The Essential Guide to Traveling with a Child in Portugal
Portugal is only now finding its way onto the European Tourism radar and we are all very happy to welcome you. For being a small country Portugal has a diverse range of climates. From snow-capped mountains in the center to rainy winters up north to hot, dry summers in the south you may not know what exactly your family will need. Thanks to the power of the Internet you can get a picture of what the temperatures and likelihood perception on your trip but what about the nitty-gritty? Here are my crash-tested, avid traveler, mother of two recommendations.
First and foremost, know that Portugal has all your basic needs met. Unless you’re brand conscious, or need that specific pacifier design because of your child’s particular attachment, rest assured that Portugal has your back. From luxury child apparel to second hand gear, and from large supermarkets to corner shops, you’re covered. Second, don’t hesitate to ask Catavino for child friendly travel advice. From family focused tours to child-friendly activies, there’s plenty for your family to experience.
(photo by Ryan Opaz)
So let’s get started:
I highly suggest travel insurance; it buys your piece of mind in case of crisis.
Additionally, make sure your little one has not only received a check-up prior to departure but is stocked on their meds. I recommend that you carry the original container they came in, along with a picture of each item in your cell phone: that way you don’t have to physically carry it outside your hotel room, but have a photo on hand should you need it.
Also be sure to ask your pediatrician what to pack for a basic medical kit. Things such as saline solution for their eyes, paracetamol for a fever, an anti-allergy, a thermometer, etc are great to have on hand and travel sizes are harder to come by in Portugal.
For those kids wearing eyeglasses, if they don’t already have a spare set bring the prescription should your kid drop their specs into the Atlantic.
Traveling with young kids means traveling with gear, but you would be surprised what hotels, cafés and restaurants can provide while touring Portugal.
When booking hotels, specify the ages of your kids on the booking form. When traveling with my son Hank, and our latest family addition, 4-month-old Molly, around the Trás-os-Montes region, we stayed in four separate hotels, all of which offered a cot for Hank and a crib or pack-n-play for the baby. After a long day sightseeing and baby wrangling, you deserve your own space to rest and get a great night’s sleep.
Typically, every hotel – regardless if they provide a room service menu – can send a bowl of soup, an order of toast, yogurts or milk to your room in a pinch, or help you handle procuring such items from a closeby restaurant or café. This is a heavenly service, so use it!
If you choose to travel with an urban assault stroller, a sherpa-style baby carrier or a simple umbrella stroller, make the choices that are best for your family. But rest assured that when it comes to kids, you’re in a country prepared to accommodate and assist your whole family’s needs no matter where you are. From Michelin starred restaurants to hole-in-the-wall hotels, Portugal has your back.
Special Note to Breastfeeding Moms
You are more than welcome in Portugal. Portuguese respect that you are a mother who needs to feed your baby. Find a spot that calls to you and feed away. Trust me, there is no shame in feeding your baby in public here. Personally, I am a modest person, so I choose a spot where both my baby and I can relax, away from distraction when I can, but I have had to sit in in the center of an extremely busy shopping mall food court at Christmas and feed my daughter and the only person that thought it was strange was me.
As soon as my son could walk, he always traveled with his own backpack. This normally contained toys for the day, coloring items, a change of clothes, water and our emergency contact information. Having a backpack taught him responsibility and allowed him ownership of his travel. If he picked up a rock: goes in the backpack. Don’t want to wear your hat anymore: goes in the backpack. This is ideal for the vast number of parks that grace Portugal’s landscape, as well as the indoor adventures you can have when rainy season hits the north of Portugal.
Each night, I would repack it with a handful of cheap store-bought items, and other small things I didn’t mind leaving behind, like Matchbox Cars, Lego-Men or Playmobil. This newness gave him something to look forward to at breakfast or throughout the day.
I also always gave my son a tiny blank sketchbook to draw in (and have kept them all as a keepsake), a pack of colored pencils and a funky pencil sharpener. NOT crayons, as they will melt in scorching Alentejo or Algarve temperatures (spoken from someone who’s dealt with it!), and NOT markers because they can ruin anything from hotel furniture to a 17th century tapestry. My suggestion, go for easy, convenient and stress free! (photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões)
A Portuguese woman is never without a package of tissues in her purse. This lesson was joyfully learned after Hank was pounced upon by a foursome of tissue bearing grandma’s following a sneezing episode on the train from Lisbon to Setúbal. Having cleaned and cooed him from head to toe, they reopened their never-ending magical Mary Poppins-esque purses to extend piles of candy while exchanging life stories including: how many of their family lived and worked abroad, what combination of meat-cuts and beans produced the best cozido (Portuguese stew) and which town had the best Feira (flea market) of the week. And just as they disembarked at Palmela (a few stations before Setúbal), they shouted their addresses over their shoulders should we ever wish to visit.
Tissue packages aren’t just a conversation starter; it’s “the tool” for all minor emergencies. Nine times out of ten, a public restroom will be open, clean and without out a trace of toilet paper. Do yourself a favor and stock up at the grocery store on your first day. You’ll thank me for it.
Book a Private Tour in Portugal
Self-guided discovery is amazing; but like finding a pearl in an oyster, you may not get it right the first time. Hence, if this is your one and only chance to visit said place/region/country, why not have a trusted expert by your said to make the experience stress free.
I was never a guided tour kind of gal. I liked to read up, plan my map and ask locals for directions. I was a budget savvy, a back roads kind of traveler, but after kids, I have learned that spending a little extra is like lifelong memory insurance.
When you employ a guide, you not only get their native eye, but you can also have it catered to your family. Simply mention that you’re carting miniature humans in the booking form, or book a tour specifically for your kids. That way, you get the right guide, sympathetic to smaller attention spans and full of kid-friendly information to keep them engaged. Catavino can help with that! (photo by Steven Depolo)
Recently, my husband surprised me with a private tour of the Joanine Library in Coimbra, one of the world’s oldest and most stunning libraries. I had been dreaming about seeing this library for years, and upon meeting our guide, I knew she was worth every single extra penny. As soon as we entered the library our guide made Hank her main focus. She got down on the ground and showed him the library from his vantage point. She opened new doors, answered all his questions with a smile, let Hank open books centuries old and rushed past things that he might find boring.
By doing this, I was able to cherish the experience at my own pace, and without a single “are we done yet” whimper. Consequently, the experience was utterly priceless. To book a family-friendly guide, go here.
Portugal knows how to throw a party. Festivals are held everywhere from village to big city all year round, but most frequently in the summer months. From POP-Saints Fests such as São João in Porto to São Antonio in Lisbon or Carnaval in March it is a great idea to cross-check your itinerary with published festival schedules on-line when planning your trip.
These festivals offer glorious foods, drinks and dancing in the streets, art, performances, local handicrafts and hundreds of unique things to explore; but conversely, if you’re traveling with very young children who require uninterrupted sleep, this may be something you wish to avoid.
Festivals last all weekend and all night – quite literally. If you’re game, they are absolutely NOT to be missed, even if you have young kids in tow. Kids of all ages will be out until dawn enjoying the peaceful chaos. Remember, these festivals are only once a year, but in your case, it may only be once in a lifetime. (photo by Filipe Saraiva)
Hiking Shoes & Patience
Months before visiting Portugal, get kids used to walking on all terrain. Sightseeing in Portugal typically means trekking up steep hills, giant steps, riverfronts, cobblestones, and beaches. Setting up his or her expectations is a lifesaver! This might include evening walks or bike rides, jaunts around the city or hikes in the countryside.
Even if you choose buses or taxies to get you into the older parts of the city, there are heaps of places that are restricted to pedestrians, lack parking or are simply impossible to get to their peak vantage point except by foot, with the emphasis on peak.
Go easy on yourself and pack light. There will be a million stunning crafts, tiles, t-shirts and bottles of wine to fill your bag on the return trip. There’s no reason to have 5k changes of clothes when a sink, soap, and a dry in the sun, can remedy an outfit in no time. My suggestion is to go for layers that are season relevant. Hence, summer temps may require a light sweater, windbreaker, handful of shirts, a couple pairs of shorts, pair of pants or leggings and a hat. In the summer a sun hat is a must. You will have tut-tutting grandmas following behind you if there isn’t at least the idea that you have a hat for your child. It’s a Portuguese thing.
While winter needs a similar line up with warmer gear and plenty of rain options. Umbrellas are something you can pick up at any corner shop, but nice waterproof shoes and raincoats can turn a miserable day into a puddle stomping adventure! Also, you may want to YouTube how to make paper boats. My husband’s aptitude at crafting a paper-boat has turned a hundred dreary hotel afternoons into smooth sailing, The key to Portugal is to ALWAYS have layers available to throw on, or whip off, in seconds flat and be up for anything.
You’re now set! Your bag is packed with the essentials, your mind is at ease with what you may need and you’re ready to fly! Now comes the memory making!
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