We often get questions about how we travel around the world with three young children and manage to see so much. I know many people who dream of making a really nice far trip with kids one day, but don’t dare or don’t know where to start and end up booking another beach vacation instead. So today I’m going to share some tips, but first I want to tell you that there is no good reason to postpone your life and your travels until the kids get older.
The way I see it, you have a choice. You either stay home and do nothing. You go on relaxing vacation and have fun, but see not much more than a swimming pool or a beach. Or you go on a trip and see some of the world. Maybe you can not explore your destination completely the way you would like to when traveling with kids, and sometimes your heart will break because you will not be able to do the most beautiful hike which is too difficult for your children… But in any case you will see much more than if you would have stayed home.
You can still travel with your children when they are older, you just don’t have to wait that long to start!
Don’t wait to travel till your kids are ‘old enough to remember’. If you would apply the same thinking to all childhood experiences, you wouldn’t do much with your children when they are young. You never thought of not taking them to a playground or to a theme park because they won’t remember it later, did you? Travel when you can, as soon as you can, and as often as you can. Not only will you have great experiences and memories together, but you will stimulate your kids’ interest in the world, encourage them to appreciate other cultures, and to be more open to new things in life.
Tips and tricks for traveling with kids
1. Traveling with young children: adjust your expectations and plans
Maybe you haven’t travelled much yet and are dreaming of finally taking your family on a nice trip. Or is it just the opposite – you have seen half the world before you had kids, but are still worried if it’s a good idea to take young children with you to the other side of the world… I guess you know by now that nothing is quite the same when you have kids, and that also applies to traveling. As long as you understand this and are willing to adapt to your new travel companions and their interests, you will have just as much fun traveling as a family as you did before.
Don’t take the kids to visit the most beautiful churches of Europe or on a temple tour through Asia. Long city trips and museum visits can be too tiring and boring for young children as well. You can do some hiking depending on the age and the number of kids you have, but you should probably forget all the long hikes for a while (unless you can carry kids on your back).
What can you do? Theme parks are of course always a great success, but you don’t have to spend all your holidays in Disneyland or Sea World for the next ten years. In our experience, nature and animals always do well with children, no matter the age.
Young children have to be able to move, to play, to discover new things their way: they need to be able to touch, to feel, to taste… Kids also need a lot of rest, and they need a certain routine in order to feel happy and safe. Make sure you take all these factors into account when preparing any trip with kids.
2. Prepare your kids for the trip
Start preparing your kids for the trip in advance, tell them what to expect, but don’t exaggerate. It makes no sense to tell a 2 year old that he will be going to Australia in a year from now. On the other hand, a 10 year old may spend months reading all he can find about Australian wildlife, and it will be like having a walking wikipedia with you on a trip. The more the children will know about the upcoming trip, the more excited they will be about it, and they will look forward to it just as much as you do.
3. Prepare your family trip in advance
I know some people may not agree with me, but traveling with a family of 5 has taught me that it’s so much easier and more enjoyable if you prepare your trip in advance. Unless you don’t really care where you will end up and whether you will be able to see the most worthwhile places, of course. It’s already a challenge to find affordable family rooms to accommodate more than 4 people, and it can get almost impossible if you travel during school holidays and don’t book well in advance.
Figure out your itinerary, book your flights, accommodations, and reserve a car. That way you can actually enjoy your vacation rather than spend your time looking for a hotel every night. It’s true that sometimes you will wish you could have stayed longer somewhere, or maybe left earlier, but it’s also true that you have a much bigger chance to see everything you wanted to if you stick to your plans. Otherwise you risk staying too long at the very first place you fall in love with and missing out on some other places which you wanted to see (and which you might have loved even more). And if not, at least you get to see something new.
If you want flexibility and certainty at the same time, renting a camper could be a good option for your family in some countries. Alternatively, you can use one location as your home base to explore the area. Many places in Europe are very suitable for this kind of traveling, like Tuscany in Italy.
4. Traveling with kids – travel light
Long family trips can turn into a nightmare if you take too much luggage. Not only will you have difficulties squeezing it into your car every day, but it will also take you ages to find something. Take only what you really need, and make sure you can layer the clothes when necessary. You can easily get your clothes washed in the hotels or do it yourself. In some countries, like Australia, you will find that most hotels offer free guest laundry facilities. Remember that you can always buy something you really need.
When we went to Australia and Tasmania with our three kids, we took two big soft travel bags and two small backpacks as hand luggage. We also took Trunki BoostApak for our 5 year old, and a stroller for the twins. That’s it. With just two adults and three young children we didn’t have enough hands to deal with any more baggage. Pack smart and you will be surprised at how little you actually need.
We have a great guide on what to pack for kids on the plane – check it out!
5. Dealing with jet lag when traveling with kids
The best way to deal with jet lag is to start adjusting to the new time zone as soon as you land. Usually it means staying up late the first night. It’s much easier if you stay active and do something outdoors: go explore the city, take the kids to a playground, go to a park, make a short walk. Oh, and don’t forget to stop by at a local store and get some snacks – the chances are pretty big that children (or you) will get hungry in the middle of the night. I still remember our kids eating a Nutella sandwich and an apple at midnight on one of our first nights in Australia.
You can read more practical tips for dealing with jet lag here.
6. Road trips are a perfect way to travel with children
Being on the road means that you have plenty of variation without any significant effort. You see many new places every day and have all kinds of exciting experiences along the way.
Try to plan your family road trip in such a way that you definitely get to visit the landmarks you really want to see, and then fill the gaps with stops at the places which are more suitable for children.
7. Limit driving days, fly the long distances
If you travel to the other side of the world and you only have two weeks, the chance is big that you will fall into the trap of trying to see too much in too little time. Every road trip involves long hours in a car, but be careful when you plan your trip, especially when traveling with young children. We try to avoid long driving days unless absolutely necessary. You can read some tips for long hauls here. More than 4-5 hours in a car is too much to handle for kids at any age. And if you drive this long then hopefully it means you are heading to a place which is really worth it, so consider staying there a bit longer.
8. Variation is the most important factor for a successful family trip
Kids get tired and bored quickly. Avoid this – keep them busy and engaged.
Make sure your trip itinerary is as varied as possible. Want to visit temples in Thailand? No problem. Pick one or two best ones. Want to visit a big city in Europe? Go ahead, as long as you find something fun to do for the kids. Go to a local market. Go to a beach. Take the kids to see some animals. Visit historic sites. Do some water sports… Go on a boat ride (kids love boats!). Do a desert ride. Visit a local village or do something else you really want to do…
If you foresee enough variation in your activities, you can travel pretty much anywhere with kids of any age.
Consider other ways to bring variety to your trip as well: different types of accommodation, various means of transport, and don’t forget local food. When we travel, our kids are surprisingly open to new experiences. Mind you, they can be difficult about the food at home, but on the road they eat pretty much anything.
9. Let the kids play
Kids, and especially young kids, are pretty much single-minded. They want to play! So give them the time and the space to do that. Look for accommodations with a garden and a pool, go to a child friendly restaurant once in a while, stop at playgrounds… Play games in a car. Play games while you hike. Play, play, and when you are tired, play some more. Single player puzzle games are a good way to keep children busy during the trip. Our kids take UNO on every trip.
10. Look for animals when traveling with kids
Young kids love to see animals. While some destinations like Yellowstone, Costa Rica, Australia, or Africa are perfect to see all kinds of animals, it might be less evident in some other places. Remember that feeding ducks or chasing pigeons might be just exciting for your children as seeing an elephant.
11. Keep the same routine as you do at home
The younger the kids, the more important the routine is for them. When traveling, try to keep the same habits you have at home, especially the ones related to going to bed in the evening. For example, we always read stories to our kids before going to bed, no matter where we are, just as we do at home.
12. Don’t spend too much money on excursions
Traveling with family can be very expensive, but there are many ways to make it as expensive or as cheap as you want it to be. Enjoy all that nature has to offer – the most beautiful things are often the ones that don’t cost anything at all. You don’t have to do every excursion that is available in the area, often you don’t have to do any at all. Go hiking and take a picnic with you – great time guaranteed.
13. Don’t spend money on souvenirs
I know how difficult it is for the kids to just look at something without buying it, and especially so on a trip where you see all kinds of irresistible items everywhere you go. Resist the temptation and save your money. Because once you start, there is just no end to it. On top of that, things get lost, they get broken, and the worst is that they take place in your baggage during the trip. Take a picture of the souvenir if you want to, and save your money for an extra excursion or go and get some ice-cream instead!
We have a deal with our kids that they can choose one item to buy on the very last day of the trip. That saves us lots of whining, endless discussions, and money. By the end of vacation they usually have a better idea of what they really want AND they have something new to keep them busy at the airport or on the plane.
14. Want to buy something? Get binoculars!
We gave our boys small binoculars as a present during our trip to Namibia, and they loved it. They were very excited to use their binoculars when we went on safari rides, it kept them busy and they were much more interested in all what was happening around them than most other – much older – children whom we met on safari.
I read that some people advise to buy a small digital camera for your kids, and while that maybe a good idea for somewhat older children, I wouldn’t give it to a 4 year old unless you want him to take a thousand photos of his feet. For now, we stick to the binoculars. For any road trip, not only for the African safari.
15. Live in the moment and enjoy!
And the most important, loosen up and enjoy your trip and time with your family! Live in the moment, embrace new experiences, try new things and get out of your comfort zone. That’s what traveling is all about!
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