Successful family travel – is there a formula or is it just down to plain luck?
We travelled full time with our kids for over 2 years and have only recently settled down in one spot for a while. Now that I’ve got a bit of extra time to catch up on our travel tales, it suddenly struck me how much we learnt over the time we were on the road.
For me the biggest lesson for successful family travel was learning to go with the flow, to not stick to a rigid plan and cause extra stress when it’s not needed. I found that minimising schedules always lead to better experiences, then if we found an amazing beach, a great campsite or a fun playground we could stay longer and not have to worry about where we should be.
While travelling we have also connected with lots of other adventuring families so I thought it the perfect question to ask them all – what’s your top tip for successful family travel? The answers are eye-opening, varied and a definite must-read if you’re thinking of heading off on a trip with the kids in tow.
Travel allowance – Budget for Successful Family Travel
Tip from Natalie and Steve at Curious Campers
“When you travel with kids, balancing their wants against a carefully planned budget can be a challenge. One of the best things we did for our lap of Australia was make the kids (aged 8 and 10) responsible for their own money – we gave them weekly pocket money.
First, we set some rules. Lost money wasn’t replaced and there were no loans; otherwise, it was theirs to spend. After a couple of early hiccups it worked beautifully. The kids soon learnt to budget their money over the week or save for more expensive purchases.
There were many practical benefits. Working out how much they’d saved, how much was left after a purchase, and how many of something they could buy were all great maths lessons.
On the Nullarbor we talked about why their favourite treats cost three times more than normal. At the Big Rocking Horse we could talk about whether the ‘must have’ wooden train set was a need or a want.
The kids enjoyed the financial freedom and learnt some useful life skills. It also meant when we stopped somewhere, the focus could be on the activity and not nagging us for a Paddlepop!”
Mix it up!
From Abhishek & Neha at the Revolving Compass from India who travel extensively with their two kids who are just 1 year and 5 years old.
“Over the years we have learnt a lot of tricks and tips on how to family travel like a breeze. They include several little things like choosing the right snacks for kids, packing some toys & books to keep them entertained, ensuring they are in good health, packing all their essential medicines and going to places which have good healthcare facilities, just in case. However, one really great secret that has worked wonders for us is choosing the right mix of destinations & activities so that the kids enjoy as much as we do. For instance, on our 2 weeks trip to Europe, we included Disneyland Paris in the itinerary which our kid was really looking forward to. And hence, didn’t complain much while we visited the historical spots & museums! Similarly, a couple of years back when we took this trip to the hills of Meghalaya in India, we balanced it for our kid with another trip to Singapore a few months down the line. The Singapore trip was totally centered around activities and places that the kid would enjoy. And it was her most memorable trip of the year! Sometimes, we head to destinations where there is not much for the kids to do. To still keep it interesting for them, we arrange for random picnics in natural spots. Or choose a resort which has ample space for them to play and run around. For example, on a recent weekend getaway from our city, we wanted to explore some wilderness in the hills. We booked a resort some 10km from the natural reserves. And left the kids to play around in the resort lawn and explore the premises with their grandparents while we took our excursion! This kind of mixing of destinations and activities has really worked out wonders for us. As a result we travel smoothly with our kids and all of us enjoy the trips equally.”
Travelling with a baby
This tip come from My Travelogue by Bhushavali and is a great tip if you’re travelling with infants
“Nothing can help traveling with a baby as much as babywearing! It’s a blessing. At early stages of life, especially while traveling, everything is too new for my baby and she had the constant need to cling on to me for reassurance. Add to it the fact that I’m a breast-feeding mom, babywearing always comes to rescue. It always easy to keep walking, and be discreet as well, when feeding my baby. My gal would eat and then sleep over my chest while I kept moving and roaming about the new place. Another blessing of babywearing is that its super easy in places where a stroller doesn’t make sense. Especially when we traveled to Greece, Malta, Sintra in Portugal, and when we did trail walking in Ardennes, Sonian Forest, a stroller just wouldn’t make any sense with the uneven pathways. Until she was about a year old is was super easy to carry her in the front and nowadays I prefer back carries with her increasing weight. Now, traveling with backcarry babywearing is almost like traveling with a backpack!!!”
If the Teens are happy – everyone is happy!
This tip comes from Jenny at Traveling Party of Four
“Traveling with teenagers is an art that involves patience, flexibility, balance, a bit of creativity, and a lot of love. My teens have taught me a thing or two about keeping the family in harmony while traveling.”
- Before leaving, let them pack for themselves (with a checklist for guidance, of course).
- Let them plan a day or two of your itinerary. With the internet that teens love and can’t get enough of, have them research the destination and find activities they are interested in to add to the day.
- Teach them a new skill, such as reading a map or navigating the subway or tube.
- If they want to sleep in, let them. No one likes a cranky teen.
- Teens are social beings, so allow them to communicate with their friends at home. Set your boundaries, but let them play.
- Give them downtime to chill. Parents need this, too.
- Don’t overbook your day.
- Do something active with them every day. Hiking, kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, stand up paddleboarding, horseback riding, or ziplining (if you dare).
- Take pictures with them; they will appreciate this later (and so will you).
Get Fully Charged for Successful Family Travel!
This tip comes from Melissa at Queensland Camping
“Having travelled multiple times a year with my daughter since she was just a toddler, I’ve quickly learned that one of the secret of successful family travel is a fully charge iPad packed full of all their favourite movies, songs, books and games. The great thing about an iPad is they are suitable for toddlers all the way through to teenagers. Hey – they are also perfect for parents too! There are games and movies suitable for all ages so you can easily update it before each trip. While it is best if each child has their own iPad, you can even get headphones with splitters so children can both watch the iPad together – although this can still result in fights over what to watch. There are so many reasons why I love an iPad for travel. Think about it, waiting for planes, delayed flights, long lines – these are all perfect scenarios for bored children and a tantrum just waiting to happen. Not to mention the flight itself. Also have you ever jumped on board a plane only to have the in flight entertainment not work on your seat, or there is nothing that your child wants to watch? An iPad is a godsend in these situations. I also say fully charged, because you don’t want that iPad going flat mid flight. Anyway, make sure you bring a fully charged portable charger with you just case.”
We also have some great ideas for screen free entertainment for kids too.
Training Your Child to Sleep in a Toddler Travel Bed
This tip on successful family travel comes from Dani at Diapers in Paradise
“One of most challenging parts of traveling with very young children is the disruption to a normal sleep routine. While jet lag is a big part of that, equally important is the shock of waking up (or trying to fall asleep!) in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar room. It takes weeks or even months to train a baby to sleep peacefully in a crib – you can’t expect that baby or toddler to suddenly be fine with a random pack n play at the hotel! Luckily, you can help prepare your baby or toddler to sleep well when you’re on the go. Toddler travel beds have come a long way in recent years, and some of them are certified safe sleep settings for even very young babies. Additionally, many are lightweight and portable, making them ideal even for carry-on only travelers! To fully utilize a toddler travel bed, you’ll want to purchase it a month ahead of your trip, and start slowly acclimating your child to it. This is toddler travel bed training. By the time your trip comes, your little one will have a safe, familiar, and comfortable place to sleep no matter where you go. And that translates to better sleep for the whole family, which sets you up for successful family travel.”
Have you checked out our top tips for travelling with toddlers?
Timing is Everything on Long Drives
Thanks to James from katherinerosman.com for this advice
“If you have young children then hours on the road can lead to a lot of restlessness. But you can minimise the time periods where they could become unsettled by understanding your child’s sleep patterns, and attention span. Then scheduling stops & activities accordingly. For example, I know that my Son is at his best in the mornings and is more likely to sleep in the early afternoon. If we have a long day of driving ahead I always seek to get him up and hit the road just before his usual wake up time. This means a 5.30am departure. He will be quiet for most of the first leg while he wakes up, and munches on some breakfast snacks. A couple of hours in he will be sharper and wanting to interact. This is a great time to either start handing him toys, or play a game. Then at the first sign of boredom the trusty iPad comes out where a cartoon can keep him occupied until the lunchtime stop. After a whole morning in the car he will want to run around. Combining the physical activity with a good lunch will help bring on that early afternoon slumber that is needed after the early rise. So with little more than some carefully timed activities and stops we are six hours into a drive with minimal fuss. Of course this is all made easier when traveling with the middle of the day usually being full of activity. So you are almost guaranteed a quiet drive at the end of the day when exhausted kids slump into their seat.”
Writing a Travel Journal
From Erin at Love To Travel, Stay-Eat-Do
“I love to write because I love to remember the details of my travels, all the great places I’ve been, the distances we’ve driven and the funny moments we’ve shared. Since we had the kids, I have been keen to get them to write as well. Initially, they told me their favourite activity or place we visited each day. It has a been a great way for them to reflect on our adventures, as well as practicing gratitude. Now they’re a little older, they can write sentences and draw pictures to remember our trips. Some days we all sit down and do this together quietly; it’s rare, but when we do, it is really nice. I also write a travel journal as a way of maintaining good mental health. Travelling with kids can really take it’s toll some days and I love to have an ‘escape’. Writing gives me an opportunity to reflect and be grateful, even on the days that are really tough. It also gives me a chance to have some physical and mental space from everyone, while I write.”
Lower Your Expectations
From Cath at Passports and Adventures
“One of the secrets to successful family travel, for us, comes from experience and advice we received when we started exploring cities with our son. And once we adopted this motto, we’ve enjoyed many cities around the world with our son. What is it you may ask? Lower your expectations and slow down. While many people love exploring cities at lightning pace, you simply cannot continue at the same pace once kids come along. Their little legs cannot carry them around cities all-day, every day. And little kids need regular stops for toilet breaks, snacks and for naps. While you shouldn’t stop enjoying travelling once you have kids, you do need to slow down to their pace, or you will have unhappy, overtired kids. You also need to lower your expectations. If you were used to packing things into short amount of time, that ain’t going to happen anymore. Not without whingy kids. Kids don’t want to be sightseeing all day, racing around from place to place. You need to mix up what you enjoy with things they will enjoy. Do your adult sightseeing and touristy things in the morning and have something fun and kid-friendly planned for the afternoon. This can also work as a bribe to get through a rather boring museum or tour for them if they have the promise of something exciting to look forward to. And if all else fails, no-one would blame you for calling it a day, heading back to your accommodation, and just chilling out by the pool with the kids on their tablets. By slowing down and, more importantly, lowering your expectations, you are bound to enjoy family travel more than facing disappointment.”
Vary your Itinerary for Successful Family Travel
From Clare at Epic Road Rides
“We have a 4 and 7 year old. My husband and I are generally of the mindset that we won’t let the kids’ requirements dominate, so we won’t avoid all culture and dining experiences, just because we have kids in tow. However, over the years we’ve discovered that the best trips are when we compromise that attitude just a little bit. So we try to mix up the itinerary so there are things that will appeal to the kids and to us. For example on a trip to Nice, we all enjoyed our walk around the Old Town, but the fact it also incorporated a play in the water fountains, some time on the play equipment and a trip to the ice cream shop really helped incentivise our kids to keep going and not whining! We’ve also found that active travel really appeals to them. They love to scoot and ride their bikes, so rather than do a walking tour, we’ll often take their folding scooters with us and they can then just scoot along while we walk. So much better for everyone!”
Karen from Smart Steps to Australia has this advice
“When travelling with kids, I like to try to be prepared for whatever the day throws at us. That means having a basic kit that I take with us wherever we go. Firstly, my kids don’t go anywhere without their water bottles – even if we take a short trip to the shops, I always remind them to take them as my 7yo has a huge breakdown if she realises she doesn’t have a drink to hand. The other thing that is always in my handbag is a small bag containing some basic first aid, sunscreen and a mossie repellent. You never know when you’re going to spot a playground, and here in Australia the sun is so fierce so a good quality sunscreen is essential, and at certain times mossies can be a real problem where we live so this means we can still go out to play. I use the first aid kit all the time for scrapes and falls and I wouldn’t be without it. The one time I forgot to pack the first aid kit on a day out to a wildlife park, my daughter fell over and cut her knee. Luckily there was another mum next to me who had one in her bag so she was able to give me a plaster! It just made me realise how important it was to carry with me.”
Find Some Quiet Time
And finally a tip from Kat at The Wandering Bird about finding some calm on the road.
“We spent a year touring Europe in a motorhome whilst homeschooling our teenage daughter. To say it was a culture shock is an understatement and we needed to find ways to cope with being in such close proximity ALL. THE. TIME. One of the things I highly recommend doing for any trip, no matter how long or short, is preparing a few quiet activities for kids which they can do while travelling or while chilling. Our daughter loves to read and she loves to listen to music. Both are EXCELLENT travel options so we encouraged her to do both. We also introduced her to audio books, so she could listen while we were driving (she gets car sick if she reads while driving) and puzzle books were also a godsend. We tried hard not to say ‘you read too much’ or you ‘listen to your music too much’ as we didn’t want to discourage her. Instead, we tried to use her existing interests to find new books or new music to listen to, which we could then talk about afterwards as part of her homeschooling. Travel, for any length of time, is about finding ways to exist together, often in smaller spaces. Finding ways to be quiet and allowing the kids to just chill is definitely something to include in your plans.”