You could say that I’ve been working on this article for years. After all, I’ve been a family traveller for decades, either as a child or as a parent. I know why family travel is important for your family and mine. With the benefit of 20+ years of family travel experience under my belt, I feel pretty secure in putting pen to paper – or 1s and 0s on the screen – to share two decades worth of tried, tested and true family travel tips. Whether you’re just starting out on planning family travel, or have dozens of family vacations under your belt, I hope you’ll learn why family travel matters, and benefit from these tips on how to successfully plan family travel trips.
27 Reasons Why Family Travel Matters for Your Family
1. Travel is the gift that keeps on giving
When we first took our 5 month old first born to Europe for five weeks, I didn’t know then that our foray into family travel was the beginning of lifelong learning and growth for our little family unit, but more importantly, for our sons.
Both our boys have had the opportunity travel with us, with friends, grandparents and solo. Their trips have shaped a world view that is tolerant and inclusive, as well as encouraged their own development, confidence and self-esteem. That travel gift will be with them for the rest of their lives.
2. Give memories, not things
Travelling with kids is important, to create a stronger bond, family togetherness and memories. It also helps kids’ education to foster a world view beyond their own backyards. Our family adventures have always included our own backyard, as we should learn about our own homes and spaces as much as other peoples. Travelling together creates great memories and moments that will last a lifetime. And don’t forget to keep track of those trips in photo or scrapbooks.
3. You’re not alone
According to the Family Travel Association (FTA), between 33-40% of all leisure travel includes some form of family travel. You’re in good company in planning trips with kids in tow, and if you’re worried about how to do it, check out all the great info we’ve got here, around the web, and at your local travel agent.
4. Kids who travel do better in school
Recent studies by the Student & Youth Travel Association have shown that kids who travel do better in school. Traveling children benefit in myriad other way of course, like personal development, family bonding and cultural immersion. But for those of us who’ve struggled with teachers and administrators balking at our kids missing days or a week of school here and there, there’s a strong argument to be made about the educational value of travel.
How to Plan An Amazing Family Holiday
5. Nervous? Go all-inclusive
It is possible to have a relaxing holiday with kids. But if you’re a bit nervous about planning family travel holidays, book family-friendly cruises or try all-inclusive resorts as a first step. The benefits, especially when the kids are very young, are that you’re staying in one place or cabin, and have meals and food accessible at any time of day.
There are also baby and kids club options galore, so your holiday can be as busy or relaxing as you wish. You can set the pace and do everything, or nothing. Once you’ve got these under your belt, you’ll be ready to try DIY trips with the fam in tow.
6. It’s better with friends and family
Consider travelling with relatives or friends. We’ve done a dozen multigenerational trips, and they were extremely memorable and wonderful overall. Yes, you do need to keep in mind many factors – accommodation choices, bill splitting, scheduling and ages and stages – but if you can stand each other, go for it.
Multigen travel is increasing by leaps and bounds. There are large numbers of grandparents traveling with their grandchildren, both with and without their ownchildren – their grandchildren’s parents – tagging along. As the senior population continues to grow and maintain healthier and more active lifestyles than ever, these numbers are likely to stay steady for years to come.
7. Do the big fun things in moderation
Plan a travel schedule with built-in free days between big events like visits to amusement parks, Disneyland theme park, museums, long drives or family reunion parties. A day at the beach can please everyone after a day spent visiting military monuments and family history sites.
Mix it up to keep things fun, and if your journey involves crossing time zones, remember to factor in recovery time for jet lag. Take it slow for the first few days as you get used to your new surroundings.
8. Think outside of the big fun things and go local
Spend time in local playgrounds at your destination, where your kids will meet and play with local kids and you can meet their parents. This is a great way to get the scoop on what’s new and cool in the area you’re visiting. Check out local markets for free fun and tasty food for picnics, spend time at local swimming pools which can also often be free or offer discounts for families.
9. Adjust your expectations
You won’t be able to visit every museum or go at an adult pace all of the time. You’ll have to slow down, stop for pee and play breaks, let the teens sleep in now and then, and broker some moments of unhappiness and meltdowns. Be open-minded and don’t resent what you can’t change during a family vacation. Your kids won’t be at this stage forever.
10. Don’t do too much in a day
Please avoid the over-scheduling nightmare of trying to cram too much into too little time. You’ll be unhappy and so will everyone else. Pick your absolute highlighted must-dos – one per day is a good goal – and try your best. But don’t guilt yourself if you didn’t achieve your Top Ten list. It’s always an excuse to go back.
11. Make sure everyone gets to do their top thing on a trip
When we plan our family trips, everyone’s involved and has a say. Even when the kids were wee, we asked for their input and included at least one of their big desires. It’s like everyone gets to be captain for a day. Beach day? Yes. Visiting the amusement park? Yes. Visiting the colosseum in Rome? Yes.
We worked out these schedules ahead of time so we can better plan our trip and ensure everyone is excited about our vacation. It’s worked extremely well and I’d highly recommend doing this with your family.
12. Surprise treats for the win
If you’re travelling by plane, pack flight toys, family snacks and surprise treats to pull out if kids get cranky or restless. Lollipops for everyone! You can do surprise toys as well, like a bag of toy soldiers, Calico Critters or Polly Pockets. We did this a few times on long hauls flights and they boys spent hours playing with their new toys. This was back in the days before iPhones, iPads and game consoles, so these old tricks really worked, and they still do.
13. Choose appropriate accommodation
There are lot of rental options out there – hotels, Airbnbs, hostels, VRBOs, or long-stay apartments. We love to have a home base from which we can visit places on day trips, and love having a kitchen which also cuts down on expenses. I don’t mind a bit of cooking on vacay if I can save money for other fun activities.
14. Use tech wisely but sparingly
We began our family travel days before the dawn of electronic everything. Was it better or worse? I don’t know. I’ll say that the audiobooks, mobile tech, games, movies and videos and WiFi are now an essential part of all of our lives.
The first question out of our older kids’’ mouths is ‘what’s the WiFi password’ when we check in to a hotel. It’s become second nature to be connected. But, not all the time. Set some boundaries and rules. Put those devices away at the dinner table, on tours, when visiting relatives. Be present and enjoy moments without electronic interference.
15. Have a night plan
If you have wandering kids or sleepwalkers, ensure your hotel room or accommodation is wander-proof. Pack a couple of clothes pins to secure curtains for maximum blackout during daytime naps.
If kids need special stories, stuffies or blankies, put them on your packing list and don’t leave home without them. Our kids travelled with special woollen blankets for years. At one point, they were so threadbare that I had to put them into a ziploc bag. But they had to come along.
16. Take photos and videos and keep memories
It’s incredible how fast time flies and how quickly kids grow and change. Take photos and videos and don’t forget to download them into labelled folders on your computer so you can find them again.
Think about hiring a professional photographer to help capture the best parts of your dream family holiday. If you make digital scrapbooks, compile them as soon as you can so it’s done and the memories captured. I’ve been terrible at this myself, I’m about ten years behind in my photo albums.
17. Pack a stroller for the under 5s
If you have children under the ages of five years old, pack a folding travel stroller. It’s small enough to bring on a plane, doesn’t cost a fortune, and can even handle European cobblestones. And you and your kids will be grateful for it at nap time or when those tired legs need a rest.
18. Bring or borrow car seats and cribs
We never travelled with a car seat on a plane, preferring to borrow from friends at destinations or rent from car companies. But bring one if you prefer your own of course. A packable travel crib is also great for young ones to nap and have some downtime in a small cosy space.
19. Carry on only
You know me, I’m the queen of the carry on! Lighten your load and travel with a carry-on suitcase. Pack only what you need, plan to do some sink laundry, and use a packing list for everyone in the family.
Have the kids make their own visual packing list with your help if needed so they can participate in this important planning process. With your oversight, of course. They do need to pack underwear.
20. Stop making excuses, make memories
It doesn’t matter if your kids won’t remember everything about their early trips to Yosemite or Italy or Disneyland. You will and hopefully you’ll have the photos to prove it and show them. They’ll certainly remember a lot more than you may think. And again, the value of showing them the world in shaping who they are as young adults is practically incalculable. Just do it!
21. Include kids in the travel planning process
You know I think it’s important! Depending on the age, it’s a good idea to include kids in the travel planning process. Kids love to help, so seek their input, get them to do some research on their own, and they’ll have greater buy in and be excited about what they want to see. Think of it as an education process, which it is of course.
22. Take your time
I love slow travel and appreciate it more and more as I get older. If you have young children, they may be running everywhere but can’t go too far for too long. If they’re older, they may have a tough time moving slowly, especially if they’re get up and go types, but there’s no harm in trying.
Guided tours in museums and historic downtowns can really help with this. Especially if food is involved. We’ve had amazing success with food tours of three hours plus with our teens, because they’re eating the entire time. Avoiding the hangries is a major win.
23. Go road tripping
Road trips are a fantastic way to see a lot of the world, at your own pace. The intimacy of car rides is forced family time, in a way. Make sure your vehicle is road-worthy and has emergency service coverage (trust me on this). On the road, take frequent pit stops and breaks to stretch legs, play in the playground, and to enjoy snacks or a picnic.
Pack snacks and water bottles for everyone in a small cooler. Listen to audiobooks or play games like license plate counting, which even teens can get into. We did this on our road trip to Yosemite and counted 48 US states and 8 Canadian provinces.
24. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst
Be prepared for emergencies. Buy comprehensive travel insurance coverage, including health insurance for all family members for your destination. Pack and bring along a First Aid Kit. Make sure you have your own special prescriptions and meds in your purse or carry-on if travelling by plane or to a foreign country where the medicines and languages will be different from home.
25. Go with the flow and be flexible
You’re on holiday, so hopefully you’re more relaxed than usual, though this can be a challenge is things stop going according to plan. Breathe and take a moment to collect yourself, and recognize warning signs of anxiety, or the hangries in you and your kids. Nothing’s worse than being hungry, tired and stressed. Don’t forget to eat.
26. Go to kid-friendly places and countries
While I think that most places can be kid-friendly, some places may have more amenities than others. If you’re used to bathroom change tables and kids menus, Canada, the USA and Mexico are great. Most countries in Europe are as well, especially Italy. While I haven’t been to Asia or Africa, I imagine they are just as welcoming too.
27. Include time in nature in your family travel experience
Don’t spend your holiday just indoors in museums or malls. Go play outside! Visit parks, playgrounds, forests, go biking or hiking or sailing. It’s a great way to meet locals too and get a scoop on the best ice cream parlor or kid-friendly restaurant. Get out into nature and have fun with your kids.
The fact that you are thinking or planning a trip together as a family is already significant. You’ve decided that family travel is a great idea, that you’re going to take a break from your busy lives and spend quality time together doing activities that will bring joy to your lives and build family memories. Your children will never forget the time you’ve spent with them as parents – it’s priceless.
Looking for more? Check out these family travel planning articles.
How to pack a suitcase for a family trip
Tips on how to travel with kids of all ages
How to plan a family vacation budget
Tips for planning educational family holidays