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 you can have.
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!
My kids are now 21 and 17. We started taking them overseas when the eldest was 7 and youngest almost 3.
We travelled again for four weeks in the USA where the youngest celebrated his 6th birthday, and the eldest was 10 and our big trip to the USA and Europe for 2.5 months they were 14 and 10. And on this journey, 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?
Look I get that you may have travelled in your younger, pre-kid days. And going with family comes with responsibilities and restrictions and may seem less appealing. Well, I would say it’s just different.
No less rewarding, just different.
I think travelling with kids can add richer, more meaningful elements to your travel experience. Yes, you may find it harder to head out to experience the nightlife when you have kids, but you will find other experiences to have that may never have happened without them.
And 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 have seen me react to scenery more beautiful than I had ever imagined and made me lost for words (an unusual occurrence). My kids have shared some of my most precious moments and 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.
Flying, driving, walking and exploring can and will wear you out. Be as prepared as you possibly can, and be flexible. Travel plans can and do come unstuck, and that’s ok if you are travelling on your own. But when going 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 usually worked out well.
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. And Fijians love children.
The second time we travelled was a big trip. We flew to the USA, to attend a wedding in Washington DC and went for a month.
We stayed in 11 different places. Far too many. That trip taught me to tone it down and not cram so much in when travelling, both for myself and for the kids. They were great by the way. They loved every minute of it, but like typical kids, tempers frayed when they got tired. Although looking back, they were probably better dealing with being tired than certain adults on the trip!
If you are unprepared things will come unstuck. If your kids are not used to travelling, I suggest you talk to them as much as you can beforehand.
I found by including them 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 shopping, and clothes shopping in preparation, and they got a say in what they wanted to pack. They became responsible for their backpacks, mind you; they were packed 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!
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 just have a problem with your budget. And the budget is a big reason people don’t want to 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 as 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 the apartment of the couple who’s wedding we attended to stay in while we were in New York and they were on their honeymoon. Yes, I know the wedding was in Washington DC, but they lived in New York in the West Village. Awesome! But in true New York style, the apartment was tiny. Only one bedroom but we worked it out.
They had a huge, comfy corner lounge which we made up each end for the kids. They loved it! Slept like the dead and thought it was awesome that they could turn the TV on in the morning when they woke up. If that had not been an option, we would have worked something else out.
We shared rooms with the kids. They were young enough that we could get two queen size beds and that worked fine. I realise you can’t stay up watching TV, reading or working, or you can depending on how 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! And 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.
So small personal sacrifices are worthwhile at times to see the joy on their faces.
We drove a lot on our travels. On the first trip to the USA, we stuffed up. We thought we could get away with a much 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. So 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’s in cars existed. 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…
Make sure you find out which seat your kids like the best and everyone gets a turn. My son sleeps like the dead, so he is fine flying. Although now he is 6ft 4 he may have trouble fitting his legs in! But my daughter and I have a terrible time sleeping on planes. Flying can be a trial.
Tip: 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 where he needs 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 the great privilege of having their seat pushed over and over and over again. I nearly killed him on that flight!
And 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.
Get places early! Someone (not mentioning names!) in our group never wanted to waste time and get settled early at the beginning of a trip. But it is essential with kids that you do.
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 from 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. We scuttled out of there quick smart.
I would personally never bother again worrying about what the kids will miss at school. Shhhhh you didn’t hear that from me.
I had a couple of interviews at the kid’s school and given a stack of work for them to do. I mean there were so many worksheets to do. I started off with good intentions, but the reality was by the end of it all I struggled to get them even to update their travel journals. What a trial.
My daughter was in Year 8 the second big trip we did and was diligent in doing the work she was given. Not one piece of work was marked!
In my opinion, don’t worry too much. Unless you are travelling long term, your kids are going to learn more travelling than from any school work they are given. If you feel they need to do something, try to get them to do some work during some down time. 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 got turfed.
But I understand you will need to do what you need to do. And so you should. My experience is exactly that, mine. You need to do what you are comfortable with.
My kids were great travelling, better than they ever were at home. And no my kids certainly were not angels. Far from it.
But they were consistently told what behaviour I expected from them. 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 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 however 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 of our 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 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.
My now the kids have amazing memories from their travels. It has made them open minded, accepting and tolerant human beings.
There was a stage I thought they didn’t appreciate all the travel they had done, but now it has become apparent that they not only appreciated it but have learnt so much from it. They remind me of things that I have forgotten. And it’s interesting to hear experiences from their perspective.
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.
For me travelling is a very 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 Flinder 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. Make a comment below and we can share it with our community. We love the funny stories too! Who doesn't need a good laugh?
Cindy Reid is the founder of Travel Charm. Cindy has travelled extensively both personally and with her groups. She has now combined her love of art, food and travel and hosts Painting Trips to Europe and continues to explore and roam in Australia.
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