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Liz's 50 Tips for Traveling with Kids

Liz Malinka

Another wonderful dinner out in Rome. Sent by Liz.

We have traveled with our kids since they were quite small. It was tough at first, especially when they were in the "this isn't my bed, I can't sleep here" stage, although it is a good weight loss plan, wandering hotel hallways at all hours of the night pacing and pacing to try to get them to sleep in your arms - ah those fond memories are all coming back! Stop reading this if you have not had any children yet. I wouldn't want to be held responsible for a childless life!

But that enjoyable time passed after a while and now, at nearly 11 and 12, the kids are travel pros. We started them out doing the family all inclusive club med packages which are great for families, giving everyone a chance to have some time to themselves and experience lots of different activities like trapeze, scuba, acting, all at 3 and 4 years old! Most adults never get to experience any of those things! We have been twice with the family and twice on our own. With these packages, virtually everything is taken care of for you so you can really relax. Also, vacations of this type don't involve a lot of planning, so they are very easy to do on the spur of the moment. Many other resorts have these kinds of programs going now, one to fit almost any budget.

Lately though we really have got the Europe bug and try to visit every other year if possible. We started out doing home exchanges a few years ago - this is another very good option when traveling with children. Besides being an extremely economical way to travel, it's great to have a home base to call your own for a few weeks. The only downside is that it does require substantial time to research places and then to actually hook up with someone that wants to come to your place at the same time. We have done them twice, the first to Alicante in Spain and the second to Davis, California, just outside the Napa Valley. Each time the key requirement was that the homes had to have a pool for the kids: great for the summer heat, but also a carrot to dangle for them while schlepping them through museums in an orderly manner.

Our last European family vacation was to Italy two years ago and we plan to return this summer. We found that Italians love children and really go out of their way to accommodate them. My kids save up and love to buy tiny little works of art from artists; usually they get the most fantastic deals just because they are enthusiastic art loving children (a trait they have inherited from their parents).

Kali and Chloe playing with the Castle's cats. Sent by Liz.

Top 50 tips for traveling with kids

  1. Keep them involved in travel plans and let them know all the towns you'll be visiting. If they are old enough, let them pick a town and do a small research project before you leave, so they will be the tour guides for that particular town when you are there.
  2. Tell them as soon as a trip is booked so they can start saving spending money.
  3. Take them to the bookstore and let them pick a novel for the trip. Something to help with winding down for a siesta.
  4. Siesta! These are great for the whole family!
  5. Get them a rolling backpack to make travel easier, especially handy when running through terminals to catch the next flight!
  6. Let them learn some basics of the language so they can ask for things on their own.
  7. Rent videos featuring the countries that you'll be visiting. Go to your local library and take out some subtitled classics if they are old enough.
  8. If they are old enough, get them their own small camera so they can capture their own memories on print.
  9. For smaller children, have a small surprise package to keep them busy for the plane trip (e.g. new small toys, books, travel size game boards).
  10. Request kids' meals on the flights.
  11. Give them a fresh pack of gum each for the flight, to help with ears popping.
  12. Take some sleepy time tea (herbal mixture), a sleep enhancer for those long flights.
  13. While on the plane, gather up some of the airsickness bags and keep them in your rental car. For anyone with kids prone to motion sickness, these really come in handy, especially if Dad thinks he's Mario Andretti behind the wheel driving those winding country roads! Take along an anti-static strip and attach it to your rental car, this really seems to help with kids that tend to get motion sickness.  Remember to take along a small screw driver to attach it, will take you 3 minutes.
  14. Get them a travel journal so they can record all their special moments. Also include glue stick so they can attach any memorabilia.
  15. For the budding artists, get them small sketch books and watercolor pencils.
  16. Try to stay in places that have a pool or are near the ocean. Swim often!
  17. Try not to move around too much. Stay in places for a week or longer if possible.
  18. Try to have a travel day, then a day to relax around the pool. Downtime is important in a happy family adventure. Also try to balance the day, something Mom and Dad want to do in the morning followed by kids' pick in the afternoon.
  19. When they ask to stay at the pool for ten more minutes, let them!
  20. With younger kids, try to keep some kind of schedule, if possible. Don't try to cram too much into one day, that next town will be there tomorrow. Don't rush! Kids hate to feel like they are being schlepped around!
  21. Get them a new travel day pack.
  22. Let them pick out some new travel clothes.
  23. Research the cities you'll be in and find interesting toy stores to visit.
  24. Check if there are any amusement type parks nearby.
  25. Get some Purell dry hand sanitizer, great for sticky gelato fingers.
  26. Take packages of Stain Away for cleaning up spills of spaghetti sauce etc. from clothes. Also works great on Dad's wine spills!
  27. Make a tape of their favorite CD for the rental car.
  28. Try to stay in places that have other families so the kids can make new friends. Watch in amazement how well they can communicate while not speaking the same language!
  29. Take a small folding cooler - great for the road trips - freeze a few juice boxes and hit the road.
  30. Find small local festivals and experience local fun.
  31. Rent paddle boats whenever possible.
  32. Keep a roll of toilet paper in the car for emergency road stops. Billy can't always hold it till the next town.
  33. Make museum reservations so kids aren't forced to wait in long lineups in the hot sun for hours. Don't go to more than one museum a day. Keep the length of museum visits relative to the age of the child. Generally 2-5 years =1 hour, 6-8 years=11/2, 9-12= 2 hours. Break them in slowly and gently, keep it fun, some museums have kids in mind and actually have little exercises to go along with some paintings. Kind of a spot Waldo idea.
  34. Take packages of sparklers for fun in the moonlight. (Note: With new restrictions on airplanes since this piece was written, this may not be advisable.)
  35. Give them a small bottle of Evian face spray for a refreshing way to cool off on those hot afternoons.
  36. Kids love to light candles in church, keep spare change handy.
  37. Buy charms for charm bracelets from special towns.
  38. Put sunscreen on every morning.
  39. Carry a small pocket first aid kit with kids Tylenol in your purse at all times.
  40. Let them try new food from different cultures.
  41. When in Italy, eat gelato often!
  42. When a public restroom is nowhere to be found, look for a McDonalds and use theirs. They have great clean facilities. Try not to eat there if at all possible.
  43. Do restaurant research, pick three, then let the kids pick the night's choice.
  44. Teach your children great table manners, so you can all have a leisurely two-hour meal out together.
  45. If kids are older, give them the freedom to wander around on their own.
  46. Give them the video cam and let them be the tour guide. (My personal favorite.)
  47. Try not to let the stress of travel upset you. If something goes wrong, try to let it slide. Keep positive and optimistic. Memories should be happy ones, not of how nobody was talking to each other for the day after a big blow out fight!
  48. Explain that things are done differently in other countries; every culture has many special things to share with us.
  49. Talk to locals as much as possible and ask them where they take their kids for local fun.
  50. On the plane ride home ask them where the next adventure should be and start planning!

These are my travel tips for successful family trips. Many things are totally age dependant; only you know what your child can endure. While family trips can be quite expensive, they can provide memories which are priceless and last a lifetime. My fondest memories of my trips almost always include some silly little moment in time that involved my kids. Have fun - travel is the best way to learn about other cultures; let them soak it up. Hopefully they will pass on the bug to their children and keep the cycle going.

Happy, safe travels!


Liz is a lover of art, travel and fun!

© Liz Malinka, 2001

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