Travelling with kids doesn’t have to cramp your style. Many people have found that children can actually enhance the travel experience, as small people see the world through quite different eyes, and are more than happy to share that perspective with you! However, travel with kids does have its challenges, and being prepared will make the journey go a lot more smoothly.
We don’t have children ourselves, but have travelled with our nephews Henry and Leo a fair bit — and it’s always been interesting. Their mother (Linda’s sister Anna) shared her tips for travelling with small people in this episode of the Indie Travel Podcast.
How to choose where to go when travelling with kids
Anna recommends letting the kids choose the destinations if possible. Her kids love trains, so the next trip on the agenda is two weeks in Japan to go on the Shinkansen high-speed train. A recent trip to Europe featured a journey on the Eurostar at their request too.
You can also add stops to existing trips to incorporate things that the kids want to do. Last year, the family was heading to Reno for a friend’s wedding, and managed to add in a short cruise — something that Henry had been wanting to do for years.
It’s important to make sure that there is something for all members of your travel party. If your kids choose the destination, choose some activities that the adults want to do. If the trip is mostly adult-centric, add on some stops that cater to the kids’ interests.
How to plan an itinerary
If the kids are invested in the trip, they’re more likely to enjoy it. Start talking about your journey as far in advance as you can. Buy kids books related to the destination, or look online at some of the things you’ll be able to do. Let the children make suggestions and incorporate the ideas that are practical into the trip.
Anna’s top tip for scheduling is to put the most-anticipated activity at the end of the trip. On their Europe holiday, her kids were super excited about going on the Eurostar, so that was the last thing on the itinerary. This was a useful bargaining chip for good behaviour during the early parts of the journey.
Packing for travel with kids
Somehow, even the most carefully packed suitcase turns into a tornado when there are kids around! Anna’s tried a variety of packing techniques and swears by two major elements: team packing and packing cubes.
“Team packing” means that each adult is assigned one or more children, and is responsible just for those kids. In her case, there are two adults (Anna and her husband Mat) and two kids (Henry and Leo), which means that each adult is responsible for one child and that child’s belongings.
Instead of doing it all herself, though, Anna turns packing into a learning opportunity by talking through what might be needed with the child, who then assembles it and throws everything into Anna’s suitcase. She then does a quick audit (to make sure the kid actually got everything he needs) and organises everything into packing cubes.
Packing cubes are the second part of her strategy. She uses the see-through variety, and tends to put like items together. So she’ll have a cube of undies, one of socks, one of T-shirts, etc. This helps keep everything organized within the suitcase, and makes it easy to see if a certain item is running low.
How to cope with airports
Airports can be the most stressful part of a trip, which is unfortunate because many trips start there! However, Anna has a strategy for that too.
First, if you’re arriving by car, one adult should drop everyone else off at the terminal, then park the car and meet the group near the check-in.
From there, divide into your teams, so each adult is responsible for one or more child. The teams should stay together throughout all security and customs checks. Once through security, head to a playground if there is one, or just encourage the kids to run around as much as possible to burn off extra energy.
If travelling with small children, send one adult on to the plane early with all of the cabin bags, leaving the other adult in the terminal with the kids. The adult on the plane should organise the seating area with toys, nappies, and anything that needs to be close to hand, and the adult in the airport should keep the kids running around as much as possible! Then, the children and their accompanying adult can board the plane at the last minute, among the final passengers. This limits the amount of time the kids are sitting around on the plane, getting steadily more bored.
How to keep kids entertained on long flights
Kids know what they like to do, so encourage them to pack their own cabin bag. Books, colouring books, and small toys are often winners. It’s also worth having a couple of backup options though, whether this is an iPad packed with movies and games, or a new book or toy you pull out in case of necessity.
If the plane has an entertainment system, don’t be shy about using it. Although Anna likes to limit her kids’ screen time, long plane journeys are a perfect time to relax the rule. It can be particularly useful for allowing the adults to get some rest, too.
How to keep kids entertained on car journeys
Car journeys are a bit more of a challenge, since many of the things you can do on a plane aren’t possible in a car — colouring can be a challenge, for example!
One thing Anna does is to use Geocaching as a tool. This is a worldwide activity where people hide small containers and then record their GPS location within an app. Searchers can use the coordinates to then find the treasure — and sometimes there really is a treasure, in the form of a small toy or something similar. More often, though, it just contains a logbook so you can record your visit.
Anna finds a cache about 100km from their current location and sets up the phone so that the kids can see that they are getting closer and closer. When they’re close enough, they’ll stop for a walk and a mini treasure hunt.
What kind of accommodation is best for travelling with kids?
Air BnB is a godsend for parents, as it allows families a lot more flexibility than in the past. Anna particularly loves renting places with self-catering facilities, as she can then stock up with food from a local supermarket and prepare many of their meals “at home”. They’ll still eat out in their destination, but they don’t have to.
Tips for fussy eaters
Many parents find that their kids are even fussier when they travel than at home. Anna’s biggest tip is to relax, don’t worry so much about the rules, and just make sure your kid is eating something — even if that’s just plain bread at most meals. You’ll be home soon enough and can get back into your regular routine then.
Stocking up on things the kids will eat will help. When Henry was small, Anna found a particular brand of puréed vegetables that he loved because of the tractor on the packet. One section of her suitcase was filled with those! Similarly, if you find a type of food the kids love while you’re travelling, stock up as soon as you can, as you might not see it again.
How to keep kids learning while travelling
All travel is a learning opportunity, especially if you get the kids involved in the planning. Encourage them to ask questions and make suggestions, and take those suggestions seriously.
Because of her schedule, Anna has taken her kids out of school for a couple of trips. She made sure to talk to the kids’ teachers before booking the trip, to make sure it was okay and to ask them for any homework tasks that should be done while away. They were generally quite positive, and on the last trip, Henry was given certain activities to do. While he was doing that with Mat, Anna would do some reading with Leo, to keep him learning too.
Travelling with kids doesn’t have to be hard, or stressful. Just plan with your particular kids in mind, and keep them involved as you prepare — and overprepare!
[box] This episode of the Indie Travel Podcast is sponsored by Visit Milwaukee.
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Plan a family trip at visitmilwaukee.org.[/box]