching red Adidas tracksuits. We call them their ‘travelling tracksuits,’ and they hark back to when they were smaller and I wanted to always remember what they were wearing if they went missing in an airport! When they put these tracksuits on now, we know we are ready for action!” Adorable, right?
Go With the Flow
Erin Hiemstra, founder of Apartment 34, mom of one
“Last October, we took a trip to Maui. While my pre-kids vacations were adventure-filled and focused on finding hidden gems and local hot spots, this vacation was the complete opposite,” explains Hiemstra. “I loved it. Carter was just 18 months old, but the timing was perfect. He loved the beach, the ocean, the animals, the plants, the food. He was just enthralled with everything. We could sit back and relax while he entertained himself for hours in the sand.”
Also, don’t freak out about making sure everything is going perfectly. “Give yourself the space to relax. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in caring for everyone else, managing the logistics, making sure you’re prepared for any scenario,” she says. “If you run out of something, so what, order more. If you go on a two-week vacation and forget to pack your underwear (happened to me), no big deal. That’s why I worship at the feet of Amazon Prime. Travel has the potential to be so stressful, essentially negating the entire point of a vacation, so if you can go with the flow, everyone will be better for it.”
Where was your best-ever family vacation, and what made it so special?