I know many parents who absolutely love travel but have held off on travelling because they have young children. I would have perhaps been one of these parents if I was not married to a man whose second love is travel (possibly first).
When my son was six months old and my daughter had just turned three, we, mostly my husband, decided it was time to travel internationally with them. Prior to this we had only travelled interstate with our children and the decision to fly from Australia to the other side of the world was not one I took lightly, but I am so glad I agreed to it because it triggered a love for travelling as a family and so far we have been to over 15 countries with our children. For parents wanting to travel with kids, here are our seven top tips for travelling with children:
1. Lower your expectations:
My husband loves exploring and tries to see an entire city or town in one day, but life with children means that he has now lowered his expectations, especially when sightseeing. We have now accepted that what would usually take us an hour to do as a travelling couple, takes three hours to do as a travelling family.
2. Be ready to see every toilet in the world:
When children need to go to the toilet, they need to go. They don’t care if you’ve been waiting in line to climb the Eiffel Tower for three hours, if they want to go to the toilet you have to be prepared to drop everything and take them. You will see so many beautiful and so many disgusting toilets, always have your own toilet wipes with you.
3. Communicate with your children:
When we plan a trip, our children are part of the process. When my daughter was two I Googled episodes of Peppa Pig that involved aeroplanes and travel and I would get her to watch them before we travelled, then I would explain that we would soon travel too. I also read and reread books to her about travel. Similarly, I always tell my son about upcoming trips and we research the places we are going to visit beforehand, my son was four when we visited Barcelona and has now developed a penchant for Gaudi’s gothic architecture.
4. Assign parental roles and be prepared to shake things up:
Whenever we travel my husband and I secretly choose a child to be in charge of and when that child becomes too much of a handful we swap. This really works for us and we always give each other a chance to sleep on long flights. It’s all about being a great team and I am quite blessed to be ‘life-ing’ with such an amazing father.
5. Research kid friendly locations and airlines:
Before booking any trip my husband and I read customer reviews and look out for key words like ‘family friendly’ and ‘great food for kids’. We also learnt the hard way to always pre-book kid meals and ensure we are seated together on a plane. One airline had separated me from my children on a trip from Zurich to Sydney, I will not name and shame the airline but it was not until I created a scene that the attendant decided it made sense for a then four-year-old and six-year-old to be seated next to their mother on a very long flight (their father was not with us at the time).
6. Pack iPads, tiny toys and refillable water bottles:
We have often been stranded in airports, and iPads and small toys (even a handful of Lego, books, mini figurines or a couple of Kinder Surprises) have kept our children entertained for hours. Having some form of entertainment on hand really helps and when you don’t, wing it – storytelling is my back up parenting strategy.
7. Have fun and forgive yourself:
Travelling is the best education you can give your kids; the world is really their classroom. My children have an awareness of world history and have seen real impacts of war and poverty and I am so proud of the empathetic people they are becoming. I owe a lot of that to travel and I love the idea of raising caring global citizens. As a parent you need to forgive yourself for being frustrated and unprepared for travelling curveballs, parenting is really all about progress and not perfection and so is travel. I just hope my daughter forgives me for making her wait in line for three hours just to see James Franco on Broadway, their memory doesn’t fully form until three, right?
Have you travelled with children? If so, I’d love to hear your tips too.
Happy Family Travels!