12 Tips for Awesome Travel with your Kids

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In my last post, I gave you all my best arguments for why I think you should travel with kids. To further convince that you it’s doable, I’ve put together 12 tips for how to make traveling with kids easy and stress free.

Be Prepared. Traveling with kids is not necessarily different than traveling with anyone else. Preparing is the key to ensuring a smooth trip. Here are some essentials for prepared travel with kids:

    1. Children of any age need a passport for international travel. Read up on the State Department’s rules so you don’t waste your time making more than one trip to the passport office.
    2. Look for travel gadgets that make traveling with kids easier. If there is something you’re having a hard time planning around, I guarantee someone else has had this problem and invented a solution. My new favorite is one I learned about from another mom friend. I dread lugging a car sear around a long vacation where I’ll only need it sparingly. This vest offers safety in 1000 times more convenient fashion. I can’t wait to use for my family’s upcoming cruise!
    3. The only time you’ll probably be pressed to entertain your kids is during the “travel” leg of the trip. So, bring stuff to do for the car or plane ride. New toys will entertain them the most.
    4. Research your vacation for kid-friendly amenities. Know what food options are available. Know what kids’ activities are offered. Know the minimum ages for kids to participate in activities so they won’t be left out of things they are looking forward to. Tripadvisor reviews typically offer a ton of behind the scenes advice from other travelers, as well as parent forums. Also consider using a travel agent if this research seems daunting. (Travel agents typically receive their commissions from the companies you book through them,  so you don’t pay them directly for their services.)

Set the Vibe. Your kids will react to your energy. If you’re nervous and stressed, or really worried about how your kids are going to behave, you can guarantee they will act like donkeys. Here are some ways to keep yourself calm, which will in turn add to your kids’ calm:

  1. Tell them and yourself what to expect as you’re moving through the trip. The uncertainty can be unnerving to you all. Letting everyone know what is happening and what is coming next can go a long way in soothing anxiety.
  2. Enjoy the process. Relax and take in what’s going on around you, even if you don’t consider it the “fun” part of the trip. My daughter’s excited “oooooooh!” as the plane lifts off the ground is pure joy for me, and relaxes me into enjoying the anxious parts of take off.
  3. Take your time if you need to. If you think you’re holding other people up, invite them to go around you. We all know that kids move way slower than we do, so giving yourselves the extra time will help you keep your head on straight without getting frustrated with yourself or your kids and losing your cool.
  4. Prepare for the people around you. If you think your baby may cry during a flight, and it may stress you out, consider what you can use as a peace offering to your fellow travelers. Maybe a set of ear plugs with a note and some candy for those seated near you. Chances are, the other travelers won’t be as bothered as you think they will, but you will be calmer feeling like you’ve connected with them a little, and they will undoubtedly appreciate the gesture.

It doesn’t have to break the bank. Adding one or more kids to your travel mix definitely adds up, but you can save money in several places if you’re deal saavy.

  1. Sign your kids up for travel rewards. If you’re paying for them to travel, they are eligible to receive the same travel rewards you are. My 3 year old has her own Delta Skymiles account, so she’s racking up miles just like we are.
  2. Shop for credit card rewards. Many “travel” credit cards will offer a one time or recurring benefit for opening the card. You might get a free companion airline ticket every year with your paid ticket, you might get enough bonus miles or points for a hotel night or plane ticket, etc. Then with every purchase on the card, you earn additional points or miles. I use these often and strategically to plan all my travel. When I’m gearing up for a trip, I will use one of the travel cards to start banking points on a particular hotel or airline.
  3. Familiarize yourself with your airline and hotel offerings for traveling with kids. Some examples? Kids under 1 can usually fly free if you hold them. Most airlines don’t charge you to check a car seat or stroller. You can also check your stroller free at the gate if you want to use it in the airport. Many hotels will provide a roll away crib or pack n play of some sort for free.
  4. Find out if there is a free or reduced price amenity for children under a certain age. This can save you hundreds of dollars when you’re traveling with young kids, from plane fare to park or excursion costs to meals. Many places allow kids under 1, 2, 3 or 4 to participate for free, so always make sure to check a website or ask.

I’ve put together what I consider to be the most important thoughts for traveling with kids, but I know you have more! What tips or questions would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments.

Don’t be Afraid to Travel with Kids!

Disclaimer: my posts contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link or buy a product. I only endorse products which I have used and enjoy!

Have you ever considered traveling with your children or someone else’s? Is the idea a bit daunting to say the least? I love to travel, and generally include my 3 year old daughter on most trips that I plan these days. I’ve had people tell me that she won’t remember the trip, it’s too much trouble to take her, she won’t enjoy it and neither will I. People think I’m crazy to take her on big trips. When asking for advice on traveling with kids, several people have advised simply, “Don’t!” I disagree, and have found the following huge benefits from traveling with my daughter.

Taking in the majesty of the ocean for the first time with my daughter
Taking in the majesty of the ocean for the first time with my daughter

Why travel with kids?

It allows you to really relax and enjoy yourself alongside the kids. Even though traveling with kids can have hectic moments, if you’re prepared, there will also be many moments of enjoying all the things you came to do. That’s essential for family bonding (even extended family or friend bonding if you’re traveling with someone else’s kids). As a parent, your only relaxed, happy time shouldn’t be when your kids aren’t there. They will relish in having you laying back, basking in the sun and playing, as much as you will adore seeing them do the same. If you travel with kids, you will learn to relax together, and get to see a different side of each other. You’ll get to know each other better. The same benefits you reap from travel will also extend to the kids. My husband and I took our daughter on a cruise when she was 2, and we all came back very relaxed and recharged together. We all slept great on the trip and some of the sleep and behavior issues we had been seeing with her before the trip completely disappeared.

Nap time in our pool cabana in Orlando
Nap time in our pool cabana in Orlando

It will help you and your kids learn to travel without fear. If you can travel with a baby, you can travel with anyone. If you travel with your kids when they are babies, you’ll become an old pro. So by the time they are old enough to really be aware of the travel, things will go much more smoothly because you’ll know what you’re doing. So will they. My daughter is 3 and she has been on 4 flying vacations, 1 driving vacation, and a cruise. She has zero apprehension about getting on a plane and is pretty well behaved in flight. We got the nerves and uncertainty of traveling together out of the way when she was an infant.

Ready for Take Off
Ready for Take Off

Even if kids don’t remember the trip, you will, and you’ll have pictures to for you and the kids to look back on. People have a terrible tendency of wanting to put off things until the “right time.” If you try to wait until kids will understand and enjoy every aspect of your vacation, you may be old and tired, you may be divorced, heck you may be gone. The fact of the matter is, your memories matter, too. And if you remember watching the sun set over the Caribbean while your beautiful baby slept on your chest, that is a powerful memory in your story. If you have a picture to show your child of this later, you’re also able to show her how it’s part of her story. I’ve already taken my daughter to Disney World with one of my girl friends who had also never been. Will my daughter remember it when she’s 10? Who knows. But, it was a great opportunity for my friend and I to spend some time together that we had been missing since I started a family, a great chance for her to get to know my daughter. My daughter also has a hard cover photo book to look back on, and if there comes a day when I’m no longer here to take her to Disney, thank God that we went when she was too little to remember, and that she can look back on those photos. (Want to make your own photo book? Here’s a coupon from the site I used, Walgreen’s, to help get you started 40% OFF Photo Books w/ code CREATENEW)

Happiest Place on Earth
Making Memories

It’s better than any formal education you can provide for a child. I had a teacher say this to me, and I couldn’t agree more. We can see the world on tv, we can read about it in books, but nothing compares to experiencing it in real life: tasting the food, meeting the people, hearing the language roll off the tongues of the natives, drinking in the landscape with our own eyes. As a kid, one of my biggest mindset problems growing up in a small town was that the whole world seemed as small and limiting as my town. The boundaries of the world seemed to start and end in my town. I found out that the world was big and the possibilities within it were bigger by traveling. I didn’t see many people who looked like me in my town growing up, but I’ve seen people who look like me in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Italy and Greece (though none of my background is from those places). How’s that for feeling like a citizen of the world? Want the kids in your life to understand the similarities and differences between themselves and others? Show them. Want them to appreciate the majesty of God’s undyingly beautiful creation? Show them. Want them to believe the sky is the limit? Show them!

Delanie on the beach in Roatan, Honduras
Delanie on the beach in Roatan, Honduras

So, have I convinced you to travel with kids? Share your experiences or philosophy on traveling with kids in the comments, and stay tuned for next week’s follow up piece with practical tips for traveling with kids.

Cruising the High Seas
Cruising the High Seas

This post also appears on Huffington Post.

Traveling Well With Others

Disclaimer: My posts contain affiliate links, which means I may get a commission if you click a link or buy a product. I only endorse products or brands which I have used and enjoy!

Vacationing is my happy place! I love to travel, so much so that I would venture to say that I need to vacation regularly in order to stay sane. And nothing makes me happier than sharing my travel bliss with my very favorite people. The first time my husband saw Times Square or the Las Vegas strip all lit up at night, I was right at his side taking in his overwhelmed joy and fascinated awe as if they were my own. To me, the magic is only magic if you’re sharing it.

My husband’s first trip to New York City

However, every well-intentioned vacationer learns the difficult lesson that no matter how much you love your friends and family, not everyone travels the same! I learned this lesson as a Spring Breaker in my early 20’s. I had a lot of friends, I was dating somebody who had a lot of friends, so we decided to travel with all of our friends: his, mine, and some of theirs. What could go wrong?! Well, by the end of the week, I wasn’t really speaking to anyone else on the trip, and the dating break-up happened not too long after. I wore myself out trying to plan with and for very different groups of people, didn’t factor my own (or anyone else’s) wants or needs into the trip very well, and ended up unable to just relax and let the good times roll.

Since then, I’ve managed to take many wonderful vacations ranging from traveling with people I barely knew, to one or two close friends, to up to a dozen mixed family and friends. Here are some of the essentials I’ve found for traveling well with others:

Know your fellow travelers

For every moment of excitement I have in planning a vacation, my husband has a moment of anxiety. After all, excitement and anxiety are essentially the same emotion. The only difference is whether we express it in the positive or the negative, right? Inevitably, two weeks before every vacation, his anxiety peaks and he decides not to go. In the beginning of our relationship, I would panic, scream that everything was already paid for, not talk to him for a day, and try to figure out what the heck to do until he calmed down enough to get back on the travel wagon. Now, I know him. I expect this. So, I stay calm, quietly remind him that everything is already paid for, and try to find ways to turn his anxiety into its happy sister excitement. For him, this means helping him learning about the area, showing him the money shots from travel blogs, filling him with enough information to make the unknown seem a little more known. For him, feeling secure means having a slight lay of the land. I think most people can relate to that.

I say all this because it is equally important for you to know your fellow travelers and know their interests and limitations. Nothing kills the vibe on a trip quicker than misaligned travelers in the same group. So, think carefully about where you want to go, what sorts of things you’ll want to do there, and who would be a good fit for those things. Consider what your fellow travelers like and don’t like, what makes them uncomfortable, and what opens them up to really enjoying themselves.

Compromise

My mom likes to travel as much as I do. That said, she is much more of a “tourist” than I am. She likes to travel the beaten path, do lots of souvenir shopping, and ask lots of questions. Under the right circumstances, this can make for a perfect trip for us both! My favorite example, I asked her to come to New York City for a job interview with me back in 2000. I was a nervous wreck, so I needed her support. Neither of us had ever been to New York, so we decided to make a weekend of it – in true tourist form. We got on the double-decker bus, took in all the sites, and had an absolute blast! As it turns out, the double-decker bus is now my “go to” favorite for touring with anyone I take to the city for the first time. It’s the perfect way to see everything on your own schedule, because the busses travel a loop of the landmarks on a 20 minute schedule. So you can stay on the bus if you aren’t interested in something, hop off the bus at the sites you want to explore in more depth, and hop back on whenever you’re done at a particular place.

I’m sure you didn’t come to be the awesome person that you are by only surrounding yourself with like-minded people. If you’ve been accumulating friends and family over the course of your life, you’ve probably got a mix of folks you love who are similar to you in some ways, but very different in others. If you’re going to travel with them, you have to be open to doing some of their things in exchange for wanting them to do some of your things. If you approach the compromise with an open mind, you’ll get the best travel benefit of all – the chance to really learn about yourself and others by seeing and trying new things. By being open to my mom’s style of travel, I’ve discovered a favorite travel method that is a huge hit with everyone I’ve shared it with since.

Roll with the punches

Flexibility is also crucial in travel, because unexpected things happen. My husband and I did a destination wedding at Sandals Grande Antigua , and I knew my luggage might get lost. So I carried on the one thing I couldn’t replace when I got there – my dress. Sure enough, my luggage got lost. But, I had my dress, I bought a new swim suit at the resort, and I enjoyed myself until everything else showed up the next day. You can’t control most of the factors at play when you travel, but you can always control your reaction. You can have a basic contingency plan for bumps, and consciously choose not waste your vacation energy stressing over things you can’t control.

A great example that I’ve seen in my own husband was on our last big family vacation. We booked a cruise to several Eastern Caribbean destinations, leaving from Miami. As our ship set sail, the Captain came on to announce that a hurricane was threatening our would-be destinations. We were heading to the Western Caribbean instead, and a new itinerary would be delivered to our rooms later that evening. I’ve told you how my husband needs a lay of the land to feel comfortable. He had read about our stops, looked at the pictures, and we had at least a vague game plan of what we would do at each stop. We were comfortable with those stops. Now we had no idea where we would be stopping in the morning, or what there would be to do there. We didn’t even have affordable Wi-Fi to read about these places once we figured out what they were. I expected a full on freak out from my husband, but I was wrong! Maybe it was the fact that we were already out in the middle of the ocean, with no real viable option for turning back. Maybe it was the fact that “vacation mode” had already kicked in, so we were already relaxing on our balcony watching the waves with a cocktail in hand. Whatever it was, my husband took the news in stride. We found out what we could as information was delivered. We talked to other knowledgeable travelers and staff on the ship, at every opportunity we had, to get recommendations for things to do, and we had a great time!

The best thing you can do when the unexpected strikes on your vacation is to do your best under the circumstances. Before you go, identify any must-haves and figure out how you’re going to ensure that are with you for the long haul. For everything else, have an idea of where you might get it, what you might do, and how you might do it. But be willing to adjust as the circumstances change. The time you have on vacation is short, so enjoy yourself and step back from trying to control everything and plan too much.

Know how much planning to do

Putting together what I’ve said about my mom and my husband, there are several truths that apply to traveling with them both. Since they both appreciate the known and the familiar (though for different reasons), I plan accordingly. We need to have airport transportation arranged at our destination. Arriving in a strange place and not knowing how we’ll get to our hotel won’t work for either of them. We need to plan our activities with reputable, commercially identifiable companies. Hopping into an unmarked “cab” with a stranger and winging it is not going to work for either of them. If we are going the local route, it needs to be with a local, who we trust, and who can guide us to things we will enjoy and answer our questions. Remembering these things about my travel companions and planning accordingly avoids a lot of unnecessary angst for us all. We can all relax and enjoy each other and the ride without  fretting the details.

Along the same lines, I have friends who are a little less extroverted than I am. So, I know going in that they will want to do some “big crowd” activities, but then will also need substantial quiet time to recover. If your group are explorers, don’t over-book them with a pre-arranged itinerary. If they are planners, don’t get there and have nothing booked ahead of time. Put your knowledge of the others in your group to work. Don’t forget it when you get excited and started planning. Talk about expectations before hand, and try to strike the right balance of planned activities and free time to do things that pop up, so that everyone in the group goes in feeling good about the trip.

The End Result

The end result of taking the time to be a mindful travel companion is having a great trip! I’ve had a great trip with an old friend who brought along another friend I had never met. Our mutual friend thought about our personalities and interests enough beforehand to correctly guess that we would want to do the same things and would get along well. We literally met in the airport boarding our plane and have considered ourselves friends since.

The best, most magical trip of my life was to Italy and Greece with my brother and some of our friends who are pretty diverse in age and interests. None of it would have worked without us making the effort to be good travel mates to each other. We were wise enough to take a tour that allowed us to see the popular sites, with plenty of free time built in to focus on our individual interests or have alone time. That was key, because everyone’s focus was different. I like literature, so I wanted to spend time at sites with literary significance. My brother likes to people watch and socialize. One of our friends really likes high-end shopping. Another couple were really into art and architectural history.  The only interest we shared without fail was eating, so we always ate together! It was a great way to come back together and share the highlights of our day. Everyone’s needs were met and we all had a great time. It was exactly the opposite of my college Spring Break experience.

I have to end this post by giving a shout out to my brother, who is the ideal travel buddy. He is the example of everything to do and be to make for the perfect travel experience. He is compromising, up for anything, and always a good sport (not to mention he’s charming and lots of fun!). He is an adventurer by nature, but he will spend just as much time shopping and viewing landmarks as he will daring you to try new foods or to try an adventure sport. He’s willing to go with a plan to accommodate others in the group, or go on a completely unplanned adventure when the opportunity presents itself. Most importantly, when he senses that the vibe is off, he goes out of his way to tap into whatever will bring out the best in people and put them at ease. As a result, every trip I take with him brings us closer as siblings, allows us to learn so much about other people, places, and ourselves, and truly have an amazing time together! On my 32nd birthday, he and I stood in St. Marks Square, spinning around like little kids, completely marveling in the fact that we were there – living out a dream. Those magical moments are what it’s all about! I hope my experiences help you to maximize your own vacation magic.

Me and my brother in Venice on my 32nd birthday

 

A Blog is Born!

Family and friends,

I’ve decided to start a blog to collect and share some of the interesting, beautiful, funny, and useful information the world has to offer us. We are all on our journey toward our best selves, so why not share what we find along the way? At the top of the page, you can see the topics that I’m most interested in learning about and sharing with you. With those in mind, what particular  insights would you like to read about on this blog? Thanks for your support!