When friends and family call me crazy for traveling with my toddler and preschooler to cities like Chicago, New York, and Toronto, I just laugh. My kids have munched on picnic treats while watching the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Millennium Park, clambered up the monkey bars in the shadow of the arch in Washington Square Park and peered through the glass floor on the observation deck of the CN tower. Though it wasn’t always easy navigating the city streets with two little ones in tow, it was well worth the trouble. I had a fantastic time and I could tell from the way they talked about the trips for months afterward that my kids had a great time too.
The city is full of fun and educational activities for children. From skyscrapers to top-notch museums, kids can see and experience things that are simply unavailable in small towns. Though city travel with small children can be challenging, with careful planning and attention to detail everyone can have a good time. Here are a few tips to help the trip go smoothly:
Take a stroller. Even if it’s been a while since your child has used a stroller, you’ll be glad you brought it. City trips tend to involve a good deal of walking from spot to spot and a little one can tire out easily. With a stroller he can ride in comfort and you won’t worry about losing him in a crowd. I’ve found that the inexpensive umbrella strollers work much better than the large, heavy-duty strollers complete with food trays and cup holders. Umbrella strollers fold up smaller and are lighter, making them more convenient for toting up and down flights of stairs or carrying onto the subway.
Make frequent stops at playgrounds. The best part of visiting a city can be simply strolling around, popping into unusual shops, watching the people and enjoying the city energy. Remember that while your toddler or preschooler might be very patient, he’s got his limits. I’ve found that stopping to play for a few minutes at playgrounds that we happen upon is a great way for the little ones to work some of their energy off. They also love the novelty of playing on different equipment than the same old stuff found at the parks back home.
Bring a travel pack of wipes. Even if you’re not a germ nazi, you’ll be glad you did. Those city playgrounds, banisters and benches can be extremely dirty, but after cleaning the little one’s hands up with a wipe you’ll feel more comfortable about letting her dig into a tasty hot dog from a street vendor.
Choose your eateries carefully. If you’re eating at a nice sit-down restaurant, make sure it’s noisy enough to absorb your child’s prattle. I learned that one the hard way when, tired out from our long drive, we decided to eat at our Chicago hotel’s in-house restaurant, the kind of place with a hushed atmosphere and waiters in white gloves hovering about. Naturally my two-year-old decided to belt out the “itsy-bitsy-spider” over and over again. We wound up having the meal sent up to our room. The next night we chose a popular, lively Italian restaurant where the little guy was no louder than anyone else in the place.
Plan activities for kids. Big cities offer all sorts of interesting and educational activities for children of all ages. Do a little research online and in guidebooks ahead of time to find a few age appropriate sights for your child. Has it been over twenty years since you took part in any of these activities yourself? You just might find yourself enjoying seeing the tyrannosaurus rex skeleton at the natural history museum and watching the polar bears glide through the water at the zoo.
Plan activities for adults. Destinations like art museums can still be on the agenda, but keep in mind your child’s limitations and be ready to cut the outing short if need be. Try to engage him at the art museum. Ask questions like: “What do you see in that picture? Do you see a boat? What picture do you like best in this room?” Visit any children’s exhibits the museum might have and ask at the information desk which exhibits are the biggest hits for kids.
Take the bus or subway. Mass transit is an adventure for a small town kid. After the trip is over, he’ll talk about it as much as the dinosaur bones. Try to avoid traveling at rush hour, though, when the sardine can atmosphere might be overwhelming for a little one.