It took us a few months during our 9-month trip around the world with our 2-year-old son to brave a walking tour with him. We had been too nervous to try a walking tour, but after taking our first tour – and surviving – we discovered we had been missing out. From that moment on, at practically every new city we visited, from Buenos Aires to Rome to Lima to Barcelona, we signed up for walking tours with our son.
To us, walking tours are a must because they provide a true local’s perspective on a city, as well as insights we may have missed if exploring on our own. Most of the tours we discovered were free, as well, led by passionate guides with attention for detail who were often students of art, architecture and history.
Not all of our tours went without a hitch. In Venice, we learned the hard way that carrying a stroller up and down more than 30 bridges crossing the city’s canals was quite a workout. In Buenos Aires, our optimism at joining a three-hour tour didn’t match our son’s desire to stay awake the entire time, demanding attention, toys, food, and even a poopy diaper change on the street.
However, most of our tours – at which we have taken more than a dozen – went quite well. Our son often slept in his stroller while we learned more about a city and found areas we could explore on our own after the tour was complete. Some of our tours were food tours, where we went to different places to sample different foods and wines from the countries we were in. And many times, our guides provided recommendations on restaurants and attractions we never would have found in a guide book or an app.
So how can you survive a walking tour with your toddler?
- Tour during naptimes. Most tours are offered in the morning, afternoon and nighttime, but we quickly learned the afternoon tours were best for our son. We would spend our morning at parks and being quite active, feed our son lunch, and then put him in his stroller and walk to the tour. By time our tours would begin, he would be asleep for his afternoon nap, typically sleeping through the entire 1.5- to 2-hour tours.
- Use your stroller. Do not attempt a tour without a stroller, even on cobbled and small streets of Europe and even if guides tell you to leave the stroller. Not only does your stroller foster naptime, it can keep your child contained, and allow you to provide distractions during your walk. Our lightweight and small strollermanaged all routes.
- Bring distractions. Never attempt a tour without all of your child’s favorite things. From books to toys to snacks, we carried it all for our son and kept them easily reachable on our stroller bag. On the rare occasion those distractions didn’t work, we pulled out the big guns: educational apps on an iPadand M&Ms.
- Don’t walk hungry. Before taking a tour, make sure your child has been fed because nothing inspires crankiness more than hunger. Also carry extra provisions, in case hunger strikes again. Don’t forget milk, water and other drinks.
- Change diapers before you walk. Even if your child’s diaper is dry and was changed within the hour, always start a tour with a fresh diaper. Nothing is worse than having to stop on a tour and change a diaper on a sidewalk and then run to catch up for a tour. (We know.)
- Divide and conquer. At times when your child is too antsy for the tour, or throwing a tantrum, have one parent continue with the tour while the other stays back with your child to get things under control. Too often, we feel we both need to parent together but then we both would miss out on the tour. It’s okay to divide and conquer; just agree on who will be the “designated parent” that day – we used to do it in 30-minute increments and then switch. Your partner can text you a location for meeting up, and fill you in on what you missed – be sure you have a good date plan for your phone, just in case you get lost. Also, ask the guide where they are heading to next, so you can stay back and catch up.
- Set him free. Talk to your tour guide before you begin to find out where may be longer stops to allow your child to climb out of the stroller to play. Some stops can be 10 to 15 minutes long, and can give your child a break.
Don’t be afraid to taking a walking tour. They are free and provide you with a more authentic experience. We never had a guide who was upset we showed up with a toddler, and we learned so much.