I usually receive either high praise or looks of utter confusion when I talk about travelling with three kids. I think many people still believe that once you have kids, life as you know it stops. While this does ring true (will I ever get an uninterrupted conversation with my husband again?), there are ways to adapt travelling to fit around your kids.
Changing the way you travel allows you to experience the joy of watching your kids experience new things. Seeing the world through their eyes, watching them try new foods, meet new people and explore new places can enrich your own travel experience.
Travel is also a fantastic way to encourage your child’s sense of adventure. And exposing your children to different countries can also help them understand their place in the world (and realise how privileged they are to travel in the first place). My kids have become so much more open-minded and grateful after seeing how other children around the world live.
There are loads of people who frequently travel with kids (well, at least they did pre-COVID) and millions of tips available to get you started. We have visited several countries with our kids, using multiple transport options and staying in various accommodation types. So here are some tips that helped keep us sane on the road:
Preparation is key
Have a plan. You may be used to turning up at a destination with a backpack and a rough idea of where you might stay, but doing this with kids is a challenge. I like to know where I’m going before arriving, plan how to get there (e.g. using local transport or organising a pick up) and know that there’s enough beds! If we’re travelling to more than one place, I usually set up a spreadsheet with dates, so I know where we’ll be on what days. I am flexible though and this can go out the window if we stumble across somewhere we love and want to stay longer. I usually pre-book our accommodation and make sure we’ve got everything we need, for example, a kitchen if we’re staying more than a few days so we can cook at home.
When I travelled with my husband in our 20’s, we were speed demons when it came to travel. We were on a budget and wanted to see as much as we could in short amounts of time. We’d spend all day out exploring, coming home to sleep and starting again early the next day. This approach would kill me with three kids. I’ve adapted our travel to fit in plenty of rest (e.g. nap times if needed) with one or two activities each day so we aren’t all completely exhausted. It means taking longer to explore everything and considering activities that we wouldn’t have done pre-kids. For example, an indoor play centre or outdoor park gives the kids some fun time before taking them to places we really want to see. It can definitely help to avoid meltdowns and tears!
Be realistic about your expectations
Like slowing down, think about how much travel is really going to be viable with little ones. When planning trips, my husband still needs some reminding of how much we can realistically fit in with the kids. We used to take overnight buses in our pre-kid life, stay in cheap hostels or pensions and generally didn’t stop much to rest. Now, we need to think about whether it’s really possible to fit everything in or if making some sacrifices will make it more enjoyable for everyone. Plus, it gives us an excuse to revisit places!
Snacks for the win!
You can never have enough snack food when you’re on the road. I try to grab fruit that’s easy for the kids to eat on the run (bananas are a winner) or dry crackers are another good choice. As much as I try to stay healthy, I do sometimes find junk food is inevitable. The kids also love trying new snacks that they’ve never seen before, though some can be hit or miss, so be sure to have some backup options!
Attempt a routine
I think it’s fair to say routine is essential for young kids. Keeping a routine when travelling can be a challenge, particularly if you’re constantly moving. However, maintaining one or two things you do at home when you’re away can help your kids feel settled. For example, try to keep your regular bedtime routine with the kids (including similar bedtimes) and pack any toys they sleep with or a book they read before sleep. My middle child sleeps with a giant yellow unicorn. Taking this travelling is entirely unrealistic, so we adapt. She picks a smaller special toy that can fit in her bag, especially for travel.
Let the kids pack
My kids love to pack a small backpack of their own and carry it with them. Of course, it does mean extra bags, but it’s been a lifesaver for long bus journeys. They have everything they need with them rather than digging through bags looking for specific toys. I also pop some snacks in each bag so they can help themselves along the way. This is particularly helpful if you’ve got a sleeping toddler on you when the other kids want to eat!
If you haven’t travelled much with your kids before, it can be a little overwhelming. Still, with enough planning and consideration, it shouldn’t be scary. So embrace it, realise that some days will turn to utter chaos and you’ll end up wishing you were home! Try to go with the flow when things don’t go to plan and when all else fails… deep breaths help! Enjoy. You never know where you might end up!