Are you planning on traveling with kids but aren’t sure where to start? We had Sharing the Wander share their best family travel tips from their past year of full-time travels. After a year on the road, they’ve learned a lot about traveling as a family and what it takes to navigate the new normal. Are you ready to travel with your family?
Best Family Travel Tips
When we sold our house and set off to travel together as a family in June of 2021, we had little idea where our travels would take us, how we would all adapt to full-time travel, or what we would learn along the way.
We started with a broad itinerary, which has changed many, many times since we started traveling. As we travel, and as our kids grow we are constantly learning how to make travel work best for all of us.
More than 9 months later, we have celebrated multiple birthdays and holidays on the road, and are still learning what’s best for our family, tweaking our travel pace, and of course, making a few mistakes here and there.
Our kids were almost 4 and 6 when we hit the road. Here’s some of what we’ve learned along the way, that we hope will be useful to other traveling families. Here are our top family travel tips for traveling with kids.
1. Stay Safe
Our first priority when going anywhere with our kids is safety. How to travel with kids safely is also what we get asked about the most! In most places, a little common sense goes a long way.
When traveling with kids as a family, research destinations (and specific neighborhoods) beforehand to make sure you are staying in safe areas. Make a plan in case you get separated – kids should know to stay put, and how to find a safe adult to ask for help if needed.
We also recommend everyone in the family wear ID bracelets. You can personalize these however you like, we include the child’s name, phone numbers for mom and dad, any allergies, and blood type.
This way, whether it’s a separation, or a car accident, the kids have identification on them and information as to how to contact both parents. Remember, most kids don’t have their parents cell phone numbers memorized!
Learn more about ways to keep kids safe while traveling: Your Worst Fears: A Complete Guide to Keeping Kids Safe While Traveling.
2. Set Expectations with Kids
One of the things we have learned over our family travel is that kids need to know what is coming, and what to expect. The more we outline for the kids what to expect from the next few days or weeks, the better they roll with the bumps along the way.
We also try to engage kids in decision-making when we can – whether it’s which museum to visit today, or what type of food we should eat for dinner.
3. Everything Takes Longer when Traveling with Kids
Everything takes longer with kids! A simple bathroom stop can stretch to twenty minutes. Getting through security at the airport, or verifying documentation for four people at check-in takes a lot longer than when there were just two of us.
Plan extra time, especially for airports. Distances between security, the gate, bathroom breaks, and much-needed food can be long for little legs. We often think we’re leaving in plenty of time, and then end up dashing for food before boarding our flight.
4. Get Assigned Airplane Seats
When booking air travel, pre-book your seats when you can. Many US airlines do not guarantee to seat families together if you choose the lowest fare class. Switching last minute or asking other passengers to switch with you can be stressful- you’ll have a smoother trip if you know you have seats together before you arrive at the airport.
Consider the best seating arrangement for your family- as a family of four, we prefer to book two sets of seats in front of another two seats- so the kids both have window seats, and the adults have middle seats. This means we can easily pass things back and forth over the seat, and even talk to each other without disturbing other passengers.
For buses, which often have rows two seats wide, we prefer to sit two on each side of the aisle. Buses often have very high-backed seats, which means if the kids sit together in front of us, we can’t see them well. If they are next to us across the aisle, we can see them, and help them as needed, but they get to play together.
5. Plan A Recovery Day
Especially when changing time zones, plan a recovery day after your arrival. It can take kids up to one full day per hour of time change to adjust.
If you plan a slow day after you arrive, you will all have time to adjust a bit, and the kids won’t be so cranky when you are trying to visit a major tourist attraction. Save the bigger events for when everyone is feeling better.
We also try to schedule the more important visits at the front of our trip. So, if there are a few things we really want to see in a new place, we do those on days 2 and 3. That way, if someone gets sick, or you find the place is closed, you have a chance to reschedule it. If it’s the last day of your trip, you’re out of luck.
6. Look for Family Rooms
Many hotels outside the US have family rooms, which include multiple beds. We are often able to book a room with a double bed and 2 or 3 twin beds. While our kids have shared many double beds road-tripping across the US, we also know that they sleep better when they have their own beds. In many parts of the world, that is easy to accommodate.
If you have older kids, you can also book connecting rooms or two rooms in smaller hotels. We find this comes up a lot in older cities, where the buildings are smaller and everything is packed in tighter.
We also love to book hotels with breakfast included. We find that getting everyone fed early in the morning helps us start our day off well. When we can, we have bananas or other easy snacks in the room so the kids can have something to eat if they wake up hungry.
7. Bring Headphones
Bring headphones for the kids! If you can, get headphones where you can completely remove the cord when it’s not plugged into a device.
Not only are these great for watching shows on tablets during long travel days, but they are great for protecting kids’ ears in other situations. We’ve used them during live music shows, while watching fireworks, and even on loud boats!
We like these Beats Wireless Headphones that have noise isolation, volume-control, and are foldable.
8. Indulge in Treats
Part of the fun of travel is finding new treats and new flavors – so we indulge in treats more when we are traveling than when we are home. This can mean visiting a grocery store to pick out new snacks to try, or stopping for ice cream or gelato and looking for flavors we can’t find at home. You can also make a game out of trying new fruits!
Occasionally it means we pick something we don’t like (like those ketchup flavored potato chips in Mexico), but often we all find new favorites. The kids loved the fruit Lucuma in Peru, and tried everything they could find in that flavor before we left!
9. Take Public Transportation
Try to take public transportation! It’s cheaper than taxis, and often it is the kid’s favorite part of the day. They love taking buses and metros in new cities- the journey becomes as much fun as the destination!
The more varied the transportation, the better- look for trolleys, cable cars, metros, buses, and even boats. When we were learning about the Oregon and Santa Fe trails we were all excited to ride in a vintage stagecoach, and a real covered wagon!
10. Kids Need Exercise
Plan exercise and playtime into your schedule. Kids need to get their wiggles out! After quietly wandering through a museum, we try to find playgrounds where they can run, jump and yell.
We also find that when they are absorbing lots of new things mentally, they need time to be physical to help them process all the new things around them.
When we road trip around the US, we try to find a playground with picnic benches for lunch. The adults get to sit outside, the kids get to play after they eat before getting back in the car.
Wherever we are, we find playgrounds are great places to meet other kids, even if it’s just to play together for a few minutes. For older kids, you may want to schedule time at a ropes course or zip line so they can get the same physical challenge.
We also find that the kids need downtime– for some kids, that is time to read quietly, for others it’s time to make up a game with whatever toys, seeds, or feathers they have accumulated that week.
11. Pack Items Specific for Traveling with Kids
There are a few things that have come in handy when we travel that you may not find on every packing list. Here are a few of the odd things we love to carry when we travel as a family:
Our Favorite Random Supplies for Traveling with Kids
-A Plastic Knife. This deli knife in its plastic sleeve stays in my purse. It can go through airport security and is terrific when you need to split a bagel or a pastry exactly four ways to share.
-Gel Stain Remover. My kids spill things all the time. This gel is easier to carry than a liquid stain remover and helps pretreat stains until we can wash things.
-A Knife Sharpener. Many rental apartments have dull knives! We love being easily able to sharpen knives when cooking in a rented apartment.
Read more packing tips for Travel:
12. School can Happen Anywhere
There are lots of ways to handle schooling on the road – some traveling families choose “unschooling” or “worldschooling” where they base their child’s education on a combination of child-led interests and the opportunities around them at a specific location.
Other families choose to more formally homeschool, sticking to a curriculum that aligns with state guidelines. Keep in mind that specific states have very different requirements, so check carefully if you are maintaining state residency, or might be returning your children to public school after your travels.
We choose a hybrid model – our kids have an online curriculum that they follow, which keeps them engaged in a more traditional school model, and keeps them aligned with the state curriculum. This means, that if most second graders learn about the Constitution, our child is learning this same information as well.
We work on this program a few hours a week, but spend most of our time worldschooling and learning from the sites and museums around us as we travel. Where better to learn about Harry Truman than in Independence, MO?
13. Just Go!
Traveling as a family is a bit more complicated than it used to be, but it’s still totally worth it.
Often parents wonder whether their children will remember trips if they travel when they are young. It really doesn’t matter if they remember every city or every site you visit- just the act of traveling is changing them and affecting how they see the world. You’re providing them with a wide view of the world, and exposure to different people and cultures.
There will never be a perfect time to travel with your kids- there will always be an excuse to wait for a different age, or a different situation. The world is changing fast, and we aren’t guaranteed another chance. So go for it, the world is waiting.