Changing your Vacation Expectations

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When I talk to parents who have a difficult time travelling with their kids, I’m often struck by how much of their unhappiness comes from having expectations based on their pre-child travel and trying to get the kids to conform. That’s like expecting to spend a day at the mall doing some carefree shopping & have the kids go along with it. Guess what, you’re the grown up, you’re the one who needs to adapt and help the kids have a fun and meaningful trip.

Here’s what changed most for us

  • Pace. We just cannot move as quickly through different destinations. In retrospect, this has been a good change. The extra time has afforded us the opportunity to drink in the local culture instead of just hitting the top points on someone elses list of things to do in a city.
  • We appreciate different things. Don’t expect your kids to appreciate the Eiffel tower. They’ll get caught up about the butterflies, or the traffic signals or something else. If you take time to join them, you might too. Remember, the reason you are doing this is to build perspective that the entire world doesn’t work and think and look exactly the way they do
  • We don’t expect everything to be perfect. You might be going to your dream destination, but having kids along almost guarantees that there will be challenging moments. It’s ok. Just go with the flow. It’s worth it.
  • It’s harder to follow an exact plan or itinerary. Usually when we find that the kids are having a tough time, we take a step back and realize that we’ve been pushing too hard to make a particular plan work instead of respecting their needs. Just like at home, we needed to learn to be flexible and we needed to learn to prioritize which activities are most important to us.

Most of all, don’t expect the kids to be grateful for a fancy trip. They don’t care that you had to wait 35 years to live out your dreams on the cote d’azur, and they probably didn’t ask to go there any more than they asked to get born. Kids just care about experiencing travel in a way that makes sense and is enjoyable for them and they care about having time and attention from their parents. If you keep the trip fun, they’ll absorb more than you realize and they might even thank you later, when they’re old enough to have perspective about what you did for them.

Finally, try not to get hung up on the things that go wrong or are different from your ideals and expectations. The goal is to have some new experiences and connect in a new way as a family. Appreciate the fun moments that you will remember for a lifetime rather than focusing on the short term difficulties that crop up.


  1. Jessie on July 31, 2008 at 5:52 a.m.

    this is so very true. brava!

  2. Anne-Sophie on January 30, 2009 at 5:17 a.m.

    I've just discovered your extremely useful and reality-checking site as I was looking around for tips on travelling to Rome with a 18-months old. In our case, the expectations management is key as we have not had a proper city holiday since she was born, and so we want everything to be perfect. We have had all holidays with family but now we want to experience something new, as we have always been keen travellers. But one disastrous week on the French riviera scared us a year ago, and we want to make sure that doesn't happen again. With this site, I feel chances are on our side... And the Romans are going to love her big blue eyes :-)

  3. Stephanie on March 26, 2010 at 11:50 a.m.

    I can't agree more about modifying your expectations for the trip. When we took our young boys to Kenya, I was so surprised by their experiences and impressions. While they loved going on a game drive, they were just as impressed by a giant millipede as an elephant! My suggestion is to try a combination of activities that you like and what they like. For example, spend one afternoon in a museum and then spend the next one in the pool. Also be prepared to change your plans to suit their needs. If you can avoid booking pre-paid excursions, then you won't be disappointed if they wake up cranky and don't want to go. Organizing your own excursions is ideal because you have the flexibility to stay longer/shorter, stop for snacks if they're hungry and be more spontaneous, giving you all a greater sense of adventure on your trip!

  4. Herbal Diet Remedies | Herbal Products on August 23, 2010 at 3:33 a.m.

    Yes i am agree with Stephanie

  5. Jacki Hayes on September 16, 2010 at 1:22 p.m.

    Remembering that things can go wrong, even with the best laid plans is important. Then learning to enjoy it anyways is even more important. We took a trip to SD last year and I booked a stay in a teepee. I thought, "Wow, what a great experience!" Then heavy thunderstorms showed up and I got repeatedly pelted in the head with hail all night. I could decide that it ruined the trip. Instead, we still all laugh about it. Most memorable moment for me.

  6. Lisa on January 30, 2011 at 4:13 a.m.

    Your website has given me the courage I need to plan a 2 week trip to France with my 2 yr old. Most people think I am crazy and ask why we don't leave him with the grandparents. Thanks for the travel advice and encouragement. Will let you know how it goes!

  7. Chloe - NetGlobers on May 12, 2011 at 7:40 a.m.

    Hello !
    I think you had a fabulous idea to write about travelling with kids!
    I wondered, why did you do it?
    I mean, were you a big traveller and then you have a kid and you were looking how to manager both or were you a mother first and then you wanted to travel without leaving your baby? Tell me I am so curious !

  8. Debbie on May 13, 2011 at 1:05 p.m.


    We have always enjoyed traveling, and it was important to us to continue to travel after we had kids. So much of the advice out there when Everest was born was negative, that I thought it would be useful to write about the really great parts of traveling with kids.

  9. Gail Holligner on December 15, 2011 at 1:04 p.m.

    Hi, What a wonderful site, the only thing of it's kind I've found. Our kids grew up in Alaska and we flew a lot; many of the things you write about I learned by trial and error, many I never thought of - barf bag puppets are brilliant! One of the things our kids remember fondly about traveling by plane is that was the only time I would buy them chewing gum - to help their little ears adjust during take-offs and landings. Of course we did all that traveling pre 9/11; things are greatly changed now.

    I am putting together a travel survival kit for our library patrons (complete with games and activities that gently promote literacy) and you've given me some wonderful ideas to include. I hope you don't mind if I do a little R&D (rip off and duplicate).
    thank you,
    Gail Hollinger

  10. Debbie on December 15, 2011 at 2:44 p.m.


    Thanks for all your lovely comments! Of course you can use my ideas to promote literacy, I can't think of a better cause ;)

  11. Sara on April 27, 2012 at 9:47 p.m.

    Hi - I enjoy this site & have read the info several times over the years. My daughter turns 3 in July, and I have FINALLY bought some plane tickets for us - to the Boston area for a friend's wedding in June (we live on the west coast).

    This will include a 6 hour plane flight, and I was wondering if you, Debbie, or other readers have any suggestions for how I should handle other adults who may be rude/grumpy about my daughter. Of course I'll have distractions, games, toys, snacks, etc. & my daughter is great, but I'm guessing she won't be happy the whole time - I don't think it's possible. Airplanes can be so uncomfortable, but I don't want other people's reactions to any of her moods or behaviors make me feel defensive or that I should not be traveling. It's taken me almost 3 years to have the courage to do something like this. Any help/advice - exact phrases you have used in the past to irritable passengers, etc. - would help me so much!

    Thanks for the great site & information!

  12. bestluxury on January 5, 2013 at 3:26 a.m.

    Very nice post and interesting, Thank you.

  13. Holly on February 8, 2014 at 3:43 a.m.

    This is a really great post. I think the hardest thing about travelling with kids is managing expectations - with a preparation and a few good products I think we can do it.

  14. Patricia Lopez on February 12, 2014 at 2:43 a.m.

    You're so very right do get caught up in so many different things..that apparently might not be on the wishlist of an experienced traveler's list. Recently I had taken a trip to Banaras in India. In one of the forts which had a museum too, I found one child grumbling through the entire tour of the museum. When we were about to leave, I found him happily posing in front of the elaborate arch over the main entrance...:)

  15. Monica on October 14, 2014 at 11:43 a.m.

    Just found this post - it is excellent! I already know this, but convincing my husband has been a little more difficult. He has been known to say "I hate traveling with small children". The good news is that our 5yo son has traveled from the US to Italy 3 times in the last 3 years and is at an age now where he is excited about traveling and we can't wait to bring him to Scandinavia next Spring. Our daughter is 3yo and has already done a week long trip to Rome and a Mediterranean cruise. We have had trying moments, but have enjoyed each trip, are learning how to enjoy trips more, and look forward to continued adventures with our small ones (we now also have a 4-month old that will be taking his first European trip at 11 months old :-)).