My daughter has been to Aruba, Greece, Austria, Germany, New Zealand, the western and eastern parts of Canada, Mexico, and about 40 states in the United States, and she’s only 11 years old. She’s been traveling for as long as she can remember. She began flying before she was 2 years old. When she was around 9 or 10, she told me when she was younger she thought everyone traveled as much as she did, and only recently had she begun to realize that wasn’t true.
I know traveling with children can be more hassle, more expensive, more things to pack, and logistically more difficult to plan, but the rewards are absolutely worth any negatives. Many of my daughter’s teachers have told me that her travels have allowed her to see first-hand places they’ve studied in school. Her travels have enriched her education in a way that I never could have imagined. She’s seen and done things that it took me 30 or 40 years to do and that many people will never see or do. This is truly priceless.
Over the years I have learned a few things about traveling with children and I’d like to share my top ten here.
- Pack plenty of things to entertain your child on the airplane and in the car. Even if you’re flying to your destination, chances are pretty good you’ll still be spending some time driving to places. Pack things like a portable DVD player, tablet, or other electronic games/devices. Books, coloring books and crayons, paper to draw on, and sticker books were also big hits when my daughter was younger. Now that she’s older, her tablet and some books are enough to keep her entertained when we’re in transit. Audible books are also a great thing to have for children, especially in the car.
- Start out small. Go on a road trip then take a longer one and see how it goes. You’ll quickly find out your child’s limits for time spent in the car. For your child’s first airplane ride, you probably wouldn’t want to take them halfway around the world. Take a short flight, say 2 hours, and build up from there. You’ll learn as you go what works for your child and what doesn’t work.
- Introduce your child to travel early. Children adjust pretty much to anything, travel included, far better if they’re younger. If traveling is something your child does regularly, it will become “normal” for them.
- Pack comfort items like your child’s favorite stuffed animal (unless it’s a giant one), a nightlight, and sound machine. We found having a nightlight and sound machine in hotel rooms to be very useful and they’re both small enough to easily pack.
- Call the hotel in advance to ask if they provide cribs or pack n’ plays (portable cribs popular in the US, if you’re not familiar). Many do provide these but sometimes for an extra fee, but many also do not. Some hotels also have other baby-related items they offer; just ask ahead of time to save you the trouble of bringing something you might not need to.
- When they are old enough, ask your child to research the place(s) you’ll be going to and find some things they would enjoy doing. Your itinerary doesn’t have to be all planned out by mom or dad. We also get books from the library before our vacations so our daughter can learn about the places we will be going to.
- Don’t over-do it on your excersions. Americans especially tend to try to pack as many activities as they possibly can, but when you have young children you need to slow down a bit. Don’t forget to schedule activities around nap times (don’t skip them just because you’re on vacation).
- Try to stay at a hotel that has a swimming pool. Children love swimming pools and if you schedule a pool break in your day, your children will thank you for it.
- Although this can be difficult to match with number 8 above, try to find a place through Airbnb that’s family-friendly. Often, places on Airbnb will have a full kitchen, living area, and separate bedroom(s). This of course will feel more like home and will help everyone relax a little more. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a place that will also have a swimming pool; if so, score one point for your great find and book it immediately!
- Allow your child some indulgences on your vacation, but don’t go crazy. What I mean is, let them have that piece of cake from the bakery but don’t let them have three pieces of cake plus skip their nap and stay up late at night. You’ll have a seriously cranky child and everyone’s day will be effected by it.
I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states, and my daughter has been with me for every single half marathon I’ve ran since she’s been born (39 states so far for me). I did run some half marathons before she was born, but she’s been with me for the majority of them. She’s been at the start, with a hug and “Good luck!”, and she’s been waiting for me at the finish, also with a hug and “Good job!” I can’t imagine not having her with me at all of those races.
Most of all my advice for parents traveling with children is just have fun and roll with the punches. Things can and do go wrong on vacations, just like life when you’re not traveling. The more you can go with the flow and the less you stress out about things, the more fun you will have. Isn’t having fun the main reason we all go on vacation anyway?