Traveling with kids can feel daunting at times, and each age comes with specific needs. For infants, you may have questions about the best kind of carrier when you reach your destination. For older kids, you’ll want clever ways to keep them interested and engaged to avoid sibling bickering and complaining. And everyone wants advice for beating jet lag.
How to enjoy a family vacation starts with planning for both the expected and unexpected as well as making space to appreciate the delightful moments. These tips will help you conquer travel challenges unique to family vacations, savor each moment for maximum memory-making, and then relive the magic well after you’ve returned from your destination.
Family Travel Challenges and How to Overcome Them Like a Pro
From dealing with hangry, cranky, jet-lagged kids to balancing baby gear, traveling with kids involves unique challenges. Fortunately, simple travel hacks can get you and your family back on the road to an enjoyable vacation.
Conquering Jet Lag with Kids
Our best tips for conquering jet lag? Start adjusting your family’s sleep schedule to that of your destination at least two to three days before departure. This also means getting plenty of sleep before your departure. Once you’re on the plane, switch your watch to the time zone of your destination so that you can start thinking and acting appropriately before you even touchdown.
Factors such as dehydration can also contribute to jet lag. Make a point of pushing water and other healthy, non-sugary fluids, especially during airplane flights. (Airplane cabins are notorious for drying out passengers.) And avoid beverages that leave you feeling dehydrated or wide awake at the wrong time such as tea, coffee, and alcohol (that’s for you, parents).
Once you arrive at your destination, don’t give in to the temptation to go straight to bed. Instead, get outside and soak up some sunshine. Or, if you’re feeling antsy, and it’s nighttime when you arrive, soak up some moonlight (if possible) and use minimal lights in your hotel room to encourage sleepiness.
Managing Baby Gear
Travel with babies means preparing for the unexpected. Bring plenty of extra wipes, diapers, and sealable bags to contain unforeseen messes and smells. Carry changes of clothes for your baby and you. (From spit up to a leaking diaper, you never know when you’ll need a fresh change of clothes.)
As for the ongoing debate between strollers and baby slings? Whether to bring them depends on external factors. In a cold-weather destination, you and your baby will enjoy keeping one another warm with a sling. But in a warm-weather destination, a sling could prove an uncomfortable, sweaty mess.
Ground surfaces represent another element to consider. Strollers work well for large cities and places with easily accessible walking paths and public transit. But for uneven surfaces such as archaeological ruins or historical cities with cobbled streets, leave the stroller home (or in the hotel room). The same goes for historic buildings without elevators.
Feeding Hangry Kids in Foreign Countries
Traveling with hangry kids is nobody’s cup of tea. But when you know where to look for comfort food in a new culture, you’ll find plenty of treats to please even the pickiest eaters. Basics such as soups, breads, eggs, and potato or rice-based dishes please just about any palate. So do savory treats such as grilled chicken, meatballs, and cheese.
Gaining some pre-trip familiarity with your destination’s local cuisine is key to avoiding hangry kiddos once you arrive. That way, when tummies start growling, you’ll know just what to look for, whether it’s Massaman Curry (literally “Children’s Curry”) in Thailand or arreglados in Costa Rica. Find out more about staple snacks and treats for picky eaters in Thailand, what to eat on a family trip to Cambodia, delicious Peruvian food for kids, or kid-friendly Costa Rican cuisine.
Dealing with Whining and Complaining
Before you can deal with frustrating behaviors such as whining, complaining, sulking, and pouting, it’s important to understand their root cause. For many kids, these behaviors stem from feeling anxious and out of control. And travel can intensely trigger these feelings. Then, because kids lack the emotional and verbal skills to express their feelings, they resort to negative behavior.
Our first instinct, especially during a plane flight or tour where kids need to stay quiet, is to appease them. But this only reinforces the bad behavior. Instead, encourage kids to use their words to communicate what they’re feeling and why. When you create a safe space for kids to communicate their worries, fears, and anxieties, not only will they better deal with their feelings, but they’ll become more adaptable and open to new experiences.
Ways to Enhance the Experience During Vacation
Now that you’ve got a bag of tricks to put an end to the drama and help your trip go smoothly, it’s time to focus on the fun part. Getting the most out of your vacation. The activities below will help.
Decode Your Itinerary
Print out a copy of your family vacation itinerary for each kid. Then, read through it with them. As questions or ideas arise, underline, circle, or help your kids jot down notes. Encourage little ones to draw pictures (based on your summary of a vacation’s highlights) to help them “decode” the itinerary and better understand where you’re going and why.
Review this often as a family so that you can share your approaching excitement as well as brainstorm ways to better enjoy each activity and place. Then, revisit the itinerary during your journey to savor the day’s adventures as well as prepare for what’s yet to come.
Encourage kids to journal during the trip. That way, they can record their observations and insights. Invite younger kids to draw pictures of their hopes and experiences. These can go into a scrapbook later. And don’t forget to share in the fun with your own travel journal!
While most travelers purchase travel journals in advance, start with cheap mini-notebooks. Then, as you travel, keep your eyes open for local handcrafted journals. These are a wonderful way to preserve the spirit of your trip while capturing the authentic flavor of the area. Your kids will relish the chance to pick one out for themselves in a local market or shop, and you’ll support local businesses, too.
A Photo Scavenger Hunt
Have older kids document their journey through photos using their copy of the itinerary as the basis for a “scavenger hunt.” Encourage your tweens and teens to snap photos of pre-designated spots or activities from the itinerary. The photos they capture represent the basis for a personalized travel album when they get home.
Disposable cameras are a cheap way to get younger kids involved in the photo-snapping fun, too. Buy them in advance through sites like Amazon. They even come in waterproof versions to document events like snorkeling. Little kids will feel excited and empowered by their chance to get in on the photo scavenger hunt action, and you won’t have to worry about an expensive accident.
Schedule a Family Photo Shoot while on Vacation
Flytographer makes it easy to arrange an affordable session with professional portrait photographers in countries around the world. These vetted photographers will help you pick the most beautiful sights to use as the background for your family photo session, so you can ensure your photos capture plenty of local flavor (OWV bonus: use this link to receive $25 off a Flytographer session).
You’ll also love receiving the link to look at your gallery of vacation photos once you get home! This will be a big step up from selfie-stick family portraits, and it’s a great way for your family to collect memories, not things.
Ways to Enhance the Experience After Vacation
It’s always a little sad coming back to reality after vacation. But just because your family’s journey is over doesn’t mean the fun has to stop. One of the best things about going on a family vacation? Having countless new memories to look back on with a smile.
Relive the Memories
If going on vacation with your family is all about encouraging your kids to “live in the moment,” then coming home from vacation is about finding ways to hold onto the precious memories you created together. Do this by creating a slideshow of your vacation with photos and videos. Apps such as Mac’s iMovie, Magisto, and PowerPoint all work well.
Or, make a photo album through an online service like Shutterfly or Chatbooks. The 21st-century version of a scrapbook, just upload your photos, design your album online with user-friendly templates, and get it delivered to your home as a beautifully bound book.
Deepen Your Kids’ Knowledge
Family vacations are wonderful opportunities to teach your kids about new cultures and places — and there’s no reason that the learning has to stop just because the trip is over. Encourage your kids to creatively retell a story or memory from your vacation. For example, your kids could work together to create a silly skit or a collage, author and illustrate a short “book,” or write and perform a song.
Gift your kids something related to the destination you visited. This could be an age-appropriate book, a magazine subscription, or a class in your community (e.g. cooking class, language course, etc.)
If you did a homestay with a host family on your trip, encourage your kids to keep in touch with the family by sending notes and postcards. It’s also a great way for your wee ones to practice writing and penmanship, too. But what if you didn’t do a homestay? No worries! Use a site like International Pen Friends to find a “pen pal” from the destination you visited.
How to Enjoy a Family Vacation
What’s the best part of coming back from vacation? Besides reliving the memories, it’s planning your next one! But before you start daydreaming, there’s one thing you’ll DEFINITELY want to take into consideration: your children’s ages. Picking a destination and activities that are appropriate for your kids’ ages can make a big difference in whether your trip goes smoothly or just plain haywire. Grab our free guide for creative travel ideas, broken down by age:
At Our Whole Village, we create transformational trips for curious families who want to create lasting memories while making a difference. We’re here to help you and your family experience the world, its peoples, and its cultures. Contact us today to learn more about the unforgettable experiences that we handcraft for adventure-seeking families just like yours.
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From packing the right gear to taking full advantage of your mode of transportation, these family travel tips make traveling with kids a success rather than a stress. Sure, unexpected challenges will still show up along the way. But armed with these tips, you’ll also have plenty of aces in the hole.