Before we get into the nitty-gritty, we need to address the elephant in the room which is that many people are put off by the thought of traveling with kids —- to the next town, let alone to another country. I’m here to tell you that traveling with children is worth it and could very well be the experience of a lifetime for you and for them. This post is to help remove some of the mental barriers we put up that stop us before we even start and offers some practical tips for traveling with kids, at any age.
1) Just Do It – Don’t overthink it as you will very likely talk yourself out of it. As I’ve alluded to already, the idea of traveling with children can be overwhelming but remember you can do it, you will get there, it will be amazing, and you will survive.
2) Plan, Plan, and Plan Some More – The key to traveling with kids anywhere and especially to far-flung locations is to plan ahead and be prepared. For starters, think through what you will need most in terms of packing, depending upon your children’s age(s) what type of activities will they and you most enjoy doing, will you want a night free and if so does the place you are staying offer reliable childcare?
3) Create a Checklist – I have found over the years of traveling with my kids that part of the planning process should include creating a checklist. When you travel with kids, a checklist can be a lifesaver. Here is a great example of a checklist from Travel Mamas.com.
4) Book Ahead – No matter the type of trip you are taking from camping to hotel stays to Airbnbs, it pays to book ahead. Last minute planning and reservations don’t work when you travel with children because you are less likely to get the type of accommodation most suitable for your family’s needs. By making a reservation ahead of time it is one less thing you have to worry about.
5) Do Your Research – If you know you are planning to go overseas for example, make sure your documents are in order. First step, make sure you have a passport and that is has more than 6-months validity left. Know which websites can help ensure a smoother trip, such as the U.S. Department of State (DOS) travel website. This website provides a wealth of knowledge from renewing or applying for a passport, to how to apply for a visa, updated travel warnings, country profiles and much more. Also visit the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website for tips related to getting through the airport security process, and traveling dos and don’ts.
6) Don’t Overpack – One mistake parents often make is to over pack. The best way to approach packing is to only pack the essentials. Today, most anything you could possibly need can be bought overseas should you need it in a pinch. The brand may not be one you are terribly familiar with, but it will serve. When it comes to packing for a trip with kids, pack flexible clothes. By flexible clothes, I mean clothes that you can easily mix and match, that can transition from day to evening activities, that can be easily hand washed and air dried, etc. Also, for kids only pack the shoes they will actually need. Unless you are traveling for a long period of time, defined as a month or more, stick to the script of one pair each of sneakers, sandals, and water shoes.
7) Don’t Let the Kids Pack Their Own Activity Bags – For kids under 10 it is essential when traveling that they have an activity bag. What you don’t want to do is to let them pack it themselves. I’m not saying pack it for them, but I am saying edit their bag heavily. Make sure there is a good mix of activities, including things they can do individually and with the family. In our family, we tend to encourage our kids to bring a few reading materials, coloring or activity books (i.e. puzzles, mazes, dot-to-dots, mad libs), a variety of card games, maybe an electronic device of some kind to be used sparingly and ear (head) phones. Trust me on the last one, having a device with headphones is a godsend.
8) Remember the Medicine – This point should be a top item on your checklist. Anytime you travel and especially with kids it is important to have a small first aid kit with all the essentials and to bring along all prescription medications. A useful tip on the latter point is to call in your prescriptions well in advance so you will have enough for the duration of your trip and once you return. If you are planning to be away for an extended period, also consider having your doctor’s office call in your prescription to a pharmacy at your travel destination just in case.
If you take away nothing else from this article, please take these gems, the benefits of traveling as a family far outweigh the stresses that are unavoidable with little ones. Travel can help you bond as a family and reminds you to take the time to savor the moment and “smell the roses” since you have to do things at the pace of your children. Travel will help you teach your children important life lessons, such as compassion, understanding their blessings, how to be open to the world, and others, in a real and tangible way.
Bottom Line: Get out there and explore and take your kids with you!