Tips for travelling with kids
Remember when you cruised on a gulet around the Turkish coast, hitchhiked across Zambia to isolated national parks and backpacked by train across Western Europe – all without kids.
Travel doesn’t have to end now that you have them. You’ll be opening their eyes to new experiences and testing their comfort zones – it’s an unmatched learning adventure.
Here is some handy advice to help you navigate the challenges of travelling with kids.
Take more time to plan
There was a time when you could book a flight on a whim and roll up to an unknown country with just you and your pack or bag. Those days are over – with kids you need to:
- Be organised – book where you’ll lay your head well in advance, and think carefully about the best times to arrive and depart destinations
- Have a travel plan – map out exactly where you’re planning to go
- Get well prepared for various eventualities – like changes in weather and inevitable sick days on the road.
Write a packing list
Write that family packing list of what you’ll need to take and then slowly cut it down as you try getting everything in your packs. You might even decide to go on a ‘test holiday’ over a long weekend to see how your packing stands up.
Arrange some fun for the journey
Getting to your destination should be as much fun as being there, so prepping lightweight books, toys and even screen entertainment will help keep the journey exciting. You won’t want to shut your kids off from the world completely as the train rolls on, but having these as options will be a lifesaver.
Book accommodation in advance
Research and book your kid-friendly accommodation well in advance. The last thing you want to do is wander around a foreign city without a place to rest as the evening sets in.
Make full use of the filters on many booking sites to choose a hotel, motel or home that will fit exactly what your family needs. For instance, a Wi-Fi connection is probably a given, a bath may be necessary and balconies and pools should also be considered regarding safety.
Prepare alongside your kids
Get chatting with your kids about the thrills they can expect in the places you’re planning to visit. They’ll be excited to learn about what wildlife, mountains, food and transport are on the cards. Hire a few library books about the places you’ll be holidaying to spark up their interest and check out some YouTube videos on activities at your planned destinations.
Book some of these online and not only will your kids gain more enthusiasm for their upcoming travels but you’ll likely save a few bucks by booking well ahead of time.
Pack smart and pack light
Heavy backpacks are the last thing you’ll want when you also have to transport kids around. Staying mobile by carrying fewer bags with less stuff will simply make your travel easier.
Invest in some packing cubes
If you haven’t travelled with packing cells (packing cubes) before, you’re missing a trick – and that trick will be amplified when you’ve got rugrats on board. They’re brilliant for compacting and organising your family’s gear.
Take along a few creature comforts
Take some of your kid’s creature comforts. Remember to encourage them to choose small items that weigh little and pack away easily.
Have a relaxed chat about travel safety
A natural concern when planning to travel extensively with kids is travel safety – especially their safety. It’s always wise to seek advice from locals around keeping kids safe, particularly in larger foreign cities. For instance, consider:
- Long grass in parks – it’s possible there could be needles and other items left from drug use that you definitely don’t want your kids stumbling across.
- Travelling in taxis – with small children, the natural thing is to strap them between you and your seatbelt, but they’re safer sitting solo behind their own belt.
- Having a go-to spot – discuss where your kids should go if they become separated from you. For example, it could be a trailhead, the lobby of your hotel or an information booth at a popular tourist spot.
- Swimming – they’ll naturally be super excited about swimming in pools, rivers and the sea so introduce some basic rules before you hit the road.
Gather together a travel first aid kit
You’ll probably want to avoid having to visit a hospital or pharmacy in the middle of the night when one of your children gets sick. Packing a comprehensive first aid kit with the minimal measures of everything your kids might need will be indispensable.
On the road
Adults always seem to be in a rush. Travelling with your kids is an opportunity to slow life down and enjoy the little things that sometimes they only see.
Kids need more time to enjoy places so it’s a good idea to avoid cramming your days with too many activities. One significant activity each day is probably enough.
Have regular breaks
Taking a break every few hours will do you and your kids a world of good. Factor in plenty of downtime and playtime at pools, beaches, parks and playgrounds.
This goes hand-in-hand with having a relaxed schedule for your trip and the ability to be flexible.
Make full use of free sights
If you’re planning to travel for months on end with your youngsters, anything entertaining (that’s also free) will help you stick to your budget.
You’ll need to do some digging to find freebies. Try:
- Researching your destination in guidebooks, blogs and vlogs
- Speaking to locals at your accommodation
- Checking any tourist magazines or flyers
- Walking around and exploring once you arrive
Focus on fun
Spontaneous moments while travelling are often the most memorable. There’s no difference when travelling with children. Take those opportunities to be unstructured and unplanned occasionally. Like travel itself, you never know where it might lead.
Teach the art of being a ‘little explorer’
Travel opens so many opportunities for kids to explore their ever-changing surroundings. Take advantage of their natural curiosity by making a game or challenge of it. Come up with some tasks they need to do at each location and bring along:
- A kid’s camera
- A travel journal or scrapbook
- Pencils, pens or markers
- Some kid’s binoculars
Mail surplus items home
Mail home any stuff you buy that you don’t need to travel with like souvenirs or extra clothes. Also pack a ‘foldaway’ bag for transitional times when you’ve bought some local goodies but can’t yet post them.
Budget for extra spending on transport
The cheapest form of transport isn’t necessarily the best when you’ve got kids with you. Daily planning will be the key to managing how much you spend on public transport.
Kids can get obsessed with different types of transport, so you could play that up by:
- Riding buses whenever possible, especially free central city ones
- Taking taxis, Uber or the local equivalent in low-cost countries
- Journeying on long-distance trains to get to your next destination
- Adventuring by boat when there are opportunities to do so
- Taxiing short distances if the roads are hazardous, you may feel more comfortable strapping your kids into a private cab
In 2015, the Lorrimer family packed up their belongings and headed on a trip around Australia. The adventure hasn't stopped. Check out their story below.
Travel as a career: is it right for you?
From a few months to a lifetime, travel can be an entire way of life.
5 ways to travel as a couple and survive the process
Packing cells: the answer to all of life's problems
How to travel with toddlers
Toddlers don't have to mean the end of spontaneity in your travels.