Last Updated on April 1, 2021 by worldoftravelswithkids
So – you traveled before kids, but since your family has grown the idea of traveling with children is, well, overwhelming. Having children at home can include cranky (or tantrumming kids), a need for food on a regular schedule, and early bedtimes. The idea of going on the road and tipping that end makes the idea of travelling with kids just “too hard”! However, we are here to say that being prepared and having some essential family travel tips for how you can make your first family holiday with kids run more smoothly.
I won’t say that we can make traveling with kids a breeze because frankly, it might not be all plain sailing. Believe me, the best family bonding vacations are not really about the destination but about how the family gets along. These family travel tips about how to structure your holiday in order to make things flow as well as they can This should help provide the moments and spaces that you can bond as a family and experience the wonders of the world together!
Looking for family vacation ideas – family holiday destinations we have loved? Then check out our post.
This post may contain affiliate links, from which we would earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you. More info in my disclaimer.
Structuring Your Family Holiday
There have been times when I’ve been chatting with friends about how *horrendous* their experiences travelling with kids was and after hearing what they were trying to cram in, I’ve thought, “Well no wonder the kids were being objectionable, they were exhausted because of the way that you structured the holiday”.
The following are ideas for traveling with kids about how to structure the trip.
Kids need downtime, playtime, or just time when they are on the go.
For us, this is one of the most important tips for travel with kids. If you incorporate “Go Slow” into your trip, you will hopefully minimize the amount of time with grumpy kids.
Downtime includes – pool time or time in playgrounds but in our opinion doesn’t include doing tours. It might include lying on the grass in a park, or watching a movie in a theatre, or reading books at a local library. It is anything that enables your family to reset and relax.
Even if they are a fun tour, like chocolate making or zip-lining, these activities are still stimulating and tiring to children.
Another way of saying this is “don’t plan too much”! Make sure you know what you MUST see and be prepared to compromise on the rest. These are the trip pillars referred to here in our post How To Plan A Family Holiday.
Spending time at a local playground might not be the same as that world-famous museum/church/art gallery you wanted to see – but it is a very memorable and legitimate travel experience.
Allow Extra Time For Everything
As an extension of the golden rule for traveling with kids, “go slow”, as a parent you already know this one – allow extra time for everything.
For example, we arrive at the airport with lots of spare time. Say the airline requires 30 minutes before checking, we allow about 1.5 hours – and for international flights with multiple security checks AND immigration, we also allow an extra hour or more.
Take into account going through security. You have to help the kids with their bags, clothes, and often there are slightly complex things like strollers to pack up and put through the x-ray machines. Once you are at the gate, there is time to relax, but I try to take the kids to the bathroom at this time and if you haven’t packed some at home, get some snacks and drinks to help with the flight.
These days most airlines call for families traveling with children to board before the rest of the plane. This means you can let littlies walk the whole way to the seats, you can get your overhead luggage stored comfortably, and even set them all up with blankets and pillows. Yes, you might need to sit on the plane for 10 minutes longer but it is so much easier to do everything without blocking the aisle or climbing over people! This is one of the family travel tips you’ll want to take advantage of.
Be Organised – Do Your Research
For example, we do one activity for the kids, one activity for the parents. For the kids’ this means running in a park, eating pizza, playing in a playground, or watching pigeons in a plaza. It doesn’t have to be an amusement park or expensive rides, though they enjoy that too. You really have to learn how to travel with kids, or how to travel with YOUR kids.
While there are benefits of pre-booking activities and tickets, like museums, theme parks, or private guided activities, we prefer to have the information on hand, but not booked. We would book a theme park in advance (because it will be a long big day, and there are possible benefits of booking early) but we would structure the days around the theme park visit to be as relaxing as possible.
Involving kids in the planning certainly gives them ownership. However, we’ve found that the decisions they make are best kept simple or they get overwhelmed.
Don’t Move Around Too Much
Stay in one hotel for a minimum of 3 nights, although 4 or 5 nights are better. This means your kids become familiar with the hotel, their surroundings, and establish a mini routine. We have stayed in places for 1-2 nights when there is no other choice but by and large, I try for a minimum of three nights to allow the space for kids to thrive. This is one of the tips for traveling with kids we have had to learn the hard way.
Get The Kids Involved
This one is age-dependent. Get out the map; show the kids what you will be doing. If you want to get them involved then talk about some of the things that you might do and see. HOWEVER, I would urge caution on this one because (our kids at least) can get very fixated on one activity. Then, if for some reason you can’t do the activity/ something changes, you will end up with some disappointed kids on your hands. For example, our daughter saw horse riding in Fiji in the Lonely Planet and spent the first 16 days of the trip asking when we were going to do it!
We do however love to get them involved in learning about the destination ahead of time with either books or travel guides.
Have The Kids Engaged In Documenting Your Travels
This is one of those family travel tips that just makes everything go smoother. As soon as your kids are old enough, get them a small camera to use on trips – doesn’t need to be fancy.
In fact, my kids have used my first digital camera, then my mum’s first digital camera followed by an old phone. Having a camera helps kids be active participants in your family holiday and the things they are seeing around them.
Once they were responsible enough, we invested in a Go Pro which they love for underwater photography and also for active family hikes. More about why we think Using A Go Pros For Travel With Kids is great.
I always see photos of kids on Instagram carrying their own backpacks. To be honest, it is a work in progress for us. The lighter you pack the better, and you won’t regret it.
You can always buy what you need when you get to nearly every country. Kids spilled something on their t-shirt over lunch? Then buying a new t-shirt as a souvenir can be a memorable opportunity! While having an activity bag is useful, limit new toys – which can get bought or played with along the way. That is as long as they are not too big!
More Day To Day Specifics Of Traveling With Kids – Once You Are On Holidays
Setting Expectations For The Day
At home, we tend to go over the day’s activities in detail the day before or in the morning. This daily ritual means the kids know what is happening, when they need to get ready, and what to expect.
If there are any strong expectations regarding their behavior I would go over them at that meeting. Eg, at your sister’s doctor’s appointment I expect you to sit patiently, and not interrupt. It’s the same when we are traveling – I expect you to be well behaved on the airport transfer bus. This is one of the family travel tips I encourage every part to follow. Setting the expectations for the day is vital.
Having A Pool Is Essential
We basically have one rule about our hotels when we are traveling anywhere remotely hot. That it has to have a swimming pool. This is almost a non-negotiable tips for traveling with kids in hot climates. There, built into the hotel, you have the thing that is going to make the kids feel like they are on holiday! Air conditioning is also pretty important, but just to keep everyone in decent humor having a pool adds an element of fun into the kid’s holiday.
Bring Back The Siesta
If you have a small child (eg baby or toddler) you will know how important midday sleep is for keeping them on track. That is, keeping them balanced and not too cranky.
You will also know that if you are on the road eventually they will fall asleep in their car seat or pram. However, depending on whether they are super sleepers or not – this might mean a small cat nap as opposed to a decent sleep. Where possible, we plan to go back to our hotel room.
When traveling in hot countries the heat is likely to frazzle everyone’s nerves, but particularly young ones. Plan your days around a siesta, or hotel time to relax during the midday heat (about 11 to 3). This means we plan to get up very early to do some activities, come back for pool time, and then rest. Then back out onto the streets for dinner during the warm tropical evenings.
See also at the end of the post we’ve made some specific suggestions on how to handle travel to hot countries.
Parents Need Some Me Time Too
Having lots of quality family time while on holidays is a wonderful reason to go travelling with kids. It can also put a lot of pressure on everyone as living each out of everyone’s pockets for days on end is a change of routine from most people’s school/work life.
Parents, plan for one parent to watch the kids while the other goes out for a massage or that special museum that frankly, is going to be a nightmare with the kids. Some hotels will also organize babysitting if you are looking for a special dinner.
Kids Lap Up “One On One”
Maybe it is hard for the parents to get out together. So, another great idea is planning one on one time with each of your kids.
As a single mum, I know that the kids wish for more of my attention, so I plan times for one on one with them. Maybe it comes naturally while driving one or the other to a sports practice or medical appointment, but in other cases, I plan for us to do things that we like together. This might mean walking the dog with my daughter, or baking cookies with my son.
On holidays in Thailand, I took my daughter for mum/daughter Mani pedis, and my son and I went on a mission in the markets to buy him a backpack! This is bonding time with them and it doesn’t need to be glamorous to be special to the kids. This is one of the family travel tips that is easy to forget about but so important for the kiddos.
Family Travel Tips Logistics For Arrival In Country
Organize An Airport Pickup For When You Arrive In The Country
Depending on your style of travel this one might be a no-brainer. However, if you are independent-minded, still get your airport pickup organized so that when you arrive in-country you can just get out of the airport and to your hotel as easily and efficiently as possible.
Pay Extra For Child-Friendly Guides Or Activities
Having a guide that relates to your children either makes – or breaks – a particular tour. If they can keep the kids engaged and excited, you might get 5 minutes to yourself and the children will be delighted to have some interaction with an adult that is not a parent!
Do extra research before you leave home and you will find that there are kid-friendly guides out there. If you find one with raving reviews, get in contact with them! They will make your holiday, and the children’s learning on holiday, so much more valuable!
Take A Short Local Bus Ride
If you are on a tight budget you might be taking local buses between towns. For us, having long, hot rides on local buses with unhappy kids is something that we avoid. We prefer to organize private transfers in air-conditioned cars and with car seats.
BUT – while you are in a town, ask the locals how to get from point A to point B by local bus. The experience will always be eye-opening. In short, taking public transport is a great way to get around the city, and see it through local people’s eyes. In general, I’ve found my kids love all types of transport from tuk-tuk to a combi, to a bus, tram, or ferry – they love it all!
Taste Some Local Food
No one wants their kids to get sick. But – why cart them on a foreign holiday when they are going to eat resort-style food or stick to pizza and chips? You are in a foreign country, look for recommended local-style restaurants, do checks for hygiene, look at reviews, and if it looks clean then encourage your kids to eat some of the local food.
Hygiene and how the food is prepared is an especial considering on tropical family vacation because of the climate and the rate at which food will spoil. Learning how to travel with kids in foreign countries in regards to food can be tricky. Be careful, not paranoid.
Use Every Experience As A Learning Experience
Driver doesn’t turn up? Power goes out and there is no air-con on your tropical family vacation and it is hot and humid? Use it as a learning experience for yourselves and your kids about different countries. This is another way of saying, of saying, ‘be open-minded” and try to consider how things are in other cultures. Or ask the locals. It is likely you will learn lots of interesting stuff.
Know That Things Will Go Wrong – And That Is OK
When you are a 20 something backpacker on a round-the-world trip and you miss your flight, you chalk it up to adventure and an uncomfortable night in the airport. When traveling with kids, it feels like the stakes are MUCH higher.
Imagine missing your flight and having two whining kids? It makes this Mumma’s blood pressure rise just THINKING about it. Knowing that something might happen is just a practical approach to reducing stress when it does. Tropical climates for kids can be especially tiring. So anyway to minimize the stress of traveling is a positive. When you are mentally prepared something might go wrong, you are less stressed when it does.
Learn Some Words Of The Local Language
Not only will hello, please, and thank you from your kids in the local language bring wide smiles and genuine delight; it will also begin to educate your children around language and what it means to communicate differently.
What Kind Of Memories Do You Want
In this day and age it is easy to want to do as much as possible, and get some great pictures while you are at it. Check out our Instagram feed here.
Some days we do feel the pressure to get all the ‘right’ photos. At that point, it is useful to ask ourselves, “what memories do we want out of the holiday”? Do we want picture-perfect photos, but knowing that they were taken on a full and packed holiday? This is true for all our family holidays and not just our tropical family vacations.
Our current mantra is looking for love, connection and fun while away as a family. Other family’s mantras could be learning, ticking off bucket lists, or working as a team. You know your own family and what you would aim for!
Practical Essentials For Traveling With Kids
If you haven’t got it yet, some of the challenges you might encounter during your family holiday are cranky kids, overflowing suitcases, and unpredictable schedules. Here are some more very practical family travel tips.
Pack A Bag Full of Snacks
Just like home, having snacks on hand in is vital for when kids start getting hungry.
At home, our diet is full of fresh organic produce, and mostly home-made snacks. However, when we are flying internationally, most of that goes out the window! (And that is OK!) Pack enough snacks to get you through 24- 48 hours of travel. Cookies in little bags, popped popcorn, potato crisps (chips), nuts, and more. Make sure you have enough if the kids don’t like a meal. If you are on a budget, be aware that airport food is expensive. It is double or triple what it is outside the airport.
Also, keep in mind that food in your holiday destination can be quite different than what your kids are used to. And forget picky eaters, I am talking about robust eaters who can still find french fries “different” depending on the way they are prepared.
One of our kids has sensory challenges and so food has always been tremendously challenging for him during our travels. He doesn’t like foods cut differently than he is used to, or different oils, and more. After one particularly disastrous international holiday where I ran out of food from home in the last 3 days, I now pack an enormous amount of home food for him. Better safe than sorry.
If you travel with a picky eater, then take more than just 48 hours’ worth.
Have Distractions On Hand
In this day and age thrusting your phone into your child’s hands seems to be an excellent distraction. However, I like to think that is the absolute last resort. For under 1’s I carry a few twisty toys in my handbag.
Pack Activities For The Hotel Room Too
We try to limit screens as much as is feasible in this day and age. With kids you have a conundrum – they need downtime to reset their little bodies, rest, and be in a familiar routine. Therefore having a plan of what you are going to do in down times is vital. You can read our tips for 21 Awesome Activities To Go Screen Free On Flights. While that post was written for flights, most of these suggestions will also work while in hotel rooms
Accept That Jet Lag Will Occur And Plan Around It
There is no way you can avoid jet lag – it is something that happens when you travel long haul. While parents and older kids can push on through to the evening time at their new destination, I am sorry, little ones can’t.
My advice for dealing with jet lag in babies and toddlers is really very un-exciting: allow several days in your itinerary to adjust to the time differences. This means that you won’t be exhausted or completely crabby when your little ones are up playing at 3 am.
Pack A Medical Kit
When you are traveling with kids, it is essential to have a medical kit on hand. In fact, I travel with two family medical kids. I have one in my daypack that has Band-Aids and some paracetamol, and then a very complete medical kit that I put in my luggage.
I’ve got enough tablets for basic ailments like gastro, constipation, stings, cuts, and sprains to get me through a day without needing to go to a pharmacy. This means that if anyone in the family wakes up in the middle of the night sneezing with an allergy or vomiting because they ate something bad, I have something to make them a bit more comfortable.
If you are traveling to hot climates (for example, we’ve recently traveled to Thailand and Singapore) then you should keep in mind that dehydration can be an issue. Make sure you carry electrolytes that are suitable for adults and children.
Traveling With Babies
When you decide to travel with a baby- it’s a whole different ball game than travel with kids. In some ways, it is much easier than traveling with toddlers, but then there are some more difficult elements too. For this reason, we have covered everything you need to know for travel with babies in Baby Travel Essentials – A Full Guide To Baby Travel Gear. In short –
- Take far more nappies (diapers), wipes, and changes of clothes than you think you need.
- Always pack extra clothes for the baby –but yourself as well. There can be all sorts of messy spills when traveling with a baby.
- Lots of people will debate about the benefits of traveling with a pram, stroller, or sling. We are not getting into that debate here. However, we do suggest to do your research and figure out what you think will suit you and your family best!
If You Are Planning To Hike Or Trek With Kids
As avid trekkers and hikers, we have a plethora of information about experiences trekking with a baby, toddler, and then smaller kids.
To begin, start with our post Trekking With Toddlers. You also will find our other posts about hiking with kids useful. Hiking With Kids – 8 Tips is packed with all kinds of practical information and useful tips. The Best Toddler Carriers And Baby Backpacks For Hiking is a great post about the different toddler carriers and baby backpacks. We have all our tried and trusted recommendations in that post.
Tropical Holiday Guide – Kids And Babies In Hot Climates
If you are considering your family’s first tropical family vacation, with kids, then here are some tips for you. Even if you are an experienced traveler, considerations for a tropical family vacation to a hot place when you are adventuring are VERY different when you have kids.
Traveling to a tropical climate for kids can be particularly taxing when the weather is hot and humid. These are a few tips and ideas to keep your kids happy and healthy on your tropical family vacation.
When it is hot and you are sweating it is vitally important to keep your fluids up. We travel with refillable stainless steel water bottles but sometimes carrying a lot of water can be too heavy and there is nothing better than buying some ice-cold water in the middle of the day!
Also, with kids of all ages, remind them to drink when you do! With toddlers offer them lots of sips of their water bottle. Babies who are still breastfeeding are likely to want to drink more often than usual – and we say-just do it! Keep the milk up to them.
Get air-conditioned rooms! If you think that the aircon isn’t working well enough, ask for a room change. One of the ways that we stay cool is to return to our hotel room in the middle of the day.
If it’s not possible to return to our room in the middle of the day, seek out fully air-conditioned activities. For example, in Singapore, we went to science museums and shopping malls during the hottest hours of the day! You could also stop and have an ice-cold drink in an air-conditioned restaurant! Out of all the tips for traveling with kids this is a vitally important one.
When swimming our kids usually wear neck-to-knee rashies (SPF sun protection clothing). I would fully recommend these in the summer heat, especially when traveling with small babies who have such tender white skin.
Encourage kids to swim in the shade, or shade cloth.
We always use SPF 50 sunscreens and seek out ones that are designed for sensitive babies and children’s skin. Also, we try for natural ingredients that are not harmful to the children –or the environment, if we are swimming in oceans or rivers.
Mosquitos thrive in hot climates and it’s our least favorite aspect of traveling to tropical countries. Some people get eaten by mosquitos more than others. Make sure that those people are covered from head to toe from late afternoon into dusk when the mosquitos are especially vicious.
A good natural insect repellent is worth its weight in gold – not only DEET-free but ones that actually repel the mosquitos!
Choose The Right Time To Travel
Finally –an important thing about traveling to hot climates with babies and children. Do your research and don’t pick the hottest time of the year. Yes it might be cheaper/have great deals but most kids don’t love the sweltering heat – at least mine don’t. And in essence, if the kids are hot and bothered and begging to go and sit in the nearest Mc Donalds drinking Sprite and eating chicken nuggets, then you might prefer to be at home… or you might not!
The Verdict – How To Ace Traveling With Kids
So, you’ve made it to the end of our awesome summary of tips for traveling with kids. Thanks for joining us with the ride. We’ve had some amazing experiences with our kiddos – and some pretty epic fails as well. We hope that you’ve found our tips and hints helpful and would love if you could drop any of your best family travel tips below in the comments!
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