Travelling is one of the best types of education for children. Allowing them to experience other cultures and see how other people live first hand is worth more than any other type of schooling you can give them. It makes your child a citizen of the world rather than just a citizen of a single country.
But, giving your kids a new and vibrant outlook on the world can also be stressful. Travelling with children is more challenging than travelling alone or with other adults. Kids require extra time and care and they often don’t like the same things that adults like.
Whether you’re zipping off to visit a far flung corner of Asia or you are popping down to South America to see some ancient ruins or you are heading to the whitest of white sand beaches to relax by the ocean, taking your kids along will benefit them. And if you do it right, you can skip the headaches and everyone can have a good time.
Here are six tips for travelling with children.
Leave yourself more time.
Everything will take longer when you have kids in tow. Getting to the airport, getting through security, boarding the plane, bathroom breaks and buying snacks and drinks all take much longer than if you’re going solo or with other adults.
If you happen to miss your flight, you will be stuck at the airport waiting to reschedule with unhappy kids. That’s the exact opposite of fun.
Flying is just one example of something where you should leave yourself extra time. You will also have to do that for your touring. You may want to fit in three museums and a trip to the botanical gardens in one day, but you might have to cut that down to just one museum and the botanical gardens if you have your kids in tow.
Remember to also keep their energy levels in mind. It may seem like kids have endless amounts of energy, but a lot of walking can tucker them out fast.
Resist the urge to overpack.
Parents tend to pack every single thing they think their child will need, but this is a mistake. At the end of a long travel day, it is quite likely that you will be carrying at least one child whose energy stores have been drained.
Instead of packing everything, try to do the opposite and pack as little as reasonably possible. If you find your child absolutely needs something you haven’t packed, you can usually find it at your destination. (Although that might not be the case if you’re going to less developed areas.)
This is a good opportunity to teach your kids about living with things they don’t need. Your daily routines are going to be disrupted while travelling, so there is no use trying to keep them the same as when you’re at home.
Pre-book everything you can.
The days of showing up and winging it are essentially over once you have kids. You should try and book everything in advance if you can. That’s especially true for lodging. Many people like to get a feel for a new destination and make a decision about lodging later. That’s a no-go with kids. You’ll want to get them to your hotel or wherever you are staying as quickly as possible so they (and you) can rest if necessary. At the very least you’ll be able to drop off all your stuff.
If you want to remain flexible, book the first night or two and leave the rest of your time there open.
You can also pre-book things like transportation, tours, restaurants, guides and tickets for shows and attractions.
Explain the trip to your kids.
Kids like to know what’s going on. Sit them down before you go and explain in as much detail as you can what you are going to do. You can even make itineraries with them so they can follow along with the plan throughout the trip.
When kids are uncomfortable, they are unhappy. Knowing what’s going on will make them both comfortable and happy. You can also take this opportunity to go over what is expected of their behaviour during the various phases of the trip.
Allowing them to make their own versions of the itinerary will give them some ownership over it and make them feel like they have contributed to the planning in some way.
If you think uncomfortable kids are unhappy, hungry kids are ten times worse. Hunger inevitably leads to crankiness and when you’re travelling, you never know when meals are going to be delayed because of circumstances beyond your control.
Kids may not want to eat the local food or there could be other reasons they don’t eat only to spring an “I’m hungry” on you in the middle of a museum. Instead of letting an empty belly ruin a good time, sit them down somewhere they can enjoy a light snack and relax.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a child discount.
You’d be amazed at the places that have special discounts for children. Transportation, private guides, tours, attractions and restaurants are just some of the places that often have discounted pricing for kids.
Some places will advertise their children’s pricing while others won’t. A quick email or query while buying tickets can net you as much as a 50% savings on tickets and other items. Don’t be afraid to ask if there is a child discount.
And, lastly, accept that things will go wrong. That’s not “might,” that’s will. Children can be as unpredictable as the weather at times and one ill-timed tantrum can throw even the best laid plans out of whack. Someone might have to use the bathroom and cause you to miss a bus or they might forget their favourite teddy bear at a hotel and have a meltdown about it in the taxi.
Accept that things will go wrong and your plans are bound to change. The sooner you do it, the less stress you’ll feel in the moment.