Traveling with Children

The Future is Red Family daughter walking on a wall overseasI’ve spoken with many who would love to travel as a family but worry that it’s just too difficult, perhaps even unfair to their children. Traveling with children certainly does have its challenges, but after two years of travel with my husband Noah and four-year-old daughter Lila, I’ve found the rewards far outweigh any potential disadvantages.

Parent Comes Before Tourist
People love kids, and if you’re lucky enough to be traveling with one, you’ll find whatever magic dust they have rubs off on you. You’ll be the first to board airplanes and buses. You’ll meet people more easily. You’ll be more accepted into communities that might not have accepted you if you arrived solo.

I am convinced Lila was our ambassador with the Kuna Yala in the San Blas Islands of Panama. Lila ran barefoot through the village with the other children while Noah and I chatted with the parents. We were the only ones invited beyond the confines of tourist housing.

Packing Light Requires Imagination
I’ve seen Lila transform rocks into a walkie-talkie and plants into money. She has an invisible friend named Bendy, who, quite frankly, freaks me out because she’s prone to throwing herself out of bus windows. Not to worry, though, Bendy inevitably ends up at our destination.

Packing for children requires a little imagination. You need to keep them entertained on the road. For Lila, I pack a drawing book, magnifying glass to see bugs (she likes bugs), and art supplies. We regularly go on nature walks to collect sticks, sea shells, sponges, and leaves to be used later for art projects.

Lila from The Future is Red Family walking on a dusty road abroadI’ve also found balloons work well. Blow one up, and you have something to bounce around like a ball. Glue leaves to it, and you have a stuffed animal. Bubbles are also a favorite. Within seconds of opening a bottle, you’ll find yourself surrounded by jumping, laughing kids all vying for a turn to pop the translucent creatures as they float away on the wind.

Be Patient
You wouldn’t invite a friend who hates getting dirty to hike with you through the jungle, and you wouldn’t ask a vegetarian to join you for a hamburger, yet somehow it’s easier to overlook the simple act of asking our children what they prefer.

Of course, a friend will usually tell you straight out what she wants, and then you split up and do different things. With a child, there’s less opportunity to go separate ways and more of a chance she’ll throw herself on the ground, kicking and screaming.

When Lila tantrums, she’s trying to tell me something. Acting out can mean she’s hungry or tired. It can also mean she misses her granny and grandpa or doesn’t want to travel anymore. I do my best to listen.

Children Are Infinitely Adaptable
Kids can handle and do a lot more than we think they can. They don’t need constant monitoring, and they can show far more patience, kindness, and responsibility than we credit them.

Does it make Lila sad to say goodbye when we leave a place? Yes, but everyone must learn to say goodbye. She’s also learned to walk into a crowd of strangers and turn them into friends, even if they don’t share a common language.

This is sometimes difficult for me. I want to protect her from getting hurt, but sadness is an inevitable part of life. I’ve also had to let go of the notion that I know what’s best and allow Lila to navigate the world a bit on her own.

And isn’t that exactly what we all strive for, adult or child, when we leave home to travel?

Leigh travels with her children all over the world. For more advice on traveling with kids as well as her family’s travel adventures, check out her website at The Future is Red.

  1. Matt, thanks for this very comforting post. I’m checking out Leigh’s site now. As a mother who likes to travel with my kid (short term), I need to be creative on how to work around her schedule, keep her entertained without losing my mind (or hers). Great tip about being a parent first and foremost.

  2. Great points!

    As our kids grow older, we find that they’re just as excited to explore each new destination as we are. The fact that they enjoy the trips themselves so much makes it easier for them to get through the tricky parts (like the plane flight or waiting in line at immigration)

    And yes, you can find something to entertain kids pretty much anywhere – at 4 we’re trying to teach my son to juggle (a fun activity in itself) and that always draws a crowd of kids!

  3. Debbie, I love the juggling idea. Noah knows how. I still have trouble keeping that third ball in the air. We’ll have to see how Lila does.

    And Jen, thank you for checking out my blog. So great to see your comment there. I hope to hear more from you.

  4. how very true. i personally love traveling with my son almost more than when i traveled alone (almost:). a lot of times he’s easy and extremely adaptable, but you have to work on his time line which is usually cutting your normal adult activities by 1/3. they get tired very easily. and it’s such a no-joy to feed kids. at least my son. he’s super picky with food. however, all the pros totally outweigh the cons and because of him i get to see travel from a whole other angle. the more personal, local one:) plus, his curiosity for the obvious opens my eyes and allows me to see that I’ve taken it for granted!

  5. Nabeel

    Kids are accepted by every community. I’m surprised if it would still easy to travel with more than one kid; like three or four kids. Still one can enjoy or spend time in managing the kids

  6. Although I don’t have children myself, I always tell my friends who do have children that it IS possible and can be fun and enriching to travel with children. My parents dragged me to India at 5 weeks old and I’m still OK…well, so far :)

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ll be sure to pass this post on the next time a friends says, “Well, I’d like to travel but I can’t because of my kids.”

  7. Travelling with your kids opens your eyes to very different things. On our last trip, our 7yr old had her own digital camera. It was fascinating to see the things that she was taking photos of – patterned floors, chandeliers, reflections in ponds… She took photos of many things that we would never think to take photos of. It was amazing to see the world through her eyes. And because it was digital, we didn’t have to wait until we got home to begin our enlightenment, as we could take a look at her photos any time. It helped us to look at things differently too.

  8. You make such a good point about children opening up opportunities to meet and speak to people who probably wouldn’t chat to strangers.

    I also like your tips for keeping them entertained on the road. A long car journey with kids can be a complete nightmare if you don’t prepare and pack a few entertainments (and snacks) in advance.

  9. I could not agree more. Traveling with your children not only opens doors and opportunites but also opens your eyes (well it has opened mine) to a whole new perspective.

  10. What a great post! We’ve found that our kids have loved travelling. The two year old has grown up in camp sites, and all of them have learnt so much. We actually haven’t had anyone being upset about leaving somewhere yet, but we have had places that they want to go back to.

    Children really are a great ice-breaker, and we’ve loved travelling with them. There is something so much more special about seeing places through the eyes of children, and having to slow down and smell the roses.

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