Our Expert Tips for Family Travel with Kids
As more destinations are opening up for travelers, many parents will be thinking about international travel with their kids. According to Hotels.com, from 2019 to this year, online searches rose for properties with cribs (65%), child care (45%), and connecting rooms (20%). Family travel is happening, and you're in good company!
In our family, we became pros at handling safety, comfort, and even jet lag, but it wasn't always like that. I remember the first time we all traveled together. We realized we'd forgotten my youngest's stuffed animal when we were at the airport. If you're the parent of a toddler, you know that a lot of their comfort relies on everyday items. Thankfully, we managed to find a replacement at the airport and named him our travel companion. Crisis averted with only a few tears shed! Whether it’s already a regular experience for your family or your first time traveling with toddlers, here you’ll find useful tips for your family.
Do you need some extra parenting hacks that aren't travel related? Take a peek here.
Initial Planning and Preparation
One of the best ways to have your family trip go as smoothly as possible is to plan effectively. The last thing you need is to board the plane and realize you've booked your adult travel companion a seat eight rows away. I did it once and ended up having to do most of the childcare aboard a 9-hour flight by myself.
Create a Budget
International travel can be an immense expense, especially for a family. When you budget, you know precisely what kids-friendly activities you can afford and won't be stressing about an extra ticket for grandma and grandpa at the water park. Some examples that may help you save some of your hard-earned money:
- Travel during off-peak times if possible
- Eat local food
- Make good use of airline miles and credit card points
- Look out for kids' discounts or family tickets
- Pack snacks to avoid having to shell out at tourist locations
I wish we lived in a world where every location could be family-friendly, and we could book a plane ticket and get there without much prior planning. Researching your destination country is vital and can make the planning even more exciting rather than a chore.
Some things to remember:
- Vaccine requirements: different countries require different vaccines for adults and children visiting
- Political situation: when you are looking out for the well-being of a little person, you have to be more mindful when traveling into areas of political unrest
- Entry Requirements: Everything from what visa you may need for adults and children to whether you're allowed to bring in fresh fruit snacks is important
Keep in mind that you may need different safety plans depending on where you're staying.
Making Travel Arrangements with Kids
As you're getting closer to planning your exciting trip, you might want to consider:
Buying Plane Tickets
When traveling as a family, you want to look at a few things while booking tickets. These are the questions you need to find out from the airline:
- Do I need full-price plane tickets for my kids?
- Do I need to book a seat for my kids?
- Will bassinets be provided for babies, and how do I get one?
Air travel always needs a bit of preparation when you're flying as a family. After all, you can't always shove everything you need in the minivan and hope the doors will still close. Some of my expert tips as a frequent flying mom are:
- Minimize connections: it's stressful enough without having to run through an unknown airport while hoping that they've managed not to lose your bags or stroller.
- Triple-check everything: before buying a ticket, make sure you recheck it and have another pair of eyes, whether it's your spouse, mother, or librarian, look over it.
- Refunds: Have you spotted a mistake after clicking buy? I've been there! Don't worry; most airlines will refund your ticket if you cancel the trip within 24 hours of buying the ticket. It's called a cooling-off period. You will most likely receive airline credit or a voucher if you can't cancel.
- Reserve kids' meals in advance: airplane food isn't renowned for being particularly great, but they probably have a kid-friendly option for you to book. While at it, book for your dietary requirement, whether kosher, vegan, or gluten-free!
- Make a plan to get to the airport early: yes, that means earlier than if you were traveling by yourself.
- Check on carry-on and checked baggage: make sure you can take all the liquids you'd need for formula and that the strollers you're taking are within the weight requirements.
- Check your passports: it's essential to ensure that the expiry date on all the travelers' passports should be at least six months after the return date to be safe. Do you need to update your passport? Most passports have had longer waiting times over the last two years.
Involve Your Family Members
Going on a trip is super fun, and getting the family involvement in the planning process takes the pressure off. This means delegating planning and researching among the adults involved. Depending on the age of the children you're traveling with, they can:
- explore what they want to do on the trip
- find out more about the culture you're traveling to via kid-friendly documentaries and books
- pack their favorite stuffed animals and activities
Keep It Simple
Keep things as simple as possible to avoid overwhelming yourself and your kids:
- Simple packing: try to avoid packing everything and the kitchen sink and stay focused on what's necessary for everyone's comfort and fun.
- Simple itinerary: you may usually be the kind of traveler who packs four museum visits and a three-course dinner every day, but kids on vacation may need more sleep due to jet lag and will need a slower pace in general. My top tip is to alternate full-on days with more leisurely days spent relaxing together as a family.
- Simple expectations: do you know what you want from this trip? If you're looking for a life-changing experience, might I suggest reducing that expectation to having a memorable time together as a family?
- Prepare for the Trip: Whether your child is a seasoned traveler does not matter; a great thing you want to do is spend some time talking through the trip and explaining what they might experience. This preparatory time with you regulates your child's system and eases any worries they might have.
Some examples of things you might want to mention are:
- Jet Lag: in kids-friendly terms, explain that there's a time difference and you're traveling into the future and the past, which might mean not feeling great for a day or two.
- Cultural Differences: look into any significant cultural differences and explain that you need to respect them as a family.
- Safety: remind them not to speak to strangers, give instructions on what to do in case of emergencies like getting lost
Traveling with Toddlers
So far, everything we've talked about can apply to the tiniest baby to the oldest teen, but there are some things you want to pay attention to when traveling with our favorite rumbunctious age group - the toddler!
- Dealing with jet lag: you've explained to them that jet lag might happen, but are there any strategies to making it as easy as possible? Try to jump into the time zone of your place of travel on the plane and have some sleep cue items at the ready, like a pleasant calming smell or a stuffed animal to help kids sleep.
- Managing meal times: regular food keeps everyone from getting cranky. If there's one thing to overpack, it's snacks to keep your toddler going between changes to meal times. Once you've arrived, stay consistent with meals.
- Travel entertainment: if you’re looking for an alternative to an iPad full of TV shows, our interactive books are a fantastic way to keep kids entertained and engaged. What about getting a bilingual book for the country you're traveling to?
- Seat safety and strollers: when traveling with a toddler, you want to ensure your car seat, and stroller situation is sorted. This can mean renting these at your destination or packing your own. I always like taking my own because most airlines don't charge extra at check-in.
When You Arrive
Teaching your kids a few useful phrases in the local language is a fun way to teach them more about a culture and be respectful of your host country. This can include being able to say "hello", and "thank you", as well as "help me" and "do you speak English?" Additionally, you want to be mindful of local customs and rules. For example, the clothing you wear out and about may differ from back home.
SummaryPlanning isn’t scary! You'll have a fantastic time if you plan, organize with everyone involved, and manage your expectations. If you still feel daunted by the idea of traveling with your whole family, just remember the most important tips, and don't forget to enjoy your trip!
Hi! I'm Cali, Founder of Cali's Books
“I’ve loved books since childhood and wanted to transmit this enthusiasm to my children”
I'm a mom of two young children who trained as an engineer and worked in investment banking and at Disney. A French of Caribbean origin (Martinique to be precise!), I grew up in Paris. Los Angeles is now the place I call home!
Read more from Cali's Blog
Can the right books and toys, along with the right strategies, curb your toddler's desire to rip books and destroy things? Absolutely! Read on to find out how…Read now
Want to know how to make your kids' Christmas gifts last all year and get better over time? Buying gifts for kids that have everything used to be an impossible challenge… not anymore!Read now
What is Kwanzaa? How can I explain it and its history to my kids? Use this guide to teach your kids about Kwanzaa and its history (and some cool gift ideas).Read now