Travel has always been a big part (and priority) in our lives. We’ve visited over 15 different countries, 5 with our girls as well as countless local destinations. We’ve experienced the inflight meltdowns, travel delays and other chaotic moments that comes with seeing the world and today we share our 10 tips for traveling with kids.
No matter the destination, gender or age… Our tips for traveling with kids are sure to help you enjoy your next family vacation more.
1. Have reasonable expectations
Traveling with kids WILL be completely different than traveling alone or as a couple. Firstly, because you have a entire other person to consider and take care of. Secondly, because that person already demands a lot (going on vacation won’t change that). Kids will be kids!
Being in a new location, experiencing foreign cuisine, sights and smells might seem exciting to us but for a child this can easily become overwhelming. All the “new” can make them feel lost and unsure especially if mom and dad seems preoccupied and constantly on-the-go. As parents, we have to manage our own expectations of what our holiday will be now that we have kids. If you want to see all the sights – considered prolonging your trip. We never do less that 10 days (more when traveling abroad). If time is limited, accept that you won’t be able to “do and see it all” – prioritise and make a list of things you simply can’t miss. Remember to include the kid’s recommendations too, even if it’s something seemingly silly like playing in a park.
TOP TRAVEL TIP: We actually make a point of visiting local parks anywhere we visit. You’ll be surprised at how different things are in another country / provence and how much fun you’ll have. It’s also the best way to calm a cranky child that might have had a meltdown in the fancy museum you just visited.
Kids NEED extra attention when on holiday and we should embrace that. Isn’t slowing down and reconnecting as a family what vacation is about?
2. Fly direct unless you’re driving
Flying direct isn’t always the cheapest option and a lot of parents get nervous at the thought of spending such a long time in an airplane with little ones BUT in our experience long stop-overs or stressful transfers add so much stress… It’s worth paying extra.
If a direct flight simply isn’t possible, book one to a destination you wouldn’t mind visiting for a day or two. We flew to Paris via Amsterdam staying over for 2 nights and when visiting Greece, Rome was our stopover. We saw the days spent there as extras. It wasn’t the main focus or destination of our vacation so we didn’t go out of our way doing and seeing things. We simply enjoyed what was possible and promised ourselves to one day be back for a proper visit.
If stopover are unavoidable, try keeping them to no more than 2 – 3 hours. This gives everyone enough time to stretch their legs, eat something at the airport and freshen up before having to board again.
Another must is to always fly at night when traveling far. This makes bedtime part of your planned travel time which means you can bargain on at least a few hours of rest for everyone.
TOP TRAVEL TIP: Don’t forget to pack an awesome Airplane Bag. For more tips find our post on Flying with Kids here.
Road trips are a ball game all on their own and I’ll be sharing our Road Trip Essentials for kids in a future post – so be sure to keep an eye on the blog.
3. Plan but be flexible
“Winging it” might have worked in the past but if you want to get the most out of your vacation; you’ll need to plan. Nothing hectic that’s going to exhaust you. Just a daily plan of action or a list of must-see sights and must-do activities. The things you wouldn’t want to miss.
Don’t go overboard. We usually plan no more than 2 “big” activities for the day. One in the morning, just after breakfast and then another after lunch and nap time.
TOP TRAVEL TIP: Make sure these activities differ. If possible have one be an indoor and the other an outdoor activity. No kid wants to do 2 museums in one day. That being said… Museum visits are great for nap locations. A quiet space to stroll around in while your little naps in a pram or baby carrier.
Always remember to include “free days” too – Days that have no plan; ideal for relaxing or catching up on activities you didn’t get to on previous days.
4. Always be prepared
Know where you are going. Read up on family friendly outings, parks and hotels. Also make sure you have every travel document (passports, letter of accommodation etc.) needed handy when moving through customs and the airport.
(Make a set of certified copies and keep them in someone’s suitcase. I’ve lost all my documents while traveling – doing this saved me).
Invest in a good backpack and stock-up!
Snacks, food, water, extra clothes, something warm and a first aid kit. Maybe a book or favourite toy to keep the littles busy while waiting at attractions or having lunch.
Our favourite travel backpack (also my diaper bag): Hansel & Gretel Full leather back pack.
Snacks we always have at hand: Kiddylicious is still one of our favourites, especially when traveling. Read more about them here.
Handy first aid kits that don’t take up a lot of space: me4kids sell wonderful compact kits containing all the essentials.
5. Adjust the daily routine
Routine is important and kids thrive when they feel safe and know what to expect but it’s vacation time and everyone deserves a break. The pressures of keeping to the “normal routine” can rob us from the joys of a family trip. Especially for moms.
So, give yourself permission to be a “bad mom” from time to time. Let them stay up past bedtime to see the fireworks. If you skipped a nap because the picnic at the Eiffel tower lasted longer, it’s okay. Decide to sleep-in after a rough night while the kids eat cereal and watch cartoons, is allowed. The kids will enjoy seeing “the other side of their mama”.
Before you know it everyone will be home and back to their good daily habits.
TOP TRAVEL TIP: Make sure everyone starts the day well by prioritising breakfast. Young kids need at least one good nap but it doesn’t have to happen in a bed. Lia (4) and Ava (1) love sleeping in our Stage 2 Ubuntu Baba carriers and these days there are so many awesome strollers available perfect for travel.
Travel strollers we have our eye on: The Chelino Travel Buddy Stroller and the Squizz 2 Compact Baby Stoller.
6. Appreciate your new pace and what it brings
For years we thought going on vacation meant seeing, doing and experiencing as much as possible. We loved being on the go, constantly exploring. It was all about getting the most out of our time away and more often than not we felt like we needed another holiday, after our holiday.
Kids will force you to slow down, to stop and really spend time wherever you may find yourself. They simply can’t and don’t want to keep up with the fast pace we adults tend to set.
TOP TRAVEL TIP: Embrace this gift and open your eyes to a new way of travel. One that gives you access to the road less traveled and actually gives you time to rest too. You may not tick every box in the travel guide but I promise you’ll have more memories than even the biggest scapbook can hold.
7. Consider the kids when planning your trip
Family travel doesn’t have to be limited to Disneyland and kid-friendly restaurants. We are firm believers that our girls should travel with us to any destination as long as we keep them in mind while planning. Being adventurous at heart we prefer planning everything ourselves – taking an “off the beaten path” approach, embracing the different cultures we find. Booking.com comes in very useful and Airbnb accommodation is a fantastic and affordable option for families in need of more space.
Feeding squirrels in Cape Town’s Company’s Garden might not always have been top of the to-do list when visiting the Mother City but things have changed. Now this is an event not to be overlooked, right up there with eating a cupcake at Charly’s Bakery and popping into the Two Oceans Aquarium. And so too the Moulin Rouge obviously wasn’t an age appropriate stop while visiting Paris but with a surplus of incredible carousels and loads of outdoor sightseeing we didn’t miss a night on the town.
Museums and cathedrals are also more than willing to lend a helping hand providing fast passes to visitors with kids and even an extra stroller when needed.
It also helps reading up on age specific activities and festivals happening while you are visiting. Have fun with food too. Let the littles taste the local cuisine and make it fun. Most importantly PLAN TO PLAY! Not many people have fond memories of taking part in a puppet show in the streets of Athens but you could…
TOP TRAVEL TIP: I always “fool” the girls into exploring grownup attractions by creating a treasure hunt. It’s easy. Simply printout photos of all the places you plan to visit and all the dishes you’d like to eat. Place them in a small photo album. Our treasure hunt book, together with our Instax instant camera goes everywhere with us and we snap up pics, safely storing them in the album as the girls discovery (and experience) every treasure.
8. Travel light
Packing for a family trip can be the worst. I feel like staying home just at the thought of all the effort it takes… Make things easy. Phone ahead and ask about cribs, towels and bedding available. Only take what’s needed. You’ll be able to buy groceries and other necessities so no need to pack the entire pantry.
Take clothes that don’t crease easily and items that can be worn more than once (jeans) or easily washed (linen) outfits. Limit toys and keep them small, easy to store in your backpack.
9. Start early
We’ve been traveling with our girls since they were young, planning big family vacations even before their 1st birthdays.
- When Eliana was 9 months old we took a train down to Cape Town, hired a car and explored the Garden Route for 10 days.
- Lia was 11 months old when she boarded her 1st international flight to Amsterdam. We sent just over 2 weeks celebrating my 30th birthday in the Netherlands, Paris and Disneyland.
- Last year, just a few months after Ava’s 1st birthday we traveled Rome, Athens, Mykonos and Naxos as a family.
TOP TRAVEL TIP: It’s actually much cheaper traveling with young kids. Flights are discounted, a lot of the times hotels provide free accommodation and a lot of attractions don’t charge a fee for kids under 12.
10. Do it often – Practice makes perfect
You will learn.
The kids will learn.
Together things will get easier and you’ll find you vacation rhythm, just like you have one at home.
Whether it’s local or abroad, the more you travel, the more you will want to travel because the pro’s FAR outweigh the cons.
Still many people refuse to travel with kids saying it’s too expensive, not worth the effort and simply not enjoyable. We couldn’t disagree more.
Obviously there are always stressful moments to deal with while on vacation but our tips for traveling with kids will make you better prepared, helping you navigate and deal with any challenges thrown your way.
Travel has taught them valuable life skills, brought us closer as a family and opened our eyes to a world far beyond our day-to-day. It really is an experience we wouldn’t trade for anything and one we highly recommend to all families.
THE LAST OF OUR TIPS FOR TRAVELING WITH KIDS: Kids aren’t “bad” travelers. You’ll be surprised at how easily they adapt. It’s actually us, the parents that tend to have trouble being flexible. If we can learn to relax, traveling would be a whole lot easier.
So… Where to next? I’d love to hear your travel tips too and where you’re going for your next vacation… Let me know in the comment below.