Are you planning a trip with the kids but not sure where to start? We’ve shared the best family travel tips from their last year’s full-time trip to Sharing The Wonder. After a year on the road, they learned a lot about traveling as a family and what it takes to navigate the new normal. Are you ready to travel with your family?
Best Family Travel Tips
When we sold our home and set out as a family together in June 2021, we had little idea where our trip would take us, how we would all fit into full-time travel, or what we would learn along the way. .
We started with a comprehensive itinerary, which has changed many, many times since we started the journey. As we travel and as our kids get older we are constantly learning how to make travel the best for all of us.
Over 9 months later, we’ve celebrated multiple birthdays and holidays on the street, and still learning what’s best for our family, our travel speeds have changed, and of course, we’re doing something wrong here and there.
Our kids were about 4 and 6 when we took to the streets. Here are some of the ones we learned along the way, which we hope will be useful for other traveling families. Here are our top family travel tips for traveling with kids.
1. Stay safe
Our first priority when going somewhere with our kids is safety. We are often asked how to travel safely with children! In most places, a little common sense goes a long way.
When traveling with children as a family, research the destination (and specific neighborhood) in advance to make sure you are in a safe area. Make a plan when you’re separated – kids need to know what to expect, and how to find a safe adult to help if needed.
We recommend that everyone in the family wear an ID bracelet. You can personalize them as you wish, we include the child’s name, mother and father’s phone number, any allergies and blood type.
Thus, whether it is a separation, or a car accident, children have information to identify them and to communicate with both parents. Remember, most kids don’t memorize their parents’ cell phone numbers!
Learn more about how to keep kids safe while traveling: Your Worst Fear: A Complete Guide to Keeping Kids Safe While Traveling.
Read more travel safety tips
2. Set expectations with kids
One of the things we learned during our family trips was that kids need to know what is coming and what to expect. The more we outline what to expect from the kids over the next few days or weeks, the better they will roll the dice.
We try to get kids involved in deciding when we can – which museum to go to today, or what kind of food we should have for dinner.
3. Everything takes longer when traveling with kids
Everything takes more time with the kids! A typical bathroom stop can extend up to twenty minutes. It takes a lot longer than just having two of us go through airport security, or check-in for four people at the check-in.
Plan extra time, especially for airports. The distance between safety, gates, bathroom breaks, and much-needed meals can be long for short legs. We often think we are leaving in a lot of time and then finish dashing for food before boarding our flight.
4. Get the designated plane seat
When booking air travel, pre-book your seats whenever you can. Many US airlines do not guarantee family seating if you choose the lowest fare category. It can be stressful to change at the last minute or ask other passengers to accompany you – if you know that you have a seat together before you arrive at the airport, you will have a smooth trip.
Consider the best seating arrangements for your family – as a family of four, we prefer to book two sets of seats in front of two more seats – so that both children have window seats and adults have middle seats. This means we can easily push things back and forth over the seats and even talk to each other without disturbing the other passengers.
For buses, which often have two rows of seats, we prefer to have two on each side of the corridor. Buses often have very high-backed seats, which means if the kids sit together in front of us, we can’t see them well. If they are by our side across the corridor, we can see them and help them if needed, they can play together.
5. Plan a recovery day
Plan a recovery day after your arrival, especially when changing time zones. Changing the time to adjust it can take up to a full day for kids per hour.
If you plan the day slowly after you arrive, you will have time to adjust a bit and the kids will not be so whimsical when you are trying to get to a major tourist attraction. Save big events when everyone feels good
We try to schedule more important trips ahead of our trip. So, if there are some things that we really want to see in a new place, we do them in 2 and 3 days That way, if someone is sick, or you find that the place is closed, you have a chance to reschedule it. If this is the last day of your trip, you are out of luck.
6. Find a family room
Many hotels outside the United States have family rooms with multiple beds. We are often able to book a room with a double bed and 2 or 3 twin beds. Although our kids have shared many double bed road-tripping across the US, we also know that they sleep better if they have their own bed. In many parts of the world, it’s easy to compromise.
If you have older children, you can book a connecting room or two in a smaller hotel. We see that it comes much higher in the old towns, where the buildings are small and everything is tightly packed.
We like to book hotels with breakfast. We find that feeding everyone in the morning helps us to get our day off to a good start. When we can, we keep bananas or other simple snacks at home so that the kids can wake up hungry and eat something.
7. Bring headphones
Bring headphones for kids! If you can, get headphones where you can completely remove the cord when it’s not plugged into a device.
Not only are they great for watching shows on tablets on long travel days, but they’re also great for protecting kids’ ears in other situations. We used them on live music shows, watching fireworks and even on loud boats!
We love these Beats Wireless Headphones that have sound isolation, volume-control and foldable.
8. Engage in behavior
The fun part of traveling is finding new treats and new tastes – so we treat more when we travel than when we are at home. This could mean going to a grocery store to pick up new snacks to try, or stopping for ice cream or gelato and looking for flavors we can’t find at home. You can create a game by trying new fruits!
Sometimes that means we pick something we don’t like (like ketchup flavored potato chips in Mexico), but often we all find new choices. The kids loved the Lukuma fruit from Peru, and they tried everything they could to get that taste before we left!
9. Take public transport
Try public transportation! It’s cheaper than a taxi, and often the favorite part of the day kids. They like to live in the new city and go to the metro – the journey becomes as fun as the destination!
The more diverse the transport, the better- Look for trolleys, cable cars, subways, buses and even boats. While we were learning about the Oregon and Santa Fe trails, we were all excited to get on a vintage stagecoach and a truly covered wagon!
10. Kids need exercise
Plan exercise and play time on your schedule. Kids need to get their wiggles out! After wandering around a museum in silence, we try to find a playground where they can run, jump and scream.
We also see that when they absorb a lot of new things mentally, they need time to be physical to help them process all the new things around them.
When we do road trips around the United States, we try to find a playground with picnic benches for lunch. Adults get to sit outside, kids get to play after eating before getting back in the car.
Wherever we are, we find playgrounds a great place to meet other kids, even if it’s just for a few minutes of playing together. For older kids, you may want to schedule a rope course or zip line so they can get the same physical challenge.
We also see that kids need downtime – for some kids, it’s time to read quietly, for others it’s time to make a game with the toys, seeds or feathers they’ve accumulated that week.
11. Pack specific items for traveling with kids
Some things that you may not find on every packing list come in handy when we travel. Here are some of the weirdest things we like to carry when we travel as a family:
Our favorite random supply for traveling with kids
– A plastic knife. This deli knife of plastic sleeve is in my purse. It can go through airport security and is great when you need to share a bagel or pastry in exactly four ways.
-Gel stain remover. My kids spread things all the time. This gel is easier to carry than liquid stain removal and helps to remove stains before we wash things.
– A sharpener. Many rented apartments have dull knives! We can easily sharpen knives when cooking in a rented apartment.
Read more packing tips for travel:
12. School can happen anywhere
There are many ways to conduct street schooling – some traveling families choose “unschooling” or “worldschooling” where they base their child’s education on a combination of child-led interests and opportunities around them in a particular place.
Other families more formally choose homeschooling, sticking to a curriculum that is aligned with state guidelines. Keep in mind that specific states have very different requirements, so check carefully whether you are maintaining state residence or returning your children to public school after your trip.
We choose a hybrid model – our kids have an online curriculum that they follow, which keeps them engaged in a more traditional school model and keeps them connected to the state curriculum. This means that if most second graders learn about the Constitution, then our children are learning the same information.
We work a few hours a week on this program, but spend most of our travel time learning from the university and the sites and museums around us. Where better to learn about Harry Truman than freedom, MO?
13. Just go!
Traveling as a family is a little more complicated than before, but it’s still worth it.
Parents often wonder if their children will remember to travel when they are young. It doesn’t really matter if they remember every city or every site you visit – just the travel work is changing them and influencing how they see the world. You are providing them with a broader view of the world and exposure to different people and cultures.
There will never be a perfect time to travel with your kids – there will always be an excuse to wait for a different age or a different situation. The world is changing fast, and we have no guarantee of any more opportunities. So go for it, the world is waiting.