5 Ways to Make Traveling with Kids Easier

Kayaking Thailand

Kayaking Thailand

Traveling with kids is absolutely nothing like traveling alone or with a significant other. It is a completely different experience. Unfortunately, a lot of the time it seems like it might have been better to stay at home. This does not have to be the case. With the right planning and preparation, traveling with kids can be quite a fun time for everyone, including the kids. It has taken us awhile to get our routine down so 1) we don’t have to bring so much stuff and 2) we have a good time with as few meltdowns as possible. In fact, we are always adjusting our routine and thinking about ways we could improve for next time. The most important thing that you can do to get kids used to travel is to start them young. Make it so that they cannot remember their first trip, that they have always been a traveler. This accomplishes a couple of things. The first is that they will not be scared to fly or to be in a foreign country. They will also be used to being away from home, so it will just be a normal event for them. It is just something that they do every so often and they will look forward to it. Funny food will excite them rather than disgust them. There are many, many things that we do to get our little one ready for a trip, but we have listed here the five that we consider the most important.
Eiffel Tower at Night

Eiffel Tower at Night

1 - Talk About the Trip, and Be Honest

A trip anywhere is a place outside a child’s comfort zone. A foreign country is an experience that can be very upsetting to them. We have found it is best to talk about the trip well in advance of departure. It will come natural to talk about all of the wonderful things that you are going to do and see. Travel is meant to be fun and exciting. It is a way to experience new things and should be something that the kids look forward to. Go on websites and show them pictures of what they will see. Learn some of the history of the place and share that as well. History can be exciting or it can be boring. Find things to which they can relate and emphasize those. Half of the fun of travel is the anticipation of the trip. Imagining the experience can be just as exciting as the actual experience itself. When you are putting them to bed at night, ask them what they think the trip is going to be like. What are they looking forward to most? If they don’t know, or cannot answer, tell them what you are looking forward to. They will also be exposed to new food. It might be helpful to take Them to a restaurant that specializes in the food of the country you will be visiting. Then talk about the differences from what they are used to and see what they like and dislike. We have found that the more we talk about things, the fewer surprises we have.
Biking at the Grand Canyon

Biking at the Grand Canyon

2 - Set Ground Rules Beforehand

We have certain rules that we maintain while we are on the road that are designed to maintain safety for our young one. She is aware of these rules and we try to follow them even when we are not traveling so she knows them well and will not break them.

It is best to design your own rules that fit your family, but the number one rule of travel for us is:

“Do what we tell you, when we tell you.” I know this is kind of all encompassing and generic, so let me explain it in a bit more detail. There are certain times that there might be something that we observe is dangerous and we do not want to draw attention to it, but we need our daughter to avoid it. We need her to react quickly to something that we tell her without thinking, rebelling, or talking back.

We constantly remind her that the first rule of travel is to do something when we tell her.

Another rule that we follow quite strictly is to hold hands when transiting anything. If we are crossing the street, we hold hands. Up or down stairs or an escalator, hold hands. On or off a train, subway or metro, hold hands. This allows us, as parents, to react to anything that comes up quickly and without thinking.

Last summer we spent two weeks in Paris and got to know the Metro quite well. It is one of my favorite things about the city. It’s available virtually anywhere within a short walk and will take you virtually anywhere in the city without a car or taxi. It is clean, quick and has frequent trains, so there is very little waiting. We got very at ease with boarding trains and transferring between them. It was routine. But we still held hands when entering and exiting the cars. We didn’t even think about it because it was just a rule that we followed.

One day we were getting off the train at a stop that had a particularly large gap between the train and the platform. As we were exiting the train, our daughter did not see the gap. She stepped right into it. She just dropped. One minute we were walking and the next she was falling. The gap was big enough that she was passing through it and would end up under the train. Luckily, Sara and I each had one of her hands and we caught her. I was pretty shaken up about the whole thing for the rest of the day. I still get chills when I think about what could have happened.

It is helpful to try to think of safety concerns ahead of time and have your rules become habits so you do not even think about them.

Sleeping on the Train

Sleeping on the Train

3 - Plan Longer Trips, Avoid Jet Lag

Sleep patterns are going to be thrown off. Sometimes way off. Early in our travel lives together, Sara and I took a trip to the Bahamas with our older daughter, who was then six. It was her first big trip and she did not handle the change in her sleep time very well. The biggest problem that we faced was that the trip was only four days and then we would return home. Consequently, she did not have a very good time. She was cranky from lack of sleep for the entire trip. If we had stayed longer, she could have adjusted and it would have been a much more fun time.

Once your child is old enough to understand you, tell them about jet lag and then it will not come as much of a shock to them when they are wide awake at 2am. The more you make them aware of it, the easier it will be to adjust their sleep time with naps or lack of naps, depending on what is necessary.

If you need them to sleep through the night, do not allow naps after 4pm (wake them up if they are sleeping) and keep them up as late as possible. This will quickly force them to get on the proper schedule.

The common wisdom is to never wake a sleeping child. Let them rest so they won’t be cranky later. I think this is bunk. If you let them sleep all afternoon, they will wake up about 10pm and be up all night. Make them conform to your schedule, don’t allow them to dictate when they sleep. If you don’t, you’ll pay for it the whole time you are gone.

Lots of Fish (and a hairy armpit)

Lots of Fish (and a hairy armpit)

4 - Be Mindful of Arrival Times

This goes along with the point above. When you are initially planning your trip, the most important thing you can check is the arrival time at your destination. Make sure that your arrival will allow enough time for you to get through Immigration and Customs, locate your transportation, and transit to your hotel or apartment before your child’s bedtime.

The ideal time to arrive is sometime in the afternoon, so if you have slept a lot on the plane, you won’t have to go straight to bed. The worst arrival time is a few hours after your child’s bedtime. By the time you get through everything you need to do before you get to your hotel, he will be miserable. It is key to establish the proper sleep time on the first night and adhere to it as strictly as possible for the next several. Getting the right amount of sleep is critical for moods for everyone and starting off on the wrong foot sets a bad precedent for the whole trip.

Spinning at The Louvre

Spinning at The Louvre

5 - Take Rest Days

Even though it is a vacation, going hard every day will tire everyone out, especially kids. We have found that it is essential to plan at least one day out of every five to six as a completely down day.

It’s natural to want to maximize your experience during a short vacation, but going all of the time will wear out the kids quickly. A friend of ours relates an experience he had with his kids when they were young and traveling in London. Walking down the street after a particularly long day, his daughter just plopped down on the curb and stated that she was not going to another museum, in fact she was not going another step. She was done. He looked at his wife kind of dumbfounded, "What do you do with that?"

So pick a day and sleep in, eat a relaxing breakfast without the stress of getting out to see the next big thing, maybe take a walk around the neighborhood, or go to a park, or swim in the hotel pool. Do something that is fun, but relaxing. Do not worry about meeting any agendas or checking off any items on the MustSee list. Make it a day that the kids can plan the activities and do what they really want to do, even if it involves staying in the room and watching movies. Still make it quality family time, just enjoy being together, wherever that may be.

Spa Day in Tokyo

Spa Day in Tokyo


These are five things that have taken us awhile to figure out. It is all trial and error and you need to figure out what works best for you. Communication is the key. If you tell your kids what to expect and they tell you when something bothers them or they are tired, everyone will get along much better and the experience will be much more memorable.

Please share your tips with us in the comments below. We are always looking for ways to make traveling easier and more enjoyable.

Read previous post:
Less Clutter–More Money for Travel

This article was written for Knoworthy.com. We have reprinted it here for your convenience, but you can view the original...