Having traveled with kids for well over a decade, I’ve picked up a few tricks. But there’s always room for growth, so I also read articles about family travel tips and tricks for traveling with kids.
I’ve picked up a few good ideas this way, but I’m always amazed how much bad advice is out there.
To save you the trouble, here are a few family travel tips NOT to follow:
Traveling (or doing anything with kids) can leave a parent grasping for some sense of control. But this is an illusion. Usually better to go with the flow – at least in some regards.
Many travel sites encourage families to book every single thing in advance, leaving nothing to chance. In my experience, this is more likely to cause frustration than solve it.
Book only the high-demand items; things that are likely to sell out or could leave you standing in line for hours to access. Then sketch out a plan and be flexible. You never know what delights you’ll encounter along the way. When you’re overly scripted, you miss these gems.
Kids will appreciate this flexibility too. Every trip needs ample time for discovery; examining some strange bird, befriending a local kid, or sitting on a curb, eating ice cream and watching passersby.
Invest in High-End Travel Gear
We’ve traveled the world with backpacks and a $10 fold-up stroller. While cool gear is definitely fun, it’s in no way essential. In fact, it can even get in the way of enjoying your trip by eating up your budget and causing you to worry about every scratch.
I’ve also seen people put off travel until they have all the right gear, which (spoiler alert) never happens because there are always new things coming out.
The peace bought by electronic entertainment can be valuable. We often download a few movies on our phones just in case the kids need a break. That being said, I’d only recommend tablets and other digital entertainment options for road trips where you have long hours in the car and you aren’t schlepping all your possessions on your back. It’s also a good idea to train them to ride without entertainment for the first three or four hours each day and save the tech for after lunch when they’re starting to get tired.
Keep tech where it belongs – when there’s nothing else to see. I’ve seen kids miss pretty extraordinary things because they were plugged into a device. We saw one little girl walking along a Yellowstone boardwalk with her nose in a tablet. Not only did she miss the colorful hotpots, she very nearly walked off the edge and experienced them up close.
This common tip usually leads to a suitcase full of stuffed animals, toys and books that kids tire of in the first 10 minutes. Then you’re left hauling them from place to place because the toys are too precious to be left in an airport trash can.
Kids are resourceful, if you let them be. They will find something to play with. Sticks, food packaging, paper and pen, brochures, etc. Better yet, they’ll find things to play within the area, making their own special memories in the process.
So often, a parent’s desire to meet a child’s every need robs them of experience. Allowing them to entertain themselves teaches them to be creative problem solvers. It teaches resiliency. Perhaps most importantly, it teaches them how to be bored without making their boredom everyone else’s problem. These are all really important life skills. Travel helps kids develop them young.
Plan Around Nap Time
One of our family superpowers is adaptability. How did we get there? Quite by accident.
When the kids were little, they learned to sleep wherever we happened to be when they were tired. They slept on trains, planes, buses, in cars, strollers and slings. Why? Because the world doesn’t revolve around nap time and if you want to see it, neither should you.
This taught them resiliency, adaptability and an overall amicability that is really good in travel – and in life in general.
Don’t Move Around Too Much
The thought here is that moving around a lot can be overwhelming for kids, or difficult because they pack so much, or challenging because you have to clean up all their stuff every time you move.
Travel is a great way to learn solid life skills, so start with the end in mind. What kind of human do you want your kids to be? Instead of tailoring life to less-that-desirable behaviors, teach them to pack light, keep everything in their bag at all times, and embrace change. Trust me, change is coming for them whether they learn to embrace it or not. I’d rather they be ready and good at handling it when it does.
This one can be good advice, if you’re going somewhere that food won’t be available or that’s physically strenuous, like a long hike. But most often, it’s better to pick up food from local places as you go along. It gives everyone better insight into the culture and allows you to try something new. Plus, it’s less for you to carry from place to place.
That being said, it never hurts to have a couple (just a couple) granola bars on hand. Buy them locally – we’ve found all sorts of interesting treats this way.