Ahh traveling with kids. It’s a special experience that parents choose to go through.
Well not exactly. It’s something most parents have to do to visit relatives or friends. There are also the brave souls that travel with kids for fun, like yours truly. Although I don’t consider myself very brave, just kind of forgetful of painful experiences.
I like to think to think of traveling with kids as the “agony and the ecstasy”. Agony because it can be quite painful at times and ecstasy because it can really be so amazing at times.
I guess as someone who travels with kids a lot I am somewhat qualified to give you advice. I’m always dubious of parenting advice though, so feel free to literally do the opposite of what I do.
In the past week I thought about you a lot my fellow traveling parents. I thought about how I can possibly make your lives easier.
Giving away free childcare is the obvious answer. This is not a very scalable solution, though.
So I decided to write a post of the things that worked for me in these last almost 8 year of traveling with kids.
I am not the same person as I was when we took our first trip with our son when he was just 6 months old. Traveling with kids has essentially punched me in the face multiple times until I finally learned the following lessons:
1. Lower your expectations
Did you see those amazing photos of kids frolicking on a beach happily on that great parenting blog? You did? Me too!
Now imagine your trip will be nothing like that. Granted you might actually have a magical vacation, but what I learned is to not expect it. When I expect things to go well I’m never happy because I’m either disappointed or just minimally satisfied.
If you expect things to go really well then all you can expect to feel is somewhat content in predicting the outcome of events.
If you expect things to be shitty that you will be ecstatic when things turn out great.
It works, there’s even math to prove it:
Expectations – Outcome = Happiness
I’m not saying I go around being super pessimistic. What I mean is that it’s important to not feel you are entitled to an amazing outcome.
2. Outsource Everything
This one is much more fun than lowering your expectations. Outsource literally everything you want. I start with packing. My older kids (7 and 6) pack for themselves. On weekend trips they pack everything for themselves.
Does one kid always manage to forget underwear? Yes. 100% of the time. But hey my expectations are low (see point #1).
Other ways to outsource to make your life easier:
- Order Amazon Fresh groceries the day before you get back home so you don’t have to go to the grocery store at 4:00 AM in the morning (been there, don’t recommend it)
- Find a hotel with babysitting
- Find a local elementary school or preschool that will take short term enrollment (yes that’s a thing)
- Find English-speaking summer camps for your kids if going on a long trip during the summer (search “international summer camp + your target city)
- Take an Uber instead of trying to navigate foreign streets in a rental (if you need the rental go the next day after some sleep and rent it)
- Have things delivered to your Airbnb (I bought a high chair in Mexico City once via Amazon, it works)
- Join locals only Facebook groups to see other ways to outsource (Search for things like “expats” or “foreigners” + your target city, I’m in one called “Foreigners in Mexico City” because we traveled there last year for 2 weeks)
3. Bribe – both yourself and the kids
When you’re traveling you can’t expect to keep up with all the same rules you have at home. That’s actually part of the fun. It’s nice to have an excuse to toss the rules out for a little while.
So maybe you want to let the kids go a little crazy on the screen time.
Maybe they don’t eat that healthy.
In the grand scheme of things, they’ll be okay. The most important thing is that they have a nice trip with their family.
We usually do some kind of bribe on days that are especially tiring for kids, or require extra patience of their parts.
In Denmark, we used a cargo bike as our mode of transportation which require the kids to sit still while we pedaled them around. I’m sure for Danish kids this is an everyday thing. For our kids, it was new and to get them to behave we promised them a trip to the Lego store at the end of the day to choose a small reward.
Adults need incentives too. Plan out things you want to do or see on the trip too. Everyone should have something to look forward to.
Don’t be afraid to bribe yourself. I spend every difficult travel experience chanting in my head something like “after this I will get an espresso, after this I will get an espresso.” Or sometimes I chant “I will never do this again, this is the last time really.” Either one works.
Most parents probably already know that these little mental tricks work. But sometimes we get so wrapped up in the preparing for the logistics of traveling with kids we forget the most important part: the head game. Attitude is everything. Because forgetting underwear can be fixed in 30 mins but forgetting to have fun can’t.
I’m writing this for myself just as much as you all, because I am totally guilty of this.
I did make a fun little printable to help kids pack.
My kids LOVE it. They love being involved and having their own little list to check off. I added icons so that smaller kids that can’t read can use it too. There’s space for you to write in how many of each item you want them to pack. There’s also blank spaces to add in other items.
Even if your kids aren’t ready to pack for themselves yet, it’s a fun way for them to be included in the travel prep 🙂
Download the Kids Packing List here:
Free Printable - A Packing List for Kids
- Works even for kids that aren't reading yet
- Spaces to write in extras
- Flexible space to write it how many of each item you'd like packed