Tips for how to travel to Mexico with kids

Traveling with kids in Mexico

Nearly 15 years ago, my older brother Josh and I embarked on a 3-month backpacking trip through South East Asia and Mediterranean Europe; we had plenty of adventures over those weeks. This month, traveling together for the first time since those Birkenstock-wearing, hitch-hiking days, we reunited in a developing country – but on this trip, we had our spouses and children along for the experience.

I have plenty of travel experience under my belt, which is why I noticed early on that this trip felt different. For the first time, I was seeing a foreign country through the eyes of my children, and in a sense, anew.

Our little ones are at a perfect age for traveling. Noah is our avid reader, happy to spend an entire flight with his nose in a chapter book. Mateo is our happy-go-lucky free-spirit, happy to skip along holding my hand. And little Clara is still content in a Snugli and completely portable, as she sleeps anywhere cradled in-arms.

Traveling in Mexico with Kids

Although we’re not quite ready to embark on a round-the-world adventure like our friends Ryan & Stephanie with their four kids, we do hope to keep traveling with our three because we feel it is an important investment into their future. For one thing, it opens their young minds to sights, sounds, smells and experiences that can never be learned through schooling or a slew of Planet Earth DVD’s.

We Wimbushes aren’t really the type to book an all-inclusive vacation at a resort (although I understand the appeal) as we like to closely experience the culture of a foreign country and introduce it to our children. During this trip we bartered for handmade wares at the bustling city market, selected our daily avocados and bananas alongside the locals at the produce stand, and stood in line for goat tacos and cinnamon-sugar coated churros from the street carts.

Traveling with kids in Mexico

Our reunion in Mexico, together also with my two sisters and their families, was so utterly fantastic, that I couldn’t not share a mere snapshot of our time with you. I kept my big camera handy and jotted a few notes down here and there from my favorite experiences, like yesterday’s story of finding magic in a small tortilla factory.

Although I was on a nearly-full digital vacation, I found I missed writing, and every so often, a nugget of useful information would nestle itself in a mental file folder labeled “Mexico”.

Hopefully, there’s enough of those nuggets assembled here and in the posts to come to give you some takeaway and encourage you to travel with your kids.

Traveling in Mexico with Kids

Traveling with kids in Mexico is an adventure that requires bravery, planning, bottled water, band-aids, bunches and bunches of bananas, and tons of baby gear.

On our backpacking trip so long ago, I remember sawing off the handle of my hairbrush just to lighten the weight of the backpack on my 5’3″, 110lb frame. Now, we shlep a pack n’ play, a car seat, a portable feeding seat, and miscellaneous items such as water wings, stuffed monkeys, and math workbooks on top of everything else.

Before we leave, there is the rush to pack, empty the fridge, arrange for kitty care, and locate the travel documents, to say nothing of the midnight oil burned to schedule two weeks’ worth of posts on the blog. Then there is the abominably early taxi ride to the airport, the dash through the cold morning air with only a hoodie for warmth, the hours of waiting and security checkpoints, and the cramped quarters on the flight.

Finally, tired and smelly, hungry and groggy, we arrive, and all of the stressful travel pays off with the first kiss of the sea breeze and the golden hue of the sun setting on the sand. An adventure awaits.

sunset beach

I’ve decided to break my posts up into smaller sections featuring plenty of images from the trip. In this introductory post, I’ll cover my general takeaway from our time and basic tips for traveling with kids in Mexico.

After I’ll write about feeding the family, what we ate, and what our baby-led solids girl, Clara, enjoyed. Finally, I’ll share about our accommodations and the quaint, relatively undiscovered beach town where we stayed.

Getting Around, or How to Move Your Many, Many Belongings

Our round-trip taxi service came recommended by friends and we would in turn endorse Jose Ramos Taxi Services. Based out of Sayulita, they picked us up at the Puerto Vallerta airport and drove us to the Mega superstore (Carretera a Tepic Km 144) , where we shopped for half an hour for our grocery staples.

Then they delivered us to our villa in Lo de Marcos, about an hour away. A week later, they picked us up and brought us to Sayulita, and a week after that, brought us to the airport. It worked out to about $180USD for everything; cheaper and less hassle than renting a car.

Our driver, Daniel, spoke English, drove quite safely, and only talked on his cell phone while driving a few times! My kids all had seat belts, we enjoyed the AC, and iced bottled water from a cooler in the suburban.

shrimp taco dinner

Health Concerns, or Keeping Your Tacos Down

Contaminated food, drink, insect bites and sunburn are a few health concerns you may encounter in Mexico. That said, I think the country gets a bad rap, and wish more people would factor in a) climate change, b) jet lag, c) lack of sleep, d) dehydration, or e) alcohol into the equation before blaming some poor Mexican taco maker for their case of Montezuma’s revenge.

Still, a small container of non-drowsy Gravol’s Natural Source Ginger Tablets were one of the most important items that made it into my toiletries bag. Since I enjoy eating the authentic local fare when I travel, it’s normal that I experience some mild nausea and upset stomach. It took a few days to adjust to the (delicious) local foods – for both my siblings and I – and the Gravol helped to maintain a feeling of normalcy. (I’ll write more later on what we ate and precautions we took.)

Traveling with kids in Mexico (an in any developing or third-world country) does require a small leap of faith as far as their health is concerned. You want to have a well-stocked First-Aid kit, a bottle of water on hand at all times, and sanitizer or wet wipes to keep little hands clean.

We ran the gamut on our trip: mild fever, cough and cold, upset tummy,  sunburn, and one bee sting. All in all, though, I think we did pretty well. Honestly, I think the mild bug some of us experienced during our early days in Mexico came from something we picked up in transit (germs on airplanes? *Shudder*).

Outfits for Traveling with kids in Mexico

What to Pack or Keeping Everyone Clothed and Happy for Costal Mexico

Comfortable, quick-dry shorts and tank tops for the parents are good, preferably colors that don’t show spit-up and food stains. Of course a sundress or two, bathing suit and sandals, and a hoodie are all helpful for the evenings when the temperature cools down and the wind whips off the the water. I wore long pants and a hoodie for the early morning walks and kept quite cozy.

Dressing the kids is a cinch, with nothing more required than you would need at home for a week in the summer. Croc’s and sturdy sandals were all the footwear our children needed; let’s face it, they were barefoot eighty percent of the time.

We made space for a large sketchbook and a case of pencil crayons for the children in our luggage and they got plenty of use. In the afternoons, when the sun was the hottest, we often had an art lesson with all of the nieces and nephews.

kid art

Surfers, sandcastles, market sights – there was always plenty of fuel for the imaginations of our little artists on this trip.

For Clara, we used a Snugli or an umbrella stroller for our frequent daily walks: Sungli for the beach, stroller for the street. We also checked a car seat and a pack n’ play into over-sized luggage (neither which required an extra fee from the airline) and made good use of both on the trip.

The children each brought a special furry friend, a comfort for both the airplane ride and the fortnight of sleeping in strange beds. We also packed a couple of small favorite gamesSpot It and Piratatak - both of which got a tremendous amount of use from all the children. Nothing passes the time at a restaurant like a little friendly competition between cousins.

kid games

Final takeaway

Get out into the smaller towns. Bustling, hot cities are not much fun for children, or for parents who are constantly worried about a bus side-swiping their five-year old for that matter. In the villages, one can make friends with a gaggle of first-grade school girls or share two miles of beach with nothing but a mighty flock of pelicans.

Give responsibility in small measures. Children love to feel like they are helping, so give them the task of finding directions once in a while, or entrust them with a carry-on bag, even if it means they may walk away from it in North America’s busiest airport. Yes, we left our carry-on luggage with 2 laptops unattended for about half an hour. Oops.

Lift weights before you go. It is entirely possible that your littlest one may want to be held the entire first day upon arrival, just as an adjustment period. Strong arms also come in handy for lugging groceries and beach bags.

Heap grace on your children. Travel is wearisome for us all. It can also be totally boring, and they couldn’t care less about sights that may give us a thrill. Oh, and they get sick of having their photo taken. Put yourself in their dusty sandals at least once a day, and if you find yourself longing for ice cream, find the nearest paleta vendor and buy everyone a fruit pop.

Mexican paletas

Communicate with your spouse. Perhaps the most important tip of all. Remember you are a team: work like one, and all will go smoothly.

Oh, and try not to lose it with your husband in the Mexico City immigration line when he decides that the five family passports are better off in his back pocket than in your purse and then forgets to tell you. Yeah, that happened.

Do you travel with your children? Do you have plans for future family trips?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites.

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Comments

  1. Gorgeous photos Aimee! It’s fun to read about Mexico though your eyes. Great job, look forward to hearing more. Your sis.

  2. That hairbrush handle you sawed off (hilarious anecdote, btw!) was probably an eighth the weight of Clara… how time changes us. Love your photos and tips, and can’t wait for the next installment.
    Casey@Good. Food. Stories.’s last post: Homemade Goldfish Crackers + Classic Snacks Giveaway

  3. Marvelous post! I love seeing your vacation snaps and reading all the insightful tips. Sound like you had so much fun!
    Sommer@ASpicyPerspective’s last post: Spiced Apple Ice Cream

  4. Thank you! I am dying to get all the 411 on this trip because I want to plan the exact same one! lol I “like” your FB page and I sent you a PM, but maybe it went into the “other” messages folder! I was wondering if you would share the villa information so I can explore that option. Thank you again, your “intel” is very priceless!

    • Hmm, I don’t get PM’s on my FB page, BUT I will be sharing the information of where we stayed, rented, ate, shopped, etc in this mini series. Hang tight! =)

  5. Experienced the same thing with the passports… kinda fun to feel your heart clench, isn’t it? Lol.
    Aimee, thanks for this jam-packed, informative post – I’ll use a bunch of the tips when it’s just me and hubby travelling too.
    Marian (Sweetopia)’s last post: 3-D Gas Station Pump, Tiger & Esso Logo Cookies

  6. Excellent tips and so fun to hear about your wonderful family trip!
    marla’s last post: Prosciutto Cheddar Cauliflower Gratin

  7. Oh, and I wanted to say kudos for traveling with a baby. That requires a certain amount of equipment which 2 or 3 years down the road you no longer need. Though your stroller certainly came in handy for hauling back from the markets watermelons and the massive quantity of produce we consumed everyday!

  8. I loved following your trip on Instagram! Glad you had a fun time!
    Maria’s last post: Baked Blueberry Coconut Oatmeal

  9. Love this post, Aimee! It’s so fun to read about others’ traveling adventures – at least I can live vicariously. :) These are great tips – we took our older daughter to Colombia when we went to adopt our younger, but we didn’t have quite the authentic experience we would have liked to have if we had been vacationing. I look forward to reading more!

  10. Love these tips! I’m so looking forward to traveling more with our brood–hopefully coming up soon!

  11. I just love Mexico- thank you for the tons and tons of tips, I can’t wait until I can take my kids!
    Heather Christo’s last post: Skillet Baked Stuffed Rigatoni

  12. wow, such great tips! this will surely help a bunch of families. i really love your approach to vacations in different cultures – instead of the all inclusive approach & staying at the resort, you branched out and embraced the culture and immersed your kids and family in it. such a smart way to go and i will definitely be taking tips from this post in the future :) looks like you all had a blast and you were really well prepared since things with kids are always unpredictable!
    Julie @ Table for Two’s last post: Cheesecake Factory Copycat: Sundried Tomato Fettuccine {Lightened Up}

    • Thanks Julie. I guess my parents traveled with us and passed down a love of exploring and the unpredictable in a new country. It’s the best way to go, imho. =)

  13. I loved this post! I bookmarked a vacation rental in Lo de Marcos I found online TWO summers ago and I am determined to get my family there! We are trying to plan a 3-6 month stay there. So I nearly fainted to see where you went. I am anxiously awaiting more details of your trip!
    Faith | Minimalist at Home’s last post: Don’t Forget to Celebrate the Victories

    • No way!! We loved Lo de Marcos. All the images, save for the last, in this post are from that quiet little town. It’s really still one of the last un-touristy places on the coast.

      That is a long stay! I hope it works out for you. I’ll be posting more details soon on LDM and Sayulita.

  14. I loved following your adventures on IG, it was a lovely balm to the snowy days in Nova Scotia. We would love to travel more with our littles and this was very helpful. I love that you met up with your siblings, how long have you been planning this trip for it to work with everyone?! =)

    My husband and I also backpacked around Asia but instead of Europe, we completed a circle around the Pacific and went to Hawaii, NZ and Australia. =)
    Breanne’s last post: In Which I Tell about My Black Dress

  15. What great tips and lovely photos Aimee! Had so much fun following your sweet family on Instagram during your trip! xoxo
    Jenny Flake’s last post: Dulce de Leche Chocolate Banana Muffins

  16. Thank you for another great post on your trip! A relative found out yesterday that we were planning on taking our kids to Mexico next year and advised me that, “Mexico vacations are romantic and for the husband and wife only!” I’d love to send her this post, highlighting the reasons you travel with children, but I’ll let it slide. :-) We love to travel with our children! I’m excitedly awaiting more from you on your trip.

  17. Such great tips in here. I grew up traveling all over the world – and I loved it!! So I’m book marking this for when we have little kidlets of our own to haul around the globe! xo

  18. Stephchows says:

    Oh wow, my tummy is growling from all those photos! And what an adventure, I can barley imagine keeping myself in line traveling, and you did it with kids!

  19. Been watching all your beautiful trip photos on instagram! It looks like a beautiful trip filled with happy kids and delicious food. Making memories!
    Stephanie’s last post: Homemade Farmhouse Cheddar – Part Two

  20. Love! Love! Love! I wish we had more time off work to do more travel with our littles. Right now, I’m focused on places we can get to in one plane flight, so we don’t spend our precious days airport hopping! But this is also inspiring to remember that you can have a lovely vacation, simply in exploring a city you haven’t been to before – you don’t need a resort or “attraction” to fill the days.
    Alissa’s last post: Where the time went

  21. What great information! I’m getting ready to take our first child, Liam (8 months old), on his first trip. He and I are flying to attend a conference for 4 days and I’m so nervous! I’m sure it’s just a first-time mom thing that I’m being so frantic about it all, but you certainly make it look easy! I’m definitely interested to see what foods Clara ate to see what all to expect with Liam. Right now my game plan is just to buy a bunch of pre packaged food pouches to bring, but I sure would love to not have to lug 30+ things of baby food and have him just eat what I eat. :D Good call on bringing the car seat and pack ‘n play. I’m bringing those too. Were you worried at all about the car seat or pack ‘n play being damaged when checked?
    Caroline @ chocolate & carrots’s last post: Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal Smoothie

  22. Aimee, these tips are just plain great for traveling with kids in general. It puts me at ease for some upcoming family travel. Thank you so much for sharing!
    Rebecca {Foodie with Family}’s last post: Roasted Mushrooms with Thyme | Make Ahead Mondays

  23. Hi Aimee! I am a friend of Zoe, and as a grandmother with a long time desire to go to Mexico I’ve been excited for you all ( and praying for you) since Zoe first told me of your sibling reunion adventure!! You are sure a gifted family and it was a real joy to read your excellent comments about your trip AND see the beautiful pics! Thank you!! And God bless u and your sweet family!

  24. We have been going to PV every Christmas for the last 6 years. One thing we have learned is to NEVER fly through Mexico City! EVER! We sped a bit of time in Nuevo and also out of the city the other way on the way to Mismaloya. There is a company in PV that provides baby equipment if you don’t want to travel with it. If I’m not mistaken, the founder of the company is from Montreal. We always lug all our own gear but we’ve also learned to live with less while we are away. We also find that if we need something in a pinch, we can always find it and buy it there. I’m so enjoying looking through your pics!

  25. We took our boys to Mexico for their first big trip ever, at the ages of 2.5 and 13 mos. 10 days of crazy (!) but it was so worth it! We had a blast and we even did it again last year when they were a year older. We’re going to do something else this year, but we plan on going back to Mexico many, many times. My husband has family in the Yucatan, so that’s the only area we’ve visited, but I would love to try some other places, such as San Miguel Allende, Cabo, Baja, etc. Some places will have to wait for the kids to get a bit older. Thanks for sharing your experiences, and for making me “travel-sick” to go back to Mexico!

  26. Awesome tips. Such great pics of the family-it’s always so nice to see the other, more personal, side of bloggers I read.
    naomi’s last post: Brownie Pie

  27. Hi Aimee,

    I came across this post while browsing the net. This is such a great post and experience with kids. I remember how it was when I travel with my kids when they were such tiny people …I miss those days. :( As now they travel with girlfriends and friends :(

    I have never been to Mexico, but seeing how great the place is with your awesome photos, I might push through with my plan next year and that is to visit the place (crossing my fingers)!

    I am actually involved in a website that is currently on its development process which will be focused mainly on giving information to Mexico travelers that will help them ease the planning. So I hope that when it is up and live , you’ll check it out and would love to share your experiences to our users. :)

    Thanks Aimee for such a great post!

  28. Duncan Faber says:

    For me, the secret to traveling with my little girl is to always pack an extra pair of leggings in my carry on. That way if she spills something on her pants, or gets cold, it’s easy for her to slip them on. Plus, they pack really small! My daughter’s favorite brand is http://www.twirlygirlshop.com/girls-capri-leggings but obviously there are lots of places to get them.

  29. Great write up and photos on traveling to Mexico with your family. We have enjoyed a number of trips to various parts of Mexico over the years when our children were very young. Taking the necessary precautions with food, water and safety, we have always felt safe traveling. Thanks for sharing!
    Rob’s last post: Vegas Vacations For The Whole Family

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