Whether you’re about to embark on a weekender or a never-ending journey, I’ve found that the basics of travelling with kids is pretty much the same.
A little note – these tips are written with my 2 younger travellers in mind so are pretty much directed at under 7’s.
A post for ‘Tips for Travelling with Teens’ will be posted soon – stayed tuned!
This is absolutely essential!
Put some time aside to plan well, you won’t regret it! It’ll be the difference of you being one of those families that glide through the arrive gates with a perfectly groomed child on each hand, big smiles on your faces and the wind in your hair, a sparkle in your eye – OR god forbid, one of THOSE families that resemble the Adams family, all red faced and flustered – all bent out of shape – kids running riot while you’re trying frantically to shoo away the half a dozen baggage porters that are closing in for the kill!
There’s so much to write on this subject, and many tips that I wish I had known when I started, so I’ve given this topic it’s own post, see here.
The intensity of this will vary according to age, but all children will get a kick out of being a part of the plan, after all it’s their experience too right?
For the little ones – this is simple, all they need is to hear your excitement and ‘travel chatter’. This will please them immensely and they’ll know on some level that what’s about to happen will be a positive experience. You can show them picture books about travelling and allow them to chose a few of their favorite toys to take along for the journey (but be warned – more than 3 is excessive!) Allow them to be a part of the journey from the start and allow yourself to get caught up in their excitement as well!
Books are one of the best tools to prepare your kids for travel. No matter what the age, you can immerse them in tales of far and wide! My good friend Jo has been kind enough to compile a comprehensive list of books to help you along the way. Here’s the link … ‘Booklist For Travelling Kids’
For the ones a little older, I’d say 5 +, show them maps, search the internet for information on your destination(s). Look for well-known sights and attractions and allow them to make a ‘wish list’ of all the things they’d like to see or do. Make a scrap book for them, and maybe you can help them to create a really simple blog so they can not only document their adventures, but keep in touch with friends and family at home.
This not only gives them a shiny new toy to take along with them but it can also double up as a great tool to encourage them to think a little bit about what they’re packing.
My kids learnt very early on, actually before we even left home, that loading it full of books and bulky items wasn’t too comfortable, especially when the much favored lego pirate ship is poking you in the back! Needless to say they re-adjusted their needs and wants pretty easily. (and the Lego ended up in the cases!)
Now, a personal tip here – be aware that if they’re really little, 4 and under, that groovy little travel bag that you purchased with such excitement, will more than likely be another thing that you’ll end up lugging around! That’s along with a sleeping toddler in arms, a ‘slightly older than toddler’ in hand, your pack on your back, and 2 ‘kiddies packs’ on the front. OUCH!
So if you’re travelling with little ones I’d highly recommend to buy a little backpack – more for the novelty than the actual practicality of it! And get the ones that are easily ‘squashed down’ then you can collapse it at any point and load it into yours.
Everyone gets excited about travel. The new places, new adventures, and everything that those experiences will bring.
Some of us spend hours, and hours and hours, scouring the travel guides, searching the net, reading travel blogs. (ummmm, no guessing who this is!) Some of us write up ‘to do and see lists’, some of us even have excel, colour coded spreadsheets showing the chosen destinations, hotels, and likely activities (yep, that’s my big sis ;))
That’s all great, get excited, BUT remember when you’re travelling with kids to keep it simple. Tag a few of your most desirable destinations and sights, and be ok to let go of the rest. Prioritise!
As adults our minds are fast paced, quick to digest new sights, sounds, experiences as a whole. And quick to move onto the next. Remember your kids aren’t there yet. Allow them the gift of time. Your children will take in so much more if they enjoy it, and let’s face it, no kid likes to be dragged from sight – to café – to gallery – to restaurant, to fall asleep in the taxi on the way home. Actually, to be honest, nor do I!
Take in one experience at a time, give them plenty of down time in-between, and SLOW DOWN! Remember you’re having a family holiday & adventure, you’re not a contestant in the ‘The Amazing Race’!
One thing I’ve learnt after being on the road with my 2 darlings is that the ‘down time’ can be equally as rewarding and satisfying as seeing a ‘Wonder of the World’. It also gives you precious time to further engage the kids in what they’re experiencing so far – ‘What did you like about that town’ ‘ What was your favorite part of yesterday?’ ‘What didn’t you like … and why’.
* A little homeschooling tip for those fellow homeschoolers out there – I’ve found that these ‘down-times’ create the perfect environment for reflection as well as further enquiry. It can also give you great inspiration for a brand new topic in your curriculum – now that’s gotta be a bonus!
Now that I’m on the subject of schedules, while I believe it’s of value to have them, it’s also absolutely imperative to be flexible with them.
Plans are great, but get ready to change them when the need arises. You may even throw your schedule to the wind as it takes on a life of it’s own. Great, go with it! Allow the kids to direct it somewhat and more importantly allow yourself to relax into the process. Have fun with it! There’s nothing as exciting in my books as those impromptu experiences that come with this sort of flexibility and change, they’re almost always more exciting that ‘the planned event’! (and make some great topics of conversation later!)
Be that hotels/home stays, cafes, restaurants or even activities, always look for the word ‘kid friendly’.
It’s pretty simple and ‘oh so true’ that happy kids = happy parents! I mean who wants to be scoffing down that delicious ‘Nasi Campur’ while balancing one cheek on the chair, constantly getting up and down and pacing the restaurant to check that your child hasn’t accidentally slipped down that ‘far too close’ ravine (with ‘shock horror’ no fencing!) that provides the ‘beautiful view’!
The same goes for home stays, hotels, bungalows, villas. Read this post …… and you’ll get why this is THE most important thing to consider! Put your ‘parent radar’ on and check for potential dangers. Remember that every country is different, and what we see as ‘potential dangers’ might look a lot different to the local people around you. Use your intuition here, but also try not to fall into the ‘helicopter parent’ role, by this I mean, be aware but not over cautious – provide your kids with a safe environment without depriving them a chance of adventure and discovery in their new environment. Let them climb that tree – as long as it’s not the one hanging over THAT ravine!
Seek out playgrounds, wide-open spaces and all the great ‘kid places’ around you. Find areas they can run, throw a ball, ride a bike (if you’re lucky enough to have access to one). This simple play is as important to their growth as is all the highly educational and cultural places that will be on your hit list.
And don’t be shy to talk to other travelling families. Get their recommendations and tips because most of the time, these precious tips are worth their weight in gold and more often than not, they’re not what the guide books will give you.
This goes without saying, their little legs are half the size of ours. Keep that in mind when planning your day OR be prepared to piggy-back a child (or 2) the distance!
There’s a great joy in seeing your kids excitement while riding in a tuk-tuk through the streets of Chaing Mai or a horse and cart over the Island of Gilli Trawangan. And guaranteed, it’s certainly a whole lot more fun for all of you than dragging tired kids way further than their little bodies are meant to travel. In all seriousness, that’s just plain cruel.
And yes, I possibly could have been put in the category of one of those cruel mothers …
Early on in our journey, I thought I was being all ‘travel savvy’ and decided not to pre-book a hotel when we arrived on Gillli Trawangan. I stupidly thought that we would have the freedom and more to the point, the ability, to casually stroll around the Island and find the perfect bungalow, in the perfect position, for the perfect price. BIG MISTAKE! We arrived in the sweltering heat after a LONG, bumpy, stinky boat ride that left both children with green faces, empty bellies and absolutely depleted in energy – with nowhere to rest their weary little heads. After a very stressful few hours walking, or more like trudging, around the dusty streets we ended up settling for a ‘far from perfect’ hotel that we later changed anyway.
So, my tip is – Book your accommodation ahead of time, even if it’s the first night while you get your feet on the ground and save their little legs the pain!
There is nothing sweeter than seeing the world through the eyes of a child.
They put a whole new spin on things and give you ample opportunities to turn your own mindset around. Some of my most precious, and hilarious moments during this journey are exactly that – through the eyes of my children.
You will have your own agenda, but take this opportunity, while travelling with your children, to regress and simplify the way you think. As parents we are so blessed to be able to have this opportunity, seize the moment and discover the world like a child!
With that said – keep a journal! You think these memories are etched in your mind forever but reality is, that for most of us that just isn’t true.
Keep a journal of your adventures, add in all the funny little things that your kids see and do. Keep their doodles and drawings and write about their experiences as you see it. If they’re old enough get them to journal about it as well. In time this little book (or blog for some of us) will hold precious memories of a journey that your child will re-visit over and over again. Keep the experience alive, it need not stop when your arrive home and the dust settles.
There can be no better travel tool than a camera. As adults it’s almost as important as our passport, so why not for our kids?
I have a very visual child that sees the world through his own lens, sometimes still frame and sometimes motion , so a camera is a natural choice for him. As he discovers the world in his visual way he also enrolls his little sister in his excitement as well. So, he’s not only a student of the world – he’s a teacher as well! And yes, at least half of his photo’s, and almost all of his movies are of Lego, face shots of his sister, and a lot of me in the kitchen (and I hardly cook – go figure!) but he loves it. He’s still getting used to looking through the lens, holding the camera still, and just realizing that he can do it.
Photography is a wonderful skill, and passion to have – why not encourage that in your kids!