Couples + Family

How to Stay Sane When Traveling With Kids in Chicago

(Photo: ISchmidt/Shutterstock)

Navigating a new city isn’t always an easy feat, and it gets even more complicated with young ones in tow. Little people need a lot of stuff, and their hearing can be … selective. We’ve compiled a few insider tips to help you respond to their common complaints and make your Chicago visit infinitely more enjoyable.

Are we there yet?

Too much down time with kids can lead to trouble. Cut out wait times for public transportation by using the CTA trip planner or Google maps on your phone to plot out a route and see estimates of bus or train arrival times. If taking the “L”, note that not all stations have elevators (you can check which ones do on the CTA site), so if you have a stroller or lots of stuff you’ll know the deal ahead of time. Speaking of strollers, bus drivers may ask you to fold them up if you are on a busy bus.

But I don’t want to wait!

World-class attractions sometimes equal very long lines. And with kids, minutes can feel like hours. Chicago’s CityPASS is a great resource if you are trying to tackle multiple museums in one trip. It allows you to skip the line altogether, or enter a VIP queue at seven attractions, including the Museum of Science and Industry, Art Institute and Skydeck Chicago.

I’m tired.

With so much to do in this city, it’s easy to get overzealous and cram too many activities into one day. Take some time to make a schedule in the morning with built in time for naps or breaks throughout the day. Chicago is scattered with parks perfect for letting energetic kids run free or worn out tots take a breather. The park district has a handy finder that will allow you to search for parks nearby.

Mommy do you have?

Although Murphy’s Law dictates that your child will need something you don’t have, there are ways to try to help avoid unwanted stops and expenses. Always pack a change of clothes for unforeseen mud puddles or ice cream down their shirt. A water bottle and plenty of snacks, bought previously at the grocery, will help you avoid paying high prices at tourist attractions. It may also behoove you to throw a time-passing activity in your bag — a coloring book or game — for those times you do have to wait. Sanitizer or wipes are key as well, especially if you are taking public transportation.

I’m starving!

Even if you do pack snacks, they will inevitably run out and you’ll have to stop to eat. Try to plan out your meals prior to the meltdown and detour away from high traffic areas like Michigan Avenue with longer waits and higher prices. There are plenty of places where kids eat free, but most restaurants will be amenable to preparing something for your kid even if they don’t have a kids menu.