You’d think, after a lifetime of travelling and a 6 years of travelling with kids that we’d have this down a fine art by now. As some of you know, it was only recently that I got the inspiration to write this blog. Holidays with kids, for us, were not easy (save for a few smug trips when Thing 1 – a very easy baby – was tiny). After a super successful holiday in Bali, I started to think maybe there was something in the idea of sharing about how we’d finally started to get it right. Not just that. I wanted to share how it doesn’t always go to plan. How sometimes it’s a bit of a disaster, actually. And along the way, I figured I’d just write about all our lessons learned from travelling with kids.
So here they are. The first 15, anyway.
1. Travel pre-kids
First and foremost… Of our lessons learned from travelling with kids, I’ll start with the pre-kids one. TRAVEL!
I’ve learnt to be so grateful that I (and we) did travel before we had the Things.
We had the opportunities to make mistakes on our own so we could learn from them to travel with the Things. We could go to places that we won’t go with them for many years and get the more adventurous travel out of our systems for a while. I don’t resent our more sedate travelling style now because I know we’ve done the backpacking and we’ve had those awesome experiences both together and apart.
Not only that but our early travels really set the scene for how we would (attempt to) travel later in life with Things in tow. Does it always work? No. But it’s still something we work towards.
2. Be prepared
Now I’m a serial planner. I hate feeling unprepared and I always have.I once had a boss who could just walk into a meeting and wing it without anyone else even realising. It was a trait I envied sooo much! I tried it for a while but discovered it was just too stressful for me lol. So I know myself. You might be the total opposite and get palpitations with the levels of (admittedly very last minute) preparation that I do.
I used to be way more relaxed when we travelled pre Things. But this is me and this is my family now and this is how we roll. When we prepare, we have better holidays. Fact. I’m not saying we micro plan everything but there are certain things I do in advance.
- I buy or make snacks to take with us in advance – I’ve been caught on the hop with a hungry Thing and believe me, its not pretty. On the rare occasion that we’ve found food it has been a quick fix and only postponed the issue – once the carb high has worn off we are back to square one. Having options in my bag is a lifesaver. Not just for the aeroplane, I also take enough for our entire trip. When we get to our destination I can’t be bothered to find snacks that my kids may or may not like – holidays are too short! An added bonus is that they free up space as we consume them for bringing home souvenirs!
- I plan how we will get from the airport to where we are going – it doesn’t matter if we are just going to catch a taxi or catch a train. The last thing you need when you get to arrivals is to be looking around blindly.
- I research the destination beforehand. While I tend to read up on places after we have been there (I find I need context for it to all make sense), I need to know what there is to do and see when we get there. We can them prioritise and decide what we want to do and when. For example, for our trip to Rome, we had such a short amount of time and so much that we wanted to see that we organised a tour.
- I try to have a selection of activities to hand or in my head. Distractions are necessary for bored Things on planes, transition times such as waiting to board or waiting for food, early mornings and car journeys. I’m currently planning a list of easy, light-weight activities you can use on your holiday.
- Finally the best advice I ever got was from a friend who said “remember…it may not just be the Things who need a change of clothes”. How right she was. I’ve been puked, peed and pooped on. I’ve had everything spilled on me from red with to apple juice and more. Taking a change of clothes for everyone not only heads off these problems but also avoids a panicked meltdown when your luggage doesn’t arrive and you’re stranded with no clothes.
3. Be flexible
For all the planning that you do, you have to be ready to change them at a given moment. All manner of things can go wrong (with or without Things!) You might end up with a sick Thing, the attraction you wanted to do might be closed or the weather might change all your plans.
This is where being so prepared can help – knowing what else there is to do off the top of your head can save a heap of time. Have a family discussion about what your options are, make a decision and move on. Whatever you do, don’t let it throw you or ruin a whole day of your holiday time.
4. Don’t try to fit too much in
This was one of our biggest lessons after we bit off waaaay more than we could chew in Kerala. When we planned it, we looked at all that we wanted to do and couldn’t decide how to narrow it down any further. It backfired massively. We ended up staying in 5 places in 10 days. We were driving between locations every other day…at least. Once we had arrived and wanted to sightsee, more driving was needed to get us there from our accommodation.
When we planned our trip to Jordan we ran the risk of doing exactly the same. Thankfully we found ourselves not having to drive once we arrived in each location which made massive difference. The Things were so much happier and so were we! I feel like we were actually able to relax and enjoy the time rather than constantly moving from one place to the next.
I guess we benefitted from some of those lessons learned from travelling with kids!
5. Be realistic
Carrying on from that train of thought, I think it is so important to know what your limits are. Choosing activities and destinations carefully can really make or break your holiday.
If your Things aren’t all that active (think Doha Things in the summer) then an intensive hiking holiday might not be the best idea. Maybe don’t take super boisterous and loud Things to the super posh restaurant where you know you’ll spend the whole time shushing them and getting dirty looks from the other patrons. If you have 3 year old triplets then perhaps 2 days touring Parisian museums is a tad optimistic.
That’s not to say you can’t or shouldn’t do those things – it’s just as important to get them used to things they don’t normally do. But knowing what situations will be too stressful and push someone over the edge can help you avoid them. Be realistic. If you’re going to go to that street market, don’t expect to browse or even buy anything. Watch out for Things running into hot grills or picking up glass ornaments helpfully places at their eye levels. And consider it a win if you get to buy something.
6. Challenge yourself / take (calculated) risks
Ok, I’m not suggesting you go bungee jumping when you have crippling vertigo or with your 4 year old (even if they’d let you).
I am saying you and your Things are capable of more than you think you are. I was pretty anxious about that day in Rome and again in Bangkok when we did the same thing. We all stepped up and had wonderful trips.
We loved taking the Things to ski, surf and snorkel. Taking on a jam-packed itinerary in Jordan when we knew we had done the same and had a traumatic time in Kerala was a big risk! But it paid off (see below for why). Thing 1 taught me a huge lesson recently when we were in Antalya and he took me to the top of a water slide. “Sometimes you just have to do things you don’t want to do” he told me. I had to smile, listening to my own words repeated back to me.
I know, I know. I say this in practically every post I write! But it’s so true! If you really want to go to that museum / tour that temple / visit that city then take the opportunity the next day to do something more Thing focussed. Likewise, if they’re desperate to go to a waterpark then make a deal that you’ll need them to take the cooking class with you the day before.
We’ve even taken it so far as to plan holidays around themselves…
8 days in Jordan, followed by a week skiing and a week touring Thailand meant our Things were ready for a complete break. We took them to an all inclusive hotel in Antalya complete with the biggest swimming pool I’ve seen in my life, a kids club and a water park. Next we will be touring the UK which will be fun but pretty intense. We will finish up with a week in a villa in Portugal to offset the massive resort we just visited.
8. Make the most ALL the years
I WISH I had known how easy it was to travel with a baby when I first had Thing 1! I think we did pretty well considering, but I do remember obsessively packing everything but the kitchen sink before we went anywhere. It’s hardly surprising that I have back problems now lol .
Anyway, people are so annoying. Cherish every moment they say. Or “I wish I’d known how easy travelling with a baby was” (lol). I look at families with older Things and get all excited for the fun stuff we will be able to do with out Things one day.
Here’s the thing – every stage of travelling with Things has it’s benefits:
They can be popped in a carrier and taken anywhere. They nap at your dinner table and you can manipulate their naps to combat jet lag in just a few days.
Always so inquisitive and before you hit the “mum and dad are so uncool” stage these guys have minds that are like sponges. There’s so much for them to learn and new experiences to show them!
11. Tweens and teens
Now mini adults (sometimes!) tweens and teens can really contribute to holiday planning and decisions. You can start to take them on much more intrepid adventures and learn new skills together. You can show them corners of the world that you might have previously considered unavailable to you.
12. Embrace technology
Let’s face it… Technology plays a part of all our holidays. We book flights and accommodation online and email tour guides and dive operators ahead of time. We checking using an app – even our exit permit are authorised via an app which texts us to say it has gone through.
iPads and plane screens are used for in-flight entertainment. Planning and research are done through websites and apps. Photos are taken on phones as well as cameras. Restaurants are discovered through search engines while sights and attractions are found on Google Maps or Waze.
I don’t consider myself an early adopter by any stretch but technology now plays an integral part of our travels.
13. Conversations starters
Kids are the ultimate conversation starter everywhere. But even more so if you’re travelling in an area where you all look very different to the local population. I’ll admit, we’re not fans of the strangers taking photos of our Things, but in terms breaking the ice they are invaluable. Most nationalities are pretty kids friendly and will always happily engage with your Things.
Since my MO for travel used to be to integrate myself into the local culture as quickly as possible, I’ve felt this part of our travels lacking. And the Things help.
14. Pay it forward
2 things to think about here.
First up… if you’ve travelled with your Things (particularly on your own) then you know what a tricky journey that can be! If you see other people who need help and you’re in a position to help them then why not do it?
It doesn’t have to be a big gesture. It could be as simple as lifting a bags down for a mum travelling on her own. (True story – Mr Wanderlust made me proud!). Or changing seats to let a baby use the basinet in the bulkhead row (another true story – the people in question refused). Even a sympathetic glance or an offer to hold someone’s baby while they eat… Making people’s lives easier while they travel should come as second nature but unfortunately all too many people are subjected to criticism or hostility if their kids aren’t behaving “perfectly” while travelling.
The second thing is to think about where you are travelling. If you’re going somewhere where there might be a lot of poverty, crime or ill health. Think about if there;s any way you can contribute to that society in a constructive way. Maybe by doing a volunteer holiday or even just donating to a local charity (having well researched it before of course!).
15. Slow down
The best lesson I’ve learned from travelling with the Things is to Slow Down. Travelling with them has forced us to take our time over our travels. We now try to stay longer in each place (most of the time – Jordan and India trips aside!). We try not to do too much (and certainly not every day).
Take the time to look at the world like your kids do. Discover the world through their eyes and enjoy just how amazing it is.
Because it really is awesome.
What are your lessons learned from travelling with kids?