Every month, Cameron Wears from Traveling Canucks shares his tips and advice on how to travel better with your kids. This is an often-requested topic so I’m excited to have him on the team! If you’re a parent making plans to travel with your family, there’s a good chance you’ve already come across plenty of nay-sayers, or perhaps you’re facing your own self-doubts. Here are some myths about traveling with your family.
Before having kids, we didn’t spend much time thinking about what travel would be like with little ones. We knew having kids would be a big part of our future and, like many newlyweds, we mistakenly assumed our days of travel would be put on hold when the babies arrived.
Over the past few years, I’ve heard many reasons why it’s not a good idea to travel with young children. It was the common wisdom of those around us. “Once the kids arrive, don’t expect to travel anymore,” they would say.
And so my wife and I internalized this line of thinking, but I realized I was listening to the wrong people.
While I can appreciate that some families are simply not in the position to travel, most of the reasons people don’t travel with their children are based on outdated conventional wisdom and conflicting information online and in the media.
Today, with the help of a few family travel bloggers, it’s time to shoot down those common reasons why people delay family travel.
You should wait until your child can remember the trip.
Sure, your kids won’t remember every detail about your travels, but let’s be honest — most adults struggle to remember what they did last week. I don’t remember every detail from my trips, but I still appreciate the overall experience.
Our toddler still talks about the time we slept on the overnight train and “Daddy slept on the top bunk.” He may not remember visiting the Eiffel Tower when we were in Paris two years ago, but he remembers riding the popular carousel located across the street. This past Christmas, he opened a present and saw a gift receipt attached to box. He ripped off the gift receipt and screamed, “A plane ticket, I got a plane ticket, Daddy!”
Keryn Means of WalkingOnTravels.com says, “My son remembers going to Iceland almost a year ago. He remembers splashing in the waters of Hawaii and hanging out at a volcano. He remembers eating gelato in Italy when he was 3 (he is 5 now) and how to say ‘strawberry gelato’ in Italian. If he hears the word ‘Iceland’ mentioned he’ll say, ‘Hey mom, we went to Iceland!’ These are not things we bring up, so he clearly remembers. Adults don’t give kids enough credit for what they remember.”
Without question, our travels are influencing our boys and shaping who they are and who they will be. I understand that when they’re teenagers they won’t remember many of these trips, but every trip we take teaches our boys something new about themselves and the world. It would be such a shame to put all of those impactful life lessons on hold for 15 years, just because you want your kid to remember what the Eiffel Tower looks like.
Traveling with kids is too difficult.
The biggest mistake new parents can make is to travel the way they did before having kids. Life is different now, so you have to change your expectations. You can’t stay out late partying at nightclubs with a baby, and you can’t scale the side of a mountain with a baby on your back (well, maybe you can, but I wouldn’t).
“When I was pregnant with my first child, many of my friends told me that my traveling days would be over because it would be too hard to travel with a baby,” says Becky Morales of KidWorldCitizen.org. “We got our baby a passport shortly after she was born, and her first international flight was at three months old. Growing up traveling has helped my kids become comfortable in all types of situations.”
Times have changed, but that does not mean you have to stop traveling. It is possible to have kids AND travel; you just need to plan ahead and slow down. There are plenty of families out there who travel all the time — listen to what they have to say about family travel instead of the naysayers who say it’s too difficult.
It’s too hard to travel with a baby.
We couldn’t fathom taking our newborn baby on a long trip at the time. We took a couple of short road trips to test the waters, but didn’t board a plane until he was three months old — but babies sleep a lot. They don’t crawl, they don’t walk, and they don’t do much of anything except eat, poop, and sleep. Traveling before your baby is mobile is actually the BEST time to travel with your baby!
Claudia Laroye of TheTravellingMom.ca says, “Traveling with a baby is much easier than traveling with toddlers. Upsides: If you’re nursing, no extra food packing is required; babies are not mobile and can’t run away; and they sleep most of the time. One can also access fast lanes through airport security with kids up to a certain age — a happy bonus of family travel.”
When babies get older, they become more active, inquisitive, and demanding. We’ve found the hardest time to travel is between the ages of 12 months and 18 months because they just want to move and they’re difficult to reason with.
But babies aren’t as hard to travel with as you imagine.
Babies and children are terrible on planes.
Some children behave poorly on planes — but so do some adults. We can’t label all children as dreadful flight passengers just because a few children have a hard time being confined to a seat. Out of 30 flights we’ve taken with our boys, only one is filed under the “terrible flight” category. Babies less than 24 months old fly for free on most airlines, so we thought we’d save some money and have him sit on our lap. He was 18 months at the time, so we thought this would be fine. He wasn’t having it. Lesson learned.
Melissa Angert of GirlyMama.com says, “Yes, they sometimes cry, but if you teach your kids how to travel young, they learn how do it. We went on 16-hour flights with a 2- and 4-year-old and they were better behaved than most adults on the plane.”
Most children are fine on airplanes as long as you keep them entertained. We prepare by bringing plenty of snacks, toys, and games. We have their favorite shows downloaded on our tablets, and they have noise-canceling headphones so they don’t disturb our neighbors. Moreover, whenever possible, we book direct flights and choose flight times that coincide with nap schedules.
You have to visit destinations built for kids.
Having kids does not mean you’re sentenced to a life of prepackaged vacations or theme parks. Far from it — but you do need to include activities that your children will enjoy, otherwise nobody’s going to have fun. When we went to Arizona last year, we enjoyed visiting the Phoenix Zoo, SEA LIFE Arizona Aquarium, and Rawhide Western Town just as much as our boys did.
“Parents often hear that children only enjoy vacations to Disney World and other theme parks or beach destinations, but this couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Lisa Goodmurphy of GoneWithTheFamily.com. “It has been my experience that children are naturally curious about the world and get excited about visiting new places and doing new things. Our kids have great memories of exploring European cities like London and Paris, cruising the Baltics, visiting palaces in St. Petersburg, Russia, and experiencing the midnight sun when we traveled north by train to Fairbanks, Alaska — all of these places would not be classified as typical family destinations.”
Keep in mind that all destinations have child-friendly activities. You don’t have to stick to theme parks. There are museums, play areas, aquariums, and parks.
You have to pack so much stuff.
Yes, it’s true, traveling with little ones means more luggage and bulky items like strollers and car seats. Yes, you will most likely be required to check your bags and pay the additional baggage fees. But it’s only a temporary inconvenience.
Once you check your bags at the airport, you no longer need to worry about them. When you arrive at your destination airport, grab a buggy for your luggage or ask for help. Traveling without a partner? Why not hire the services of a porter? Instead of taking a taxi or bus, consider renting a vehicle directly at the airport. By renting a vehicle, you only have to set up the car seats once and the headache is over (instead of the alternative, which typically requires setting up the car seat several times per day — not fun).
To reduce the weight of your luggage, consider booking accommodations that have an in-suite washer/dryer or laundry service. Being able to wash your laundry means you can pack half of what you’d normally take. You can also rent baby equipment, like strollers, cribs, car seats, and high chairs, at your destination. This service will cost you more, but it will significantly reduce your load.
Micki Kosman of The Barefoot Nomad points out that you can always purchase items at your destination. She says, “When we first traveled with our little guy, I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to find baby supplies (like disposable diapers) at our destination. It turns out that there are babies everywhere, and we found what we needed everywhere from the Philippines to Hong Kong to Mexico.”
Traveling with kids is too expensive.
Traveling with kids is certainly more expensive than traveling without kids, but that doesn’t mean it’s too expensive or unattainable. If travel is important to you, there is always a way to reduce costs and make it affordable.
There are plenty of ways to save money on travel. Family travel is no different.
“It actually doesn’t cost much to travel with kids at all, especially if they’re still really small,” says Corinne McDermott of HaveBabyWillTravel.com. “As lap infants, they typically fly for free until they’re two, public transit is usually free or steeply discounted, and it’s free admission to most attractions until a certain age. Until they enter the picky ‘chicken nugget only’ stage of kid-hood, most are content to just to eat off your plate in restaurants.”
I shared some tips on saving money on family travel in a longer and more detailed post.
Family travel is not something to fear or avoid. You do not need to put travel on hold just because you have kids — far from it. Your children will only be children once. Before you know it, they’ll be awkward teenagers that don’t want to spend time with mom and dad. There’s no better time than right now to experience the world together as a family.
Cameron Wears is one half of the duo behind the award-winning Canadian travel blog TravelingCanucks.com. Having traveled to over 65 countries and territories on six continents in the past eight years, he now lives in beautiful Vancouver, Canada, with his wife Nicole and their two young boys. You can follow their family travel adventures on Google+, Twitter, and Facebook.