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Travel with kids needn’t be a hassle and it can be one of the best experiences you have as a family.
The key ingredients to a smooth trip when traveling with kids are to pay attention to their needs, and finding the right balance between plenty of rest time whilst also having lots of activities for them to do along the way.
Bored and overtired children become cranky and frustrated kids in a hurry.
Whilst our style of travel has evolved throughout the years from being solo travelers, to a couple, and now a family of four, there are some core travel habits that have served us well, and we continue to follow them to this day.
Plan for a slower pace than you might usually attempt if solo or as a couple. Be realistic about what you can see and do with kids in tow. Don’t try to cram too much into your itinerary. The less you feel you have to see, the more enjoyable and stress-free for everyone.
For the most part, the pace of the trip should be set to what your youngest child can handle. Build into your agenda time for stops along the way for bathroom breaks, snack breaks, and nap time. If you can avoid cranky children it will make for a much more pleasant experience.
Sit down with your whole family and discuss your ideas and interests. Memorable trips are those where each member of the family gets to experience something they love. Talk about budgets, expectations, and how you can work with the dollars available to plan an exciting family trip.
Travel experts have found that the most successful family vacations are those that involve both parents and children in choosing destinations and planning for their trip. Through these conversations, you will learn more about each others needs and find destinations and activities to suit the whole family.
Give yourself the best chance to capture a cheap flight. Leaving a few days or even weeks before or after your ideal date could mean the difference of hundreds of dollars. Think about using airfare sales to help determine your family’s vacation destination and time of departure rather than the other way around.
Pack the bare minimum because you can always buy it there. Roll clothes and stuff socks and underwear inside shoes. Wear your heaviest clothes on the flight. Encourage kids to choose and pack their own clothes to minimize complaints and to teach travel skills.
Select versatile and comfortable clothes and color-coordinated separates so if something gets dirty you only have to change part of the outfit. And pack bags with what is needed first on the top — a change of clothes for dinner, pajamas, or what is needed during the day including a change of clothes in case of accidents.
Hot Tip – Halve your clothes, double your budget.
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Pick a Kid Friendly Location – Stay in a safe and central area that’s close to local attractions, food outlets, the beach, the park, and all preferably within walking distance. This will save you time, money, and your kids from getting bored.
One of the great features of the Booking.com website is you search by Family Hotels.
Stay More Than 1 Night – Many hotels provide their best deals when you stay over more than one night.
Stay over Sunday – Many hotels receive Friday and Saturday night bookings from leisure travelers and Monday-Friday bookings from their business travelers, so there can be a void on Sunday nights.
Check for Family Deals – Always ask about discounted rates, free meals for children, and an upgrade at check in – they can only say no.
A Pool and games room – Kids love both of these options. Does the pool have any special features (like a slide or waterfalls)?
Make Sure it Has a Lift – Carrying strollers, toys, and luggage up several flights of stairs is NO FUN!
What’s the room configuration? – For our family of four two double beds is required or a portacot. If you have a baby make sure this is available, and for free.
Coupons and Discounts – Check out the brochure shelf in the lobby and any tourist literature in your room for ways to shave a few bucks off the price of your family vacation.
Enroll in a Loyalty Program – Many hotel chains are now offering free loyalty programs with incentives like earning free rooms after multiple stays. If you travel often and stay at the same chain, or one of its participating partners, you may save on future family vacations.
Check the Dining Options – Does the hotel restaurant and room service have a kids’ menu?
TV Channels – Does the hotel offer several family-oriented cable stations, like Disney, Nickelodeon, AMC, Discovery and Lifetime? Is there a movie library with kids’ movies?
Bathtub? – You’ll want to be sure that your room will include a bathtub.
Laundry – For longer vacations, check to see whether the hotel has coin operated machines for hotel guests.
Read our post on how to find budget accommodation.
With activities to appeal to every generation, food choices to suit all ages, and itineraries that can be full-on or you just sit around and do nothing, a cruise or a resort can eliminate daily decision making that can cause conflict. Look for Kids Eat Free, Stay Free, and Play Free deals.
Most big-city hotel rooms were not built for families with young kids. They usually have no refrigerator or microwave, floor space is at a premium, and neighbors can hear every tantrum. But with an apartment you get more space, thicker walls, a kitchen, a washing machine, and separate bedrooms.
These extra facilities on a long stay can make your trip so much more enjoyable.
If this is going to be your first serious trip as a family, consider starting with a shorter trip such as a weekend away or even just a day trip to the zoo as a trial run. This will help you figure out packing choices, daily routines, how fast you can move around, and how you all get along and interact together.
Travel with kids does not have to be expensive. Decide on a comfortable budget that works for your family and include items such as souvenirs, entertainment, and a few unexpected activities. Once again involve your kids to make sure they feel comfortable with your travel plans.
Hot Tip: Every now and then blow your daily budget. We go away to experience things and create lifelong memories. Don’t limit yourself to just traveling for the sake of traveling. Go splurge on a famous restaurant, see a big concert, attend a mega sporting event, go on a safari, jump out of a plane, do something incredible.
No matter who you are, everyone needs a break from each other at some point. While the goal of your trip is to create shared memories, it is also important to remember that children need time to burn off energy and enjoy the company of kids their own age.
Likewise, us parents need quiet periods for rest and some adult company as well. Keep this in mind and be a little flexible on your trip, as children’s moods and interests can change constantly. If you and your children find something you’d rather do, be spontaneous and go with the flow.
Allow your children to bring along a few home comforts such as a stuffed toy, reading books, or a portable music player. Activity packs can be a lifesaver on a plane and car rides. Make one with items such as coloring pencils and books, card games, board games, hand held electronic games, puzzles etc.
Consider giving your child a journal and a cheap digital camera. Kalyra loves taking her own pictures and it is fascinating to see travel through her eyes. Pictures can be put into a scrapbook after you return, providing a lasting keepsake of your wonderful experiences together.
If your children are writing a journal, encourage them to draw and list things they see, eat and experience. And how about buying a cheap postcard from each destination and help them to note a memory on the back, or they can create a large collage to place on their bedroom wall once home.
Read more – 8 ideas for turning travel photos into gifts
Food costs can eat up a large portion of the family travel budget.
Go out for Breakfast or Lunch – Try and avoid dinner as restaurants raise prices. OR, have brunch instead of 3 meals a day. Many restaurants offer lunch specials where items on the dinner menu are offered for a fraction of the cost you’d pay for the same meal in the evening. And we find that breakfast and lunch is easier with young kids as they are tired by dinner time.
Eat Away from the Tourist Streets – Just go one street or one block over and it will usually be cheaper and more authentic. Eat where the LOCALS eat. Also, eat at the popular street carts, usually the most authentic and cheapest meal.
Self-Cater Where You Can – On long stays, we make self-contained accommodation with kitchen facilities a priority. Stay in places with a refrigerator so you can store breakfast foods, snacks, and bottled water. Purchasing your own supplies from the grocery store can save you big bucks.
One meal for two kids – Our kids are young enough to share one kid’s meal so on most occasions we only buy one. You can always buy another if they’re still hungry but you can’t send one back!
Free Breakfasts – When booking a hotel look for one with breakfast included. Also, have picnics, barbeque’s, and house parties. This saves precious money.
Always take your own snacks on flights, buses and road trips where practical. Long road trips or flights can leave kids feeling cranky and hungry. Pack plenty of snacks for yourselves and your children.
Do not assume that you will be able to stop and buy snacks along the way as airports especially can be expensive and have a limited selection of healthy options.
Many things to see and enjoy are absolutely free. See a street fair, concert, or cultural event. Catch a magnificent sunset, take a walk or bike ride, play in the park, swim at the beach or lake, climb a mountain.
Use the Free Days – Attend museums and tourist sites on FREE DAYS or when they are discounted. Most museums have special discount times or free nights. Before you go anywhere, make sure you look on their website or facebook page to find out if they offer free visiting hours or family discounts.
Finding accommodation when you arrive without booking ahead can be challenging with children in tow. It’s definitely worth pre-booking at least your first couple of nights, even if you want to be flexible on your travels: this will allow you to look for other places in a more leisurely way.
After a long flight or car journey, the last thing your family will feel like is hunting around for somewhere to stay and something to eat. Make reservations and map out your first day or two in advance to make the trip smoother.
If you’re going overseas and have little ones, see your doctor at least two months before you leave to discuss your plans. Mention the ages of your children and bring everyone’s vaccination records, and ask the doctor to note down their blood groups for you.
If any of your children has a pre-existing medical condition, ask for help in identifying a doctor in your destination who specializes in the same condition.
A pram or stroller can be useful even if your child is walking. It can serve as a place for them to rest during day trips, a makeshift bed when out in restaurants, and you can use it to great effect with carrying the bags.
When taking a long flight, train, or bus journey, try and plan it so you are traveling at night. That way, you don’t have to pay for a night’s accommodation.
We believe life is “all about the memories”. By doing something new together, your children will be impressed with your sense of adventure and curiosity. Learn to kayak, snorkel, surf, a cooking class or spot wildlife in nature. Maybe go snow skiing, fishing or roller blading.
Find something that’s new to all of you and share the joy of learning together.
Borrow an idea from the airlines: Purchase or borrow a portable TV/DVD player that mounts on the back of the seat in front. Rent a bunch of DVDs or borrow them from your local library for free.
Take Frequent Breaks – Preferably every two hours. Expecting young kids to sit still longer than that is unrealistic. Find interesting picnic spots, historical monuments, public parks or a playground. Let the kids run around and burn off some energy.
Safety – Pack plenty of water, a first-aid kit, and a flashlight in case you break down at night. Call to make sure your road assistance plan is up-to-date and charge your phone beforehand.
Have your vehicle completely checked out by your mechanic. Oil changes, brake checks, light checks are important to the vehicle’s safe operation. Also, double check the installation of all car seats to ensure they are properly set up for maximum protection.
Read more – The ultimate road trip planning guide
Read more – 17 tips for flying with kids
We travel abroad to experience different cultures, environments, and ways of thinking. Don’t shut yourself and your kids off to experiencing all there is to offer. If you all travel with an open mind you can have a much more enriching experience.
There are times and moments when other cultures will shock you. Don’t judge them. When this happens, just sit back and say to your kids …“Isn’t that interesting?”
Attitude is everything: no matter how much you plan and prepare, things can and will go wrong. Just go with the flow and everything will work out great. Travel is not always easy and traveling with kids can be tough. So just treat your trip like one big adventure and any mishaps simply become small obstacles for you to overcome.
Plan for occurrences such as air travel delays, illness, and homesickness. If unforeseen events happen, stay positive. Your children will learn important life lessons from watching you on this trip.
Try and put yourself in your kid’s shoes. Remember what you were like as a small child, or teenager, and how you liked to travel and be treated and the things you enjoyed doing.
Need more family travel tips?
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