Are you planning a trip with kids but not sure where to start? We at Sharing the Wonder shared their best family travel tips from their last year of full-time travel. After a year on the road, they’ve learned a lot about what it takes to travel as a family and navigate a new normal. Are you ready to travel with your family?
Best family travel tips
When we sold our house and set off to travel together as a family in June 2021, we had little idea where our travels would take us, how we would all adjust to full-time travel, or what we would learn along the way. was
We started with an elaborate itinerary, which has changed many, many times since we started touring. As we travel and as our children grow, we are constantly learning how to make travel the best it can be for all of us.
Over 9 months later, we’ve celebrated multiple birthdays and holidays on the road, and are still learning what works best for our family, tweaking our travel pace, and of course, making a few mistakes here and there.
Our kids were about 4 and 6 when we hit the road. Here are some of the things we learned along the way, which we hope will be useful to other traveling families. Here are our top family travel tips for traveling with kids.
1. Be safe
Safety is our first priority when traveling with our children. How to travel safely with kids is also one of our most asked questions! In most places, a little common sense goes a long way.
When traveling with kids as a family, research the destination (and specific neighborhoods) in advance to make sure you’re staying in a safe area. Have a plan if you separate – the kids should be there and know how to find a safe adult to help if needed.
We recommend that everyone in the family wear an ID bracelet. You can personalize them to your liking, we include the child’s name, mum and dad’s phone number, any allergies and blood type.
That way, whether it’s a breakup, or a car accident, kids have information to identify them and contact both parents. Remember, most kids don’t memorize their parents’ cell phone numbers!
Learn more about ways to keep kids safe while traveling: Your Worst Fears: A Complete Guide to Keeping Kids Safe While Traveling
Read more travel safety tips
2. Set expectations with children
One of the things we’ve learned on our family trip is that kids need to know what’s coming and what to expect. The more we outline for kids what to expect over the next few days or weeks, the better they’ll roll along the way.
We try to involve the kids in making decisions when we can – which museum to go to today, or what kind of food we should have for dinner.
3. Everything takes longer when traveling with kids
Everything takes longer with kids! A typical bathroom stop can stretch to twenty minutes. Getting through security at the airport, or checking documentation for four at check-in takes a lot longer than if there were just two of us.
Plan extra time, especially for the airport. Distances between security, gates, bathroom breaks, and much-needed meals can be long for little feet. We often think we’re leaving in plenty of time, and then end up dashing for food before boarding our flight.
4. Get the assigned flight seat
When booking air travel, pre-book your seats when you can. Many US airlines do not guarantee family seating if you choose the lowest fare class. Changing at the last minute or asking other passengers to join you can be stressful—if you know you have seats together before you get to the airport, you’ll have a smoother trip.
Consider the best seating arrangement for your family—as a family of four, we like to book two sets of two more seats in front—so that the kids both have window seats and the adults have middle seats. This means that we can easily move things back and forth over the seat and even talk to each other without disturbing other passengers.
For buses, where there are often two rows of seats wide, we like to sit two on each side of the aisle. Buses often have very high-backed seats, which means that if the kids sit together in front of us, we can’t see them very well. If they are next to us across the aisle, we can see them and help them if needed, but they can play together.
5. Plan a recovery day
Plan a recovery day after your arrival, especially when changing time zones. Every hour the children’s time changes can take up to a full day.
If you plan a slow day after you arrive, you’ll have some time to adjust and the kids won’t be so cranky when you’re trying to get to a major tourist attraction. Save the big events for when everyone feels better
We try to schedule more important tours ahead of our trip. So, if there are things we really want to see in a new place, we do them on days 2 and 3 That way, if someone is sick, or you find that the place is closed, you have the opportunity to reschedule it. If it’s the last day of your trip, you’re out of luck.
6. Find the family room
Many hotels outside the United States have family rooms, which include multiple beds. We are often able to book a room with a double bed and 2 or 3 twin beds. While our kids have shared many a double bed road-tripping across the US, we also know that they sleep better when they have their own beds. In many parts of the world, this is easy to accommodate.
If you have older children, you can book connecting rooms or two rooms in smaller hotels. We find this comes up a lot in older cities, where the buildings are small and everything is packed tightly.
We prefer to book hotels with breakfast. We find that feeding everyone early in the morning helps us get the day off to a good start. When we can, we keep bananas or other easy snacks in the house so the kids wake up hungry and have something to eat.
7. Bring headphones
Bring headphones for the kids! If you can, get headphones where you can remove the cord entirely when it’s not plugged into a device.
Not only are they great for watching shows on a tablet on long travel days, but they’re also great for protecting kids’ ears in other situations. We’ve used them at live music shows, watching fireworks, and even on loud boats!
We love these Beats wireless headphones, which are noise-isolating, volume-controlled, and foldable.
8. Engage in behavior
Part of the fun of traveling is finding new treats and new flavors – so we eat more treats when we travel than when we’re at home. That might mean going to a grocery store to pick out new snacks to try, or stopping for ice cream or gelato and discovering flavors we can’t find at home. You can make a game of trying new fruits!
Sometimes that means we pick something we don’t like (like ketchup-flavored potato chips in Mexico), but often we all find new favorites. The kids loved the Peruvian lucuma fruit, and tried everything they could find in that flavor before we left!
9. Take public transport
Try taking public transport! It’s cheaper than a taxi, and often the kids’ favorite part of the day. They love getting to new cities by bus and metro – the journey becomes as fun as the destination!
The more diverse the transport, the better- Find trolleys, cable cars, metros, buses and even boats. We were all excited to ride in a vintage stagecoach and a real covered wagon while we were learning about Oregon and the Santa Fe Trail!
10. Children need exercise
Plan exercise and playtime into your schedule. Kids need to get their wiggles out! After quietly wandering around a museum, we try to find a playground where they can run, jump and scream.
We also find that while they mentally absorb a lot of new things, they need time to be physical to help them process all the new things around them.
When we road trip around the US, we try to find a playground with picnic benches for lunch. Adults get to sit outside, kids get to play after eating before heading back to the car.
No matter where we live, we find that playgrounds are great places to meet other kids, even if it’s just to play together for a few minutes. For older kids, you may want to schedule time on a ropes course or zip line so they can get the same physical challenge.
We also see that kids need downtime—for some kids, it’s time to read quietly, for others it’s time to make a game out of the toys, seeds, or feathers they’ve accumulated that week.
11. Pack specific items for traveling with kids
A few things come in handy when we travel that you may not find on every packing list. Here are a few quirky things we like to carry when we travel as a family:
Our favorite random supplies for traveling with kids
– A plastic knife. This deli knife with plastic sleeve stays in my purse. It can get through airport security and is great when you need to split a bagel or pastry exactly four ways.
-Gel stain remover. My kids spill things all the time. This gel is easier to carry than a liquid stain remover and helps remove stains until we can wash things off.
-A knife sharpener. Many rental apartments have dull knives! We can easily sharpen knives while cooking in a rented apartment.
Read more packing tips for travel:
12. School can happen anywhere
There are many ways to conduct schooling on the road – some traveling families opt for “unschooling” or “worldschooling” where they base their child’s education on a combination of child-led interests and opportunities around them in a particular location.
Other families choose to homeschool more formally, sticking to a curriculum that aligns with state guidelines. Keep in mind that certain states have very different requirements, so check carefully whether you’re maintaining state residency or returning your children to public school after your trip.
We choose a hybrid model – our kids have an online curriculum that they follow, which keeps them engaged in a more traditional school model and keeps them connected to the state curriculum. This means, if most second graders are learning about the Constitution, our children are learning the same information.
We work on the program a few hours a week, but spend most of our time traveling at the university and learning from the sites and museums around us. Where better to learn about Harry Truman than in Independence, MO?
13. Just go!
Traveling as a family is a bit more complicated than it used to be, but it’s still totally worth it.
Parents often wonder if their children will remember their travels if they travel as children. It doesn’t really matter if they remember every city or every site you visit—just the act of traveling is changing them and influencing how they see the world. You are giving them a broader view of the world and exposure to different people and cultures.
There will never be a perfect time to travel with your kids—there will always be an excuse to wait for a different age or a different situation. The world is changing fast, and we are no longer guaranteed opportunities. So go for it, the world is waiting.