If You’re Leaving Right Away:
Before we get into all the nitty-gritty on How to Travel with Kids so that everyone involved has the best possible Family Vacation Experience, if you’re leaving tomorrow, or sometime in the next week, and have piles of clothes scattered around the house and half-filled suitcases that you keep tripping over (this can’t just be me, right?), here are the Quick Tips You Need For Right Now:
1. Snacks + Screens = Sanity on Travel Days
On planes, trains or automobiles, generally it’s best to let the everyday rules go out the window, and utilize all the snacks and screens that you need to in order to survive getting from here to there. Maybe just watch out for those neon orange snacks like Cheetos and Doritos, which, while delicious, will only wind up making your trip more difficult due to mess.
2. No Guilt or Shame Allowed
So your kid watched Encanto on repeat for the entire six-hour car ride? Awesome, you kept your kid busy, and got your family to the destination; way to multi-task! Your baby is screaming for the entire flight? Shower that babe with love and acceptance and let go of any responsibility for other passengers who forgot their own headphones. Remove all guilt and shame from all of your baggage immediately; that negativity is no good here!
3. Always Have a Bathroom Option
Whether it’s an extra diaper caddy stocked for the car, or a toddler potty stashed in the trunk, or a portable kid-sized potty-rim for public bathrooms, take note of every restroom you pass and be ready to make frequent stops (some kids tend to use the bathroom more as a way to control something in an unfamiliar situation).
4. Pack a Go-Bag
Even if you’re not flying, having a small “carry-on”-like bag with a change of clothes and a toothbrush for everyone is good to have on hand just in case. You never know when you’ll need to make an unplanned stop for the night, due to a rerouted flight or crazy traffic, and it will be helpful not to have to unpack everyone’s huge suitcases for a small stopover.
5. Don’t Forget About YOU
Did you catch that viral story about the mom who forgot to pack her own clothes? That could have been any one of us, couldn’t it? Remember, in an emergency, you get your airbag first in order to better help everyone else, so Take Care Of YOU, too. Double check your own packing list, and bring some form of self-care, whether it’s your headphones (even if you just wear one to keep yourself calm), or a fidget ring, or anti-nausea wristbands, or a book that you may or may not even open, make sure you have something for yourself.
If You Have Time to Plan:
If you’re just getting started with your Family Vacation planning, there’s so much to consider when deciding how to make the entire Family Vacation experience the most successful and enjoyable for everyone, so let’s dig in!
For many of us, when we think back on our own childhoods, some of our fondest memories come from Family Vacations. Whether our parents took us to Disney every year, or were more of the European-travel type, or took us camping in the mountains or on the beach, those times we experienced any sort of travel with our families probably stand out in our memories as some of the best times of our lives, and maybe even as times that shaped who we are, too. And if traveling was not a thing in your family, maybe the absence of it is the reason you want to be sure you give those experiences to your own children.
Looking back now, it’s probably a marvel how our parents made it seem so easy, when, now that we’re parents ourselves, we know that traveling with kids is often far from easy, and requires tons of planning and forethought. But it is truly so, so worth it; giving our own kids those core memories they’ll look back on forever? It’s priceless, and one of the greatest gifts we could ever give to our children.
So how do we do it? When we all know traveling with kids can be difficult, how do we make our Family Vacations successful, and create those experiences our children will remember for a lifetime? That’s what we at Love of the Magic Vacations are here for! To give you our tried and true advice on How to Travel with Kids, and also, why you absolutely should, and why the Classic Family Vacation is so beneficial.
How to Travel with Kids:
1. Know Your Own Limitations
The great Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and in today’s social media-crazed world, we can’t be reminded of that enough. One of the first steps to an enjoyable and successful Family Vacation is choosing a destination and experience that you can handle.
When you scroll through pictures of families hiking through National Parks with babies along for the ride in elaborate carriers, or see families with kids younger than yours at Disney for the first time when you may not have made it there yet, or even when your neighbors casually drop their “summer in Europe” plans into the conversation, it’s so easy to fall into that comparative mindset. And from there it becomes super easy to talk yourself into taking the Family Vacation you think you should, instead of the Family Vacation you really want and are comfortable with.
If you have a one year old and the thought of packing everything you need into bags that meet airline regulations stresses you out, stick to road trips; on the flip side, if your baby is terrible in the car, maybe a flight during which they’re not locked in a car seat for ten hours would make packing lightly worth it. If you’ve been putting off Walt Disney World because of the heat, consider visiting in the typically cooler months like January or February, or go to Disneyland instead, where the weather is generally more temperate.
If visiting a European country makes you nervous because of a language barrier, choose a country where English is the most commonly spoken language, such as England or Ireland. And if bringing everything necessary for your family to function makes you nervous you’ll forget something, make packing lists, and choose a destination that will have stores where you can find anything you forgot (as opposed to an off the grid camping trip or foreign country without your favorite brands).
Whatever your limitations may be, don’t compromise your own happiness by planning the Family Vacation you think you should take; plan the Family Vacation that’s right for you and your family! And if you’re not sure where to go on a Family Vacation based on your own comfort level, don’t worry, your favorite Love of the Magic Vacations Travel Advisor will know plenty of fantastic destinations to give you as options.
2. Choose Age Appropriate Destinations
First, it’s important to note that “age appropriate” is somewhat relative. A family that is super outdoorsy may think nothing of camping in the woods with toddlers, but may be a bit more hesitant to explore a major metropolitan city, while on the other hand, a family from an urban area may be more comfortable navigating super crowded areas with young kids, and be more wary of being out in the wilderness at night.
However, there are some age-related considerations to think of when choosing a Family Vacation destination. Of course, you’re not going to be taking your underage kids on your Napa Valley Wine Tour, but there are a few other less obvious places to think twice about. For example, take National Parks: generally, National Parks are great for people of all ages, and most have a variety of trails and activities to suit any age and ability level. But if you have a super feisty three-year-old (do non-feisty three-year-olds even exist?) who loves to test limits (including running away when they’re told to stay put), maybe a place like the Grand Canyon isn’t exactly the right fit, since there are only guardrails on the heavily visited areas. Seems like the risks in that situation seriously outweigh the benefits.
In addition, a fairly formal River Cruise, rich with history and fine dining experiences, may not be the best idea for younger kids, who might not appreciate the exquisite cuisine or understand the context or significance of historical sites (plus some River Cruises even have age restrictions). At the same time, this kind of experience can go either way for teenagers; if you have a history buff or budding chef on your hands, maybe the refined atmosphere of a River Cruise would be an opportunity for them to flourish and deepen and expand their interests.
While many Vacation Destinations are designed to be age appropriate for everyone (except for vacations on Virgin Voyages Adults-Only Cruises, or to places such as Sesame Place), what I really mean by “Choose Age Appropriate Destination” is choose age appropriate destinations for your specific family and children. You know your own children best, and what they will enjoy or be able to handle on a vacation, based not just on their ages, but on their personalities and interests, too; those factors are what will ultimately determine what is or isn’t “age appropriate” for your own kids.
3. Prep Prep Prep Your Kids (and Yourselves)
As tempting as it is to completely surprise your children with The Best Vacation Ever by waking them up wearing Mickey Ears, with suitcases packed and your ride to the airport arriving in an hour, I’d strongly caution you against that. Generally, people thrive in routines, and this is true of little kids especially, who not only thrive with routines, but need them to feel safe. Even surprising older kids with a “Day-of” vacation may be exciting at first, but then they might stress about what they will be missing in school, or during a break, what plans with their friends they won’t get to be part of anymore.
Surprising your kids with an incredible vacation is still possible, and can be absolutely wonderful, as long as they have advance notice. Consider a surprise on Christmas morning for a trip that will happen over winter break, or a birthday present surprise of an epic summer vacation. Everyone will still be super surprised, and they’ll have the necessary time to prepare for whatever the vacation requires, whether that’s getting school work in advance, or changing plans with friends, or even just talking about what will happen on vacation each day with little kids, so they’ll be more adaptable to the break in their usual routine.
Of course, with little kids, the concept of time isn’t something they fully grasp, so once you tell them you’re going, they might expect to go right now. And, even if they bug you about it everyday, you’ll know it’s just their little brain trying to wrap itself around the idea of going away and being out of their routine. The more you talk about it with them, and prep them for everything that will happen, the smoother your vacation will be.
In addition, there are still ways to build surprises into your vacation, if you think your children will enjoy them. Depending on what you know your kids can handle without advance notice, you could surprise your kids with a character meal at Disney, or a VIP tour at any of the theme parks, or you could book an afternoon swimming with dolphins in the Caribbean, or a helicopter tour of a glacier in Alaska. If you need ideas about ways to surprise your kids with special things on your vacation, your favorite Love of the Magic Travel Advisor will know lots of great suggestions!
And don’t forget to prepare yourself for the experience, too. Remind yourself that no matter how well thought out every single detail is, there will still be things that don’t go exactly to plan. In those moments, your kids will be looking to you to figure out how to act when there’s a bump in the road. Your ability to pivot and be flexible will not only help you in stressful situations, but it will help your kids, too. Prepare yourself for the possibility that flights might be delayed, or you may hit traffic on the road, or the ride you’re about to get on could break down when you’re next in line, or the weather might not be perfect and what you were hoping for; knowing that all these things are possibilities, and thinking about how you’ll handle them if they happen, will help you respond more calmly, instead of reacting chaotically, in any given situation. Part of prepping yourself for a Family Vacation is also having realistic expectations, which brings us to:
4. Have Realistic Expectations
When you think about the word “vacation,” what do you picture? Is it relaxing on a sun-drenched island, with your favorite book, or favorite drink? Is it discovering a new city by wandering through shops, parks and cafes all day? Is it sailing toward the horizon, without a care in the world, except for where the sea meets the sky? Whether your idea of “vacation” is one of these, or something else entirely, anything you imagine as the ideal vacation is completely valid, and at the same time, that specific kind of vacation may take some additional planning to attain as a Family Vacation.
For example, if your ideal vacation is a relaxing cruise, make sure the cruise line you’re taking has great kids clubs (your favorite Love of the Magic Vacations Travel Advisor will give you all the perfect recommendations). Or if the beach option is your choice, maybe go with an All-Inclusive Resort that has activities and clubs for kids (again, your LOTMV Travel Advisor will know which are best). Alternatively, no matter where you go, you can always decide to take a caregiver or nanny with you to help with your children.
HOWEVER, if the kind of vacation you are looking for winds up being all about what to do with your kids so you can get the experience you want, maybe ask yourself why you’re trying to take a Family Vacation. If you have no one to leave your kids with while you go away, it’s totally understandable to utilize the options listed above, but if you really need a vacation from everything, including your kids (which is totally valid, and necessary for many parents), consider an adults-only vacation if you have the means. Getting the vacation you need and expect on an adults-only adventure will actually benefit your Family Vacation as well, since you will likely be able to be more present with your family after having your own needs met during a different trip, which leads us right to the next bit of advice:
5. Fully Embrace the FAMILY Vacation
There has been some debate on social media recently (though probably for a lot longer IRL) about whether a Family Vacation should be called a Vacation at all, or if it’s more realistic to call traveling with family a “Family Trip” instead, because it’s not a “real vacation” for parents who still have to parent. This relates to what was just mentioned above, and furthermore, it is worth acknowledging that sometimes traveling as a family does feel more like an obligatory “trip,” whether it’s work related, or visiting family, or for an event such as a wedding or milestone birthday. You make the “trip” because it’s important to you, and worth the work it takes to do so, but it doesn’t feel like a vacation.
The thing is, if you feel the same about a Family Vacation as you do about an obligatory “Family Trip,” that’s probably how your kids will feel about it, too. In order to create those magical memories that your kids will look back on, and maybe even try to recreate with their own children, you have to FULLY embrace the FAMILY Vacation. A Family Vacation is NOT a vacation from being a parent, but it can be a celebration of the life you’ve created for yourselves and your children by becoming one.
Yes, you’ll still be running after your energizer-bunny toddler, and changing poopy diapers, and nagging your teenager about screen time, but maybe you won’t be cooking every night or vacuuming or putting away toys 57 times a day or keeping up with the dirty dishes in the sink. Maybe you’ll be able to fall asleep to the sound of the ocean, or wake up to crisp mountain air; maybe your evenings playing tag with your toddler will have a backdrop of a brilliant beach sunset, and maybe your teenager will actually ask you to take a selfie with them in front of a landmark. Maybe your Family Vacation really is “just” a road trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s, but maybe every night is spent by the fire perfecting the art of making s’mores, and the days are full of board games and swimming and stories out of family photo albums.
Maybe it doesn’t even matter where you go or what you do on your Family Vacation, but taking a vacation from everything except your family is the key: away from work, away from home, away from any obligations that don’t have to do with being a parent. So, let the work calls wait and the inbox pile up, enjoy a break from cooking and cleaning at home, and give yourself a chance to actually miss your daily routines.
Because at the end of the day, kids are generally way more perceptive than we realize or give them credit for, and if your only “real” vacations are ones you take without them, they’ll feel it. And later, when they’re older and have the choice to invite you on their vacation or not, they may decide a vacation with you isn’t a “real” vacation, either. But if you can fully embrace the Family Vacation, and treat it as a celebration of the family you’ve created, your children will learn that one of the best ways to honor and celebrate family is to vacation together. Now that’s something worth embracing, for sure.
Why You Should Travel with Kids (and Why the Classic Family Vacation is so Beneficial):
1. Travel Creates Core Memories
There are people who question if traveling with kids, especially little kids, really matters, because they might not remember it. First of all, YOU will remember it, and that’s just as important. And second, let me tell you a story. We took a Family Vacation to London when my son was two years old. He’s now twelve. What does he remember most? The night we spent hours riding the Number 9 Double Decker Bus in the front row of the top deck, looping the route over and over. Was that a planned activity? Nope. Was that what we thought he’d remember? Nope. Did we ever expect a London Bus Ride to become a Core Memory, influencing our son’s likes and dislikes to this day? Not at all.
But guess what? My son LOVES anything that has to do with London: Harry Potter, Freddie Mercury, Big Ben, Cadbury chocolate, if it has to do with London, he’s all over it. And he’s been asking to go back for pretty much the last decade. Why? Because travel gets in your bones. It doesn’t matter that all he remembers from that trip is a bus ride; what matters is how his love of London has shaped him, all because of a double-decker bus that turned out to be magical. It just goes to show how the magic of travel can come from the least expected experiences, especially for little kids.
2. Travel Strengthens Family Bonds and Relationships
When we experience new things the way we do while traveling, like trying new foods, doing something adventurous, such as zip-lining or learning to ski, taking in the view of an entire city from one of the highest vantage points, like the Eiffel Tower or Empire State Building, a huge part of what makes these moments special are the people we experience them with. Family Vacations offer a plethora of opportunities to experience new things as a family, and allow us to strengthen the important bonds and relationships between family members.
Another way Family Vacations deepen our familial bonds is by creating traditions. Of course, not every Family Vacation is going to be a completely new experience for everyone, but creating travel traditions together has the same effect in a different way. The repetition of Family Travel Traditions gives kids, and everyone involved, something to look forward to each year, or every other year, depending on your situation. Family Vacation Traditions are yet another opportunity to create the kinds of memories and relationships with your children that will be forever cherished.
3. Travel is the Best Education
It’s been said before, and I’ll say it again and again: Travel is THE BEST education. Without even considering a destination, here are a list of skills that travel teaches (in no particular order): organization, time management, communication, making eye contact, flexibility, tolerance of discomfort, adaptability, budgeting, assessing the safety of a situation, patience, grace under pressure, reading a map, how to handle being lost, following different rules than usual, advocating for yourself…the list could go on forever.
And these are all skills built by traveling anywhere, not even touching upon the infinite number of educational things learned from the actual destination, especially foreign countries and cultures (see number 4 below). And yes, I also strongly believe that theme parks are included in educational travel, too. First, traveling to theme parks check off every single skill just listed, but also, especially at Disney, the importance of modeling appropriate behavior can’t be underestimated.
The kindness, enthusiasm and respect shown by the Disney Cast Members are a huge part of the Magic of Disney, and those Cast Members are also hugely important for our children to be around, so they learn the kind and polite way to treat others.
The educational value of Travel, ANY Travel, is why I never have an issue allowing my kids to miss school for a trip, especially a Family Vacation.
4. Travel Promotes Open-Mindedness and Acceptance
While the skills mentioned above are obviously important for everyday life, I believe there is an even deeper reason why travel is so necessary, especially for children as they grow and learn about the world. Traveling, whether it’s to a different town, a different state, a different country, or a different continent, gives us the opportunity to have experiences outside of our own everyday life. We get to see life in a new way; we understand that our way of doing things isn’t the only way of doing things; we learn that there is beauty in our differences, and that if everything and everyone in the world were all the same, it would actually be a pretty boring place.
Traveling gives us the gifts of open-mindedness and acceptance, and these gifts, like those beloved Family Vacation memories, are absolutely priceless. When a kid from New York travels to Georgia and tries traditional Southern cooking, maybe they’ll be more open to trying new restaurants when you’re not on vacation, and when a kid from the US travels to Greece and sees the ancient ruins and the Acropolis, maybe they’ll start to notice the Greek influence on architecture all throughout their own country, and most importantly, when a kid from anywhere travels somewhere new and meets other kids who look and sound different, they will inevitably find common ground, and figure out that what makes us different is far less and far less important than everything that connects us as humans. The earlier a child learns that different does NOT equal bad, the better, and travel does exactly that by highlighting and celebrating differences.
5. Traveling as a Family Proves How Much You Can Get Through
As much as travel gives to us, in our imperfect world, travel tests us as well, and travel as a family often winds up testing us the most. From traffic on road trips to flight delays (or worse, cancellations), from luggage that didn’t quite make it on time to stuffies or luvies that got left in hotel beds, from trying to persuade little kiddos to wear their masks to viruses that cut our trips short (or delay our return home by two weeks), it’s impossible to predict what will happen from the moment your leave your house on your next Family Vacation.
But I can tell you what MIGHT happen, if you let it. You might get to take your teenager on a spontaneous shopping spree (to replace everything in lost or delayed luggage), and you might learn all the words to every song on The White Album as a family during the worst traffic jam you’ve ever seen, and you might make “Get Well” paper airplanes to fly across the room to each other during quarantine, and you might just see how much your family is capable of, and just how much love you’re made of, when you make it through the tough stuff, that no one wants to happen, and when you do it all together. Because in the end, what you have and what you’ve gained, makes it all worth it, and makes you eager to plan your next Family Vacation as soon as you’re home again.
Ready to Plan?
Now that you have all the tips and reasons for traveling with kids, are you ready to plan your next Family Vacation? Wherever you and your family would like to go, I would love to help you choose and plan the perfect Family Vacation! Email me today at email@example.com to get started planning, or click here for a free quote from me or your favorite Love of the Magic Vacations Travel Advisor! And SPECIAL THANKS to all the LOTMV Travel Advisors who let me use photos from their Family Vacations to show just how MAGICAL and important Family Vacations are for our children, and for us, too!