11 Essential Tips for Family Travel with Kids
Wednesday, July 31st, 2019
“I can’t travel with kids!” We hear it all the time, and it breaks our hearts. Life is too short. The time to see the world is now! What better reason can there be to unplug and get the most out of family time?
Ask any parent who takes children on the road – family travel is much better than you think. They revel in the adventure with boundless energy and enthusiasm. Exposure to diversity, nature, and culture enhance their development in priceless ways. Traveling with your child may be the best parenting decision you ever make.
The real roadblock is the logistical challenge and, for some of us, the unwarranted fear of disaster while out of your comfort zone. We’re here to help with that, starting with these Top 11 essential tips for family travel with kids:
1. Explain and hype the trip ahead of time
Kids love new experiences… if they are properly prepared. Bustling, intense environments like airport terminals, taxi dispatch stations, and street markets can make children uncomfortable unless they know what adventure they are about to encounter.
Set aside time to talk through what to expect during your travels. Children will be far happier and more engaged when they understand what just happened at airport security or the car rental kiosk and have some idea about what happens next.
Not all parents like TV but a little bit can be educational. Try finding short, pre-screened, YouTube videos and kids programming about airplane travel, and the native people, food, crafts, animals and environment that are soon to visit. This can help ease and situate them to better enjoy a very special experience.
2. Check ID and Documentation Requirements
Make sure everyone has a valid passport… remember to check all expiration dates at least a couple months before your departure. You don’t want to be stuck at foreign customs with tired children only to find out your passport isn’t valid. It’s also nerve racking and costly if you need to renew faster than the standard processing duration (6-8 weeks in the US).
A valid passport isn’t always enough for your children at times. Some countries require birth certificates, or notarized letters affirming parentage, especially if you and your children have different last names. Don’t assume… check in advance!
3. Only Bring the Essentials
Be ruthless about packing light — especially for Mom and Dad. Every extra piece of luggage is something you will need to keep track of while also keeping track of your children. Use packing cubes so your suitcases don’t get chaotic. Pack as few outfits as possible, choosing multi-functional, lightweight, climate-appropriate garments. Anything that would be a catastrophe to lose, stain, or damage should stay at home. Most hotels and lodging will happily provide reasonable laundry service which can help keep bags lighter.
If you’re wondering whether to bring a stroller, bring the stroller (lightweight foldable). Most of us don’t spend six plus hours on our feet every day, which is easy to do touring the Leon Cathedral in Nicaragua or exploring Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica. Bring comfortable, versatile footwear for all. For younger tikes a baby sling is a great option, especially for nature walks and strolls on the beach.
Not every country has car seats readily available. Consider bringing one or check ahead of time with your car rental or transfer company. A folding car seat or and inflatable booster (for the older kids) can be surprisingly easy to travel with. Let your travel agent know in advance and they can provide assistance in setting up car seat arrangements in all your transfers.
I know we just told you to pack light but when traveling with babies and toddlers, bring twice as many diapers and wipes as you think you would need — especially with your carry-on for use during flights and time in the terminal. Generally, diapers and wipes will be easy to obtain in-country. They have babies in Belize, too! Cribs can usually be arranged with lodging and your agents will be able to help reserve one to ease your worries and the load.
Bring essential children medications (prescriptions, headache, etc.) and bottles with your favorite formula. Taking a few comforting items like small toys, a stuffy, or a book are great to have, but keep it minimal as you’ll probably come home with more from the shops. A small deck of cards, like Uno, can provide a fun family distraction while waiting in restaurants or flying around.
Offer kids chewing gum, pacifiers or bottles during take off and landing to pop ears. And of course don’t forget those blankies, bottled water, and snacks, snacks, and more snacks!
4. Pre-book everything you can
Some veteran travelers love to touch down in a new city without a plan and then wing it. It’s exciting, romantic even.
Don’t try this with kids. The last thing you want is to struggle to find the perfect tour or a rental car while the entire family is exhausted. Don’t get stuck with a bored child in a hotel room with slow Wi-Fi trying to book a ferry to Ometepe Island in Nicaragua. It could have been reserved weeks before takeoff and with that extra foresight you will be able to better pack and prepare for those excursions. Travel agents can take care of all of this at the time of booking your package or later as an afterthought.
5. Plan kid-friendly flights
First off, did you realize that most major airlines allow families with small children to board before everyone else? Even some airports have special family screening lines for security. Don’t feel bad… go for it and cut down on time waiting in long lines.
Don’t leave your seat selection to the last minute. It’s a total bummer when the family gets split up on the plane. If possible, secure your desired seats at first booking. Again, this is something that an agent will ensure.
Prioritize shorter flights and longer layovers. It may seem counter-intuitive, but fly during the daytime so the child hasn’t thrown off his or her activity cycle. If possible, order kid’s meals in advance… this isn’t always an option once you board since the meals are specially prepared. Or just dole out the snacks.
If you have younger children, consider sitting near the back of the plane where your child will disturb fewer people in the event of a meltdown and have faster access to the bathrooms. Conversely, in a bulkhead seat, you may have access to extra play space and possibly even a built-in baby cradle. It depends on your child and how excited and prepared he or she is to fly. Either way, keep those wipes and diapers we talked about handy and a “comfort bag” at the ready as you never know how things will go with the little ones’ tummies 🙁
Load up smartphones or tablets with entertainment content (movies, music, eBooks, etc.) before leaving to pass the time on long flights, or waits in line. Bring a backup battery and charging cable just in case. Finally, comfortable child-sized earphones are a must as many complimentary earbuds don’t fit small ears.
6. Spend longer time periods in one destination
Ah, the temptation to cram ten countries into an eleven-day trip. We get it, you want to see the world, but this isn’t the best idea even without kids. You end up so stressed out from the hectic itinerary that you never get to relax into one destination and truly enjoy it. With children in tow, fahgettaboudit.
Consider a longer stay in a thriving destination like Antigua, Guatemala or the Bay Islands of Honduras. Get to know the area, discover a favorite breakfast spot, befriend a local tour guide, take day trips, and see the sights at a pace that invites fun and relaxation.
7. Ask for children’s discounts
Families may be intimidated by the cost of group travel, but with children, it can become surprisingly affordable. Ask for children and youth discounts when booking transportation, guided tours, attraction entrance fees, and at restaurants. Sometimes kids even eat for free! A children’s discount may be policy, but not mentioned on signs, websites, or advertisements. It pays to ask!
8. Find fun for the entire family
Remember, this is your trip too! Every activity does not have to be kid-oriented, just because your children are along for the ride.
Small children love the excitement of novelty and the break in routine. Most will get a kick out of something as simple as a city bus ride. They may enjoy learning about and seeing the animals in a cloud forest in Monteverde, Costa Rica much more than visiting yet another amusement park.
Older kids have their own tastes and opinions. Let your older children pick a few activities! Gift them some ownership in the trip. Consider giving older kids a travel journal or a camera. They will be more engaged and make even better memories.
9. Safety first (or 9th in this case)
Some parents fear disaster while traveling. The truth is, many vacation destinations are as family-friendly as home, if not more so.
Explain to children what to do and which authority figures they can ask for help if they become lost. Supply them with emergency contact info, including the address of your hotel or guesthouse, your in-country phone number, email address, and any emergency contacts or instructions – in the local language if need be! Put the info on an index card in their pocket, on a bracelet or necklace. We’ve even seen parents write phone numbers on hands and arms.
If your child has special needs, like diabetes or a food allergy, a language barrier can become a safety hazard. Learn how to describe your child’s needs in the local language, or prepare index cards with written explanations in the local dialect to minimize mistakes. As we mentioned earlier, be sure to pack ample prescriptions like insulin, epipens and inhalers.
It doesn’t hurt to check and see if certain vaccinations are desirable for a particular destination. You can find out what is recommended at the CDCs travel webpage and should confirm with your pediatrician. And finally, consider buying travel insurance that includes health coverage valid in the location you are visiting or check with your insurer to see what benefits you have out of country. Typically, these are very affordable and also cover miscellaneous travel issues like lost or stolen luggage in addition to emergency medical benefits.
10. Don’t over-plan
Travel is an adventure. Embrace and expect the unexpected… especially when kids are involved! The best memories could be the spontaneous side trip to a secret beach on Utila recommended by a friendly local surfer, or exquisite fresh-caught seafood from a random restaurant in Placencia, Belize where you grabbed a table for no other reason than Junior was getting cranky and it was within eyesight.
Be flexible. Consider planning only one major activity a day so you can really enjoy it. Build in downtime to rejuvenate, explore, and discover. Accept that things will go wrong, the best-laid plans will go awry, and that you – and your kids – can handle it. That’s part of the family travel adventure!
11. Tag team for the win
It can be really fun for extended families and close family friends to travel together. It’s a great way to further enrich your experience by doing it with even more of the people you love and don’t see as often as you’d like. For the kids it can be even more exciting to know that their cousin, aunt, uncle, or friend will be with them.
Care to have a romantic dinner with your spouse followed by dancing or a concert? Clearly you shouldn’t take the kids or leave them alone in the hotel. When you travel with families and friends you can take turns watching the kids! So go ahead and have that night out, scuba dive (assuming the kids are too young), or have a spa day for two. As they say, “it takes a village…”!
And finally, family travel in larger groups can often mean better rates and deals on accommodation, transportation and tours.
READY TO DISCOVER
As professional travel advisers, parents and family travelers, we at Central America Journeys can make your dream family vacations a reality. This world is full of beauty, magic and adventure just waiting for you to explore. Let us help you craft an itinerary that encompasses your interests, passions, and quenches your wanderlust. Tell us what most intrigues you and let us make a recommendation and design an unforgettable travel experience. We are here to take the stress out of travel planning and ensure that your time abroad is spent fully enjoying your vacation, worry-free.
If your wanderlust is calling, why not start by filling in our travel enquiry form or give us a call at (877) 509-6033. We take the stress out of planning and deliver highly personalized travel packages and concierge service for individuals, families, and groups.
With an adventurous spirit,
Your friends at Central America Journeys