When parents-to-be worry about the sacrifices they’ll have to make after having children, travel often sits at the top of their list. While it’s true that traveling with little ones will be different than what you’re used to, it’s still possible to indulge your wanderlust and explore new places as a family.
As you may have gathered from your paltry parental leave, the U.S. is not always the most welcoming country for families with children. Many other nations show more consideration for kids and parents in both their public policies and their cultural practices. Not all of these locales feature bathroom changing tables or stroller-friendly streets, but there is often a shared expectation that kids will be integrated into daily life, whether they’re riding public transit, dining out or visiting a national monument.
During one of our early forays abroad as parents, my wife and I took our 1-year-old to the Dominican Republic. We looked pretty ridiculous maneuvering our stroller through the cobblestone streets of old Santo Domingo, but everyone we interacted with was helpful and kind. A waiter in a traditional restaurant even picked up our baby and cheerfully walked around with him for a bit so that we could use both hands to enjoy our food. All our fellow diners got to watch our son return their smiles and bestow on him the standard “Dios le bendiga” (“God bless him”) that Dominicans offer every child who crosses their path.
If you’re itching to roam beyond the U.S. with your kids, here are some recommendations from families with lots of travel experience. Of course, not every part of any country will be suited for kids, but these families were able to find child-friendly spots for making memories.
“The most important thing to remember there is that countries are not monoliths, and some parts of a city may be perfectly safe while others are not,” digital nomad and mom Courtney Orgias told HuffPost.
The Dominican Republic
In addition to a child-friendly culture, the all-inclusive resorts in beachy places like Puerto Plata can simplify life for families traveling with young ones.
“You don’t have to worry about lugging a carseat to multiple places or renting a car. They also typically have toddler pools, kids areas, activities and sometimes childcare. The buffets offer a variety of foods so there’s a good chance you’ll find something the baby/toddler will enjoy. The rooms also typically come with refrigerators for storing the baby’s food and milk,” Stephanie Claytor, founder of the brand Blacktrekking, told HuffPost.
Claytor mentions that similar all-inclusive accommodations, alongside white sand beaches and turquoise Caribbean water, are available in Jamaica.
“We took our son to Negril for his second birthday. Our favorite memory is of him dancing on the beach to reggae music during the all-white party on his birthday. We had no idea he could bust a move. He loved the party and reggae music. We of course were in the back away from the crowded dance floor but were still able to enjoy the DJ,” said Claytor.
She recommends looking for places that offer refrigerators (for breastfeeding parents who need to pump milk), ample shade and outdoor dining — “so that I’m not embarrassed when my son breaks out in loud singing or accidentally throws some food.”
With young children, almost any place can be kid-friendly. “Toddlers and babies are amused by the simplest things such as wood chips and stairways,” Claytor said. So if there’s a destination you’re keen to visit with your little one, you can probably find a way to make it work — just be ready to spend an afternoon collecting rocks instead of devouring your novel in the sun.
“Try to get out of your head any images of long afternoons lounging by the pool sipping cocktails,” said British travel blogger Jenny Lynn. “As a parent traveling with kids you still have to be ‘on,’” she continued. “But traveling provides you with a constantly changing backdrop to take on those daily parent chores, and with new adventures to experience together, daily life becomes all the more rewarding.”
“Lisbon can seem intimidating to explore with small kids because of all the hills — nobody wants to carry a toddler or push a stroller up a 30% incline — but we were able to take the bus to most places and found it to be efficient and clean; there were stops everywhere,” said Orgias.
Ample parks and green spaces allowed the kids to get their wiggles out and break up a day of sightseeing, she added.
Public transportation also makes Mexico City (Mexico D.F.) more navigable for families, according to Orgias. It “has a great train system we were able to utilize and it’s very walkable, with lots of wonderful neighborhoods that are easy to explore on foot,” she said.
“Worrying about traveling with car seats and hopping in and out of ride shares and taxis is scary for a lot of parents,” she explained, but good public transportation options can allay these concerns.
If your kids eat rice and beans, they’ll have always something to nosh on with gallo pinto at every meal. Maria De la O of Roam Family Travel told HuffPost that year-round access to fresh fruit also made it easy to keep kids satisfied.
There’s plenty to see, between the jungle and the beach. De la O and her family booked a tour via National Geographic Expeditions with local guides and saw about 20 different animals during their stay.
“We of course stayed in hotels with pools and allowed at least an hour or two a day just for the kids to do that,” she added.
“The CN Tower, Centre Island and the many summer festivals in the city all present opportunities for novelty, learning and bonding in Toronto. It’s a city with so much cultural diversity that there’s always something to do, indoor & outdoor,” said Orgias.
For animal lovers, Toronto features a zoo and an aquarium. In warmer months, you can take the ferry to Toronto Island Park and enjoy bike trails, picnic areas and even an amusement park. You can also tour Niagara Falls from Toronto.
On the French-Canadian side, Montreal offers plenty of parks, museums and historical sites to keep the whole family occupied. If you’re looking for European-style flair and cobblestone streets, check out Quebec City a bit further north.
“Namibia gets our vote as one of the best places for intrepid family travel,” said Lynn, the U.K. travel blogger quoted above. She recommends forgoing an organized tour and instead renting your own 4x4 with roof tents. “The quality of roads is generally very good and the campsites are seriously fantastic (there’s often a pool),” she added.
In addition to “lunar landscapes” and safari wildlife, Namibia offers “a low malaria risk, good health care, German bakeries in every town, and an amazing climate,” Lynn said.
“It’s so close to Europe, yet feels a world away with vibrant medinas, sweeping apricot-colored deserts, and jagged snow capped mountains,” Lynn said.
Orgias said some of her favorite memories are of Morocco: “When our kids were 9 months and 3 years we spent Christmas Day riding camels and hiking through the Atlas Mountains in Marrakech. It was such a surreal experience to be able to gift them with these amazing bucket list activities.”
She described Marrakech as “a fast paced city that allows kids and
adults alike to get wrapped up in the blend of rich cultures.”
Lynn said the country is “very doable” by car.
“Kids will love sandboarding in the Sahara Desert, trekking the Atlas Mountains on a mule, or surfing the waves in Essaouira” — a coastal town Lynn found remarkably stroller-friendly.
“Thailand is easily one of the most accessible countries we’ve visited with the boys,” said Lynn. Her family enjoyed “the energy, the ornate temples, the colorful markets, the polite people and the food… and of course the incredible beaches!”
Thailand boasts a plethora of street vendors selling delicious snacks. Lynn says her kids enjoyed sticky rice, banana pancakes, mango and other tropical fruits.
“Many restaurants, even along the once-backpacker enclave of Th Khao San, have highchairs, and we found that some beach restaurants in Ko Lanta have toys and kids’ play areas,” she said.
Orgias recommends Amsterdam for families taking their first journey abroad together, describing it as “safe, clean” and friendly to speakers of English.
“The city is walkable, offers lots of child-friendly museums and activities,” she said.
And if you get the itch to venture out even further, Paris is just a 3.5-hour train ride away!
De la O recommended European destinations in general for travel with a baby. “Pushing a sleeping child in a stroller or walking them in a Baby Bjorn or baby backpack is a perfect way to sightsee, so take advantage of the museums and Gothic churches you won’t be able to enjoy when your child gets a little older.”
However, she advises, “Forgo your fancy jogging stroller and bring a cheap umbrella stroller on your trip. They are soooo much more maneuverable and travel-friendly.”