Traveling with kids can be one of the most rewarding aspects of parenthood. Exposing your children to new sights, new sounds, and new cultures is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Seeing the world through their eyes makes the journey even richer. But traveling with kids is not without its downsides. It requires a lot of planning and more patience than you ever thought possible. It also requires parents to shift their mindset; in other words, chill out. Following are the things I wish I knew before traveling with kids.
1. Everything will take twice as long.
It’s always a good idea to factor in extra time when traveling, especially when traveling with kids. However long you think something will take, double it. Things can and will happen. Favorite toys get left behind, diapers blow out and food gets spilled on shirtfronts. Accidents aside, kids are known dawdlers so even the simplest activities seem to take an eternity. Kids will spend 20 minutes making faces at themselves in the mirror after using the bathroom, pretend the ground is lava in a busy train station, or suddenly realize they’ve forgotten to tie their shoelaces during the rush to catch a flight.
2. Kids are surprisingly resilient.
Kids are picky about what they eat, what they do, and where they go. Traveling turns their routine on its head. There will always be some kids who just can’t adapt, but for the most part, kids can be more easygoing than we give them credit for. They might complain if the airline doesn’t serve their favorite brand of apple juice or if the restaurant puts red sauce on their spaghetti, but most kids will quickly figure out that they just have to deal with it.
3. It’s OK to push your kids’ boundaries.
Kids are notoriously stubborn when it comes to trying new things. Travel is all about stepping out of your comfort zone. Parents should encourage their kids to challenge themselves, whether tasting a new food, hiking a few more miles, or facing a fear of heights to go ziplining. That said, it’s also important to recognize your child’s unique personality. Expecting a rambunctious, high-energy kid to browse an art gallery is a bad idea, as is dragging an introverted bookworm along on a shopping spree in a crowded night market.
4. Household rules do not apply.
By its nature, travel is an exploration outside the ordinary. Parents who attempt to follow the same rules on the road as they do at home will find themselves stressed to the max. It’s really no big deal if your kids don’t eat all their veggies or have dessert before dinner. If burying their heads in their devices gets them through a day-long road trip without whining, so be it. It won’t harm them in the long run and everyone, mom and dad included, will be grateful for the peace and quiet.
5. Paying extra for conveniences is a good investment.
Cost is certainly a consideration for most travelers. But when traveling with kids, upgrades are often worth the extra expense. Choosing a direct flight, springing for your infant’s own seat, or reserving a hotel room with a kitchenette can make your trip a bit smoother. Even simple things like buying overpriced snacks from the hotel gift shop can ward off the stress of searching for a grocery store in an unfamiliar city. I know a traveler who missed a flight because he spent too much time searching for an affordable off-airport parking lot just to save a few bucks.
6. You are not special because you have a child.
You’re not the first person to travel with a child nor will you be the last. Expecting others to bend the rules because you have a kid is unrealistic at best and self-centered at worse. It’s thoughtful for strangers to give up a seat on a bus or let you jump the line for the restroom, but it isn’t mandatory. Too often, parents expect special treatment because they are traveling with kids. I once witnessed a mother demand a pilot hold the plane because her infant daughter was asleep and she didn’t want to interrupt her nap to board.
7. Kids need time to be kids.
Parents sometimes don’t understand why their kids are less-than-enthusiastic about sightseeing after traveling halfway across the world. But kids just need time to do their own thing. Visiting local playgrounds or parks is a great way for kids to let off some steam and do what they do best — play. It’s also a great way to interact with locals. Scheduling free time to let kids do what they want can recharge the whole family.
8. And they won’t sleep or eat when you want them to.
At home, most parents keep their children on a strict schedule. Stringent itineraries may be a necessity to get to school or soccer practice on time but they don’t always work while traveling. Nine times out of ten, kids won’t sleep on the airplane, they won’t be hungry by dinnertime, and they won’t have to use the bathroom before you head out for the day. In fact, it’s pretty much guaranteed your child will have to go potty at the worst possible time, like on a bumpy bus ride or at the top of a Ferris wheel.
9. People aren’t giving you dirty looks (usually).
Kids can be noisy. But those people in the seat behind you aren’t necessarily giving you dirty looks. Most likely, they are giving you looks of sympathy because they’ve been in your shoes. Sure, some people are kid-haters and have very little tolerance for rowdy tots. But as long as you’re doing your best to calm and redirect your child, most fellow travelers are more understanding than you think.
10. Adults do not have a monopoly on the world.
Children have a right to travel as much as anyone else. The days of children being seen but not heard are long gone. There’s no reason that the under-18 crowd should be relegated to zoos or amusement parks. They should wander museums, visit famous landmarks, explore cities and discover nature. Be proud that you’re giving your children a window into the real world.
11. It’s all worth it.
Travel-related stress can happen with or without a little one in tow. But in the end, it’s worth the extra time and expense. It may require more planning and more patience, but the downsides are dwarfed by the benefits. Traveling with your children teaches them important lessons and creates family memories that will last a lifetime.