One year of travel: tips for traveling long-term with kids

We've been traveling with the kids for 2 years now. Click here to see our tips to make the trips easier! #familytravel #tips

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I used to think that traveling with kids (just as I used to think about homeschooling) is a LOT of work, very little enjoyment, and super expensive.

Turns out, I was right (it IS expensive), yet, I was also wrong. It’s not that much work, and it’s just so much fun! Trust me, we’ve been traveling non-stop for over two years! On this post, I’ll share a few tips for traveling with kids!

How traveling with kids differ from traveling with adults

It’s a bit more difficult. Grown-ups or teens can totally understand and behave when they have an early/late flight or they’re hungry, but kids won’t be able to. They get tired, hungry, sleepy, anxious.

We need to avoid stressful situations in the first place. When we can’t, we need to find a short-term solution.
And we need to carry stuff we wouldn’t otherwise, like toys. There’s also the need to meet more people’s need.

BUT, let me tell you, it’s ALL FREAKING AMAZING!

Kids surprise and amaze us every single day. They make dull moments full of life. They learn stuff in the strangest moments.
And when they’re asleep, it makes everything worth it!
Plus, they’re a lot cuter than us on the photos.

The Archery Package in Winterfell is great even for smaller kids! Click for more!

I don’t know one grown-up who’d make this photo any cuter. Honestly, I droll every time I look at it. My baby.

Tips for traveling with kids

Take it easy

This is the most important thing ever! Kids get tired, more than adults, and they probably aren’t as excited to see new things (unless it’s something of their interest).
So, take it easy.

Go sightseeing 2 days in a row, but have one rest day – be that at the beach or pool, a movie day at home, or just let them read or talk to friends or play Minecraft. Give them downtime.

Plus, don’t try to cram too much into every outing. Give them time to explore. Be patient. They’re learning every moment, even when they’re chasing pigeons.

You may not get to see the whole country (or region, or city, even a neighborhood) in your week-long vacation, but it’s still fine and it’ll be more enjoyable if they’re rested, happy, and interested.

santiago chile san cristobal

The kids playing in Cerro San Cristóbal, in Santiago, Chile. They were happy but tired and hungry, not willing to take ‘another photo, mom?’

Listen to them

I don’t mean let them wander around on their own (especially when they’re small) in a foreign country but to trust they know when they’re feeling tired, or when they want to see something, or when they don’t.

If they want to stay looking at the same artifact in the museum for hours, let them. Try to see what’s it that they’re seeing. If they don’t get to see the whole museum, but they got enough out of that one single painting (or whatever), it’s really enough.

If they say they’re tired and want to stay home, negotiate! Maybe you can give them a few hours before heading out, or maybe you can come back earlier and watch something together later. If they’re old enough, maybe they can stay home alone for a few hours. Just be sure they’ll know how to deal with the phone or doorbell ringing, locking doors – basic safety knowledge.

It’s always better to have happy kids even if it means going to the same playground again than having grumpy, uncooperative, uninterested kids all day at the most amazing place in the world.

The desert in Abu Dhabi is full of dunes, camels, and it's the most amazing thing! Wear comfortable clothes because it's filled with exercise!

Only we know how much sand there was in every single piece of garment at the end of that day. But it was all worth it – the kids loved playing on the dunes in Abu Dhabi

Let them be responsible for their own stuff

Trust them again and let them choose what to carry, how to pack it.

Give them a rough guide, depending on the experience they’ve had so far you might want to give more or fewer details and let them be.

Tell them where you’re going, how long you’re staying. Tell them what they absolutely need (hats, sweater, towel, etc) and give them the responsibility. They almost always do fine.

Maybe make a list of the basic stuff (3 tops, 3 bottoms, 3 undies – and let them choose). This works even better with young kids.
Let them care for their stuff.

If they forget or lose something, well, it happens! Don’t hold it against them but still, let them feel the NATURAL consequences of their acts (‘You need to stay in the shade now because you don’t have a hat or we can go to that shop there and you can buy one with your allowance’).
My kids became pretty good about their stuff, even though they do lose one thing or the other every once in a while.

ghibli museum tokyo japan

Even though it’s a bit blurry, it’s one of my favorite photos from the visit to Ghibli Museum, in Tokyo, Japan

Cram in something for everyone

If you have kids with very different interests or of a wide age range, it’ll be harder. Still, try to cram something for everyone.

You can go to Peru, see Machu Picchu for a kid, hold baby llamas for other kid, go to the movies for the other, check out the Gold Museum for the other, and spend a day at the beach in Lima for the other. Every single country has many different activities, and I’m sure you’ll find something for every person.

Maybe a day in the hotel playing travel board games will suffice to meet the needs of someone. Open up a conversation and figure out what they need!

One important detail here is that we need to give the same importance when a kid wants to go see the best Natural Museum in the world and when a kid wants to stay home and have a pillow fight. They’re all important to them.

Negotiate! Help them learn the skills! Try something like ‘We’ll have a pillow fight and then we’ll go to the museum, alright?’. It’s always best to put their need first otherwise you’ll spend your day answering how long until you get the pillow fight.

Winter celebrations in Disneyland Tokyo had lots of Frozen specials. It meant Olaf and Sneezies everywhere! Finding them was a lot more fun than finding hidden Mickeys! Click to know more!

We were at Disney, but we were tired and we needed to rest. We’re yet to find a better company than Olaf!

Include them in the decisions!

Include them in the choice of destination, on your itinerary, on your food choices. Give them some choice. If you have a very limited amount of time or budget, give them a few possible options and let them choose (Pizza, or hot dogs?, or Any country you’d like to visit in Central America?).

You’ll, most probably, be surprised! No need to pressure them into it. If they don’t want to take part in the choosing or they’re too little for it, easier for you.

Laugh at everything!

Well, there’s nothing better than laughing, is it?

Dropped ice cream on the seat of the rental car? Laugh. Laugh again when you’re cleaning it (or helping to clean it).
Lost a luggage, forgot something, missed a flight? Laugh it out! And it’s not enough to pretend to laugh, you need to really laugh. Find something funny, be that the face someone made, or a comment someone made, or the underwear 2 sizes too big that you bought, whatever.

That way, you’ll model humor instead of anger or sadness and they’ll remember you happy and fun, which is what we want, right?

Carry less!

If you carry less, you’ll have to manage less luggage, less stuff, and you’ll have more free hands to hold your kids’ hands.

Seriously take a third of what you’d originally planned.

Sunsets in Uruguay are magical. I don't know the reason, but they seemed prettier than anywhere else.

I wanted to watch the sunset, the kids didn’t. We negotiated: ice cream for the younger 2, and phone time for the older 2. Everyone was happy.

Choose accommodation according to what your family needs

It’s not worth to pay super cheap but have to share a room and a toilet with 15 strangers if your kids need silence and privacy in their downtime.

For us, a private room with a private toilet is the minimum requirement. We don’t need room service, pillow menu, pool, anything, just privacy.

How much is worth spending

Every single situation is unique, so you’ll have to think (and fast) every time.

Maybe it’ll be worth taking a taxi instead of walking because the kids are too tired and their feet hurt. Maybe it’ll be better to eat out in that expensive restaurant other than having fast food again. Maybe we’ll go to the movies instead of going out in the rain.

Evaluate. Negotiate. Don’t put the needs of one kid above the other – try to work everything out with them. Like, if a taxi ride for kid x will cost the outing kid y wanted, then you’ll need to figure out something that works for everyone.

To finish it…

It may seem too complicated and time-consuming, and it is on the beginning, but as time goes, kids pick up the skills to do it all by themselves and you’ll have a lot more time to do other things.

Even though every situation and every family is unique, some things are universal.

You can see our packing tips, what to carry and all luggage tips here.

hobbiton nz

José peeking into a hobbit hole in Hobbiton, NZ.

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5 replies
  1. fouronaworldtrip
    fouronaworldtrip says:

    you make it sound so easy 🙂 especially the “be patient part” 😀 So far we only know summer vacation, that so limited amount of time in a so busy year .. where you need already a week to disconnect and before you know it, you’re back at your desk at job^^ It’s hard to keep up with the good ideas and good plans. I usually need days in which I kinda terrorize my family until I got used to the new situation and am able to relax. I really wonder how it will be when we are gone for a year.. everything will be better then 😀 I will read your article again before leaving for summer vacation this year, as a mantra 😀

    Reply
  2. invincibleian
    invincibleian says:

    I agree, patience takes practice! We’ve been on the road for almost four months with a 5 and a 3 year old, and fortunately they don’t usually melt down at the same time. However, it’s rare that we have a day without a meltdown from one or the other.

    It’s incredible how well they adapt though! And I agree whole-heartedly about “Take it easy”! Go slow, spend days doing nothing! The biggest change from vacationing to travelling is you don’t have to feel like you have to see everything, everywhere you go.

    Still though, I can’t imagine being outnumbered by the kids!

    Reply
    • Thais Saito
      Thais Saito says:

      Hahaha, yes, BUT my kids are all older – they’re 5, 9, 12 and 13. The older, the easier. At least the older ones can hold it when we can’t find a toilet or when they’re hungry. And they don’t need to hold hands, plus they carry their own stuff.
      Your kids are growing up so used to traveling it’d be a breeze in a few months!
      Thank you for the comment!

      Reply

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