I can’t be everywhere to discover new things to do with my kids, no matter how much I wish I could. I’ve asked a few friends to jump in with their travel tips and destination reports. Melissa Lawrence from CloudMom.com is sharing her top 10 ways to make traveling with children a little easier.
Although I grew up traveling to visit my mother’s family in Sweden, and loved backpacking with a Euro-rail pass in my early twenties, when I became a mom to 5 kids in six and a half years, traveling became a distant priority. It was hard enough taking care of my babies and toddlers at home. I couldn’t imagine traveling with children. I’d have to let go of the only thing that was making it all work for me: my routine.
Yet as my kids have grown, my itch to go and explore with them has grown too – so we’ve started to break out of the proverbial nest. With each trip, I’ve learned a bit more about how to plan for and travel with a young family. Here are ten things that have made our family travel adventures easier!
- Start packing far in advance. Last summer, we travelled through Spain and France visiting family and friends for 10 weeks. I began packing and preparing at least four weeks before we left. In the beginning, I started jotting down lists and piling necessities onto our dining room table. As our departure date grew closer, I weeded out some things and added others. A week before, I was dealing with minor details. Starting early increases the likelihood that you’ll have what you need and reduces your stress.
- Blue tape and Ziplock bags. Not kidding. Carpenters blue tape is a lifesaver. Seal all liquids with blue tape and then double wrap them in Ziplock bags. The last thing you’ll want to deal with when you arrive in Kalamazoo will be the kids’ pajamas covered in toothpaste. Since liquids now have to go into suitcases with all your clothes, you need to have your creams and liquids hermetically sealed. Blue tape and zip locks are the easiest, cheapest, most malleable way to do this. When you arrive, take off the tape and wrap it around your cream or toothpaste. Then, strip it back on for your trip home.
- Let the small things go. As we boarded our plane to Barcelona, packed with activities and snacks, a family to our left raised their eyebrows, the mother exclaiming “better get our ear plugs out!” I was so offended! How did she know my kids would disrupt their flight? Innocent until proven guilty, thank you very much. Yet I let the comment slide. I just grinned at her when we disembarked the next day with an internal “ha.” Believe me, my kids have had their moments on planes. This time, they rose to the occasion – and I hadn’t gotten riled up and upset. Keep your cool and remember, it’s supposed to be a vacation.
- Kids ages 3 and up get a backpack and all bags must roll. Say goodbye to your favorite college duffel. You know the one that you used to lug onto planes? When you’re travelling with your crew, everyone who’s out of a stroller gets a backpack with his or her books and activities for the trip. Any child over 5 can push or pull a rolling carry on. It’s a great way to get them involved in the trip. I’ll never forget my son Lachlan pushing his baby sister Annaliese’s car seat carrier around the airport when he was only four. He probably won’t even remember it. I’ve found that when my kids pitch in more, they complain less, and they appreciate what you’re doing as well.
- Make it a teachable moment. Teach your kids about how you travel. Show them how you double check for passports and put them in safe place. Explain why you’re leaving four hours early for the airport. Teach them about the metro or subway and why it makes sense financially to travel that way – or about whatever other travel decisions you make. When your kids are part of the process, they’re less likely to take it all for granted and be demanding, which will make your day easier.
- Stick to your routine. If your child naps at home, try to have him nap while away. Sure, you should bend enough to have late-night tapas, and you will need to be flexible in order to enjoy your trip. But try to plan your day in a way that will keep your kids plugging along. If they need to sleep, try to do an earlier dinner. Alternately, allow them to sleep in and start your day on the late side.
- Make it fun for your kids. No toddler is going to be able to endure hours at the Louvre no matter how sophisticated. Rather than try to double stuff them with culture, create a day that includes activities they will love with little effort. Yes, visit the museum, but then try to find a fun place for lunch and a park where they can just run around and be kids.
- Put your older kids to work. Getting out of the house with a pack of kids is tough even on a good day when you’re enjoying the comforts of home. When you’re away and likely enjoying less space and fewer bathrooms, you need a master plan. Give each of your older children a simple task: one can make the beds at your rental home while another puts the dishes in the dishwasher. My three boys were even running the washing machine and dryer during our trip last summer. Think about it: having those three tasks done can speed up your departure time by 30 minutes.
- Audio guides. Audio Guides are pricey and definitely add to the cost of visiting sites and museums. Yet I found this summer that they allowed us to spend more time in museums and visiting touristic sites. Sometimes my kids were just fascinated by the digital map, but oftentimes, they sat down and listened. Since it was something they controlled, they felt a sense of ownership and got involved in a way they hadn’t when it was just Mommy or Daddy trying to explain. Even my daughter Marielle (age 3) had an audio guide. This afforded Mommy and Daddy some listening time too.
- Meet the people! This is obviously a matter of personal preference, but I am the type of person who talks to people everywhere I go. On our trip, we had the most interesting conversations with the locals and other travellers. I loved that my kids were able to see that your day can get pretty interesting when you learn about someone else’s life. My kids also saw how wonderful life can be when you’re blessed with the kindness of others. When we left Paris, we needed to lug four suitcases up and down countless flights of stairs through three metro stations in order to get from our friend’s apartment to the Gare de Lyon. Parisians came out of the woodwork to help us get those suitcases up and down, and off the metro trains. The most challenging part of our trip physically blossomed into the most heartwarming emotionally because we were all so grateful. And none of us will ever forget it.
Do you have a tip for traveling with children?
Share it in the comments!
After 10 weeks in Spain and France with my five kiddos, we arrived back invigorated and refreshed by all we had seen and learned. The trip was a back-breaker at times, but the pointers above helped me immeasurably. Now I’m planning our next adventure traveling with children. Just hope I can get the hubs on board!
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Melissa Lawrence is a mother of 5 and the founder of the “how to” video site CloudMom.com. When she’s not shooting videos or running her site, Melissa spends her time shuffling her kids to ballet and soccer practice and figuring out how to make her life more efficient.
Mom and toddler at beach via ShutterStock.com