Why Travel with Kids?
Ever since my first student exchange to Quebec, Canada, I was hooked on travel. The more I travel, the more I want to travel. So we ventured, my husband and I, enjoying all that travel had to offer two soulmates looking for adventure. Then the kids arrived. We knew that kids would change the way we traveled, but how, was yet to be determined. We didn’t want to wait until they got older — what if someone in the family got sick — the future is unpredictable. If we wait, will they still want to travel with us when they got older? Kids grow up and want to do what kids want to do, which is not usually hanging out with mom and dad. So we decided that if we opted out of traveling, then it would be a very long commitment — perhaps a 20 year commitment. We were not willing to wait out 20 years to enjoy our passion again…
With our older kids approaching the decade mark, I can attest that travelling has not gotten easier. Travelling presents a new set of issues. When the kids were small, there was a lot to do, to pack, to prep, to take along. However, we could handle it all with some extra planning. When the kids were small, where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do, were up to us. There was no battle of wills. If Junior disagreed, we could simply pick him up and go. As our kids got older, there’s still a lot to prep (a little less minus the diapers and stroller) but there is now a mental struggle. Kids want to hang out with their friends, play video games, watch TV and rebel. (I suspect this behavior will intensify as they become teens.) We would have to convince them that our travel ideas are better than their competing alternatives. Such as the aforementioned watching TV, play video games etc. If we start our travels early, hopefully the kids will develop a sense of wonder for what the world has to offer. Like the value of strolling down a 3000 year old road (Appian Way in Rome, Italy). Like the awe of walking inside a meteor crater (Nördlingen, Germany). Hopefully, with many years of training, they will complain less about hanging out with mom and dad as they approach their teenage years. If at worst, they do complain at the same level as if we hadn’t traveled with them in their early years, then we would have lost nothing, except the years lost because we chose to defer traveling due to the presence of children. After traveling for almost ten years with kids, I can attest, that older kids, can and will complain longer and louder than younger kids, and without breaks. They don’t take naps and the novelty of seeking parental approval has long ago worn off.
Traveling with kids is not for the faint of heart, but the payoffs are huge, if subtle. You can instill the awe of discovery and exploration in your children. Teach them tolerance. Appreciation. The value of our freedoms. Teach them that we are part of a global community that depends on each other. Look out for the “wow” as they walk onto that 1000 year old statue lined bridge heading towards an ornate castle. Or the inquisitive “Why did dinosaurs die?” Or the debate they have as to what type of volcano you just visited, a shield, plug or composite? Or the very occasional “That was the coolest place ever, mama.” I blinked and I almost missed it. For me, the most compelling reason for traveling with kids? We are making memories for our childrens’ childhood. For them and for us.
Traveling with kids definitely has its challenges. It was certainly easier to travel before the kids arrived. But now that they’re here, they are here to stay. So why not make the best of it? Go exploring, and maybe shape a couple of little explorers? Here are a few tricks we learned in our travels with kids.
Book a trip not too far from home. Our first trip after our first son was born was to San Francisco, California. We lived near Seattle, Washington at the time. He was 6 months old. We brought a stroller, a baby carrier, a diaper bag, a lot of blankets, some jackets and clothes for four different seasons. We enjoyed visiting San Francisco together and eating good food. Most of all, it was an important first step to continuing to travel as a family. To prove that we can, not to all the naysayers, but to ourselves. If a plane trip is a big starting point, try a short driving trip that you know your family will enjoy. If you didn’t guess right the first time, it’s okay — try again. Kids are not easy to predict. It’s a learning experience for you, as a planner, and for them, as little travelers. Practice makes perfect. Worse case scenario, you have the worse family trip ever. Be an optimist. At least you have your family, right?
When we started out traveling, I didn’t plan much. I figured, we’ll wing it when we get there. After all, a city like Santa Barbara is bound to have leaps and bounds of entertainment, presenting themselves to us upon our arrival at the airport, right? Not so much. We spent time in the hotel room trying to figure out things to see, its address, hours of operation, prices etc, while our restless kids made a lot of noise for our neighbors. All of this time could have been used exploring when we were at our destination. I figured out that planning needed to be done, whether before travel or during, so why not do it in the comfort of my own home, while leaving more time on the ground to actually explore? I found that the more I planned our outings, the more we got out of our family trips, in terms of quality and quantity, in the order most convenient according to location and time available.
On our recent working holiday to Germany, we visited a meteor crater and a town built inside it (Nordlingen), 5 castles including the one that inspired the Disney Castle (Neuschwanstein), several medieval city gates, bridges, city walls, moats, rode down a portion of the German Alps on a summer luge (coolest ride ever) (near Berchtesgaden), walked 1400 steps into the world’s largest ice cave in Austria (Eisriesenwelt Werfen), visited a salt mine (Hallein Salt Mine), walked on a see-through metal bridge over a deep canyon (Leutaschklamm, Germany) climbed an old creaky wooden stairway up a church bell tower (the Daniel) made of meteor rock for a view of the surrounding town and crater (Ries Crater), visited a beautiful Bavarian city painted with frescoes on every building (Mittenwald), walked to Austria along the teal blue River Isar from Germany, took a short hike in the Austrian Alps, drove on the AutoBahn en route to a 3000 year old reconstructed Stone Age village built on stilts (Pfahlbauten) on a lake that borders 3 countries (Lake Constance or Bodensee). That’s just the out of town trips we took from Munich. I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have been able to fit in as many cool sights if we didn’t plan ahead.
Plan to do less.
This one is a hard one for me (as you can probably tell). I always want to do and see everything. But let’s face it, kids slow us down. If normally you can hike 15 miles in an 8 hour day, plan for a 3 to 4 mile hike for the day if your kids are trained hikers. If a museum normally takes you 3 hours to cover, plan the day for it. Also plan not to see every exhibit. If you normally see 90% of exhibits available, expect to see 1/3 of that. Kids don’t like waiting around while you read small words that are not colorful. If you’re thinking, why bother, consider this: if you hadn’t come, you would have seen 0% and no exposure to this new idea exhibited in front of you. But you want to get your money’s worth for the visit? I understand. With my budget tips, you will be spending about 30% of the cost, maybe less. So no excuses. If there is a Kids’ Play Area, plan to spend time there at the end of the day. It will serve as a good motivation for good behavior. It will also serve as a good time to connect with your spouse. Maybe. If the kids all stay in one area while they play. I usually have a couple other things on the list to do in case everything goes really well. I know, wishful thinking.
Plans do get broken, so don’t be married to your them. Prioritize to do your favorite attractions first. In case of plan changes, the things that you want to experience most will have been achieved.
I have a working theory that happy people lower their expectations as their situations require. Something bad happens, they say “At least I have my health.” They get sick, they say “at least I have my family.” I love optimists. They see the best that life has to offer, not because they are blind to the negative aspects, but because they choose to focus on the positive. So, if it works for them, why not traveling parents? Focus on the discovery you make with travel, not the trouble you have to go through to get there. Focus on the 35 minutes of peace you get to share with your significant other once all the kids are put into bed, and dinner cleaned up. Or the Limoncello you sip while enjoying those precious 35 minutes of peace on the terrace looking up at the Big Dipper, the same Big Dipper those Pompeians looked up at so many years ago. Ahhh… Enjoy it.. Tomorrow is a fresh new day…
I hope I have convinced you to follow your dreams of traveling. One silver lining that I’ve noticed about traveling with kids is that I see things through their eyes. Everything old is new and exciting again. We are not a family of extreme travelers that travel full-time. We are a typical middle class family with 3 kids under 10, a mortgaged home base, car payments, 3 kids in school each with their respective extracurricular activities and personalities. We travel when school, work and activity schedules permit. Nowadays, we travel 3 times a year on weeklong holidays, about 12 times a year if you count long weekend trips and more if counting local discovery trips. We DON’T spend all our disposable income on travel. We travel on a budget, not above using rewards, coupons, reciprocal agreements, all inclusive national parks passes to stay within budget. We travel mostly locally, both in our immediate area and in our home country and continent. Due to budget constraints, we travel abroad only when opportunity knocks. Travel, for us, is about discovery and exploration. It doesn’t have to be distant. There is something interesting about every place, something unique that gives it its character, just waiting to be discovered. So go out, explore! Make some memories with the people you love most!