The New York Times travel department is rife with parents. We love travel, we love our children and we love traveling with our children.
Until we don’t. We know as well as any that even the best-intentioned child can wreck havoc on the most thought-out travel plans, a dream vacation turned into a horror show thanks to a small creature nearest and dearest to your heart.
Collectively, we have experienced hundreds of travel trips and have learned a thing or two, through the good times and the not-so-good. Here are a few of our favorites that have helped us and our children have happy, healthy and enlightening adventures.
On the road and rails
When traveling on a train with a child, make use of Amtrak’s Red Cap service. It made my train trips a breeze, lowering the stress level of navigating the train station and the crowds. Red Cap service is offered at 12 of Amtrak’s busiest stations, including New York’s Penn Station. These Amtrak employees, wearing red caps, not only provide free help to get your baggage on and off trains, but perhaps even more important board you on the train before the “All Aboard” announcement. I liked how the red cap porters on our trips had a key to the escalators, which they used to change its direction and take us to the platform early. All you do is tip them. — Lynda Richardson
On a road trip, there’s nothing like a good audiobook to keep your kids entertained. And if you, like me, have an ulterior motive — to introduce your children to a few timeless classics — a road trip presents the perfect opportunity. “Dracula” had us all delightfully frightened as we drove through the dark forested hills of North Carolina. The late 19th-century British sleeper, “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog),” by Jerome K. Jerome is so hilarious we nearly had to pull off the road. A sure hit is the timeless “D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths,” with readings by, among others, Paul Newman, Kathleen Turner and Sidney Poitier. — Suzanne MacNeille
In the air
When my son was 2 1/2, we flew cross-country from New York to San Francisco. I bought about six little (and cheap) toys and wrapped them each separately, with a lot of wrapping paper and invisible tape. I would give him one every hour and each took him a while to open. — Phaedra Brown
During a long day of air travel, carrying a baby strapped in a baby carrier gets heavy fast. As soon as he was old enough, I much rather preferred using an inexpensive umbrella stroller for our son. Like other strollers, you can check it at the gate but umbrella strollers snap open with one arm and they are usually very light-weight. If it’s lost or damaged in flight, you aren’t out hundreds of dollars. — Elisabeth Goodridge
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You made it there
After a trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Copenhagen, my 11-month-old son was so grumpy and jet-lagged that he — of course — refused to nap. By a miracle, I had booked us in a hotel next to a park with the most wonderful playground. We took him there and he was happy and engaged for hours. When we got back to the hotel, he slept for 12 hours. I will now only book hotels within a block or two of a park or playground. It’s the perfect antidote to hours on a plane. — Danielle Pergament
For older children, let them do things they want to do — without you. (Do you spend every minute of the day together when you’re not on vacation?) The summer my son was 15, we went to Stockholm. He really wanted to go to the Grona Lund amusement park. I really didn’t want to go to the Grona Lund amusement park. So he went to the park, and my husband and I went to Waldemarsudde, originally the home of Sweden’s Prince Eugen, and now a lovely art museum. My son was by himself in a foreign country where he didn’t speak the language, and he loved every minute of it. On the same trip, while we went out to the restaurant Amass in Copenhagen he stayed back and streamed “Breaking Bad.” It’s one of his favorite memories of vacation, ever. — Amy Virshup
While traveling, you can find yourself in an Airbnb or rental house with no shades or sheer curtains at best. It’s terrible for everyone. Amazon and Home Depot sell paper-accordion blackout shades online and they worked like a miracle. I bought dozens and took them on every trip. Whenever it was time for the kids to take a nap or go to sleep for the night, I’d just unclip them, they’d fall down, and the room was instantly dark. My kids are older now and don’t need them, but I’m still tempted to use them. They’re basically like melatonin. — Danielle Pergament
At the Beach
My favorite beach is one known for strong currents and stronger waves, not particularly the ideal place to relax with a baby or toddler who loves the water. Then one summer day I saw another family who had brought a small baby pool along with all their beach toys. It’s a brilliant idea. With a few buckets of seawater, the baby pool creates a safe, contained space. Your kid will play happily. They won’t miss the waves and you won’t miss the worry. — Elisabeth Goodridge
When your baby or child is wailing inconsolably, and inexplicably, on a plane, train or in a public space offering no escape, just remember that you will never, ever see these people again. Relax. — Lynda Richardson