We have just returned from an epic road trip from the south of Ireland (Cork) to Brittany in France, down through Spain and onto Lisbon, then back up again via Aveiro and Braga to Santander (Northern Spain).
My three boys are used to traveling, mainly because our families are scattered all over Europe. I solo travel a lot both nationally and internationally with my 12, 10 and 5-year-old sons and have done ever since my eldest was 3 months old.
How do I do that? I see the question prop up a lot in various parenting and traveling families groups so below are my top tips for fun and (relatively) stress-free traveling with kids.
My Best Tips for International Travel with Children
I spend hours, sometimes even weeks before our actual departure researching the route/destination and making a small list of possible activities to do for each interest.
2- Pack light
Wherever you go, there will always be cheap emergency clothes/footwear for sale so pack only the essentials: Sentimental things (cuddly toys/favourite book/favourite toy), basic painkillers for all ages, a strip of plasters, a few pencils and a notebook (for paper doodles),charger cables and travel adapter, a few travel-sized toiletries for emergencies, a pack of playing cards such as Uno, and a pack of baby wipes.
My eldest children carry their own small backpack (usually their own schoolbag) so everything has to fit in there, regardless of the length of stay.
I pack my youngest child’s things in with my own, as before age 7/8 they will refuse to carry anything at all for extended periods of time (other than possibly a soft toy).
3- Bring snacks
Again, I prepare and plan these in advance. The trick is to bring snacks that are filling and still qualify as snacks in the eyes of the children. I usually have a Tupperware with a home-made mixture of nuts, raisins, dark chocolate and another one with peeled/cut fruit. If we fly I also bring either chewing gum or a few hard boiled sweets (for during take-off and landing). Each child packs their school lunch box in their backpack with sandwiches and a cookie for the trip. This avoids arguments but also gives them a sense of responsibility, the older ones love making their own sandwiches for example.
4- Don’t fret
Once you are packed and ready to go, try to see it as an adventure. Children don’t share your stress about being somewhere on time or remembering to bring everything, they are simply enjoying the time spent together.
5- Be prepared…
…for last minute change of plans. Keep an emergency travel fund to the side, enough to cover an extra overnight stay for all of you.
6- Get the children involved
Teens especially love researching and sharing their newly gained knowledge on the region you are traveling through or to for example.
7- Plan and pre-book one activity or place to visit per interest/child
For example: on our last trip we visited a Dinosaur theme park (youngest very much into Dinosaurs), and an Oceanarium (who doesn’t like to get close to sharks whilst learning about saving our seas?). We also went on a guided tour in a medieval castle (teen very much into history) and I had always wanted to check out the National Azulejos Museum. Don’t forget to add your own interests to the list! Pre-booking the tickets for these well in advance added to the excitement.
8- Make sure to include a few days of relaxing/doing nothing at all
We had a day at the beach (picnic, a kite, and a beach football) and another day in a big park&playground where I was able to read my book whilst the boys played together and with other children from the area.
9- Don’t feel pressured into filling up every day with activities