Family travel is one of the most wonderful and rewarding experiences you can have together. It teaches your children about the big wide world, while also building their resilience for coping with change, helping them to become more flexible in their everyday life beyond travel.
It also brings families closer together, through shared experiences, fun and adventure.
However, when travelling with kids there are also lots of extra considerations that differ from solo, couple or group adult travel. To help you get the most from your family travel, we have put together an ultimate family travel guide full of tips, recommendations and ideas.
FAMILY TRAVEL ULTIMATE GUIDE
Before You Travel
When travelling with kids, there is a lot to consider before you travel to ensure you choose the right kind of trip to suit your family travel.
This goes well beyond just making sure it is a safe destination. You also need to consider interests, viability, special needs, facilities and expenses even before you lock in a family travel destination.
What type of travel is suited to your family?
There are so many great reasons for travelling with kids, but not all types of family travel may be suited to your tribe!
The first step of family travel is working out what type of travel works for you. While one type of travel is great for some families, it may not necessarily be great for yours, so this is an important step to ensuring you have a family holiday that you will all love.
Consider the interests of your family to help narrow your focus:
Outdoors or indoors?
Hot or cold weather?
Beach or now?
City or nature?
Are you comfortable with non-English speaking destinations?
What type of food do you enjoy/dislike?
Adventure or relaxing?
Popular or prefer off the beaten track attractions?
Luxury or budget?
This list should help you rule out the type of destinations not right for your family travel, but also be mindful that different family members may have different tastes so it can often require a little bit of compromise and meeting halfway.
But at the very least if everyone in your family hates the cold weather, don’t book a ski trip because you will probably all be miserable. And if you like the luxury of a resort stay, with spacious rooms and everyday comforts, maybe skip buying that tent and give camping a miss.
Depending on the type of family travel you are planning, you need to also consider accommodation that suits the size of your family, with enough bedding and facilities to accommodate you. This can get expensive as many hotels only cater for 2 to 4 people, so you may need to consider adjoining rooms if there are no family rooms suitable.
If your children are old enough to be involved in the planning process, this is a great way to build excitement and increase the chances your child will enjoy the holiday.
Family travel has the greatest success when every member of the family has input, kids included, although if they are young, be prepared for requests such as Disneyland or similar if you ask them where they want to travel.
Talking to your kids in the lead up to family travel about where you are going, what you will be doing and the things they will see is a great way to build up their anticipation too. This also helps prepare them for the transition of travel and the disruptions in their routine, which can be very beneficial for some children.
Special needs considerations
With any type of travel, not just when travelling with kids, you need to consider special needs of any of the members of your family.
Consider things such as allergies, mobility issues, or disabilities that may impact on your ability to enjoy certain destinations. This is particularly the case of travelling overseas to non-Western countries, where the facilities may not cater for individual special needs such as wheelchair access or high-quality medical services.
If your child does suffer from allergies, it helps to research health care available at your desired destinations or potential risks of contamination in foods with the allergen.
Certain travel destinations do not have the same food preparation standards you may be accustomed to at home, therefore this may play a part in choosing your destination.
Or if your child (or yourself) wears glasses, as another example, you will need to ensure you have a spare pair or know how to source repairs, replacement or contact lenses while travelling.
Travelling With Babies or toddlers
When travelling with babies or toddlers, they have their own needs that are unique to older kids or adults. There will be basic items essential to caring for your child, such as the need to have nappies, wet wipes and nappy disposal bags.
Unless you are breastfeeding exclusively, there will be feeding items you will need to take, such as formula, bottles, sterilising tools, baby food and bibs.
While most destinations will have their own equivalent of each of these baby and toddler essentials, it is not always the case. Or if they do, the quality may not be the same as what you expect back home so you will either need to take enough to cover the duration of your journey or consider planning your family travel to somewhere that will give you access to the same or similar products if needed.
If you are breastfeeding your baby, it is good to know if you are travelling to a country that supports breastfeeding women, either by providing mother’s rooms for nursing and changing babies, or whether it is socially acceptable to breastfeed in public. This also goes for changing your baby’s nappies.
If there are no facilities for baby changing or feeding, or if it will likely attract negative attention in public, you will need to consider how you will manage this, whether by staying close to your accommodation or through other means.
Another important consideration that many overlook when travelling with babies or young children is whether your destination is suitable for a stroller or pram.
Most Western countries will have dedicated footpaths alongside most roads and the use of a pram or stroller will be fine.
However, there are many countries, such as in Asia and even in parts of Europe, where stroller use can be difficult or near impossible, due to a lack of footpaths or where uneven cobblestones are used.
Well before you travel, ensure you have organised passports, visas and other travel documentation needed for your children.
You may also require your child’s birth certificate at times so make sure you have an original or certified copy to display upon request.
If packing medication for your children, or yourself, have a letter of confirmation as well as a back up script for your medication. This covers you if questioned about your medication and if you run out or need an emergency replacement.
Take more than what you require for your travel in case you are delayed at your destination.
Visit your family doctor a couple of months before you travel and organise to have all the required vaccinations for your upcoming destinations. Some countries have mandatory vaccinations and will require a certificate of proof for vaccinations.
Check the World Health Organization website for further information.
Packing For Family Travel
Packing for family travel involves even more consideration than packing for adults. Not only does this mean more luggage overall, but also adding in those child and baby specific items that you require for your trip.
Depending on the age of your children and the type of transport you are using for your trip, you will need to ensure you are aware of luggage allowances and restrictions.
If your child is under 2, in most cases the only luggage allowance when flying is a carry on bag with essentials and no actual checked luggage included. For most other transport, allowances are either not specified or are less strict.
The best method for packing for family travel is to utilise a travel packing checklist. There are plenty available online to suit different types of travel, from general travel, to more specific checklists aimed at certain destinations or travelling with kids.
Alternatively, create your own list but start at least a few days before you travel so you have the chance to remember anything you may have left off your list.
Items such as disposable nappies and formula are bulky. Cloth nappies may take up less space, however you need to ensure you will have washing facilities at your destination.
Feeding supplies can also take up a lot of room, such as baby bottles, plates and cutlery. You may need a sterilisation system as well, so be sure to consider travel alternatives.
If you are sharing a suitcase with your children or partner, a great method is to utilise suitcase organisers or packing cubes – they are smaller soft bags that zip up and can be a great way to separate different types or different family members clothing. They also help compact your luggage better too.
Make sure you have extra sets of clothing for kids. No matter their age, kids are great at getting messy so you don’t want to run out of clean clothes without having easily accessible washing facilities.
As a rule of thumb, pack at least two extra outfits for family travel compared to what you are packing for yourself.
Don’t forget the anywhere essentials such as a warm jacket, a hat and good quality walking shoes. Keeping kids warm, sun-safe and comfortable will make your family travel much more enjoyable.
If you will be in transit for long periods, such as long haul flights overseas or lengthy train or bus journeys, entertainment for the kids is vital.
For younger kids and toddlers, pack small activity packs and toys that do not take up much room but are likely to provide plenty of entertainment. Bigger kids may enjoy gadgets and music devices, books or games.
Travel games that can be played by the whole family are a great way of reducing the boredom that comes with long distance travel. It may even end up being lots of fun spending downtime as a family on your way to your next adventure.
Give your kids some time to adjust to their new temporary destination and sleeping arrangements when you first arrive. Usually they will find it exciting to see their accommodation and the facilities on offer, however they may also be very weary from the travel.
A good first stop, once everyone is settled in, is usually finding somewhere for a meal and getting accustomed to the area.
As much as we want to make the most of every new destination we arrive at, seeing and doing as much as possible in an often short space of time, travelling with kids can often slow things down.
While some kids adapt well to the on the go lifestyle of travelling, others will struggle with the stimulation overload and become irritable or tired.
Schedule in plenty of downtime for your kids in between sightseeing and activities. Allow kids to nap, snack or just have some quiet play time if that is what they need. This helps them recharge and refresh so you can get back out and see some more.
While it can be a frustration adjustment if you are used to hectic schedules while travelling, slow travel is the best option for family travel with young kids. And it isn’t such a bad thing for you either. Take your time. Your kids aren’t up for a race.
Make It Fun
Give your kids plenty of opportunities to be involved in your day to day family travel planning. Unless you are on a guided tour and have an itinerary already mapped out for you, sometimes deviations from your plan can be the best part of a travel experience.
Talk to your kids about what you will be doing and seeing before you get there. This can be an exciting way to build anticipation the night before, but also a useful method when trying to entertain kidswhile waiting in line for attractions.
And if you have some flexibility, let them choose the next destination for you. They will enjoy the experience a whole lot more knowing they picked it, and it means you will be seeing and doing things you know they will love.
If you have been travelling for more than a couple of days, your kids will need some time to adjust back into their home life routine, but also some downtime before getting back into the day to day activities again.
Family travel can be exhausting and they may need a few days to recover if it has been a long trip.
When travelling over school holidays, always try to give your kids at least two days at home before heading back to school if possible. Kids are resilient, but we don’t want to send them back before they are ready to return to their everyday life again.
As much as kids love travelling, they also love their own home with their own bed and belongings. And that’s okay too. Little explorers need their breaks just like us big explorers do in between family travel adventures.
Do you have any successful family travel tips to share?