The Surprisingly Easy Truth of Traveling with Kids

If you’ve read a few of our posts you know that we travel and do many adventures with our children. How many of you think that traveling with kids is tough? We slow travel this globe with a 3 & 1 year old and can definitively say that traveling with children is not hard.

But, let me start with why I’m writing this post.

I’ve just read some of the worst travel advice on traveling with kids here. In a nutshell, the author posted 5 Rules of Traveling with Kids. They are:

1. The younger the child, the bigger the suitcase
2. The younger the child, the harder it is to get over jet lag
3. Travel to destinations that serve french fries
4. You can’t have too much inflight entertainment for young children
5. Strollers are as much a bane as a boon.

These rules make it seem that traveling with children is about shutting them up, wearing them out and distracting them from the act of travel.  As a traveling family, we can’t stand to hear such terrible advice because we feel that introducing­ kids to the world around them is one of the best gifts they can receive and we can give. How about giving kids a chance for discovery and adventure..isn’t that why we, as adults, travel?

Here’s the Truth: Travel isn’t tough, but Parenting is.

Traveling with children is not tough. Being a parent is tough. Parenting can be the biggest frustration and the biggest celebration, all within the same hour.  Parenting doesn’t stop when you travel with a child. Actually, children travel exceedingly well, but sometimes their parents don’t. Do not fault the children for being children, it is the parent who needs to adjust to make the travel fun for all.

Our Top 7 Tips for traveling with children

1. Time: Have plenty of it. Air travel is stressful enough without the added stress of a time crunch. Traveling with children will slow your pace and airports are surprisingly fun for them. We try to get to the airport, bus station or water taxi early so that we aren’t constantly pushing our kids to go faster, telling them to hurry up and ruining the travel experience. Time is not endless and eventually you will have to move them along, but if they’ve had a chance to explore this should be easier, but it’s not always.

2. Food: Don’t cripple your child by not letting them try new foods. One of my pet peeves is when a mom says “oh, she probably won’t like that” in front of their child, it’s a way of priming the child NOT to like the food and creating expectations to not like it. Give your child a chance…they may surprise you. And if they don’t like it…don’t say “I knew it! She doesn’t like most food”…again, your expecting them to not like different food and they will rise to those expectations. If all your kid eats is french fries and chicken nuggets, that is your fault not your kid’s.

3. Flexibility – learn to adapt with changes in schedule, yours and the kids. Explain to your child the plan for the day so they have some sense of what you are going to do today, but remain flexible and ask them what they’d like to do. Having the skill to be flexible and adaptable is one of the biggest predictors of success. Kids learn to be flexible by watching their parents handle new unpredicted situations. Also, as parents, you and your spouse may not always get to do things together. One may have to stay with the kids while the other enjoys an activity.

4. Travel Light! On our most recent Backpacking trip with the kids, we had one backpack that held all of our stuff and one small daypack for water, snacks and diapers. And no stroller, we would either carry the kids or, most of the time, they loved to walk. Travel light…it will give you so much more freedom, saves you time unpacking, repacking and finding things and makes carrying your luggage or backpack less of a chore. Kids don’t need a load of toys to keep them busy. Sometimes, an iPad or a small toy can help on a long airplane or bus ride, but we usually don’t end up having to use it. The world is their toy, finding things to play with along the way and making up games is all part of travel, and makes for a lighter backpack.

5. Slow your pace of travel: Traveling with small children will slow down the pace of travel, that comes from a natural tendency for children to completely disregard time. They are so fortunate in that regard. If they are enjoying something, they want to keep enjoying it. Who wouldn’t? Let the kids play while you enjoy a great local coffee or seaweed shake. A change of pace can be positive if you embrace it. Children are natural explorers and if their love of learning and exploration hasn’t already been squashed, they will find new situations to be fascinating.  You may feel like rushing through an airport terminal, but to them it is a new, amazing world. You can’t rush curiosity and it should be allowed to unravel.

6. Snacks: have a few snacks in your backpack or purse ready for your kids. We prefer carrot & celery sticks over bagged stuff, but sometimes bagged stuff is all we have. A hungry child is a cranky child is a stressed adult. Snacks will help occupy time and feed the belly.

7. Patience, and loads of it.

“Please, Take the Kids!”

In short, all children really need on trips are fun activities, exercise for their growing wiggly bodies, and a sense of knowledge about where they are going and some power over what they can do when they get there. Take your children to different places in the world, it is an amazing adventure. And do not worry if they are young and won’t remember most of the details, a child’s experience at a young age is what shapes their personalities for life.

Yes, sometimes we want a break from our kids.  Traveling with kids is not always pleasant, but neither is parenting or life in general. Get out with your children, have fun and play together! Expose them to new foods, encourage their curiosity to explore new places, and most importantly… teach them to adjust!! Kids are adaptable and imitate what they see. You, as the parent, can be an incredible, adaptable example.  Your own flexibility and response to new situations helps your child in the future, as well as yourself.

Even an airplane is fascinating to the kids, let them play a bit.

The reality of an airplane: it's a really fun discovery zone.

Some positive articles about traveling with kids:

Debunking cnn’s rules for traveling with kids by Mary @Bohemiantravelers

5 Rules of Travel With Kids: A Traveling Child Responds by Jennifer Miller

The “Secret” to Traveling with Children by Susan W

How Do you Travel with Children? by Alisa @ Living Outside of the Box

CNN’s Ridiculous Rules About Travel With Kids by Corinne at Have Baby Will Travel

Shocking Tips on Traveling with Kids That Went Unnoticed…It is Time to Demystify The Five Rules of Traveling with Kids by Claudia Looi

5 Amazing Reasons To Travel With Your Kids!  Travel Experta

French fries and chicken nuggets are travel essentials: The worst family travel advice ever by Nancy Sathre-Vogel @familyonbikes

 More Than French Fries by lisa Shusterman

Rules are What You Make Them: Paving Your Own Way Through Family Travel by Jessica @Suitcases and Sippy Cups

Why “Easy” Travel Options Aren’t Always the Best for Kids- a Rebuttal to CNNGo “5 Rules of Traveling With Kids” by Jody Halsted; Family Rambling @iatraveler

CNNGo Five Rules of Travelling With Kids Are You For Real - New Life on the Road

Myths, NOT rules, of traveling with kids by Kate Rehkopf, Experiential Family @experientialfam

My Reality (Not Rules) When Traveling with Kids by Keryn Means/Walkingon Travels (twitter: @walkingontravel)

Yes ! It is possible to travel with children of all ages” by Susus 7

 Forget the Rules of Travel – Try Backpacking with Kids in Yellowstone National Park by Sandra Foyt @sandrafoyt

Worst Travel Advice Ever – The Nomadic Family

What are your tips for traveling with children?

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28 Responses to “The Surprisingly Easy Truth of Traveling with Kids”

  1. Jessica February 15, 2012 at 9:00 am #

    Great article! I think you hit the nail on the head with the idea that just plain parenting is hard. When all my guys were really little, people used to marvel at why we would want to travel at all. I would always say that is wasn’t any harder to travel than it was to be at home and at least I was seeing something new.:) Great tips, too!

    • Susan February 15, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

      Jessica, you stole my comment! LOL! I couldn’t agree more. Parenting is hard, not matter if you’re traveling or if you’re not. WE are the ones that set the standard and if we make it so our kids have to have tons of toys, only fast food to be happy, etc in everyday life, it will be the same traveling.

  2. Living Outside of the Box February 15, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    I love “we feel that introducing­ kids to the world around them is one of the best gifts they can receive and we can give”! I agree 1000%!! Not to mention you saying that kids can travel exceedingly well, but parents–sometimes not. So true! Parents set the example!

  3. Heather Caliri February 15, 2012 at 10:57 am #

    I’ve found that any experience with kids is less about what I want to do, and more about what we all want to do. Travelling with kids is not like traveling solo. That said, I find these experiences so much richer, since the kids help me see things through new eyes. Plus, being type A, I often need them there to have permission to play and be silly–a surefire way to enjoy the experience more.

  4. Julie Melnick February 15, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    I agree with you! Parenting is a lot of work no matter where you are, and traveling with kids can be a lot of fun! This past year I launched a new website called http://www.nannyintheclouds.com that matches moms/dads flying with young kids with babysitters already booked on the same flight! This will give parents an extra hand during their air travel experience without having to pay for an extra ticket! Check us out.

  5. Shiloh February 15, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    I don’t do much traveling other than to visit relatives (although I wish we could), but I found that not having toys in the car is a whole lot better than having a ton of toys in the car. When they don’t have all those light up blinky things, they learn to look out the window, talk to their sibling, use their imagination, etc. Because we did use to have a ton of toys in the car. Then they would drop one or their brother would take it and the screaming would ensue. Taking the toys out car gave them nothing to scream about. Best decision ever.

  6. Sandra Foyt February 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Traveling, like any other parenting activity, is what you make of it. And I find that if you come to it with an open mind and a spirit of adventure, traveling with kids is a pleasure.

  7. Susan Verbeeck February 15, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    I enjoyed reading your article and fully agree with all your points. Taking it slow and simple to avoid extra stress makes all the difference. I remember when we took 6 of our kids to Disney and I got panicky about wanting to rush about to see it all in a day. I was in my “New York state of mind” and had to calm myself down to just let the kids lead ! It really was just for them anyhow. After a few rides, they actually just wanted to go back to the hotel to swim in the pool ! : ) Your story reminded me of all those things we had to take into account while traveling with youngsters. Our oldest is 21 and the youngest is 10 now, so it’s easier.
    Susan

  8. Corinne @ Have Baby Will Travel February 15, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    I love your view on the subject, and of course I agree!

  9. lisa wood February 15, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

    I like reading your 7 Tips on travelling with Children! Its so true that with Patience, Travelling Lightly, lots of food/snacks, time, and being flexible means that travelling is more fun :)

    Parenting is touch, but anything is possible with a bit of planning ahead!

    Great article.
    Cheers
    Lisa

  10. Tracey February 16, 2012 at 12:00 am #

    Thanks for these tips. You are so right – if kids only like nuggets, it is the parents fault!!

  11. Clark Vandeventer February 16, 2012 at 1:22 am #

    One of the greatest gifts my kids have given me — or will ever give me — was forcing me to slow down my travels!

  12. Monique February 16, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    All of the tips are right on point! TIme, slowing down travel and flexibility are probably most important, and the ones I struggle with the most.

    http://www.motravels.com/2012/02/5-rules-of-traveling-with-kids-not-to.html#more

  13. Mary February 16, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    Great writing! I love how you talk about the realities of it all. Parenting is so hard and so wonderful at the same time. Whether we travel or not life changes for the better when having children, adaptability is one of the greatest things we can show our kids:)

  14. lisa Shusterman February 16, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    Some of the gifts of travel came about through traveling with my kids. Extra time and slow travel came about when we traveled the world with our daughters. Now, whenever we travel, we always spend lots of time in a given location – way more than what most people would think is necessary. We love not feeling rushed or in a hurry and we love the enjoyment of getting to know a place really well. Kids can certainly teach us a thing or two.

  15. Nancy Sathre-Vogel from Family on Bikes February 17, 2012 at 10:00 pm #

    AMEN! You nailed it here: “introducing­ kids to the world around them is one of the best gifts they can receive and we can give. How about giving kids a chance for discovery and adventure..isn’t that why we, as adults, travel?”

    I get so tired of parents just wanted to shut the kids up. Let them play and discover and learn -isn’t that why you had them in the first place?

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