Summer Travel with Kids

This January we managed to survive the “Snowpocalypse” (or was it a “Snow-mageddon”?) during our New York New Years trip and I posted a few tips on traveling in winter with small children. This summer we’re facing another weather related challenge: traveling to Italy in July and August with the kids. To be perfectly honest, given the choice I’d pick the snow.

Here’s my reasoning: when it’s cold outside you always have the option of putting on more clothing. When it’s too hot, you can only do so much. Most places that get cold also have a fairly good variety of options for getting warm. Hotels are well heated, indoor public spaces are comfortable and you always have the option of popping into a coffee shop to warm your fingers and re-energize yourself. Cold weather ramps up your metabolism as well. The kids may be ravenously hungry but as long as you keep them fueled up they will do just fine.

Hot weather is another matter entirely. In North America it’s not too hard to find air conditioned indoor spaces in summer, but many places in Europe get very hot and air conditioning isn’t always easy to find, especially for budget travelers. Asia can be even worse. Hot weather also saps your energy level in a way that cold weather never does. I find that after a day or two in a hot climate I feel lethargic and my appetite is gone. I constantly worry that the kids aren’t getting enough to eat and drink and everyone gets crabby and tense.

But, sometimes you have no choice in the timing of your vacation, and since there’s nothing you can do to change the weather, the only thing you can do is prepare for it as well as you can. Now a lot of the advice out there for warm weather travel is pretty obvious. Stay hydrated, wear loose cotton clothing, bring sunscreen. I’m going to assume that if you live somewhere that even occasionally gets warm and your kids are still alive at this point you already know that. I’ve tried to dig a wee bit deeper when planning for this upcoming trip and here are the things I’m trying to keep in mind as I prepare for touring Southern Europe in the hottest part of summer.

1) Bring fluids your kids like to drink

It may seem obvious that if you’re hot and thirsty you’ll want to drink fluids. But you’re not a preschooler. On our last Disneyland trip in 2012 we faced an unexpected October heatwave that drove temperatures above 38 degrees Celsius. I thought I was prepared by bringing lots of water and juice, but my then two year old son decided he didn’t like water that day and the brand of juice they sold there tasted “funny”. Hours went by in the hot sun with only a few sips of fluids going into the boy. Finally, one of his meals came with a small jug of chocolate milk which he gulped down immediately. For the rest of the trip we bought chocolate milk every time we stopped and managed to keep him reasonably hydrated. At home I’m pretty strict about empty calories in drinks. I usually serve only one glass of juice a day, limit chocolate milk to special occasions and never have soft drinks or fruit punch in the house. But I’ve noticed that I can’t quite trust my young kids to drink enough water to stay hydrated on their own when it’s really hot, so whatever I can offer that will get them drinking is okay with me.

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2) Bring containers your kids like to use

While my four year old son doesn’t really care how his fluids are delivered, my five year old daughter recently developed an interest in carrying a “real” plastic water bottle just like a grown up. She will screw the plastic lid on and off, on and off, taking a sip or two of water each time. So when we’re traveling somewhere hot, I whisper a silent apology to the earth and buy her bottles of water to drink. Other kids may ignore a water bottle but empty a juice box whenever it’s offered, or love the novelty of drinking from a brand new sippy cup with a favourite character on it. Heck, your long weaned toddler may be thrilled to be offered a bottle at bed time. Experiment with containers that are easy to carry and fun for your kids to use because there’s no point in bringing drinks along if your kid drops it in the basket of the stroller or the bottom of a pack in the morning and never touches it again.

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3) Don’t assume there will be air conditioning

As I mentioned earlier, air conditioning is pretty common throughout North America. Even the cheapest motel will usually have a unit in the window. European air conditioning can be hit and miss. Often it’s only turned on in the hottest months and is often set to a warmer setting. In many parts of Asia only the most expensive lodgings will have air conditioning and often there is a surcharge. If having air conditioning is non negotiable for your family you need to do your research.

This doesn't count

This doesn’t count

4) Adapt your schedule to the weather

You know the saying, “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun”? Well in many places you could replace “Englishmen” with “tourists”. Dragging your family around town during the hottest part of the day is a surefire way to ruin your summer trip. Instead, we try to resist the urge to lounge in bed during the comfortable morning hours. By getting an early start before it heats up, we can then take a siesta during the hottest part of the day. If your lodgings are close by and cool enough you could take a nap or a reading break after lunch or you could make lunch your main meal of the day and relax at a restaurant for a drawn out meal. Evenings are the best part of the day in many warm countries and by resting up midday you’ll have the energy to participate in some evening strolling and people watching in the cool hours after dark. Another bonus is that pictures look best in the morning and evening; that beautiful town square doesn’t look as picturesque in the glaring noonday sun.

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5) Be strategic while sightseeing

This advice is important for both cold weather and hot weather travel. When it’s sweltering outside the last thing you want to do is drag your family on a long trek across town to get to your next sight. One strategy that works for us is to head out to the farthest sight first, while it’s cool and energy levels are highest. We work our way back so that we’re close to our hotel, or the place where we want to have lunch when we want to take a break. It’s also best to plan outdoor sights in the morning or evening and try to fit air conditioned museums into the hotter hours.

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6) Check your meds

Okay, this is the nurse in me talking, but one thing you don’t often hear about is the effect that certain medications can have on your body’s ability to keep cool. A sudden change from cool weather at home to a hot destination can make you especially vulnerable. Many drugs can have these effects including medications for high blood pressure, decongestants, antidepressants, and allergy pills. Parents should be aware that many common ADHD medications are also included. There are far too many to give details here so make sure you talk to your health care provider. Another thing to remember is that many medications cannot be stored at temperatures above 25 degrees Celsius or so. Make sure you leave them behind in your room instead of carrying them around town in your day pack.

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And that’s about all I can think of for now. Hopefully our trip to Italy and the Med won’t be too ridiculously hot this summer, but if it is I”m sure we’ll manage to have a great time anyway. And of course, hot weather is always a good excuse to have more gelato!

gelato-sweet-toothed-travelers-guide-to-italian-desserts

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