If you’re on a family vacation, others probably are as well—meaning crowds and the need for tips to navigating those crowds!
Whether it’s the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Disneyland or Times Square, parents who want to hit the hot spots and famous landmarks, no matter what city, can quickly find themselves overwhelmed and even panicked if their younger kids are lost in the crowds.
Here are some key tips (and some sub-tips) to help allow the entire family to enjoy their time together, without getting lost in the crowd.
Know What You’re Going Into
You may be faced with long lines before you even make it to the doors at plenty of places, so if possible, order tickets for your destination in advance, online or on the phone. That way you may be able to head to a shorter line for pre-purchased tickets, or avoid the line all together! (Bonus: Many locations also give discounts on tickets paid for in advance.) While online, look at the site map of the location, and talk with your kids about some key items of interest to them so you can more effectively and quickly search those things out once you’re there. For instance, if they want to see the Easter Island Head character from “Night at the Museum” (“Hey Dum Dum!”) when you’re at the American Museum of Natural History, you’ll learn early that it’s in one of the more out-of-the-way rooms that may require circumnavigating other exhibits.
And if you know you’re only going to the destination for a short period of time and they have a “suggested donation fee,” don’t feel obliged to pay full fare for everyone in your family. If you can afford it, that’s great, but if it’s your third museum of the day, and you know the kids only likely have 40 minutes of walking time left in them, but still you just have to see it…no one will judge you! (And if they do, well the heck with them.)
Think Like a Tour Guide
You’ll want to make sure to keep your kids close, so put on your tour guide cap. One parent in front of the group (the leader) and one flanking the back (or maybe this honor goes to an older friend or sibling) help ensure the group stays together more effectively as you move. The leader may want to bring a bright scarf, bandanna or even a glow-stick or fun flag to wave when you’re moving from spot to spot. If the older kids are mortified, it’s still all in a day’s work for a parent—and they’ll remember it fondly later in life during their therapy sessions.
While I’m not a fan of “kid leashes” personally, if you’ve got a kid who is apt to dart away and you want to be sure that all the art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art remains in one piece, then go for it! Perhaps you’ll want to consider the popular “Kid Keeper” safety harness or a harness attached to a kid’s backpack. (A double bonus as it lets them carry some of their small items themselves.)
Wearing bright coats, shirts or sweaters that stick out from the crowd are also another easy option. You can more easily see your kids, and they can more easily see you. Give glow sticks or glow bracelets or necklaces to the entire family to hold up if they need to be seen. If you really want to make sure they have something to talk about in those future therapy sessions, wear sweaters that light up in their own right.
If you’re in a massive museum, always consider taking the stairs instead of elevators. Again, you’ll avoid lines, sneak in a mini-workout, and you’ll more likely be able to target where you’re going next. Plus, depending on how many you’re with, there’s nothing worse than not all being able to fit on the same elevator when it finally arrives.
Now is not the time for you to bring the rolling luggage. Now is the time for minimalism. Small backpacks for all allow you to pack what’s needed and for children to independently pack what they may want, but remember they have to carry their own. Only the basics should come along with you—credit card, cash, tissues or wipes, cell phone and portable charger, any needed medicines and snacks for the kids. Your shoulders and back will thank you at day’s end and you can still take pictures on your phone.
Avoid strollers if at all possible, but at very least, if you’re coming into cities from the suburbs, do yourself a favor and invest in a cheap umbrella stroller that folds up easily and that you won’t be upset about if it gets lost or broken in the crowds. Don’t bring your everyday stroller that carries more than your mini-van does. Try carrying that up and down stairs, into public transportation or having to check it, and you’ll quickly wish you hadn’t brought it in the first place.
Have a Plan
Plan for all eventualities. At each location, have a plan as to where you’d all meet if someone does get separated from the group, and make sure all in your family are clear on it. Before moving from room to room or floor to floor, just do a quick check that they remember the plan. Sure, it may sound like I’m a nervous Nelly here, but honestly, with kids of a certain age, that plan can leaves their heads almost as quickly as it enters.
Don’t forget to stop and sit! Sure, you want to see as much as possible. But if you don’t strategize with stops along the way, you’ll be hearing it from the kids somewhere between 3 pm and 4 pm. That’s usually when they hit the walking wall. And make sure that you have a snack ready for when they do hit that wall. Otherwise you may have to instead navigate your way to the closest cafeteria or restaurant, which typically aren’t so good or cheap when you’re at the popular spots.
Be Ready to Call
If the worst does happen and you’ve somehow still gotten separated and your previous “plan” has left their heads for good, make sure your phone is charged, and that all your kids have all needed phone numbers with them on a piece of paper (along with who the numbers belong to, i.e. Dad, Mom, etc.). And make sure they know, in advance, that’s when it’s time to find a security guard, or policeman if at all possible, to help reunite them with you.
Chances are that won’t happen because you were prepared in the first place!
But it’s always good to be ready to navigate just about anything.