Travel with kids, is it really so different? Yes it is! Before we left on our Big Adventure, long term traveling around South East Asia, we had some ideas about how traveling with an infant and later a toddler would be different from traveling as a couple. But the reality is always different! In this post we share the 10 major differences we discovered.
Having traveled a fair bit as a couple and before that solo or with friends, we both have our fair share of travel experience. Based on that, we thought travel with kids simply meant taking things more slowly and staying in one place longer than we normally would. In practice, it’s a little more complicated… Check out these 7 steps to adapt to family travel and this advice on how to get the best vacation experience with kids. There’s definitely a bit more to international travel with kids than we initially thought.
Of course, since we’ve taken a year off to travel, we have the luxury of letting our son set the pace and take our time. It’s a bit different if you’re on a family holiday and want to make the most of your three or four weeks abroad. We’re very lucky that our little world traveler likes to see and do new things, loves to go exploring with us and generally is a very good natured and happy child.
If you’re interested in traveling with kids, also check out:
- 10 tried and tested tips for flying with infants & toddlers
- 5 tips for a succesful city trip with kids
- Best strollers for traveling
- Best toddler travel beds buying guide
Travel with kids, a new dimension
We’re now in the fourth month of our journey and are still adjusting to our new way of travel. Some people think their traveling days are over when they have kids, but we’re discovering quite the opposite. We’re saying goodbye to a lot of things we liked about being on the road, but we’re also welcoming lots of new experiences. It’s truly amazing to travel with our little one, to see how happy he is, to see him grow and develop and discover all these new places, new people, new foods, new animals… We’re so happy we’ve made the decision to go travel with our son! If you’re considering long-term travel with kids, here’s what you need to know.
What we found out about travel with kids
1. More planning & more luggage
There’s a lot more planning involved when you travel with kids. What to bring, where to go… We’ve never been so stressed and overpacked as when we started this trip (tip: check out this list of things to leave at home!) and take a good travel toiletry bag and packing cubes to keep things organized. We prefer that have at least one big backpack, but you need to figure out what luggage configuration for your family. Check out this post which compares different types of backpacks. But, while trying to be more organized than we ever were when traveling as a couple, we try not to have a set itinerary and keep the freedom to decide fairly last minute where to go next. Make sure to update your phone with these must-have travel apps. Mobile internet often works better than the hotel wifi.
2. Predictable is better
Whereas the most unpredictable situations were always the ones we enjoyed most when we were traveling with just the two of us, now predictable is definitely preferable. Somehow getting stuck behind a religious procession after going out for dinner just isn’t the same when you’re trying to get home quickly so your very tired 2-year old can go to bed.
3. Your accommodation requirements change
Finding suitable accommodation is much much harder. Before, we just booked a plane, bus or boat ticket somewhere and always managed to find a place to stay when we got to our destination. Any room that was moderately clean would do. With a child a two bedroom accommodation is so much easier. Sneaking around in the dark so you don’t wake up the little one when you go to bed really gets old after a while. But even if we do share a room with the tree of us, our demands have changed. It needs to be clean, have a hot shower and either have a child’s cot or be big enough that we can use our own travel bed without tripping over it constantly.
4. Researching new destinations takes more time
Deciding where to go next can be stressful. Even though we travel with a toddler, we still don’t like to set our itinerary in stone. For us travel is about flexibility (as much as possible with a little one of course). But deciding where to go next is more difficult then it used to be, especially because of accommodation (see point above). We spend much more time then expected researching destinations and accommodations. Obviously certain locations are off-limits until he’s a bit bigger, no tree huts, rainforest shacks or floating bamboo bungalows for a while.
5. More contact with locals
When you travel with kids contact with the locals is even easier than before. A child doesn’t know language barriers. And in all the places we’ve been so far they really appreciate and welcome kids, much more so than back home. Everybody wants to know his name and age and they love it when he waves to them. The waiters in restaurants spontaneously pick him up and take him to see the kitchen. He loves the attention 🙂
6. Traveling with kids is intense
You’re much more active and yet do a lot less exploring. Since we follow our son’s pace and try to be home when he needs to sleep, we can really only do stuff in the mornings. He’s really active and inquisitive, so the hours he’s awake are very intense, with us constantly watching him. Fortunately, he naps 2-3 hours after lunch, which gives us some time to relax. But nap time also it means at least one of us needs to stay ‘home’ with him.
7. No nights out together
We’re always home around 8PM. Not that we were such party people when we traveled together, but there was always time for a few drinks after dinner. Now we need to be back home around 8 so that the little guy can go to bed. And of course one of us needs to stay at home with him in the evenings. Out of solidarity the other one usually stays home too. We’re not comfortable leaving our little one with a babysitter.
8. Dinners are more ‘interesting’ than before.
While family dinners can be a bit of a ‘thing’ with little children, now that we’re traveling we’re eating out a lot more than we normally do at home. We’re lucky Our little world traveler is fairly easy, but still, dinners can be a bit frustrating. He gets distracted and our little one who used to eat anything and everything now has the pickiness of an almost two year old. At the moment he’s on a diet consisting mostly of white rice and chicken. A quiet dinner is definitely out of the question.
9. You meet less other travelers
In large, this has to do with us not going out at night, but also with the accommodations we stay in. We immediately notice that it gets easier to meet people when we stay in a bungalow type place. We do talk to people at dinner. Usually they comment on the Totseat travel chair our little one sits in 🙂 But they’re not the RTW traveller or backpacker type people that we’re used to. It almost seems like travellers who don’t have children are afraid to talk to you when you travel with kids. A shame because we really get a lot of energy out of meeting new people and sharing stories with others.
10. You phone home a lot more
A short txt when you’re moving to say where you’re going next and that everything is ok isn’t enough anymore. Jace’s two sets of grandparents want to see him and talk to him at least every few days, which makes us spend a lot more time on FaceTime and Skype.
If you’re considering travel with kids or are already on the road, the Facebook group Families who love travel is a great resource. Families on the move is also a great group, but it’s a closed group that you can only join if you’re planning to travel for more than 6 months.