10 Tips for Traveling With Kids (and Without Adultitis)

Many people would rather be gored by an angry bull hopped up on Jolt cola than travel with small children. At times, I think the former may be a less painful option. But our honeymoon started Kim’s and my love for traveling, and it only grew stronger when I started getting booked to speak around the country in the years before we had children.

Most people assured us that our jet-setting ways would hit the brakes once we had kids. Amidst all the doubters, there was one woman named Marilyn who encouraged us by telling tales of how many states her two kids had visited before they were two. Hers was the example we clung to.

And so Lucy took 34 airplane rides during her first year of life. Ben is eight months old and is up to twelve. (Thanks, Marilyn!)

There’s nothing that makes traveling with one kid seem easy than traveling with two. And I’ll be honest: right now, traveling with three seems damn near impossible (not that we have any news). But there was a time when traveling with one seemed absolutely overwhelming. The truth is that monsters are scarier in our imaginations than they ever are in reality.

Don’t let the monsters call the shots.

We’ve done a fair amount of traveling with our young family, and although it has not always been easy, it has delivered many wonderful benefits. We are not experts by any means; we learn something new with each trip. I wanted to write this post for parents who have been curious about traveling with kids but are too afraid to try or have been deterred by the warnings of others. Sometimes you only need one person to show it can be done. Maybe we can be your “Marilyn.” Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

Tip #1: Just Do It

The first trick is to just jump. If you want to travel with kids, do it. Believe that you can (yes, you can!) and unequivocally decide and commit 100% to the adventure. The hows will sort themselves out.

Earlier this year, with a trip to Florida barreling down upon us, Kim and I realized that we had not talked much about the logistics of traveling with two kids along with the things we needed for the speaking gig. (Traveling would be so much easier were it not for the speaking part of it!) We committed to the trip before we concerned ourselves with the details. Because of that, we had no choice but to figure out the details. We spent about an hour of the car ride home for Christmas talking through possible scenarios.

Here are some things we did differently this time:

  • We brought less of the things we normally bring to speaking gigs for our product table. These unessential items gave us extra room in the suitcase.
  • We booked an apartment from Homeaway.com instead of a hotel. This not only saved us hundred of dollars on food and lodging, but it gave us a washer and dryer, allowing us to pack far fewer clothes.
  • We packed Lucy’s books and toys in her monkey backpack which was something she was able to carry.
  • We packed enough diapers for the trip down and bought the rest once we got to Florida. A huge space saver!
  • We carried Ben through the airports in a baby carrier so we would only need to bring one stroller, and rented an infant stroller at Disney.

When it was all said and done, we had two suitcases on wheels, one stroller, on car seat on wheels, two backpacks for each of our computers and business stuff, and a duffel bag with diapers, milk and breast pump. Oh, and the monkey backpack. In short, we had an extra kid but no extra things to carry compared to when we travelled with just Lucy. Except for the aforementioned monkey backpack. And we probably still had more than we needed.

Things got more complicated for a recent trip that included stops in Atlanta and St. Louis. Ben was now too big to carry around, so our caravan of four now required two strollers along with the two car seats, two suitcases, and two backpacks. One problem: we did not have enough hands to go around. It took awhile to figure out how this would work, but after some long walks around the neighborhood, I decided that I could bungee the strollers (we favor the umbrella kind for their portability) to the suitcases. Then we’d attach our GoGo Baby to Lucy’s car seat and strap Ben into that. Kim could wheel that with one hand, and carry Ben’s infant carrier with the other while Lucy walked. Once we checked the car seats and luggage, we’d have the two strollers to transport the kids through the airport.

It worked. Undoubtedly, our plan of attack will continue to change as the kids get older, but our goal is not to let the challenges prevent us from doing the things we want to do.

Tip #2: Bring Less Stuff

This was pretty much covered above, but it bears repeating for emphasis. The easiest way to travel with kids is to just bring less stuff. Parents from 50 years ago didn’t have nearly the amount of baby accoutrements and child-proof accessories that modern parents do. Childcare actually requires much less stuff than we think.

Tip #3: Allow More Time

When traveling with kids, it’s imperative to allow lots of time. Everything takes longer with kids. Getting out the door. Traversing from the parking lot to the terminal. Checking bags. Going to the bathroom. Eating meals. Boarding the plane. Exiting the plane. All of it. And going through security takes an eternity.

But this is ok.

I discovered that when I allowed more time, travel days with kids were way less stressful than the old travel days when it was just Kim and me. Just because you CAN speed through security, arrive at the gate minutes before boarding, push your way past other travelers getting off the plane, and rush to the rental car kiosk, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Sitting on a bench while feeding Ben is an excellent (and entertaining) vantage point for watching other people rush around like chickens with their heads cut off and get all flustered at the tiniest delays. It’s the human race at its most ridiculous.

With kids, Kim and I have a new rule for travel days. The only goal is to get from where we are to where we’re going. Thats’ it. We’re not trying to set any speed records or sneak in any extra work or bonus sightseeing. It takes as long as it takes and that’s that.

Tip #4: Use Electronic Gadgets Wisely

We have an iPad and an old iPhone that we’ve kept for Lucy. It’s stocked with Disney movies, educational apps, and fun games. And it is priceless for long plane and car rides. But here’s the key: the thing that makes these gadgets so valuable is that fact that she doesn’t have free reign of the devices at home.

Tip #5: Put The Time in on Discipline

We worked hard on discipline early and often. Well-behaved kids aren’t magical beings you either are blessed with or not. They take work. Establishing routines and keeping after Lucy to mind her parents takes a ton of effort that frankly, many parents don’t make the time for. And they pay for it later. I will tell you that nothing beats a fellow traveler turning around at the end of a three-hour flight and saying, “Wow. Your kids are wonderful. I didn’t even realize they were behind me!”

Tip #6: Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

I am convinced that honest and open communication would solve 90% of the world’s problems. (I figure vaccinations, laughter, and Oreo cookies take care of the rest.) Kim and I are constantly communicating about all sorts of things while traveling: How we’re feeling. What we’re hungry for. What is frustrating us. What we’re worried about. What our “hopes and dreams” are for a particular day or evening. By communicating regularly, we prevent simple misunderstandings from flaring up into stressful infernos. I take our teamwork for granted, but again, it’s something we work on a lot and is a big key to stress-free travel.

Tip #7: Be Flexible.

Be like a Chinese acrobat when it comes to your expectations. While it’s crucial to do a little planning, whether you’re talking about travel logistics or sightseeing plans, it’s equally important to stay flexible. When traveling, things rarely go according to plan. And if you’re clutching too tightly to a detailed travel itinerary, you are bound for some serious Adultitis, especially with kids. Because hey, blowouts happen.

I try my best to roll with the punches and put setbacks and delays in perspective. (Easier said than done, for sure, but these pitfalls are way less devastating when you’re at least open to flexibility.) Try to listen to your body. If you feel like a nap, take naps. If you planned on going out to eat but everyone is dragging, get pizza delivered. If you’d like to squeeze in one more ride but sense your littlest one is on the verge of a meltdown, don’t push it. It’s not worth it.

Most people refrain from traveling too much because they fear of upsetting the child’s routine. A veteran married couple told us many years ago to remember that kids are joining OUR life, not the other way around. Their point was that kids are very resilient, and they will adapt to whatever you present them with as normal. Having kids is a life-changing deal, to be sure, but sometimes I think parents go too far and change more than they need to.

My experience tells me that routine is more for the parents than the kids. Now that’s not to say that routine isn’t helpful. I guess my best tip would be to establish routines that are portable. For instance, Lucy’s bedtime routine includes a few stories, a verbal recap of the day, the reciting of the ABC’s, a short prayer, and her friend George. All of which can be done anywhere and it does add a feeling of “home,” even if the bed and surroundings are different. Notice there are no light & sound soothing machines, rocking chars, or super-sized stuffed animals involved in her bed time routine, and that is by design.

Don’t freak out if they nap too soon or eat later than usual. Kids are way more flexible than we give them credit for!

Tip #8: Do Less.

There is always an urge to see as do as much as possible when you’re on vacation. I know, you spent a lot of money on this trip and you want your money’s worth. But it’s a recipe for disaster. In most cases, it’s literally impossible to actually do and see everything, so why try? Traveling is tiring enough without trying to jam as much stuff into each day as possible. Slow down, do less, and focus on the quality of the scenes you’re creating. Those memories will be more valuable than the stressful ones of everyone crying and whining and worn out from trying to do too much.

Tip #9: Splurge for More Space.

If you can, spend the extra money on more space. Especially for your accommodations, but the rental car, too. We often upgrade to two-room suites which gives everybody a little extra breathing room. Not always possible, but it sure makes a big difference!

Tip #10. Focus on the Good.

People make themselves miserable by focusing on the bad. I travel a lot by myself and I travel a lot with my family. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but each have different pros and cons. Things are easier and quicker when I travel solo, and I can get more work done. But those trips are also pretty lonely, and I don’t like missing out on the daily adventures of my kids. When we travel together, we’re creating scenes and making great memories. It’s not easy, but I try to appreciate the good parts about whatever situation I’m currently in, rather than dwelling on the bad ones. That seems to make a huge difference to my stress levels and demeanor.

In Closing…

I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to travel as much as I do, but the lifestyle Kim and I have has not come about my magic. It’s taken a lot of thought, communication, sacrifice, and a little bit of bravery, I suppose. Mostly, it takes intention.

I’d like to figure out how to create more time just for Kim and me, but short of bringing a nanny on the road with us (not exactly in the budget), I’m resigned to go without during this season of life. And I’m not sure how we’ll travel with three if we ever have another one. But I’m certain the details with sort themselves out if and when that time comes.

So far, all of our family travels have been limited to the United States. We have friends and acquaintances who’ve done a lot of international traveling with their kids. I sense that that is a bug that Kim and I will ultimately succumb to, probably when our kids get a wee bit older. And with those adventures will come come a whole new batch of lessons!

If you have had experience traveling with kids, let’s make this post even better: what lessons have you learned that you can share?

Comments

  1. Depending on your budget and your comfort level with leaving kids with strangers, many fancier hotels have/know of babysitting services. I have a coworker who occasionally moonlights as a babysitter at a local hotel. I assume the concierge would be the person to talk to.

  2. A couple of times when we’ve been to conferences where both parents want to go to sessions, but we had kids with us, we brought a junior high or high school aged homeschooler(ie super flexible schedule) along. She raked in the bucks watching other people’s kids, which was just more fun for our kids. It does involve the expense of travel (so better within driving distance) and a separate room, but in certain occasions it was totally worth it.

    • Definitely an option to consider. Definitely a win-win-win in a lot of cases! Thanks Lynn!

  3. Great stuff! Having just returned from a cross-country trip with connecting flights with a 2-year-old, I like your suggestions. One thing that we do is actually use the car seat on wheels as a stroller in the airport (because we have a stroller at Grandma’s house already). We get a lot of smiling looks from people, because it’s not so common, but our daughter loves it.

    • Yes, that is a GREAT option, especially if you don’t have to travel long distances with it. We give our umbrella strollers a workout with all the bumming around we do, and Lucy’s legs outgrew the carseat stroller pretty quick, but we took advantage of that in the early days fer sure.

  4. You can even take an AWESOME roadtrip with 4 children 7 and under for over 1000 miles one way if you do it like this! I promise!

  5. Mary Buggé says:

    Even in the rain, we still enjoy a day at the beach. Go ahead, play outside in the rain! The fun police are not watching you! It rained for the first two days of our Virginia Beach vacation. Our children thought we were nuts to walk to the water in the rain. But we still enjoyed wiggeling our toes into the sand and the feel of the waves on our legs and watching for dolphins and flocks of pelicans. Rather than being disappointed we enjoy what is; the sound of the rain, the smell in the air after it rains, the noise of wet tires on the road, the less crowed side walks (from those too scared to walk in the rain).
    It was a good week, every minute of if, rain and all.

    • Mary — good for you guys for enjoying your vacation wether it’s raining or shining! What a great example for your kids and all of us!