8 Roadblocks To Family Travel (and Why You Shouldn't Let Them Stop You)

For us, the experience of traveling with our kids is not only a great way to help expand our kids' worldview, it is one of our best opportunities to build new bonds as a family. Yet many parents are so afraid that the trip might not be perfect, that they stay home - missing out on countless chances to build unique and lasting family memories. Traveling with kids is never perfect, and rarely easy, but with a little advance planning, you can work around most of those roadblocks.

Waiting for the Train at Old Tucson Studios
Waiting for the Train at Old Tucson Studios
  1. My Kids Won't Appreciate It (or Won't Remember)
    Kids may not remember or appreciate the distance and expense associated with visiting a specific destination, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't go. We do so many things with our children that they won't remember as they get older - from wrapping them in a handmade baby blanket, to the songs we sing as we rock them to sleep. Do we do those things for them or for ourselves? I don't know, but I do know that I treasure the memories and photos of the trips I took with my children when they were babies, toddlers, and now preschoolers. By leaving our busy routine, we also find new activities and interests that we never would have tried at home. Even if we're not learning a language or teaching our kids ancient history, we are helping them develop a broader view of the world, and we are in turn developing a broader view of their interests.

  2. It's Too Far
    A long-haul plane flight can seem daunting (and it's never my favorite part of a trip) but there's no need to focus on just this one aspect of the trip. Allow plenty of time at your destination to recover from Jet Lag, and consider breaking up a very long flight with a multi-day stopover. Many airlines will let you stop in their hub (e.g. New York, London or Amsterdam) for a few nights without charging you extra airfare, and this can be a fun way to break up the flight time and see one more part of the world. Here are more tips on surviving long haul plane flights
  3. It's Too Expensive
    Times are tough right now, but if you have some expendable income, and want to travel, it is worth looking at the actual costs of the trip you want to take. They may not be as high as you think. The dollar is higher than it has been in years against almost every major currency and there are phenomenal travel deals to be had on everything from airfares to hotels and cruises. For example, British Airways is running flights to Europe for as low as $149 each way and throwing in two nights hotel stay for free!

    If you are willing to be creative or to step outside your usual travel routine, you can save even more by swapping homes with another family. Check out some of our other budget tips for family travel or our Step by Step Guide to Creating a Budget for your Family Vacation

  4. My Kids Can't Sit Still on the Plane
    Admittedly, anticipation of the plane flight is always the thing that causes me the most stress as we plan each trip. Advance can help make any flight easier. Try to schedule flights at times when your children would normally sleep, and make every effort to wear them out before you step on the plane. Check out our tips for keeping an active child calm on a plane and keeping your child busy on a plane
  5. Enjoying Extra Time With Daddy in Downtown Tucson
    Enjoying Extra Time With Daddy in Downtown Tucson
  6. They Won't Have "Kids Activities" There
    Around the world, kids and parents somehow find ways to stay busy even in the absence of major theme parks. What's even better, is that when you join locals at playgrounds, beaches, and other activities, you get to experience the culture in a new way. It may seem tricky at first to find activities near the major tourist destinations, but research before your leave home can uncover some hidden gems. In addition to our Kid Friendly City Guides, you can use Google Maps to find playgrounds near tourist destinations, or find expat bloggers with kids at your destination and send them email for advice. Even when you hit the ground without a plan, you'll find that your kids naturally gravitate towards things that interest them. Allow them the time and space to enjoy details that might seem trivial to you (like a bubble blower in a park or a cookie making machine in a store window) and they'll be much more patient as you maneuver them through the Louvre.
  7. I Can't Carry All the Stuff
    As parents, we're conditioned to bring everything our children could conceivably need along with us. It's important to pause for a minute and ask yourself whether you actually need each of the conveniences you use at home. Supplies like diapers and wipes can be purchased at your destination, and baby travel rental companies can provide items like cribs and high chairs when your hotel is unable to supply them. It might surprise you to hear that my family of four routinely travels with no checked baggage for trips under a week long! Even if that's not your goal, you'll find helpful advice in my favorite tips for packing light with babies, toddlers and kids and my Packing Checklists
  8. I Won't Get to Relax
    True, but you probably don't get to relax at home either! Vacations are more active with kids, but they still provide a welcome break in routine. You can make a family vacation less taxing by bringing along a friend or relative who is able to babysit some of the time, or by teaching your child to nap in a stroller or sling. You might even choose to travel with a Nanny or Babysitter.
  9. What If Someone Gets Hurt?
    Fear that a child will get injured or sick (especially if the child has severe food allergies can be so strong for some parents that they won't leave the country. While nobody wants to see a child injured (at home or abroad) there is no reason to expect that a normally healthy child would require medical attention on vacation.

    Reassure yourself by traveling with an emergency contact sheet that includes information for your family doctor and the name and phone number of an English speaking doctor or children's hospital at your destination. It is also helpful to travel with a small first aid kit that includes bandaids and common medication like tylenol along with your child's dosing information.

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  1. Spot Cool Travel on March 17, 2009 at 9:29 a.m.

    This is a good list, especially that point #1. My (elderly) parents and I recently talked about the family vacations we took and they were amazed at how many memories from them I had. I think travel really has the power to have a positive effect on kids.

  2. jamie on March 17, 2009 at 10:28 a.m.

    I'm laughing about #1---I hear that one alllllll the time.

    The truth is I can't even remember too much from trips that were 5 or more years ago. Remembering is not the point. Experiencing (and for our kids, becoming) is.

  3. Elizabeth Sanchez on March 17, 2009 at 12:32 p.m.

    My family (mom and/or dad plus four siblings) used to drive from Michigan to Mexico, and back, almost once a year for more than 15 years. Whenever we get together, so many of our funniest stories are about those car trips. It's the ultimate bonding experience. Having that background makes me as excited for the journey as the destination when it comes to traveling with my boys. Who, at ages 4 and 2, already have a good share of travel experience under their belt.

  4. Scotti on March 17, 2009 at 1:22 p.m.

    Thanks for the great article! We just returned from a 10 day trip to Mexico with our three year old (it was his third trip there!). And I have to agree with your points. It's not as easy as traveling without kids and sometimes the plane ride is less than ideal. But having all that down time, exploring in new ways, slowing down to notice all the small things, those were the bonuses of the trip.

    I don't think kids need constant "kid entertainment". My son happily spent 10 days walking the beach looking for shells, splashing in the pool, drinking mango smoothies, and searching for geckos. Great fun and great memories.

    We were going to a fairly small town, so I took diapers and a blow-up mattress for our son. But with pool & sand toys, clothes, books, etc. we still only had two checked bags.

    And you're right the exchange rate and travel deals are out there right now. I just used priceline to find a 4* hotel for a kid-free overnight while the grandparents are in town - and my $50 bid was accepted. Can't beat that!

  5. Peace Mitchell Mitchell on March 17, 2009 at 7:52 p.m.

    Excellent Post Debbie, family travel is hard work but definitely worth it!

  6. Carolina on March 17, 2009 at 9:59 p.m.

    Great post and tips. I'm giggling about number 8, kids are never relaxing. But I have to say, once they get past toddler stage, it can actually get a bit more relaxing on vacations. Well, maybe my idea of relaxation has changed a bit since having a kid.:)

  7. soultravelers3 on March 18, 2009 at 12:01 p.m.

    Great post!

    We did not do any international travel with our child until she was 5 because we did want her to remember the experience well and use it as part of her education.

    We did do a ton of travel, mainly road trips starting when she was just two weeks old.

    There are just so many ways to travel as a family and the family and children are rewarded greatly from the experience.

    I highly recommend slow travel with children and if you can take longer periods you can also save a ton of money.

    We have been traveling the world now as a family going on 3 years, living large on a grand total of 25K a year. We find that we can travel the world for cheaper than living at home & it is the best possible education for our child.

    If one can do telecommuting and homeschool, you can spend months away and really immerse deeply into a culture. Those kind of memories do not leave and one can become fluent in another language the easiest possible way!

    My daughter was just 5 when we started and now at 8 she remembers it all clearly. Reading related books before, after and during the trip helps keep it alive and connected for even young children. Photos and videos help as well.

    Bonding, shared experiences, education are the big benefits of family travel. What family doesn't want that?

    This is a recent post I did on this topic that might be useful to others, especially in this economy, where many are deciding to take off and trying a new way of being!


    Carpe diem!

  8. Lorraine Akemann on March 19, 2009 at 11:02 a.m.

    This is a great reminder that family travel is not only possible, it's also a wonderful way to connect without all of the normal distractions of home. My favorite is point #1 about what the kids remember. The kids will certainly remember how fun it is to enjoy some unobstructed and focused attention from their parents, which is the main thing. Thanks for this post!

  9. James from Littlenomads on March 21, 2009 at 2:33 p.m.

    Some great tips to those road blocks that creep into the minds of parents. Being creative in tough time is good, house swapping etc is great way to get around those economic blues.
    Great Blog..

  10. Stacey on March 25, 2009 at 7:38 a.m.

    Thanks for the tip about the Emergency Contact List and small First Aid Kit. We are tackling Disney in May and these are the little things I ALWAYS seem to forget!