The question on a lot of parent’s lips is, “Should I travel with my kids?”
Only you can answer that.
Only you know your kids and yourself. Travelling is hard work. It is tiring, and it can be frustrating. BUT it is also one of the most enriching and thrilling experiences.
But I can tell you my experience as a mother of a now 21 and 17-year-old. I am writing this post from the perspective of someone who took their kids travelling from a young age.
Would I do it again if I had my time over? Well, I would change some things, but YES!
Travelling with my children was not just a great experience for them, but surprisingly the most rewarding experiences for me. An absolute gift!
Now 21 and 17, the kids started travelling overseas when the eldest was 7 and youngest almost 3.
We travelled for four weeks in the USA where the youngest celebrated his 6th birthday and our big trip to the USA and Europe for 2.5 months when they were 14 and 10.
On this trip, my daughter, the eldest flew solo from Europe to Japan to stay with her best friend. I was freaked, but she was pumped. And she had the most fantastic time. Memories that will last her a lifetime.
And the last time I travelled with them they were 16 and 12.
Over the years I have heard so many reasons why people don’t want to travel with their kids, or as some put it, CAN’T (I don’t like the word by the way). The reasons ranged from not wasting money because they wouldn’t appreciate it, they are too young to appreciate it, they won’t remember it, they wouldn’t behave, and we will do it when they are older.
On the big trip to the USA and Europe, I wrote my first blog. It was a great way to keep account of our trip. If you would like to have a read, it is now available as an ebook. I called it “Travelling with Attitude”.
And yes she (my daughter) was overflowing with attitude at 14!
I never understood it. I wanted to travel, why wouldn’t I go with the kids?
I understand you may have travelled in your younger, pre-kid days. And going with family comes with responsibilities and restrictions and may seem less appealing. I would say it’s just different.
No less rewarding, just different.
I think travelling with kids adds richer, more meaningful elements to your travel experience. Yes, you may find it harder to head out to indulge in the nightlife when you have kids, but you will find other things to do that may never have happened without them.
Your children will see you differently, outside your regular routine, free from the daily grind. Your kids may get to see you more as a person and less as a parent.
There will be experiences that move you, change you or have you act in a way the kids have never seen before. I cried my way through the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, saddened by the stories and scenes before me. They still talk about that.
I have had to explain why I cannot talk at times because I am too choked up, overwhelmed. They saw me react to scenery more beautiful than I could have imagined and made me lost for words (an unusual occurrence).
My kids have shared some of my most precious life moments and that has created bonds that can never be broken.
I travelled as a child to Europe when I was 5 and again at 10. Those trips had a significant impact on my childhood. More than any other experiences. It gave me a love of travel. A burning desire and curiosity to find out more, to see more, to explore more.
When they insist you take selfies with them!
Flying, driving, walking and exploring can wear you out. Be as prepared as you possibly can, and be flexible.
Travel plans have a tendency to go array, that’s ok if you are travelling on your own. But when travelling with kids, and particularly older kids, talk to them, prepare them and have back-up plans and contingencies.
I don’t think we give kids enough credit. I found that by giving mine enough to do, sufficient to eat and telling them what would be happening and the behaviour I expected, things worked.
The first time the kids travelled, my daughter was 7 and my son just shy of 3, and we headed to Fiji for a family trip for six days at a very convenient, family-oriented resort. It was an easy, casual, stress-free trip.
The flight from memory only took 4 hours, and the kids were fantastic. My son needed to get up and walk off some pent up energy, but that wasn’t a problem.
The second time we travelled was a big trip. We flew to the USA, to attend a wedding in Washington DC and road tripped around for a month afterwards.
We stayed in 11 different places. Far too many. That trip taught me to tone it down and not cram so much into an itinerary.
The kids were great, they loved every minute. But like typical kids, tempers frayed when they got tired. Although looking back, they probably dealt with tiredness better than certain adults on the trip!
And sometimes things can go from this…
to this in an instant!
Include The Kids in the Planning
If you are unprepared, things will come unstuck. If your kids are not used to travelling, I suggest you talk to them about it as much as you can beforehand.
I found by including the kids in the planning process they took ownership over aspects of the itinerary. They weren’t surprised by anything and had a small amount of knowledge about the places we visited. They also got to pick places they wanted to see.
I bought a huge world map for our big trip. I laminated it and stuck it to the kitchen wall where we could see it every day. It prompted conversation, questions and interest. And it built excitement.
The kids came luggage and clothes shopping in preparation and got a say in what they wanted to pack. They became responsible for their backpacks, mind you; the backpacks were so full that at times I worried they were going to fall over backwards. Like a turtle with his feet in the air! But they managed. And they didn’t complain. Too much!
Let loose with the camera!
If you think the only way to effectively travel with kids is to get two adjoining hotel rooms at places like Disneyland, then you may have a problem with your budget. And the budget is a big reason people don’t travel with their kids.
But if you are clever and think outside the box you can save a heap of cash. Remember, kids are versatile and most of the time up for something outside the norm.
Remember when you were a kid building a cubby out of sheets and chairs? Or even sleeping over at someone’s house and you got to sleep on the floor on a mattress? Remember how exciting it was because it was different. What about camping? What an adventure that was as a kid!
Well, travel is no different.
We were very lucky to be offered an apartment of a friend to stay in while we were in New York, while they were on their honeymoon. In true New York style, the apartment was tiny. Only one bedroom but we made it work.
There was a huge, comfy corner lounge. The kids had an end each and loved waking up in the morning and watching TV.
We shared rooms with the kids. They were young enough that we could book a room with two queen size beds.
I realise you can’t stay up watching TV, reading or working, or you can, depending on how well your kids sleep, but we were exhausted most days from all the sightseeing that we crashed early anyway.
Sharing a room does get a little harder as they got older, but flexibility is the key. Sometimes trade off’s work (read blackmail here), and sometimes it’s a good pair of earplugs and mask that get you through!
I would rather be a little inconvenienced in a hotel room and save money than not travel at all.
We tried staying in hostels as well, and to be honest; this wasn’t my favourite. We had a family room which was fine, and the kids loved it, particularly the one in a castle on the Rhine in Germany.
Family Room in Hostel in Castle
We drove a lot. Of course. For the majority of the trip, we were road tripping.
On the first trip to the USA, we stuffed up. We thought we could get away with a smaller car because we were trying to save money. We couldn’t fit in the car! Well, we could, but not all our luggage could. I have since learnt the benefits of packing light!
In the end, and before we decided to upgrade (stubborn people involved here), we crammed what luggage we could in the boot, and everything else got stored around and between the kids. They ended up in their own little cocoons nestled in the back seat.
And what a blessing it turned out to be!
Suddenly it was quiet. You know why? Because they couldn’t look at each other. They couldn’t touch each other. And all that screeching that seems to come built into kids stopped.
You know what I’m talking about – “He’s looking at me!”, “She’s touching me”, “Why is she having a drink?”, “Where’s my drink?” and on and on and on.
It was heaven. Oh, I forgot to mention this was way before DVD players existed in cars. So the kids had to occupy themselves the good old fashioned way with drawing and reading and playing games and complaining.
So I am not suggesting you purposely get a car that is too small, but you know, food for thought…
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Find out which seat your kids like the best and then ensure everyone gets a turn. My son sleeps like the dead, so he is fine flying. Although he is now 6ft 4 he may have trouble fitting his legs in!
But my daughter and I have a terrible time sleeping on planes. For us, flying can be a trial.
Warning: If you have a child that likes playing games on the screen (the ones in the back of someone’s seat!) try to talk him out of playing anything that requires him to touch the screen. Young boys don’t know how to touch, they tap, vigorously and with great strength so that the person in front has their seat pushed over and over and over again.
I nearly killed him on that flight!
Pack enough snacks for them. Make sure they have easy access to the food, so they are not continually asking you to get it for them. Also, it’s a good idea to warn them that the food needs to last, if they choose to eat it all at once and not leave any for later, it’s their problem. Not yours.
Arrive at train stations (and airports) early!
Someone (not mentioning names!) in our group never wanted to waste time by arriving any earlier than 10 minutes before departure. I like to get settled early but they did not. It meant we were often trying to find out seats after the train had departed. It is essential with kids that you get settled early.
Find a seat, get the kids’ stuff out for them, get them settled and stow their things away. Give them food, water and check out where the toilets are. And let them know what behaviour is expected of them.
Then you won’t be rushing as the train is pulling out trying to get things sorted as other travellers are trying to sort out theirs.
Beware of Quiet Carriages! That is the only time we got death stares from people were when we were trying to find a seat (after the train had departed!!) We scuttled out of that carriage quick smart.
Quiet contemplation. She is such a great traveller.
I would personally never worry again about missed schooling. B
I had a couple of interviews at the kid’s school and was given a stack of work for them to do while we were away.
There were so many worksheets to do. I started off with good intentions, but the reality is by the end of the trip, I struggled to get them to even to update their travel journals.
My daughter was in Year 8 for the trip through the USA and Europe and she was diligent in doing the work she was given. She was such a good student. But not one piece of work was marked by her teachers!
In my opinion, don’t worry too much.
Unless you are travelling long term (and even then), your kids are going to learn more by travelling than from any school work they are given. If you feel they need to do something, try to get them to do a bit of work during downtime. Good luck!
Make sure you include educational stops in your itinerary and know that if they have missed anything important, they can make it up when they get back. I always grabbed brochures and information I thought they could use in projects later on, but even the majority of those were thrown out.
You need to feel comfortable with your decision, but don’t stress.
Fooling around when they should be doing their school work.
My kids were great travelling, better than they ever were at home. Not angels but I couldn’t complain.
They were consistently told the behaviour I expected and what was appropriate for the places we were visiting.
If we were going somewhere that they needed to be quiet and respectful, like St Paul’s Chapel near Ground Zero in New York, or the Sistine Chapel I would tell them why. I would say how long we would be there so they knew what to expect.
I never had a problem with them in that regard. They were never unruly. We were warned upon entering Westminster Abbey in London to attend Evensong, that the children couldn’t be noisy.
They weren’t. They did fidget and squirm a bit towards the end, but I had asked them to do this for me, that it was important to me. Bless their little cotton socks; they made me so proud!
And some days I just needed to throw the itinerary out the window. Some days need to be spent in a hotel room or apartment watching TV because everyone has had enough!
And that’s perfectly OK.
Actually, on some quiet days, the only outing we had was a trip to the supermarket. But we loved that. The kids and I would grab what we needed then take a look at all the things that were unfamiliar to us, sometimes buying new things to try, at times laughing at the differences, but all the time enjoying being somewhere entirely new.
My son would beg me not to buy the stinky cheese in Switzerland, but of course, that was always the best one.
Some days it was all too much!
And Now …
The kids have amazing memories from their travels. It has made them open-minded, accepting and tolerant adults.
There was a time I thought they didn’t appreciate all the travel they had done. But now it has become apparent that they not only appreciate it but have learnt so much from it.
Sometimes they remind me of things that I have forgotten. And it’s interesting to hear experiences from their perspective. My daughter and I plan on walking the Camino. I can’t wait to travel with her again.
Taking kids travelling will not only be a great experience for them, but for you. They will show you a different view to the one you see. A different perspective. They will show you how versatile and flexible they are. They will make you proud.
For me travelling is a personal experience. It has taught me about my strengths and versatility. Travel has changed me a lot, and my kids were along for the ride to see those changes.
My son is starting to talk about a future where travel will play a significant role in his life. My daughter has an adventurous spirit and is living life on her terms in different places around Australia. I am so proud that she wants to live life outside the box. She is a generous, kind-hearted and accepting young women. She is quite simply, THE BEST!
And I cannot wait to see what adventures my son has! At the moment there is talk of working in the Summer Camp he attended in North Wisconsin when he was ten, and then heading to Europe and the snowfields for winter work.
Recently my son took a solo trip to country Victoria. He had to fly to Melbourne (we live an hour south of Sydney), transfer by shuttle to Flinders Street Station in the middle of Melbourne and catch a train, the train trip taking 2.5 hours.
With pride he told me about the timing he chose when booking, allowing time for certain things he wanted to do. He is a born planner! He loved his little adventure; now I can’t wait for him to take bigger ones. He is ready to take on the world, not sure if the world is ready for him!
My children are independent, smart, curious and versatile. There are many things I would change if I had my time over as they were growing up, but taking them travelling is not one of them.
Have you got some advice for travelling with kids?
Tell us the good, the bad and the ugly. We love funny stories too! Who doesn’t need a good laugh?
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