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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


Marcie writes the family travel blog Marcie in Mommyland. When she's not traveling the world, she's home in Seattle with her husband and two little boys.


  1. I loe these tips! When we first started traveling as a family I was SO overwhelmed. And yes it can still be very stressful, BUT I have definitely learned your advice on Manage your Expectations! Once I was able to take a step back, and just let it go and be in the moment it was so much easier! Love all of your pics too!

    • marciecheung Reply

      Managing expectations seems to be the secret to parenting!

  2. I’m always in awe of family travel bloggers, especially those with young kids. Most of my friends with kids would agree about the planning part. I can’t imagine changing a crying baby on an airplane seat, and I’m sure your advice and experience is valuable to many parents that like to travel!

    • marciecheung Reply

      Traveling with little kids takes a lot of energy and I’ve never felt so judged as a traveler! But, I’m hoping to help other parents learn how manage.

  3. Thank you so much for your honesty! I’ve read too many family travel blogs that oversold the ‘travel is always great with families” narrative. I think you’ve shared some practical tips on how to stay sane and set manageable expectations too!

    • marciecheung Reply

      Yes, I was realizing that I was becoming one of those people! It’s not always those picture perfect moments!

  4. As a new mom, first time mom, this post is just so real for me! I’m gonna have these exact moments happen to me too, right? Looking forward to travel with my little one and have some awesome as well as awful moments! Haha!!!

    • marciecheung Reply

      I’m so glad I could help! I remember feeling like there was no way I’d be able to haul everything the first time I traveled with my baby. But, the more trips I took, the better refined my packing became!

    • marciecheung Reply

      Yes, traveling with a toddler is a whole other level 🙂

  5. I agree…family travel is incredible…if you go to the right place for the right amount of time. I am a mom of to boys and our last family trip to the beach for a week was absolutely exhausting. I was one of those moms dragging a stroller through the sand and carrying about 20 bags. The struggle was so real! LOL However, we had a magical trip to Disney (when I only had one child) a few years ago and it was incredible. So I say YES to family trips and making memories but know your limits. Thanks for sharing your “real” ideas and tips. It helps!

    • marciecheung Reply

      Yes, you hit the nail on the head: Know your limits! What works for one family might not work for your family!

  6. Most definitely traveling with small kids coudl be stressful but seems you guys had so much fun. You little one looks so happy. Thanks for all the tips!

  7. Hi there – You beutiful words makes me happy. The right mindset is all you need to make your family vacation works. 🙂 There are a lot of advantages for kids traveling from a young age – some of them include empathy, confortable in different environments etc. I don’t have kids but it makes me happy that when I decide to start a family I will still be able to continue traveling. Thanks for sharing! – Ella

    • marciecheung Reply

      You are so welcome! I hope that you’ll embrace traveling with your kids, whenever that may happen 🙂

  8. Great tips! Managing our expectations is a big one. I hate when I see people rolling their eyes at the parents with the screaming baby like its never happened/never will happen to them. Kids will be kids and thats just something we all have to recognize and cope with sometimes.

    • marciecheung Reply

      Yes! I feel like families who travel are judged so harshly. But, it’s really amazing how supportive people are who have done it.

  9. These are such great tips! It sounds like traveling with the kids so worth it and you’ll cherish the memories forever. I hope you have a Merry Christmas.

  10. Your little captain is sooo cute! When naps don’t work it must be really hard, but rewarding if it does I bet. Just do it, I guess that is the way to go!

  11. I don’t have kids yet, but when I do I would love to continue travelling with them. This article was such an amazing read! I’m stock piling this for future reading 🙂 I love your honesty in the changes you have to make, but how in the end, it’s all worth it. I love how you let your kids be real and you aren’t holding up an unrealistic #instakids ideal that is unattainable for most (if anyone)! I wish you and your family a lifetime of mindblowing, awe inspiring travels 🙂

    • marciecheung Reply

      It is a bit of work, but we make the best memories!

  12. I love traveling with my kids. Now that they are older it’s easier but when they were younger we made it work. You just need to get out there and do it!

  13. These are some great tips! As someone who loves to travel with my husband, I have to admit that the scare of traveling with children has made us delay starting our family. Hearing that it’s possible gives us hope – HA! 😉

    • marciecheung Reply

      Oh it’s totally doable! It’s just a different pace!

  14. I am glad that you shared this post about traveling with kids. I have been encouraging a lot of people to do that. Yes, we have to manage our expectations and go gentle but it works so well in the long run. Those memories with the kids is worth a billion. I love your little sailor…really cute.

    • marciecheung Reply

      I was just thinking about how much fun we had in Rome when our oldest was a toddler. He doesn’t remember that trip, but we remember his expression as he discovered GELATO!

  15. Oh this is such a helpful and motivating post for all the new mommies out there. I do not have kids but I definitely intend to travel along when I do. I know it might be taxing sometimes but it is definitely worth it to share your travel experience with the little ones.

  16. Sarah Hayes Reply

    These are fantastic tips. we are planning a big vacation next year and I know these will help

  17. Christina A. Reply

    I think it’s really wonderful that you find the time and positivity to travel with young children! I did the same with my son when he was little–I just don’t think that having a family should stop adventures even if it is a little more work! Good for you!

    • marciecheung Reply

      Exactly! We’ll do it as long as it works for our family!

  18. I love this post. I don’t have kids (yet) but I know I will be the same type of mom. Kids really need to get out of their bubble and explore and hear new languages and see how other people live their lives. That’s so important! I truly feel like exposing them to culture will, in turn, make them cultural, sensitive adults. I can’t wait to travel with my future children! 🙂

    • marciecheung Reply

      It’s really been great for our family. I just didn’t want them to be scared to try new things or meet new people. So far so good!

  19. Some truly great points there. I almost always travel with my family that consists of two small kids so well aware of everything that goes on with “family travel”, and I so agree that it is about being in the right mindset. Funny thing is that whenever people talk about solo travel and how big a deal it is, I am like, have you tried travelling with two kids? One of the biggest aspects of family travel, as you mentioned, is managing expectations. Having kids around does mean sometimes missing out on certain activities, but I’m all okay with that.

    • marciecheung Reply

      Haha! I think the same thing! Traveling with two kids is a whole lot different than traveling solo! I’m okay with missing out on some activities, too because I think each activity is so much richer because I get to experience things from my kids’ perspectives.

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