Family Travel with Little Kids

As 2017 is coming to a close, I’ve started to look back on this year. That’s what people do this time of year, right? We spent our first full year at our new home and have established great friendships with many of our neighbors. My oldest started preschool this fall. My youngest transitioned from a newborn to a young toddler. But what stands out the most in 2017 involves our family travel.

San Juan Island Excursion Whale Watching Boat Trip
Our baby made a fantastic sea captain on a trip to the San Juan Islands! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

When I started Marcie in Mommyland last year, my focus was just to encourage families to explore the world with their kids. Initially, I just shared what works for my family. It’s been such a learning experience and I’ve been really trying to connect with all my readers (including YOU!) What I’m realizing is the biggest questions I get from friends, family and readers are:

“How are you able to travel with your kids?”
“I’d never be able to do that!”
“Isn’t it exhausting?”

The truth is, sometimes traveling with my kids drives me NUTS. I’ve held back tears trying to install a car seat in a hot car in Hawaii, while my toddler (who was crying) and I were recovering from the stomach flu. We’ve walked past incredible restaurants in Paris only to pick up mediocre take-out because our kids were over-tired. Or they want to stay places hours longer than I’d like. I’ve had to quickly put a pull-up on my preschooler so he wouldn’t have an accident on the airplane when the fasten seat belt sign was on for hours. And change my baby’s poopy diaper in my airplane seat because of said fasten seat belt sign only to get scolded by the flight attendant. Sometimes my kids don’t nap, which means we have to cancel our evening activities to handle melt downs. These times suck.

Taking kids to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France during family travel
This was my son’s expression as he looked out from the top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

Instead, I try to focus on the truly special memories we’ve made because we weren’t at home. I think about the absolute amazement in my son’s face when he saw the Arc de Triomphe for the first time and recognized it from his travel book. And feeling stunned when my youngest devoured handful after handful of poi in Maui. I look back on the first trip I ever took with my baby at MommyCon Vancouver.

You see, family travel is so much more than hauling your kids to see statues or tour museums. For us, it’s about exposing them to a world outside of our bubble. It’s them hearing people speak different languages. And figuring out how to entertain themselves on a 12-hour flight. It’s about them learning how to adapt to new places and living situations. And being part of the planning process.

How YOU Can Travel with YOUR Family

Taking a grandparent along your family travel can help a lot!
I knew doing Disneyland alone with my boys would be overwhelming for me, so I invited my Mom to join us for an epic vacation! Photo credit: Disney Photo Pass

1. Figure Out What Type of Trip Sounds Manageable

I know how overwhelming it can feel when you read about families traveling to Paris, Barcelona, or Hawaii. Even Disneyland may feel like too much of a stretch for your family. That’s okay. Think about what would be the least stressful for you. Maybe it’s driving a couple of hours and spending the weekend somewhere fairly local. Or taking a short flight to stay with family who can help with the kids. Or traveling with extended family or a nanny. The main goal is to find a trip that you will enjoy with your family.

2. Manage Your Expectations

It’s easy to get sucked into the world of Instagram and Pinterest and think, “Oh, it looks like toddlers are so well-behaved and happy at blah-blah! Let’s go there!” That’s bound to set you up for disappointment. If you have visions of your child in the same poses as the #kidsofinstagram doing the same activities during family travel, you will get frustrated and angry when they just want to run around and eat snacks. Trust me.

Instead, spend a few hours watching what your kids do at home, at a play date or running errands. This is what they will do when you’re traveling. Plus, they will be a bit more tired. So, if your kids get antsy being in the stroller for more than 30 minutes, it might be a good idea to skip the art museum and head to a park instead. If your kids only eat mac & cheese at home, chances are they won’t spontaneously start being a foodie just because you’re at a restaurant you’ve been dying to try. Your kids will be themselves no matter where they are. Embrace that.

3. Get in the Right Mindset for Family Travel

I admit, sometimes I have to pump myself up for some of our adventures. In these times, I usually listen to inspirational audiobooks Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person affiliate link is amazing!) I’ve also discovered the Dream Big Podcast. It’s a kid-friendly podcast that encourages children to pursue their passion. Each episode is 20-30 minutes, so it’s not a big commitment. I like that I can listen to it in the car when I’m driving around with my preschooler. The host is a super bubbly 8-year-old girl who is pursuing her own dream of hosting her own show. I like it because her mom, Olga, is so supportive and it reminds me to let my kids take the lead sometimes. That’s when their personalities and talents get to shine!

4. Just Do It

Family travel is one of those things that you can’t just theorize. The only way to learn and grow is to get out there and just try it out. The first trip I ever took with my son was a 14-hour flight to Thailand when he was 6 months old. We hadn’t even gone for a car ride longer than 90 minutes at that point. I was petrified and so stressed out. But, we did it an he actually slept for 95% of the flight and the other 5% was spent eating. I couldn’t believe it. That made me a bit over-confident and I took him for a solo trip to Kauai. He screamed for 5 hours straight on the flight home and I thought I was going to lose my mind. Now I know to always pack lots of snacks, a baby carrier, and extra binkies with binky clips. I haven’t had an issue since knock on wood.

Family Travel Can Be Incredible

Navigating the waters of family travel has been eye-opening. I’ve learned to slow down my pace…drastically. Instead of quickly moving from one attraction to the next, we now take our time and really enjoy exploring. Sometimes just sitting on a park bench while eating a crepe and chatting with my kids can be just as powerful as admiring world-renowned art in a museum.

How you can survive family travel with little kids