Are We There Yet? 5 Tips for Traveling with Kids

by: Marissa Burt

Every so often, my husband and I pack up our four young children (and a ridiculous amount of gear) and hit the road. Some of our favorite times together have been when we’re traveling, and here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

1. Choose people over places. In the excitement of preparing for a long-awaited destination, it can be tempting to create an hour-by-hour itinerary. Go ahead and dream, but then revisit your original plan and eliminate anything that doesn’t fit with a slower, kid-size pace. Choose one big activity for the mornings when everyone is fresh and a smaller outing for the afternoon, making lots of space for rest, play, and snacks in between. Recognize the unique limitations of your family members, including personality and temperament, and adjust your plans accordingly.

2. Unplug. As much as you can, at least. It’s the rare person who’s going to opt for the Lonely Planet Guide when Google is one swipe away, but beyond organizational tasks and photographs, turn the devices off except for brief, agreed upon times. This will let each family member be fully present to the experience and to one another, rather than busy posting about it. As for pictures? I’m not sure anyone really revisits the video and album of shots they took at that one castle, but you will treasure the photos where your kids looked impossibly small or you looked impossibly young. Photograph each other more than the destination, and let the phone be in your pocket more than in your hand.

3. Prepare for homesickness. A two-week trip can feel like a welcome getaway to adults, but it might as well be forever to a child. Don’t be surprised if your kids miss their room, their friends, even familiar foods — especially if you are traveling abroad. Find ways for them to stay in touch with home: pack a favorite book or toy, keep a family travel journal they can share later, write old-fashioned postcards to send, or schedule a handful of online check-ins.

4. Involve kids in planning. A friend told me how her parents would let each child choose a special destination on their long road trips, and it made traveling particularly meaningful. Stopping at that famous candy store or spending an hour at the train museum may not be at the top of your list, but it will go a long way toward making your trip a true family adventure.

5. Expect the Unexpected. This is a recurring theme in my upcoming book, The 12 Dares of Christa, and it’s a great perspective for any traveler. The best laid plans can always go asunder. Parents often set the tone; flexibility and a positive attitude can turn the unplanned into adventures and mishaps into memories.

I’d love to hear from you! Parents, what are some of your travel tips? Kids, what are some of your favorite memories from traveling with your family?

Marissa Burt is the author of The 12 Dares of Christa. She grew up in Oregon and now lives in the Seattle area with her husband and three sons. Marissa is also the author of Storybound and Story’s End.

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