I don’t do travel advice posts very often, but since our kids have been to over 30 countries on soon to be 4 continents, I guess that sort of makes us pro’s on traveling with kids. That doesn’t mean we don’t still have epic travel fails with the kiddos because we do…it’s not always smooth sailing. But we’ve certainly learned a lot over the years (and from our mistakes) about how to travel with kids while maintaining your sanity…for the most part!
I must admit that the travel scene with kids does just naturally get easier when the kids get a bit older. When we were traveling with babies/toddlers, there was always a point on every trip when my husband and I would look at each other and ask “why did we do this again?” By “this” I’m not sure if we meant travel with kids or have kids at all 😉 , but rest assured that by the end of every trip those moments were long forgotten and all that remained was the best memories and highlights of our journey. And now as our kids are preschool and school-aged, those moments are rarer, our kids are more engaged in our travels, more flexible with schedules, and thank goodness they require no extra gear and don’t need to be carted around anymore.
I don’t say all that to discourage travel with babies and toddlers though, by any means. We certainly traveled tons with ours and I think it did bring a lot of advantages. Just to say that even though there are challenges, it does get easier with time! And experience too, I guess. Anyway, I’ll get to the point now with the best tricks and tips we have for traveling with kids.
1) Lower Your Expectations
This is a big one and probably the most important. If you try to travel the way you did before kids or compare your pre-/post- kids travel, you will inevitably be disappointed. When we traveled before kids we’d sleep in a bit, have a late and big breakfast, and then sightsee for hours and hours only stopping for dinner and maybe after dinner drinks. We would return late at night, exhausted from a full day. Obviously now our travel days look nothing like that. We mix sightseeing with down time, park time, and (usually) three square meals for the kiddos. We may not get to everything on our lists, or quite as much as we used to, but we hit the highlights and count it a success. And you know what? There’s something to be said for traveling at a slower pace. We get to experience a bit more of local life, often stopping at parks in neighborhoods we wouldn’t otherwise explore, striking up conversations with local parents, and just taking the time to stop and enjoy what’s around us. We also have had far more interaction with locals since traveling with kids. I think there’s something about traveling with kids that makes you more relatable…you’re not just a tourist, but a parent and that can be magic for making connections. So it’s a trade off indeed. What you may sacrifice in sights to check off, you are exchanging for authentic experiences. Not all bad, right?
It’s such a helpful milestone when kids get to the game playing age. It really helps to pass the time while you wait for dinner; wait on public transport; distract your kids on a long hike; you get the idea. Our favorites these days are I spy, charades, pictionary, the alphabet game (which has varying levels of difficulty for each kid), rock, paper, scissors, and twenty questions. The beauty of these games is you don’t need anything for them and can play them anywhere. We’ve also gotten big into travel games this year. Our kids love the magnetic travel version of snakes and ladders, bingo, and checkers. What are your favorite games to play while traveling? Always looking to expand our repertoire!
There is nothing like a well-timed snack to save the day, am I right?! Snacks can be a lifesaver and depending on our destination, we either buy them there or stock up on some things to take with us. Snacks are key whether dinner is later than usual, your picky eater didn’t like what was served for lunch, or you need some motivation to get them to the next mountain top on that hike. Enough said.
4) Make it Easier on Yourself
Whatever this means for you, embrace it. If you need a break from cooking, stay in a hotel with half board or a place with restaurants nearby so you don’t have to cook. Book an AirBnB or aparthotel with space to spread out and feel at home if that’s what you need. Book that resort with the kids club so you can have some grown up time for an hour or two. Find a place with a pool to have low key afternoons after mornings exploring. Traveling with kids is rarely a “vacation” in the true sense of the word, so do what you can to make it as easy and enjoyable as possible!
And one more thing. As a perfectionist, I give you this solid advice…don’t put too much pressure on yourself. I’ve been known to spend HOURS looking for that perfect hotel, that perfect place for dinner, that perfect tour, so that we can have the *perfect* trip. And you know what? It of course is never perfect and never will be! When I ease up and don’t put so much pressure on myself to plan or have the perfect vacation/ holiday/ experience, I enjoy it so much more!
5) Trip Prep
Spend some time teaching your kids about your destination, and I guarantee you will all get more out of it. One of our favorite resources is the beautifully illustrated book, Maps by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinska. It doesn’t have all the countries in it, but it has a good amount and the first thing the kids now do when we head to a new destination is look it up in their book. We also often consult the globe and their scratch maps to find out exactly where we are heading. We like to explore some interesting facts about our destination whether it’s about history, climate, landscape, wildlife, or architecture. The benefit of trip prep is that it really helps things stick with them even after the trip is over!
6) Put The Kids in Charge
Of a camera, that is! It never fails…when our kids are reaching their limits of a tour or sightseeing, all we have to do is give them a camera and they are suddenly interested again. We often travel with our old (low quality) digital cameras just so that the kids can capture things from their vantage point. They love taking the pictures and it’s fun to go back and see what caught their eye (also I have boys so someone’s butt always makes it in the shot at some point! 😉 ).
7) Relax Your Rules
I’m sure it’s different for families traveling full time, but in our case I think one of the reasons my kids love travel so much is that they get away with a bit more than normal. I have no problem with unlimited screen time on long haul flights, for example. Of course we play games and do things in between, but we’re ok with getting through the flight by any means necessary! Or getting gelato twice in one day on those particularly sweltering days filled with sightseeing and kids who’ve been troopers. Late bedtimes, a Sprite and snack in Italy while we enjoy an apero drink right before dinner, swimming with a full stomach…you get the idea! Rules were made to be broken when you’re traveling and that’s what helps to keep it exciting for the kids.
I think the reason we all look forward to our family travels together so much is because it’s the biggest chunk of time we get to spend together as a family. While there are of course moments where we drive each other crazy, there are also so many really wonderful moments. I love talking with our kids at dinner every night about their impressions of our day and their favorite experiences. Playing games, swimming, playing at the beach, and just having time for all those things and conversations that get lost in the busy daily routine is the biggest benefit of travel with kids for me. And ultimately, I know that this is why my kids love to travel so much…because it’s where we really get to connect.
So for anyone wondering how we travel so much with kids without losing it, that’s it! If you’d like to travel with your kids but are waiting until they’re older, I hope you’ll consider just taking the plunge. There are challenges, but in the end it’s so worth it!
For those of you who do travel with kids, we’d love to hear your best advice and what works for you when traveling with kids! Drop us a comment below.