Before I was married, I rarely traveled. The first time I went on a plane, I was 21! Going to Argentina for my honeymoon and traveling to Paris twice while I was in college, gave me the travel bug and introduced me to the joy of exploring.
But, traveling the world doesn’t always work out with small kids.
This is why my husband and I are determined to make travel work for us and our boys. After coming back from our latest trip to Nicaragua with our 7 and 4-year-old, I have compiled a list of tips for making travel to out of the ordinary destinations work for your family.
Tip 1: Research
The first thing I do when deciding on a destination is to learn as much about that country as I can. From family-friendly hotels and resorts to day trips and kid-inspired activities I want to know it all. I research online and go to family blogs or travel forums where you can ask questions directly to people who have been to that destination with their families. I also double check the CDC website to see if there are any required vaccinations or troubling outbreaks to prepare for.
Knowing as much about a foreign country before you go there is key. That way, when you get there you already have a list of things to do and places to see. You also know what to stay away from – whether it’s beaches that are too rocky or dangerous for kids or nighttime areas that are geared towards single people and couples. Before we went to Curacao last year, I learned that many of the beaches are rocky and to bring water shoes for my kids. This was a life-saver and something I wouldn’t have thought to bring on our trip without consulting the blogs and forums.
Tip 2: Get Your Kids Excited
Traveling with kids can be stressful not only for the parents, but the kids as well. Airports, security, driving in a foreign country, all of these may be new to your child. In order to ease the anxiety, especially for my 7 year old who tends to be anxious in general, we talk about our trip months before we go. We show the boys where we are going on a map, talk about the culture, the food, the activities and show them Instagram pictures of other families who have been there.
We get them excited about packing their bags and getting on a big airplane to arrive in a new country! This makes the whole experience exciting for them and something to look forward to, while also easing some of the tension or questions they may have about traveling away from home. My kids love returning from our trips and telling their teachers and classmates all about what they saw and learned in these new countries.
Tip 3: Packing is KEY
Obviously, anyone who has ever gone away with kids lives by this golden rule. I like to think that I am becoming a world-class packer for my family. Two pointers are to make lists and to pack in advance. I am an obsessive list maker and this helps me organize what we have to pack and what we may need to get before the trip. Packing the bags a week in advance allows you to lay out what you are bringing and edit your luggage as you see fit. That way, you don’t over-pack and you tend not to miss anything, like the sound machines I cannot leave home without.
Check things off your list as you pack. I also always pack a big bag of medicine – from children’s Advil and Benadryl to calamine lotion and antibiotics. On one of our trips, my youngest son got an ear infection on our second day there, but luckily our pediatrician had prescribed us antibiotics before we left for a scenario just like this. After that experience, I will never leave the country without medicine for any ailment!
I also always pack changes of clothes, swimsuits, flip-flops, hats, sunblock and mini toiletries in our carry-on for the possibility of sickness on the plane (which we have dealt with) or the dreaded losing your luggage. This way, at least you can still hit the beach and pool while waiting for your luggage to arrive. Most importantly, be aware of passport expiration dates and make sure you look into customs procedures in the country you are traveling to. It’s always best to know before you arrive.
Tip 4: Make the Plane Ride an Adventure
Kids usually find riding in an airplane an adventure but once you get to hour 3 or 4, they begin to lose their patience. This is why I always pack airplane surprise bags for my kids. These usually consist of dollar store finds, quiet games and activities, arts and crafts and lots of snacks. I pack these in a sealed bag and hide them in my kid’s backpacks and number each present. They are allowed to open 1-2 presents per hour. It’s a great way to pass the time and keep my kids occupied. Of course, iPads and movies are usually a go-to, but these little surprises are also a great way to pass the time.
One more tip about air travel, be aware that not all flights have wi-fi, so make sure to download some of your kid’s favorite shows or movies before the flight. If you have a Netflix account, they have a great download feature and you can have all the kid’s entertainment stored there. There are also a number of apps that don’t require wifi. Be sure to download these before the trip as well.
Tip 5: Be Prepared For Anything
Sickness, delayed flights, lost luggage, missed reservations, bad weather… Unfortunately, we’ve dealt with all of these. Packing extra clothes in your carry-on, having medicine and sunblock, lots of snacks and being prepared in advance will help. But, having a “roll with the punches” attitude can make the trip worthwhile.
It’s not an easy task to pack up your family and fly to a foreign country. However, the bumps in the road are usually forgotten and the memories your family will have will last a lifetime. My husband and I always say it takes at least a day to get acclimated to a new country, especially after traveling. Knowing this allows us to see the first day of vacation as an adjustment day and not get bogged down when kids are cranky and things don’t work out. Usually, by day two, everyone is better rested and the real fun can begin!
I am a huge supporter of traveling with your kids, and not just within the US. Take them outside the country, let them learn about other cultures, hear other languages, eat exotic foods. You will be surprised how much they get out of it and how much they learn. Not to mention, the quality family time and the bonding you will share is truly priceless. I am already planning our next trip…I’m thinking South America?!