It is a question I get a lot. We haven’t spent much time flying or doing “quick” travel around the world. However, we have logged a LOT of miles in our van with children in tow. I can’t tell you how many parents tell us they can’t go on a 4 hour road trip with their children, not to mention one of our month-long road treks where we hit up 4,000 miles.  My simple answer is usually that “the kids do pretty well, considering”! My children are not perfect little angels (nor am I), but we’ve learned a few things on our treks.

However, online group of traveling families recently came across a CNN post about how to travel with children. All of us read the article, and moaned about the terrible advice that the author dished out. I can’t even justify including the link, because it seems wrong to send any traffic to that article.  Nevertheless, today this group of bloggers is setting out on a task to disprove her silly advice.

First off, I would like to note that the link to her blog post in the address bar nicknamed the article: “hard-truth-about-traveling-kids-its-hell”.  Seems like this is how she originally titled article, which generated the URL, and when she finalized the article she prettied up the title a bit, removing the “hell” bit. But now you know how she really felt. Wow, I’m sensing she had had a recent rough time. Do you want to take travel advice from someone who says traveling with kids is hell?  Umm…I certainly don’t!

So, today, we family travel bloggers are going to set a few things straight.

———————-

Myth #1. The younger the child, the bigger the suitcase

 “Young children are happiest with what they already know. So the favorite stuffed giraffe that takes up a third of the suitcase is brought along, as is an entire library of “Dr Seuss and Eric Carle” books…”

Fact #1. The younger the child, the lighter you can pack

Seriously, the only reason a youngster might have a bigger suitcase is because you are lugging around some extra diapers. A child does not need a security item (or 20) to conquer a new environment. What kid doesn’t find joy in a little doo-dad found along the journey (whether is is a rock from the ground, or a $1 item you just purchased)?  I used to let my girls take a Tupperware full of toys, but on our last month-long road trip I allowed them exactly 2 toys each (not counting a few books and coloring books that I packed). The van stayed cleaner, I was less stressed, and the girls didn’t seem to even notice the difference.

Little people=small clothes=smaller suitcase.

———————-

Myth #2. The younger the child, the harder it is to get over jet lag+

“Kids will sleep when they’re tired and be up when they’re not. So your young child may be raring to go at 3 a.m., just when your dose of melatonin has kicked in, and of course promptly fall fast asleep when you arrive at Disneyland.”

Truth #2: Kids are just as flexible as you expect them to be

If you’ve forced them into an inflexible naptime/bedtime routine their entire lives, then yes, you probably will struggle. If you’ve helped them establish a routine that can be varied in hours and time of day, then you are set! Don’t know what I mean?  Read On Becoming Baby Wise. I’m a die-hard fan (with 3 flexible, great-sleepers to show for it)!

———————-

 Myth #3. Travel to a destination that serves French fries

“Do not attempt to travel to a place where there isn’t kid-friendly food. This seemingly small detail is essential for a successful holiday with young children. French fries, nuggets, pizza and the like will save your holiday.”

Truth #3: Kids (and adults) need opportunities to expand their food palettes

For the love!  Are you kidding me???!!!  Again–inflexible children come from inflexible parents (or perhaps too flexible of parents, in this case). Have you really raised your child on a diet of french fries and chicken nuggets?  I can happily admit that my 6 year old despises french fries (the 4 year old has my weakness…I love fries!).  But that’s not the point…the point is, if your children never have the opportunity to try something new, they will never develop a taste for anything but sodium-soaked junk. Who would have guessed my kids would love Mexican tamales, pozole, or cucumbers drenched in lemon and chili?  Not me!  But if I’d asked/allowed them to stick with the same-ole, then we’d still be stuck at Square #1.

———————-

Myth #4. You can’t have too much inflight entertainment for young children

“If you wonder why parents of young kids travel with five pieces of luggage, it’s because three of those five bulging bags are filled with toys, books, games and gadgets lest junior gets bored for more than a second and all hell breaks loose.”

Truth #4: Plug them in, and they’ll unplug

I’ll admit, I enjoy the short breaks I can get from putting my children in front of a movie.  Do I think that’s the only way to travel?  No. In fact, we own a set of dual-DVD players that strap to the seats in the back of our van. Half the time I “accidentally” forget to bring them on our trips. The other half of the time I hide them under the seat, hoping the kids don’t ask about them. Why? Because I’ve noticed that they get more demanding when I set up a move for them (i.e. “I don’t want to watch that movie!” or “Mom! The movie stopped!” or “Can we watch something else?” or “she’s kicking the DVD player”, etc)!  However, if I can busy my children with other activities (coloring, playing make-believe, making up stories, etc), then they are often less likely to complain and cause me even more stress.

In addition, I am completely turned off by young (or old) children buried in hand-held video games. That’s a great way to disconnect them from any new experience. How many times have I seen my nephews oblivious to their surrounds–buried in their games?  I think the house could be on fire, and they wouldn’t look up.

Perhaps this disdain of video games stems from watching my younger brother glue himself to video games on end as a child? We ended up friends later in life…but there were some rough years in between when we couldn’t connect. Why?  Because he was connected elsewhere.

If you allow your children to plug them into something else, that means they are unplugging from you and their surroundings.

This may mean that while you are checking out an amazing sight at your destination, little Junior will be wishing that he was playing his video game, again. Start them on the right path when they are young! Wake them up to their surroundings, and draw the line! In this day and age when parents are allowing their children to be constantly connected (or rather, “disconnected), it is time to step it up and offer your child a lifetime gift–the gift of discovery.

———————-

Myth #5. Strollers are as much a bane as a boon

So you end up only going as far as your young child can walk (to the nearest restaurant that serves French fries and back); or as far as you can carry them in your strap-on carrier (yes the Wat-of-500-steep-steps is too much); or you spend most of your holiday by the hotel’s baby pool.

 Truth #5: Teach your kids to be good walkers, and sightseeing can be fun!

The temptation to pack a stroller may be great, particularly if you have a wee-one under 2 1/2 years old, and you’re going to a stroller-friendly destination.  If you really must pack one, don’t pack the mother-of-all-strollers that can transform into a small vehicle. If you must pack a stroller, pack an umbrella stroller!  However, if your kids are still babies…pack the backpack, instead. The babies will get a better view, stay put, and you’ll get some exercise!  If your kid is a lazy 4 year old (as mine is) then this may be the time to teach them to buck up and walk. Saying it doesn’t make it easy (or make me an expert, as is apparent from my previous posts)…but it is the end goal! Do you think the pioneers stroller their kids across the plains?  I don’t think so…

In truth, most parents (including us) haven’t figured out the magic formula to the perfect travel experience with children. It will always have its ups and downs, because children (and adults) always have their ups and downs. However, going into a trip with the attitude that your children are going to ruin it for you is certainly not going to help the experience go smoothly. Parents who are flexible can raise flexible children, and flexibility is the key to enjoyable travel!

 

To read some other traveling families’ advice about traveling with children, check out these great blog posts:

 The Surprisingly Easy Truth of Traveling with Kids – A King’s Life

 The “Secret” to Traveling with Children -Family Travel Bucket List

Worst Family Travel Advice I’ve Ever Read –  The Nomadic Family

Debunking cnn’s rules for traveling with kids – Bohemian Travelers

5 Rules of Travel With Kids: A Traveling Child Responds – Edventure Traveler

CNN’s Ridiculous Rules About Travel With Kids – Have Baby Will Travel

Shocking Tips on Traveling with Kids That Went Unnoticed – Travel Writing pro

5 Amazing Reasons To Travel With Your Kids!  – Travel Experta

French fries and chicken nuggets are travel essentials: The worst family travel advice ever – Family on Bikes

More Than French Fries – Around the World in Easy Ways

Rules are What You Make Them: Paving Your Own Way Through Family Travel – Suitcases and Sippy Cups

Why “Easy” Travel Options Aren’t Always the Best for Kids – Family Rambling

CNNGo Five Rules of Travelling With Kids Are You For Real – New Life on the Road

Myths, NOT rules, of traveling with kids – Experiential Family

My Reality (Not Rules) When Traveling with Kids – Walkingon Travels

Yes! It is possible to travel with children of all ages – Growing Grace Life

Forget the Rules of Travel – Try Backpacking with Kids in Yellowstone National Park – Albany Kid

22 Responses to “How do you travel with children?”

  1. “Teach your kids to be good walkers.” Beautiful. Perfect. EXACTLY. Great rebuttal.

  2. Great article! We are also a Babywise family with four great sleepers to show for it! I’ve always thought that using that method when they were young helped to make them terrific travelers, but this is the first time I’ve heard someone else mention it in regard to traveling. Nice to know others have had the same experience.

    • Awesome! Another Babywise family…wahoo!! I agree with you…starting them out young on a flexible sleeping schedule certainly made them more flexible as they got older! And yet, still very routine and comfortable for the kids/babies!!

  3. Flexibility all around is one of the best things to instill in our children. It helps them in life and on long trips. The coolest thing is that as you do the traveling children, and adults, gain an even better sense of flexibility!

  4. Children really do step up to the plate when you give them the opportunity to do so! I think you’ve got a great attitude.

  5. First off – I love keeping up with the Savilles! Thanks for your great blog.

    I can’t remember if I’ve shared another blog with you that I enjoy. It’s by a family in our branch and she has done some very entertaining blogs about travel with their three girls. This link is to one of her first after the birth of their twins, and it is hilarious! I laugh each time I read it. She has lots of other travel entries on her site. She always mentions the good with the unsuccessful. I think you’ll like it. Happy trails to you!
    http://www.ericaholland.com/2010/07/17/vacationing-with-babies-and-toddlers-101/

  6. I think the author of that CNNGo article doesn’t realize that if you make your walk instead of ride everywhere, they’ll tired out and sleep very well at night. :) Works for our 3yr old! We do have to carry him at times, but even his endurance for walking has grown since moving to Central America.

    • Haha! Isn’t that the truth? They certainly do sleep well after a good day’s work of traveling!! :-)

    • Regarding Rule #1: The more toys/stuff that is brought along, the more they don’t really care for it or play with it (at least in my experience). One of the only things qw bring for the kids is a deck of cards with matching animals. We can make up so many games with it and it is appropriate for several age groups, even our 3 & 1 yr old. We also bring our iPad, but it’s for internet use by us adults once we arrive at our location. We’ve rarely had to pull it out while traveling with the kids.

      • It’s true! The less you pack, the more likely they will actually play with it! I like the idea of something small like a deck of picture cards that could be useful in many different ways. I can also see that an iPad could be helpful…as long as they don’t get addicted!

  7. We have fairly strict usage guidelines when it comes to our electronics, but I have embraced the iPad much more than I ever thought I would.

  8. Its so true – travelling with children does mean that you have to be flexible!
    And trying new food/new adventures is so much fun – and surely that is what travelling is all about!
    I was reading the CNNGO article and I was shaking my head…there is so much in that article that got my back up!
    There is no right/wrong way to travel with kids – but surely there is more to travelling than what those 5 rules were!

    I wonder if the writer even has kids, and if she has travelled with any of them?

    Cheers
    Lisa

    • You’re right…there is no right/wrong way to travel with kids. Everyone has their own style that fits their own kids’ (and parents’) personalities. The writer claimed to have several children…but I’m guessing she usually leaves them behind on trips!

  9. What adorable kids you have ! I agree with you on the harm in the “plugged in world”. It actually seems to make kids unsociable and self absorbed. And with all the walking on trips we too try to respect the needs of the individual. One of my kids gets overheated and dehydrated easily. So it is a balance to take everything and everyone in to consideration and like you wrote, to be flexible and keep a good attitude !
    Susan

    • Thanks, Susan! Sometimes I feel like I am alone, and that every other parent is buying their kids their own iPhone and iPad….kinda ridiculous! No, thank you! Yes, I wish we could say all of our kids were perfect walkers and travelers…but we just have to accept them for what they are, and encourage them to improve! Some days it is not worth the fight!

  10. So far we’ve been very lucky on flights with our duaghter (we’ve been on many in her 7 years to visit relatives in New Orleans and AZ) because there have been a lot of other families and we always sit near the back of the plane where people have less high expectations apparently. We did have one very bad flight when our duaghter was 11 months. We were on our way to New Orleans for Christmas and our 2 hour lay-over in Chicago ended up being a 2-day lay-over. We had booked three seats in coach so our duaghter could have her own seat in her car seat, but to get out after 2 days they only had 2 seats in first class. Being stuck on our laps for a few hours was not something my duaghter liked at that age and she cried and fussed a good portion of the flight. Every time she’d start fussing again after momentarily quieting down the woman sitting behind us would loudly yell, Goddamnit!!! Until the flight attendant politely asked her to tone it down and came and apologized to us. It still continued to happen the rest of the flight though with the woman behind us boisterously complaining about how we shouldn’t be on the flight.Later at the car rental at the airport in New Orleans a man with a heavy French accent came up behind me and whispered, Goddamnit! I turned around to him and his family and they introduced themselves as having been on the same flight and laughed and said, Aren’t some people in the world just awful? They had come to New Orleans with two toddlers and a newborn all the way from France and it was good to vent a little with them.I understand wanting it to be quiet on an airplane. But even when I didn’t have kids (and hadn’t planned to ever have kids) I recognized them as an important part of society. It makes me so sad that so many people in our culture are intolerant of children.VA:F [1.9.10_1130]please wait…

    • Oh my goodness…how horrible to have someone on the plane have to make the experience even worse for you! I agree, my nearly 2-year old baby would NOT like to sit in my lap…that’s for sure! I’ve never flown with a toddler…and I’m kind of hoping that taking the (gigantic) carseat with us this summer (as much as I don’t want to lug that thing around) will help him stay put. It should be fuuuuun!! In Mexico I’ve heard parents tell me that kids crying in church is just fine (I disagree…I think it more appropriate to take them out and return as soon as possible)…they are very welcoming to children here!

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