We love travelling with our kids, to see the world through their eyes is magical and inspiring, and family travel has provided so many special experiences for our family, but it certainly doesn’t come without its fair share of growing pains. We have been travelling full time for six months now, and we have learned so much since that cold morning when raced to the airport at 4 am for our first big fight of the trip.
First off, we no longer book flights 4am, but that isn’t the only thing we’ve learned. Here are our DO’s and DON’Ts of family travel, hopefully you can learn from our experience and save yourself from a few of your own “travel pains”.
DO pack in as few suitcases as possible. You know that expression goes big or go home? Pack a big suitcase or you may find yourself wanting to. The internet is full of cute pint-size luggage that I’m sure your littles would love but beware, it’s going to be your arms holding those Paw Patrol bags as you try to clear customs, hail a cab or make the trek from the subway station to your hotel.
DON’T pack the kitchen sink in your carry on. I used to pack up half the toy room and the whole pantry anytime we travelled, I would board the plane, toddler, and baby in tow and begin the 15-minute process of setting up our travel station. I thought I needed to have every possible thing that they could have wanted at arms reach, but let's be honest on the best of days toddlers don’t really know what they want, they've easily guided in the direction of the least messy snack and the tidiest toys, so only pack those. My carry-on bags have decreased in size significantly throughout the years, and my boarding routine has gone from 15 minutes of setting up, down to the 30 seconds it takes to slide the backpack under the seat in front of me and pull out a couple of suckers for taking off. We don’t even pre-board any more. gasp.
DO book larger accommodations whenever possible. You’re looking for function over luxury when you travel as a family. The flexibility of being able to put a toddler down for a nap in a separate bedroom, or to give an older child some much needed alone time to read or draw is a life saver, not to mention mom and dad getting to keep the lights on past 7:30 pm. Airbnb is a great resource for families, the range of accommodations available is vast and they are worldwide, (I am currently writing this sitting in an Airbnb on a little island off the coast of Korea, so they really are everywhere).
DON’T expect your child to want to travel like an adult. Your kids don’t want to spend 8 hours in a car driving to all the local sights, and they probably thought the first temple was cool, but ancient cultures have a lot of temples they don’t want to see them all. But with that being said, it’s not “kid travel” it’s “family travel”, and if those activities are important to mom and dad than I think it’s important that kids be a part of them, just prepare them for it and have realistic expectations. Pack lots of snacks, download a new movie on the iPad and balance those days out with the pool days that your kids want.
DO give your kids opportunities to experience local cuisine. Feeding children can be stressful, especially travelling, but I promise your children won’t starve. They may not love every dish, but that’s okay, food is an integral part of the culture. If you are really concerned, we have yet to come across a restaurant that didn’t have white rice or plain noodles for a picky toddler.
DON’T walk past the information booth. EVER. Even if you think you know exactly where you are going or what your plan is. There is so much valuable information available, on so many things you may not have considered. Some of our favourite memories were had, following the suggestions of the great people who work in info centers.
DO buy a sim card before you leave the airport. International data sim cards are very reasonably priced and even if your accommodation has wifi, it is so convenient to have internet when your plans change on the fly. Most convenience stores sell them, but in a couple of countries, we have found that they were more competitively priced at the airport.
And last, but probably most important, DON’T STRESS! You’ve got this, your kids are way more accommodating than you give you them credit for. Your days may not go quite the way you planned, your baby might wake up at night, your toddler may even throw a tantrum in a public place, wait, that sounds a lot like the same things you worry about at home, so if you’re going to worry about them anyway, why not experience the world with your family at the same time, and make memories that are way bigger than the worries.