The Truth About Traveling with Kids

We’ve all seen the photos on Instagram of the smiling, seemingly happy children fully engaged in an activity when the photo was taken, stunning landscape background all around. I’ve even got some of those photos, like the ones of my daughter with the Andes Mountains behind her in Chile, or the ones of her splashing and playing in the water of the beaches in Greece, or ones of her laughing it up in Hobbiton in New Zealand.

What you don’t know is that on the drive to Hobbiton, my daughter was complaining about having to go there and asking if she could just sit in the car instead of going to some “stupid” place where she wasn’t going to have fun anyway. Nor do you see my daughter complaining to me and my husband for over an hour straight about pretty much anything that had been bothering her that school year but not one thing in particular as we hiked around the stunningly beautiful natural park in Chile with the Andes Mountains all around us. She ended up loving Hobbiton and Chile by the way, in case you’re wondering how those turned out.

In fact, for probably any place in the world my daughter has been, from Hawaii to San Diego and Aruba to New Zealand and everywhere else including 42 states of the United States and the ten countries she’s been to, at one point or another, there has probably been crying, complaining, whining, and/or general unhappiness coming from her regardless of where we were. I’ve even said to her, “Look around you. It’s gorgeous here. Seriously, why are you complaining so much? Most kids would love to be here doing this!”

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Hobbiton in New Zealand

The fact remains, traveling can be hard on kids. Traveling disrupts kids’ sleeping schedules, despite my husband’s and my strict adherence to our daughter’s nap and sleep schedule. When anyone, child or adult, isn’t in their own bed, they don’t sleep as soundly. I fully understand this and try to take it into account when my daughter is being whiny and is in a bad mood while we’re traveling and give her the benefit of the doubt.

Traveling can also put you out of your comfort zone and for kids they may not be able to fully understand how this effects them. For example, if you don’t speak the language where you’re traveling, not only is everyone around you difficult to understand, you can’t read street signs or menus in restaurants, and you can’t even unwind by watching TV if the shows are all in another language. The food is likely different from what you’re used to and often meals are on a different schedule than back home, such as a much later dinner. I remember my daughter in tears in Munich, Germany when she had to eat yet another brat, until we discovered just how good the Italian food is in Munich, and from then on she had pizza and all was good.

Just the simple act of flying to another state or country can be exhausting for families with children. I still remember my daughter having a total meltdown when we were standing in a security line at an airport, although I couldn’t tell you which airport. What I do remember is one of the nicest TSA agents I’ve ever met motioning to me from afar and showing me that she was going to let my family and me through a quicker line. I breathed a sigh of relief in knowing that even a few less minutes of standing in line would mean I could get my daughter to our gate that much quicker. Inevitably, my daughter was either tired or hungry then.

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Mad in Maine? Look closely and you’ll see the arm crossed over her chest, the scowl on her face.

Lack of sleep and hunger are the two things I know without a doubt will make my daughter cranky. When I’m traveling, I always make sure I bring a variety of snacks with me in my carry-on and since she was old enough, I’d put snacks and gum in her carry-on as well. So I’m pretty well-prepared on the hunger-side of things, but covering the sleep-side gets much harder. If we have an early-morning flight to catch, I can try to have my daughter go to bed early, but if you try to go to sleep an hour or two before you normally, do, can you easily fall asleep, or do you just lie there for an hour or so? Maybe this isn’t such a good example if you’re sleep-deprived, as many people are, but if you already get enough sleep, it’s difficult to go to sleep early.

As I mentioned earlier, my husband and I have gone to great lengths to make sure our daughter stays on her routine when we’re away from home. Once when I was at Disneyland with my daughter by myself for one day and my husband was joining us for the second day, I remember standing in the long line to board the “Nemo” submarine, and my then-two-year-old was sound asleep lying on my chest, while I was holding her. Fortunately, she was able to get her nap in and wake up just in time to board the submarine, so it all worked out, but the second day, I remember taking her to an indoor building that was quiet where not a lot of people were coming inside, and letting my daughter take a nap with her head in my lap. After that, she was good to go for a few more hours after dinner and then back to the room in time for her bedtime.

Another thing many parents don’t mention is the early bedtimes. Surely my husband and I aren’t the only parents in the world who have returned to our room so that our daughter could still go to bed at a reasonable hour, at least within an hour of her bedtime. Yes, we skipped the late-night cocktails, certainly the bars and clubs, the late-night musicians, and even the late-night fireworks at places like Disney when our daughter’s bedtime was well before then. We could have arranged for a sitter to watch her but honestly, I just never felt safe having a stranger come into my hotel room or airbnb property at night to watch my daughter while my husband and I went back out. Our solution was to just grab a bottle of wine while we were out and bring it back to the room so he and I could relax and unwind after our daughter had gone to sleep.

My daughter has also lost countless articles of clothing, bathing suits, flip-flops, bathroom articles, and who only knows what else while traveling. Of course we only know about some of the more obvious things like that entire outfit we must have left behind because a nice woman from the hotel where we stayed in New Orleans called to see if we would like her to ship the clothes back home to us for example.

We’ve also had to buy new clothes while on vacation for our daughter, like that time when we were driving through the Alps in Austria and she got car sick and threw up all over the rental car and herself. We were too far from our room to go straight back for a change of clothes so we had to find a children’s clothing store and figure out what size to buy her since the sizes were all different from those in the United States. Once we were back at the resort later that day, my husband had to try to figure out how to ask for something to clean the car out with even though his German was terrible. Everything worked out in the end, but these aren’t things a lot of people (most likely no one) would post on their Instagram accounts.

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Sad in South Dakota. My husband captured this photo in beautiful Custer State Park.

Speaking of getting sick while on vacation, my daughter once threw up in an airplane bathroom and it was apparently so bad they ended up closing off that bathroom for the rest of the flight. When my daughter said she felt sick because of the turbulence during that flight, my husband went with her to accompany her to the bathroom. We’ve had several turbulent flights since then, including ones where she got sick in the little white bags provided in the airplane seat backs but never anything quite that bad has happened again on a flight.

So, in summary, over the years, we’ve dealt with tantrums, crying fits, and general meltdowns. We’ve lost many items, most of which we didn’t even know we lost. My husband and I have foregone late-night concerts, cocktails, and other late events while traveling. Finally, we’ve dealt with motion sickness and other sicknesses along the way (colds, etc.).

What is my point in all of this? To scare you away from ever bringing your children on vacation with you? In fact, the opposite. I would like to encourage everyone to bring their children with them on their travels, but to acknowledge that bad things will happen. Bad things happen all the time to families, whether we’re traveling or at home. There’s no reason to think that just because you’re traveling, nothing bad will happen, so I just implore everyone to be realistic and realize that not everything is going to be perfect. Your children will not always behave perfectly, they won’t always enjoy themselves, they will get sick at times, they will lose things, and you as a parent will miss out on some things if they weren’t with you.

All of that being said, I can’t imagine traveling without my daughter. I’ve had so many teachers tell me from pre-school all the way up to middle school how traveling has enriched her life. As is the case with life as a parent, you take the good with the bad, and travel is no different. If you know that going into it everything will not be perfect, you can roll with the punches, so to speak, more easily. I think just knowing that other parents are going through the same thing you are or once went through it also helps.

Do you all travel with your children or do you prefer to leave them at home? No judgement here if you don’t travel with them! I completely understand it’s expensive to bring children and much more complicated in many ways.

Tell me about your travels with your children or about traveling with your parents when you were a child. I’d love to hear some stories!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Author: runningtotravel

I'm a long distance runner with a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states in the US. I also love to travel so I travel to other places when I'm not running races. Half the fun is planning where I'm going to go next!

25 thoughts on “The Truth About Traveling with Kids”

  1. I promise you, in the future, she won’t remember that she was mad or threw tantrums. All she will remember is what a great time she had. I fondly remember a trip to the Grand Canyon I had with my family, but several years ago I found an old letter from my best friend where she responded to a postcard I had sent her from the Grand Canyon. Apparently I was unimpressed and horribly bored during the entire vacation. LOLOLOL. That’s not how I remember it, but I can’t argue with the evidence.

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    1. I hope you’re right! What a great story about your trip to the Grand Canyon! Did you ever tell your parents about that? It’s funny how what we remember years later is often different from how we would have described it in the moment.

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      1. Not about that particular trip, but we’ve talked about other vacations. I have a memory of a Yosemite trip that’s a mash-up of two different vacations. I don’t remember going there twice with my family. The funny thing is that the two trips were years apart.

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  2. I’ve been travelling since my parents brought me to the US from Russia when I was two, and most of that travel has been to and from Germany, with visits to a lot of the major European cities. I can’t say I was always happy on those trips (and I know that I probably may have benefitted from summer-time bonding with school friends during the break), but I am definitely now very grateful for the experiences my parents gave me. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m not sure if my parents tried to account for me and my brother as much as you did (we were often treated like small adults), but that could also be poor memory ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. That makes me feel better, Dorothea. I can only hope my daughter remembers more of the good parts than the bad parts from traveling when she’s an adult and looks back on her childhood. It sounds like your parents definitely gave you and your brother some memorable travel experiences!

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  3. oh man…i have a little one that I’m looking forward to traveling with as she gets older…but then I think about all the times I acted so bratty on trips when I was growing up! it is hard on kids to be out of their routine..but good on you all for making it work even on the long days! โค

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  4. Oh I totally get this sentiment of yours, Donna. I too have kids, both boys. One even has severe food allergies and so you can imagine the planning I have to make to make our holidays enjoyable and safe for the allergic one. Over the years I’ve come to realise that they are happiest (hence me and my hubby too) when they like the places they visit (and preferably interactive) even if it means those activities not in the ‘top sightseeing’, ‘top things to do’ lists. When we went to California, we included a day at the car museum, which is not in the top things to do in California, but it turned out one of the highlights of my kids holiday. This December, we are going to Bavaria, and while most tourist would be going to historical places, I would be bringing the kids to car museums and a car plant tour instead (they requested actually), and of course to a beer hall for my hubby. So most of my planning is like that, we have a few things for everyone so that it’ll be a relaxed and enjoyable holiday for every member of our family of four. Getting sick while traveling is stressful, oh I totally understand you. My allergic boy had food poisoning while we were on a skiing trip, in the middle of a snow storm. Oh gosh… But yeah my husband and I go on short trips as well, once in a while (once a yr at least), where I don’t plan any itinerary at all, those were the trips where we just go with the flow and be as spontaneous as we can be. Oh so sorry for the long comment, I enjoyed reading your post and it very much resonated with me. — Amor

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences! Involving kids in choosing some of the activities is a great point and one that I’ve tried to do since my daughter was old enough. I always tell her to do some research into the area and find some things she’d like to do. Inevitably, for her, there are a ton of hiking spots she chooses and often something like a pastry shop. Usually, going to places that aren’t on the ‘top things to do’ lists are the most fun anyway! I like getting off the beaten path, though!

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      1. Our kids are so privileged in this way, right? They get to travel at such young age and so I often tell mine not to take what they see and experience for granted. Yeah getting them involved from the planning stage is key. ๐Ÿ™‚

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        1. Absolutely! My daughter told me she took travel for granted and thought everyone traveled the world like she does when she was younger and when she was a bit older (maybe 9-10) she began to understand that not everyone is as lucky as she is.

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  5. I remember taking trips with my family and they have told stories of my brothers and I being bratty or asking are we there yet a million times, of us not wanting to do things from being tired or hungry but all I remember are the good times and all the fun we had.
    Now with a husband and 5 year old I try to travel as much as possible, I enjoy adventure filled and relaxing vacations. My goal is to show my son the beauty of this world and that there is much more then our small town out there with that being said we tend to take him on most vacations but not all because as you mentioned it is hard and pricey to take kids everywhere also with his age there are trips we do that hes not ready for yet.
    nd

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    1. I love that you’re showing your son the world! I’m sure he’s already gotten a sense of life outside of your hometown and that will continue to deepen and grow the more he travels. It’s amazing how much travel can educate our children.

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