Parents of young children know that traveling together can be challenging. Kids have little patience for long car rides or waiting in line to get on the plane, and often need constant attention and entertainment.
While it can be easy for parents to put off trips you’re really excited about until the kids are older, I bring good news: you don’t have to wait until the kids move out to have a truly enjoyable vacation. All it takes is a little forethought and a few easy planning items.
My family operates as what my wife and I call “modified digital nomads“. We live an untethered lifestyle and travel as often as we can with our 5 children under 7 years old while still maintaining a home life for their sake. We’ve traveled tens of thousands of miles together and had amazing experiences that we believe will shape our children in positive ways.
Through it all, we’ve discovered a few steps of preparation that make traveling with kids easy – even enjoyable! As a matter of fact, the most enjoyable vacations I’ve ever taken were with our five children in tow: ages 7, 6, 4, 2, and newborn!
Here’s My 5 Tips To Traveling With Kids & Still Having The Best Trip Ever
1. Embrace Your Inner Hype Machine: Pub The Trip!
Research shows that the anticipation of a vacation can actually be more enjoyable than the trip itself. Take advantage of human nature and start sharing your excitement with your children about the trip in advance.
Is it the dead of winter with beach week over six months away? Tell the kids that the chilly weather makes you look forward to your sunny vacation. They’ll pick up on your enthusiasm and carry it forward.
My wife and I have a rule that we always want to have the next trip planned. We like to have extended out of town trips at least quarterly so that when we’re traveling back home, we know that the next fund destination is lined up.
While gloomily driving back home from a recent beach vacation, our spirits were lifted when we started talking about the already planned early autumn trip to a warmer climate. Knowing that another trip was around the corner immediately created expectation of what was to come instead of the end of vacation blues.
Model the excitement, and you’ll create an environment of enthusiasm that will push things into “Best Trip Ever” territory even before you leave.
2. Give The Kids Context
You’ve shared your pre-trip excitement with the kids, and now it’s time to dive deeper into the experience. By giving them context on not just the vacation destination, but also the local history, cuisine and custom, you’ll not only be building the chances of a successful trip, but also helping them develop a lifelong habit.
Around the time our oldest child began to read on his own, we had an upcoming two week long stay on an island off the coast of Massachusetts. Wanting to capitalize on an opportunity for self-driven learning, we checked out books from the library on the island’s history, and watched YouTube videos on it’s geography and interesting sites together
The context gave the kids the ability to solidly connect with the island locale even before we arrived. Funnily enough, we noticed even though we had been there before (pre-kids), we enjoyed this trip even more than the others because we were more engaged in the context too!
Spend time beforehand self-immersing in the vacation: the food, manners, customs, and geography. You’ll find that the extra context will deepen everyone’s experience.
3. Emphasize The Journey
Ask any parent what part of vacationing with kids they dread the most, and the answer will inevitably be “the travel”.
Whether it’s long lines at the airports through security, juggling car seats, or torturous car rides – it’s the coming and going that can ruin the best intended trip.
We’ve found that in addition to talking about the trip in advance to build excitement and context, discussing the joy of the journey does wonders.
Got a 10 hour long car trip to the mountains? Bring along a road atlas with the route marked for the kids to follow along with. Is there any especially long stretch that appears desolate and boring at face value? Search Google for historic sites or places of interest that break up the monotony and give an easy break up to the route.
Long plane flight? Talk to the kids about the physics behind the wonder of flight, or how plane travel has changed during your lifetime…whatever engages them in the moment of the journey.
Get them actively involved, and the travel will fly by.
4. Pre-Determine & Remove Sources Of Tension
You probably already know what it is. It might be having to cook meals on vacation. It may be the period in between naps and dinner. Or it could be grocery shopping. There are plenty of ways that tension gets inserted into your vacation and snuffs out the good vibes.
On a recent trip together with longtime friends and their families, we all agreed that cooking dinner was the most painful time of the day. The kids are tired, the adults are tired, and the last thing we needed was each couple to take turns cooking for 22 people.
So, anticipating the tension, we found a meal caterer to bring a prepared dinner each night and each chipped in the cost. Whatever we paid was more than worth the tension free transition from afternoon into evening, and it made the trip extra special. Happy parents means happy kids, which also means more happy parents!
Spend some time thinking through what would likely pop up and rear its ugly head with tension, and take steps to smooth it out. You’ll be glad you’ll did.
5. Set Aside Time To Be In The Moment
Sometimes being parents means being the General Manager. You wear a lot of hats, take responsibility for the hard things, and rarely have time to enjoy the good.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned that intentionally setting aside time to consciously enjoy the vacation each day helps me live in the present and get the most of the moment.
I set an alarm on my phone for 10am, 1pm, 4pm, and 8pm each day. When it rings and I go to shut the alarm off, I recognize that we’re on vacation: planned in advance for, traveled for, and now that we’re here – to be enjoyed.
These little moments of conscious enjoyment are the ones that keep me sane, and allow me to be grateful for the special privilege to be together in beautiful settings.
Now It’s Your Turn
Yes, traveling with children can be hectic, stressful, and tiring. But by following these tips you’ll help ensure that your trip is enjoyable for everyone!
What’s one thing you’re going to do differently when traveling next time? What are some of the most helpful things parents should remember before taking a vacation with kids?