Traveling with Children

By Nomadic Matt | Published April 22nd, 2009

The Future is Red FamilyI’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 FamilyI’ve also found balloons work well to. 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, then you split up, do different things. With a child, there’s less opportunity to go separate ways and more of a chance you’ll he’ll throw himself 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.

comments 13 Comments

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.

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!

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.

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!

Travelling with yr own kids are fine..but tolerating others’ kids in a group can be a nightmare

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

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.”

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.

Holiday Ideas

Despite Leigh’s post it is challenging, although I agree with most of what she said.

My son and daughter are very different characters, he can disappear in the bat of an eye and has no fear. Keeping tabs on him is hard work.

I also agree that a digital camera is fantastic once they reach 6 or 7. (sure beats the time my daughter shot a whole roll of file of the sky and her feet and half a head.

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.

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.

Leigh, what a lovely post about traveling with children!

We are about to enter our 4th year of traveling the world as a family and I think it is the very best and most rewarding way to travel.The key is definitely slow travel and making sure everyone’s needs are met!

It was interesting reading the comments with many different point of views and I think that is because every child and every family is different, so their journeys will be different as well. Where and how you travel will affect things too.

And age has so much to do with it and the child’s personality. It shows in your words that your travels were with a 2 to 4 year old child, so quite different in some ways with our child who was 5 when we started and will be 9 in the fall.

She was reading Harry Potter on her own at 4, so her reading has been an essential part of our trip from the beginning, which really enriches her travels so much (we gear her books with the travel) and also gives her something good to do while on long drives, train rides or while waiting for a fancy dinner etc. Our primary purpose for our life as a field trip is for her education and the time together.

One person spoke about problems with long drives, but we have never had any and never use a dvd player during them. When we went into Africa from Spain we got up at 3 AM and took every mode of transportation from bus, to ferry, to taxi to train for something like 19 hours and she loved every bit of it.

She has boundless energy so we have never had any trouble with her keeping up and in fact she has been able to out walk and out run me since she was 9 months old and we never used a stroller. Even at 5 she quickly became a pro at boarding cargo ships, taking trains, riding bikes around European country roads, figuring out mass transit maps in every city, long plane rides and even horse riding in Andalusia or camel rides into the Sahara.

Children really can do so much more than we give them credit for and they learn so much through experience. The greatest joys of family travel is the time to bond, shared experience to laugh and talk about forever and doing ordinary things in extraordinary places!

As kids get to school age, one of the best things about traveling with kids is the education. You really can not find a better education for global citizens of the 21st century!!

When my child was reading Homer ( kids version) and Greek Myths, she was seeing more ancient ruins in Italy, Greece and Turkey than most people will see in a lifetime, including digging up shells with an archaeologist in Troy! She was reading Astrid Lingren in Sweden and Harry Potter in the UK. Family travel and books are a natural combination ( and e-libraries today make it even easier to carry many in little space).

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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