TRAVEL TIPS: How to Live Like a Local Family When Traveling with Kids – Imagine sitting around a crackling fire years from now. You’ve just cooked a big holiday meal and your now-adult children are regaling you with memories of their childhood vacations.
Mom, remember the chicken nuggets in Rome? They were just like the ones we ate at home! Oh, and that hotel room in San Francisco? Remember how it looked exactly like our room in Tulum? … and the one in Philadelphia? …and the one in London?
Let’s face it, no wander-lusting, travel planning parent wants to hear that!
Family travel is about experiencing new destinations together and getting out of our everyday routines. The best way to do that is to build in some plans of living like a local family during your travels. Here are some tips to help you and your family live like locals wherever you roam.
1. Rent a family-friendly apartment or a house
Choosing a house or apartment rental over a hotel room will not only give you much-needed extra room, it will also let you experience a real neighborhood as you wave hello to your temporary neighbors and get to know your neighborhood.
You might also experience some interesting architectural and home design differences, like a Japanese toilet or a solar home. Just try to avoid “vacation villages” that are so ubiquitous in many coastal areas. Bonus: searching for an out-of-town pied-a-terre will make you feel like you’re on House Hunters.
Browse through VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) to find family-friendly vacation rental homes and apartments around the world.
2. Case out the neighborhood playgrounds
Now that you have a good home base in your adopted town, you’ll need to meet some local families. And what better place to start than the local playground?
If you don’t know where they are, just ask anyone you see with kids and they’ll point you to their favorite play to frolic. We have found some truly beautiful parks that way. Check out this great playground in Paris for example!
3. Shop locally
Although not cooking on vacation sounds great in theory, after one-too-many spilled glasses of juice, side glances from touchy waiters, jet-lagged tantrums, and long waits for tables, restaurant eating starts to take its toll. Plan to eat at least one meal a day at home and you’ll save money and stress.
And here’s the fun part—you’ll get to shop like a local. Visiting local grocery stores is always a favorite family activity when we travel. It’s a fun place to explore and taste new things. When we travel to England, we are always looking for the latest “crisps” or chips.
4. Stretch it out
While it’s tempting to go full Griswold and take in as many places as you can on your vacation, try to limit your trip to one or two places. Slowing down will give you a much better feel for the place and you’ll have a better chance of meeting local folks.
And keep in mind that in many places (I’m looking at you, Western Europe), attractions are only open certain days a week so extending your stay will help ensure you don’t miss some of the sights you came to see.
5. Seek out children’s programs
Most museums have hands-on children’s programs that cater to different age ranges. And you’ll find that most of the attendants are local families.
Take a look at the museum websites and plan to spend a morning or afternoon learning about art, history, or science. The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, for example, has wonderful hands-on arts programs for different age groups, NGA Kids.
6. Learn the lingo
If you’re traveling abroad to a non-English speaking country, it’s a good idea to get some of the basics down. It’s also a fun family activity that will get everyone excited about the trip. And let’s face it, it’s never a bad idea for everyone in the family to learn some basic phrases you can use in an emergency.
The Mango online language series is a great resource and is available for free via many public libraries: www.mangolanguages.com. And if you’ll be traveling with babies or toddlers, you might like today’s post for Travels with Baby, At Least They’ll Speak “English”: A Parent’s Guide to Babytalk Abroad.
7. Take a day trip
Do you have a go-to weekend day trip? An off-the-beaten track gem you recommend to all your visitors? Everyone does, and chances are you won’t find it in a guidebook. This is where your new local playground friends will come in handy.
Ask around. You will get tons of recommendations for great places to go to get off the tourist track and be surrounded by local families. We’ve discovered so many treasures this way, from pottery classes in Taos New Mexico to remote hiking spots in Scotland.
You can also get a great overview of available tours and day trips by searching for your destination here.
8. Get a calendar of events
Before you leave, do a little online sleuthing and find a good source of information about family events in your destination . Will you be there during a children’s film festival? Carnival? An annual parade?
Make a schedule of can’t-miss local events and try to plan around it. You will undoubtedly get more out of it than trudging through yet another museum and you’ll learn so much about the local culture.
Time Out has lists of children’s events and activities in a number of U.S. and international cities. Also check out Tiny Beans if you’re headed to Washington, DC, New York, Atlanta, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, or Chicago.
9. Mix up your rides
If you’re like many of us, you and your kids spend a lot of your day in your car. Unless you’re actually going on a road trip, don’t let that happen on your vacation! Take the metro, the ferry, the funicular, and the moto-taxi. It’s often the cheapest way to travel and your kids will see something beyond the back seat of the car.
10. Take a cooking class
It’s no secret that one of the best ways to get to know a culture is through its food. Taking a local cooking class is a great family activity and it just might nudge the picky eater in your group to try something new.
And what better souvenir to bring home than a recipe you can make yourself, that will evoke the scent and taste of that long-ago vacation? Search TripAdvisor for cooking classes in your next destination.
So let’s flash forward… You’ve just finished a wonderful meal of home-made pasta prepared by your eldest child—the “famous” recipe he learned in a kid-friendly cooking class in Rome.
Your youngest is regaling you with memories of the waterfall you stumbled upon on your hike in Vermont that was recommended to you by those lovely neighbors who lived next to your farmhouse rental all those years ago. The ones who just sent you a holiday card–because for those few precious days you were really living there. You were a local.
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