There is a new Twitter travel chat in town. It’s something to be excited about and I’m proud to be involved. It’s called #JAchat and it was started by my friend and fellow travel blogger, Pola Henderson, of Jetting Around. The main focus of Pola’s blog is city travel and culture and that theme has carried over to #JAchat. Every week brings a new topic relating to city travel and as a chat co-host, I am heavily involved. Last week’s topic was one I’m familiar with: urban family travel. Everyone had wonderful ideas and advice to share so I thought I’d sum it up in a neat little post for those who missed #JAchat and for anyone who needs a bit of encouragement to venture out into the big cities to travel with kids.
Here’s how #JAchat (and just about every Twitter chat) works: on Fridays at 1pm ET, participants follow the hashtag #JAchat. Questions are determined ahead of time by Pola with the help of her co-hosts (Dave Cole, Romy Mlinzk, and myself). The first question goes live at 1pm ET and a new question is posted every five minutes after that. Participants answer the questions and chat with one another in the meantime, all by tweeting their answers and comments using the hashtag #JAchat.
I will share each question from the urban family travel chat, followed by my answers and those from some of the other chat participants.
Q1.What are some benefits & challenges of traveling to a big city with children?
I answered, “Benefit: possibility for the kids to be exposed to a number of different cultures all in one place”. I had Chicago, my hometown, in mind when I came up with that answer. Chicago is a city of diverse ethnic neighborhoods, each offering its own vibe and flavor. With a bit of careful planning, a couple of days in Chicago can amount to a mini trip around the world! I imagine other U.S. cities like New York and San Francisco are similar in this regard (I wouldn’t know first-hand since, ahem, I’ve visited neither). Another answer came from @katherinebel: “Benefits would be lots of variety and options for the kids.” Spot-on because, really, who doesn’t like options??
As for the challenges, my first thought was public transportation since I’ve experienced the chaos of public transport in places like Rome and Istanbul. It’s chaotic even without kids. This goes hand-in-hand with @BrianEub‘s answer, that traveling with children makes us a bigger target for pickpockets. I can appreciate that comment but it just means we have to be extra careful and extra vigilant.
Q2: Which cities would you recommend for family travel?
Naturally, Chicago again comes to mind. But another city where we had an absolute blast is Boston. It’s incredibly walkable and there is history around every corner. We walked a portion of The Freedom Trail, visited with the ducklings in the Public Garden, celebrated our Italian heritage in the North End, and got to see Fenway Park (even if only the outside of it). Boston has something for everyone in the family. Another city that was a pleasure to visit with children is Naples. As in Italy. Napoli. It really has nothing to do with the attractions or the activities, but it has everything to do with the people. I neapolitani LOVE children and my little towhead was no exception. I was a little nervous about going to Naples with a young child but those worries quickly dissipated once we experienced the genuine warmth of the people.
Q3: How do you keep your family, especially the little ones, safe when visiting a big city?
My suggestion here is to try to travel to big cities during low season so as to avoid the larger crowds. Along those same lines, @CharlesMcCool suggests that families “Avoid rush hours and peak meal times.” @trishavelarmino mentioned having “all the necessary health care needs”. It got me thinking that staying safe isn’t only about avoiding falling victim to criminal activity; it’s also about staying healthy. For this reason, it’s a good idea to know the location of a hospital or clinic wherever you’re staying. When we were in Rome and my daughter became ill, it got to the point where we thought we were going to have to visit a hospital emergency room in the middle of the night. Luckily, we were staying someplace with reliable wifi so I was able to look up the closest hospital. Just to be safe, now I find out the nearest medical facilities at our destination before departure.
Q4: Suggestions on saving a few bucks when traveling in a big city with your family?
I’ve found that the easiest way to save some money while on the road, without depriving anyone of any type of cultural exposure, is to make as many of our own meals as possible. This means we’d need accommodations with a kitchen or, at the very least, a refrigerator. Such amenities are standard in some hotel chains, but the best option for the traveling family, in my opinion, is a self-catering rental. These types of properties allow for the comforts of home as well as a bit of privacy for each member of the family. If you travel like my family (as in, a grandparent is usually along for the trip), personal space is a coveted commodity. Staying in an apartment or condo means we can do some grocery shopping shortly after arrival to stock up on the staples. We save a few bucks by preparing most of our meals, like we would if we were at home, while getting to shop alongside the locals and trying the local products and delicacies. Not having to pack up the kids and head out for each meal, especially breakfast, also eliminates some stress. That aspect alone is priceless!
To save some money on attractions, @hendo_74 suggests using CityPASS booklets. These are purchased ahead of time and include discounted admission to the most popular attractions in ten North American cities and Southern California. I used CityPASS myself last year when I played tourist in Chicago and loved it. For some of the attractions, we were able to bypass the long lines and go right in. Again, that is priceless.
Q5. When it comes to accommodations, what do you look for when making plans to stay in a big city with your family?
By now, you already know what kind of accommodations I prefer (see my answer to Q4), but there is a bit more to it. I try to find out in what type of area or neighborhood the property is before booking. That is where the internet and social media factor in. For example, when we were planning our stay in Rome, I came across a cute, comfortable-looking, very affordable hotel – with breakfast included – in Tuscolano, a neighborhood of the city I was not familiar with. I took to Twitter to ask residents and more knowledgeable Rome travelers about it and learned that Tuscolano is completely residential (read: hardly any tourists), family-oriented, safe, and steps from the Metro. Yes, I was trusting the opinions of strangers but my gut instinct said to go for it, and I’m so glad we did. It was not my first time in Rome so I didn’t feel the need to stay near all the top attractions, and I treasured the opportunity to mingle with Roman families in the neighborhood. We shopped in their markets, played in their parks, and walked on their sidewalks. It ranks as one of my top travel experiences.
Q6. Children can get tired of museums after a while. What other activities do you seek out when visiting cities?
Sometimes the kids just need to play, you know? While we’re out exploring, if we come upon a park or an open space, it’s playtime. When the kids need to let off some steam, just let ’em run. Public parks can also be perfect for the kids to mingle with the local youngsters. My daughter had the best time playing with the little Italian kids in Naples. They were speaking to her in Italian and it brought me to tears. She couldn’t answer them but what an exercise in cultural and language immersion.
There were many fantastic answers to this question during #JAchat that I’m just going to copy them here:
- “parks, beaches, riverwalks, bakeries, zoos, etc. Cities have so many activities nobody should be bored!” @hendo_74
- “don’t discount the power of finding other kids. they will learn new games (as we did in Ireland) or just free play.” @CharlesMcCool
- “Sports games, local candy stores, any tower/bridge with views.” @jettingaround
- “Go to the Zoo or Aquariums or Legoland (Denmark/Germany)” @snoopsmaus
Not to discount resorts and theme parks, but cities are where it’s at for families looking for authentic cultural experiences. I hope you will join us at the next #JAchat. It takes place every Friday at 1pm ET, a new topic every week. Happy travels!