Travel with little explorers offers educational opportunities that no one can take away from them. Family travel allows children to embrace cultural diversity by exploring a new place. Each unique experience brings your kids pieces of knowledge that they may not learn in school, and every knowledge is an element of becoming an individual with a global mindset.
Keep in mind that travel with kids does not need to be pricey or complicated to be enjoyable. In fact, a great journey starts with defining “travel” for yourself. If you want your little explorer to learn about the culture, visit local museums or places like Chinatown! If you want to explore nature, perhaps create a mini-adventure to walk in the woods and a small hike. Whatever comes easy around you is always a good starting point.
A note of caution: Travel during the Pandemic
The situation around the world can change very quickly during the pandemic. Be sure to check for the latest travel alerts. Follow official guidelines, protect yourself and others from the spread by wearing masks, washing hands, and maintaining a safe social distance.
FAMILY VACATION PLANNING
My multicultural family has been a regular family-traveler both for short and long distances. Both of my daughters had their first international flight with me at less than three months old, and the first long-distance vacation was around six months old. Travel with kids requires planning to visualize and manage expectations. I have put some of my experiences together and would like to share them with you.
Here are a few essential tips for a pleasant family-friendly vacation!
Research can help you to prepare for small details before the trip, which is extremely helpful for the family’s travel experience:
- Vacation with a purpose: Is this a family trip or a mixed work-family trip? If you are a multicultural family whose relatives and friends are living overseas, visiting them regularly is vital to keep the family connected. Defining the purpose is a critical decision to make, as it usually sets the ground for the remaining planning.
- Vacation types: Defining the type of vacation will also help you to narrow down the location research and the commuting mode. A Ski trip to Hokkaido? Or a nature walk in Spain?
- Vacation budget: Setting a travel budget from the beginning serves the purpose of creating a sense of financial awareness for the family. A travel budget functions as a framework during the planning process, which is one of the key pieces of information to get a realistic insight into your travel plan.
- Vacation length: Are your dates flexible? Hotels and airplane rates are usually higher during the peak season; Vacation spending is very likely to increase according to the vacation length as well.
Encourage everyone to be on board with planning, including kids. Explore the local language, geography, history, fun facts, and food. Allow your kids to establish connections with the travel destination and give them a sense of ownership.
Being a multicultural family, we always like to inject some cross-cultural experience in our itinerary. For example, we came across a temple that stood out among a few thousands of others in Taiwan. Longqi WenHeng Temple has a “step outside the box” mentality to embrace multiculturalism. A simple place like this is cultural, kids-friendly, less crowded, low budget, and fun. Learn as you go!
The key to a fun trip is to create anticipation and get everyone to feel excited about what they will experience based on their knowledge!
- Age-appropriate itinerary: Different age groups of children have different levels of physical and mental development. Each group also requires different essential items, so try to associate travel plans with children’s age.
Baby, toddlers, and preschoolers
Baby to preschool groups are often referred to as high-maintenance travelers. They are too young to stay focused on an activity for too long and also need extensive care, such as bottle feeding, changing diapers, carrying strollers, not to mention the tantrums.
The good news is toddlers and preschoolers only need simple activities to make their day! When we went to Hawaii, we were still able to enjoy the paradise with some toddler-friendly activities. And when my daughter was showing high interest in train rides and snowmen, we took a short trip to the nearby village called La Vall de Núria, from Barcelona by train.
The grade-schoolers group has better self-care and communication skills compared to the previous group. This group of children is often high energy and eager to explore. We love the idea of inviting my daughter’s “playdate” family to a mini-vacation. We can set up outdoor activities such as camping where kids can spend time running around on the grassy fields, an easy hike where kids can explore nature, or visit beaches to swim.
Tween and teens
Planning a vacation with tweens or teens is better to be done as a family – it is vital to get them involved and understand their opinions. Perhaps visit a place that was mentioned in the class last week or a city that has appeared in a movie? Allowing your kid to bring a friend may get you a cool parent card.
- Making Reservations: Once you decide on the overall plan, there will be a series of bookings. Here are the top 10 questions that may help you through the reservations process:
- Logistic to get to the destination city or country
- Transportation from the airport to the hotel
- Family-friendly hotel or resorts to stay
- Commute during the trip
- Visa entry
- Passport validation
- The local information like weather, safety, or travel alerts
- Kid-friendly restaurants and activities
- Medical emergency contacts
- Family travel insurance
My family’s perfect trip has always been a safe environment, a balanced itinerary where we can get all family members excited, and never travel with a tight schedule. Be flexible, simple, and loose!
PREPARE YOUR TRAVEL TEAM
Regardless of who is the mastermind behind the travel plan, in order to have a harmonious “collaboration,” a pre-travel briefing is highly recommended! Especially for spouses and older children, you really want to avoid spending time explaining every plan at every single step, or be the only one who is responsible for all the tickets, and tracking the schedule.
The pre-travel briefing is one of the most important settings that define the planning process itself. It helps the family to stay aligned to help each other out during the trip!
- How to prepare your child?
Is your trip involved in crossing the border or somewhere nearby for the weekend? Preparation techniques vary according to your travel plan and kid’s age group.
Toddlers and preschoolers are starting to get active and can be sensitive to changes. Conversation in advance is suggested, perhaps using a learning board technique to show the pictures of the places where you are going, engage your little kids with visual communication.
If your children are in the tweens and teens’ group, preparation can be more advanced. Perhaps learn some phrases in the local language if you are traveling to a foreign country and study geography. Or any important dos and don’ts in a particular country are also worth it for your teenager to spend time researching. For example, table manners in France are very different than in the USA and Taiwan.
- Start packing early & travel light
When I first started traveling with my young kids, I often found myself struggling with what to pack. Not only did I end up overpack, but I also felt overwhelmed!
As I’ve slowly built-up my travel experiences, I now usually walk through what are the essential items for the family. I think of the things that I’ve traveled with before, possible items I may need in the new destination such as a travel adapter, and note them down on my phone’s Reminder App.
Take a final look at the items on the packing list and filter through:
- Can you fit them in travel size?
- Can any heavy items be replaced?
- Do you have a suitable suitcase and compartment bags?
- Can you purchase it at the destination?
- Is this item really necessary to bring?
- Can anything be shared among family members?
You definitely do not want to leave everything to the last minute; there are several printable detail packing lists shared online… feel free to use those as guidelines. I never pack without the packing list on my phone nowadays. Once your own packing list is ready, the actual packing process is easier and more efficient.
Remember to leave some empty space in your travel suitcase for souvenir fun!
- Embrace uncertainty
Whether you are taking an airplane with a bulky stroller or leaving for a two-week coastal road trip, be ready for the unexpected! Your family is very likely to face some travel situations; kids get cranky when they are exhausted, dealing with a sick family member, hotel reservation issues, the vehicle broke down or a flight was delayed. We were once stuck in the Amsterdam hotel for 5 days due to my sick child! All these problems may cause frustration during the trip, especially between the parents. Be mindful about the presence of your child, take a deep breath, and avoid arguments. Family travel does not need to be perfect. Embrace the uncertainty and focus on building a memorable trip together. Every experience is a story!!
Always reserve extra time for important activities, such as checking in at the airport!
- Family travel traditions
We send postcards to family members, select souvenirs for grandparents and cousins, and we always bring home a fridge magnet as our travel collections.
Families with young kids do spend a significant amount of time in the hotel room. We love our mini-hotel room cultures, such as playing in the clean bathtub, bed jump activities, or card games.
HOME SWEET HOME!
Returning home from a trip with kids is exhausting. Imagine that parents are trying to adjust to the jetlag to resume work, but the little ones are still up and jumping at 4 am. Not to mention the errands, laundry, and unpacking work to finish up. Try to rest early the first day and get back to a routine slowly, if possible.
Learning doesn’t stop after the trip. Recapping the trip is an excellent way of reflecting on travel experiences. Encourage your child to share stories with friends or talk about it at school. We also put up a travel photo wall at home, which allows my kids to see the past and the present, and eventually, these images function as the connection point of their stories.
Traveling with kids can be enjoyable and stress-free. It is an excellent way for families to spend quality time together.