It occurs to me that we travel with our kids a lot more than most. I never really thought about it until I talked to a lady while in Whanganui on our recent 10 day roadie. It was our second to last day. She was amazed at what we'd done in just 9 days, AND that I was beaming about it. She says she can't even drive 3 hours without her kids going bonkers.
So, it seems to me there might be some nuggets of wisdom I can share that have become second nature and have grown from many trials and errors!
Travelling with kids is exhausting, there's no doubt about it.
But it's just as fun, if not more fun with them!
In our short history of being parents (Sam just turned 11, Felix is 9) we have been on 6 international vacations (including 3 road trips) and 4 domestic driving holidays.
Yeah, I hear you... you think I'm a little bit mad. You might be right, but I feel blessed to travel so much with my kids and here's how we do it.
We have several KEY RULES for us when we plan our days:
Rule #1 PREPARATION
We normally spend months preparing for a big trip, Trip Advisor becomes your best friend for a while, but there's a wealth of information available.
You can get the kids involved and get their input too. We love reading maps and history to our kids before a trip, it really helps them see the reason why it's so special.
We also know that we don't like the heavily tourist prone areas. So, we take care to choose a different experience than what's in the guide book.
Once the kids got to about 5-6 years old, they loved watching BBC documentaries and the like on Youtube, it also gave us some gold nuggets of info about hidden gems, or what to avoid.
Our fav food blogger is on YouTube, you may already have your own, but for Asia we LOVE The Food Ranger!
My favourite sites for travel:
Instagram - All your likes in far off places might just hold some hidden gems.
www.neatplaces.co.nz for NZ cities.
Rule #2 PLANNING / BOOKING
Our number one rule is to have our accommodation booked and waiting for us before we arrive. Yes, this takes preparation. Yes, it's not as free and easy as backpacking in your twenties. But it's just as exciting and fun. You can book on the road but make sure you give yourself 3-4 days to organise it.
ALWAYS get a hotel with a pool! or by the ocean. Swimming is the easiest way to tired your kids out, amuse them for hours and develop some real family bonding time.
DESTINATION TRAVEL - try to spend 3-4 nights in each place. Travelling with kids just takes longer. You can't rush around 5 different sights in one day with kids. What would take you (alone) and hour, may take 2-3 with kids. It's a lovely pace to travel at, but if you're not prepared for it, it can take you by surprise and you leave a city/area wanting so much more.
Plan adult travel stuff in the morning (boring museums, art galleries etc) - Kid fun comes after lunch with some sneaky bribery!
This is (believe it or not) is in a restaurant in Phnom Pehn! Best idea ever!!
Rule #3 TIMING
Look at your day in three blocks of time - after breakfast, after lunch and after dinner. Not only is everyone happier on a full belly, it's pretty easy to find three activities to fill that time and make the most of where you are. And depending on the age of your kids, you may be able to extend your adventures.
After breakfast - Adventure time - this is the best time for Mum and Dad to get in some sights for them. You can entice good behaviour with the promise of after lunch fun.
After Lunch - KIDS FUN TIME do things at their level. This is their reward for being good all morning! See the sights through their eyes, play in a park (frisbee is our fav) or swim, visit a zoo or aquarium - or like us - ride in public transit. Our kids love going in trains, buses, trams, taxis, tuk tuks anything we don't do at home is like an adventure.
After Dinner - FAMILY FUN TIME We find if the kids aren't completely exhausted, it's a lovely time to enjoy an activity together. We love swimming, so an evening walk/swim is a perfect way to end the day for us.
Rule #4 FOOD
Ever realised you're hungry, then looked for a restaurant. Yip. Me too. But not with kids, this mentality = disaster!
My hubby was a chef (up until a few months ago) and he's pretty picky about where he wants to eat (i.e. nothing he would cook at home - except for burgers), he'd be free and easy about where to eat "we'll figure it out when we get there". After many many holiday evenings ruined by this plan - driving around and around to full restaurant, closed restaurant, health hazard restaurant... or not even knowing where the restaurants are and aimlessly driving around without a map (thanks Sault Ste Marie Canada!)
I now know... figure out where and when you're going to eat before you get hungry!
We've found the best possible way to save ourselves from the green monster coming out of our kids is to plan our day.
Plan ahead, know where you'll be and get a sense for what's going to be in the area for snacks. If you know it's all fast food and junk, then stop on the way and grab some fruit or yummy yogurts to keep everyone happy before you can find some delicious local fare to satisfy your tummies.
DIFFERENT FOOD: One thing I've noticed with our kids and others' around food and holidays is culture shock does kick in. Their normal food favourites or preferences can go out the window, it must be something about everything being too different and they want sometime safe to eat. It makes sense, I guess - but I find it kinda boring.
Here's what happened to us: Our kids LOVE asian food, so we thought travelling with them in Thailand and Cambodia would be a sinch when it came to food. We were so wrong. They reverted right back to burgers and fries or chicken and rice for the whole trip then demanded we eat at thai restaurants when we got home.
Bangkok / Dumplings in Thailand / NYC Pizza
So, we would take turns choosing our meals (one night kids choice - guided slightly - the next ours).
Pub food and local beer is available pretty much anywhere, so it's a safe bet to keep the kids and parents happy. Most ethnic restaurants will serve plain rice or noodles or pasta for fussy kids. So we can eat in adventurously and make sure the kids still can eat something too.
Rule #5 KEEP A TRAVEL DIARY
Travelling with kids is exhausting. But it is so so worth the effort. There's no better way to teach our littlies about the outside world than actually being there in person. But, before you know it the trip will be over. And within a few months or years you'll forget. SO, KEEP A RECORD!!
Our kids say the darnedest things about stuff we wouldn't even notice. Keep a record of it, later on when the holiday feels like a blur, reading through the adorable notes and funny drawings really help you remember how special it was.
We always intend to have the kids write their own stories about our holidays, but it always slips away when we're all having fun.
It also makes it super easy to make a photo book when you get home!
Rule #6 PACKING
Every child / family is different, but we like to pack light. It makes airport transfers etc easier when you have less luggage. If we know we're going to come back with extra, we simply buy a cheap bag when away and fill it up.
We each get Suitcase and a carry on bag. We help the kids pack, but they get to choose what they'd like to wear. Felix loves wearing pj's as his pants on holiday - why not? I say! For the carry on, we pack the usual - their fav blanket, book and a pencil case + notebook. The usual necessities.
We travel with 8 passports, so it's a lot to carry with us.
On our recent trip to NYC, Washington DC and Canada we packed all of our essential travel documents (with a PEN) in one bag. I discovered that my Eco Clutches were perfect for this, keeping everything in one place. When you're having to fill in the required documents, it make is super simple.
When you're heading out on adventures, one person keeps this bag (eco clutch) in the most secure backpack/handbag and you always know where it is.
Rule #7 SPENDING MONEY
It's good to know that kids LOVE buying stuff. It's super empowering for them to be in charge of some $$, so let them buy things they wouldn't normally at home. I'm much looser about fizzy drink and lollies too. Since doing this we have less gripes and tantrums. It's especially good for wasting time at airports and are sanity savers in busy markets!!
Phnom Pehn Russian Market - food area (MASSIVE market)
Rule #8 DIVIDE and CONQUER
As much fun as it is spending your time altogether as a family, you do need down time. When travelling with my hubby we always give each other an afternoon to take off and explore on a solo mission.
This is especially perfect if you know there's something you really want to do and it's just not going to happen with kids.
I love window shopping and exploring fabric markets. Hubby likes war history and museums (snore fest!! for me and the kids).
It's win win. It takes a little planning, but those quiet solo missions are a real highlight for both of us when we look back on our trips.
RULE # 9 COMMUNICATION
Be realistic about your own expectations. It's a family holiday afterall.
BUT if you're going somewhere and there's something you really want to do. SAY IT. I can't express this loud enough. There is nothing worse than feeling like you're missing out on something pretty amazing while you're wandering around fulfilling someone else's dream holiday.
My hubby really wanted to go to Angkor Wat but I wasn't super keen. We were only going to Thailand, not Cambodia at this point. But after talking about why, he helped me understand that it was a pretty special place. We made it super easy by booking flights, and accommodation before we left and booking a tuk tuk tour with a highly recommended chap, and it turned out to be one of my highlights of the trip. The tuk tuk driver bought the kids a coca cola each (to my horror) and they loved and still talk about it years later.
RULE #10 HAVE FUN!!
I hope you've found this helpful. Leave a comment below if you have any other nuggets of travelling wisdom.
Here are some family highlights from our adventures: