Fuss-Free Fun: Traveling Together as a Family

The thought of traveling with children can strike fear in even the most courageous among us. We’ve all seen the scenes of tired children falling apart in restaurants, airports and in cramped economy class seats. We avert our eyes, feeling sorry for the child, sorrier still for the parent, and relieved for ourselves that we are not that parent.

Well, take it from a seasoned traveler who has packed up a gaggle of kids and done some serious globe-trotting more times than I can count, it doesn’t have to be bad! In fact, traveling as a family can be fun. What follows are my three experience-tested ways to get us through sanely and happily.

Be age appropriate
The first question we have to ask ourselves is “Is my child really old enough to enjoy or gain from this?” In our enthusiasm to share the things we love out there in the big world with our families, it’s easy to put our kids into situations that they really are not equipped to handle yet. This is most obvious at places like Disneyland and Disneyworld. As much as our tiny ones might enjoy the odd Winnie the Pooh cartoon, toddlers are not really ready for a day in the Magic Kingdom. An outing of this nature takes patience and stamina, things that toddlers have in short supply. Long lines, crowds, confusion and the over-stimulation of color, movement and sounds exhaust little ones. And exhausted little ones quickly exhaust their caregivers, and the day doesn’t turn out as magically as we had imagined.

Adjust your own expectations
As you venture farther out with your young family, reduce the activities you plan for each day by about 50 percent. If you’ve decided the kids are old enough to enjoy Europe … remember that they are still kids, no matter how educational and valuable of a trip. I thought that my 5- and 8-year-old boys would LOVE the museums in London. Honestly, they loved ONE museum. They loved the natural history museum with the dinosaurs and other creatures, but that was it. I had wanted to “educate them” by exposing them to all the amazing displays in the other museums around the city, but they wanted to run and climb trees.

We enjoyed the Natural History museum and we enjoyed a lot of parks as well. I soaked up the charming Anglo vibe by sitting on park benches and people watching over my London newspaper while the boys kicked a soccer ball. We adopted a kid-friendly way of site seeing which took us to open places like Hampton Court and Windsor Castle, rather than china shops and quiet museums. Similarly, on a long layover in Rome what they needed was to use their legs. We walked the city, stopping for ice cream and pigeon chasing, rather than loading into buses for organized tours. I enjoyed the sites and they enjoyed the exercise.

Keep them fed!
As you begin to change time zones it’s easy to lose track of meals. None of us do very well on an empty stomach, least of all children. Take advantage of the airline’s children’s meals and make sure those are ordered at least 48 hours ahead of time. Specially ordered meals are generally delivered ahead of the other meals so your kids will be fed first, which is always helpful. Carry healthy snacks that you know they like. Sugar highs (and lows) only make things worse. Cut apples, carrots, peanut butter crackers and trail mix are great options to keep blood sugar at optimum levels.

Consider taking along a trusted babysitter
Friends of ours have taken their regular babysitter with them on different vacations. They covered her costs and during part of every day she was free to explore on her own or accompany them on their outings. The other half of the time, she stayed back at the hotel with the kids or watched them in the neighboring park. The family had plenty of family time and the adults had some special time to take in theater or linger in finer restaurants. It was a win/win arrangement.

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