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.
We’ve definitely become fans of Airbnb. If you’re new to Airbnb, why not use this link and receive a €30 discount on your first AirBnb booking.
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.
24 thoughts on “Travel with kids: 10 major differences”
Thank you for the nice post – I can agree on most of the points. We are just started 3 weeks ago with our two daughters (aged one and three) for a long-term travel across South East Asia. At the moment we explore Vietnam from South to North. We are not planning much in advance and do not want to see all the sights which might be possible and we travel slowly at their pace. Regarding food – we have a fussy one and the other one nearly tries everything. A big challenge so far is sometimes to find nappies, especially the right size as our daughters are quite petite and small. #MondayEscapes
Oh I definitely feel you!! I love the way you describe dinners as more ‘interesting’! My husband will sometimes pop down for a drink in a hotel bar once our boys are in bed but there is no way I would ever do this to be honest, I would feel ridiculous being in a bar on my own so I’m happy for him to go and I often just watch movies whilst attempting not to wake my boys up! #MondayEscapes
Haha, that’s me too! I’m not too comfortable going out at night by myself either. I think Mau misses this part of traveling more than I do.
I can relate to lots of these differences. I have loved travelling with my baby and am now looking forward to seeing how she experiences the world as a toddler. #fearlessfamtrav
Oh yes travelling with kids is completley different to prekids. However we love it and our days are packed full of things to do with some downtime before our evening meal. Works well for us #fearlessfamtrav
Ah yes, most of this applies even for local travel with kids which is what we find ourselves doing the majority of the time. One of the things that has struck me the most is about how friendly people are when you have kids with you. Family travel is definitely a brave new world, but it’s actually OK 🙂 #fearlessfamilytrav
Haha, brave new world indeed! We always notice that in Asia not only the older, but also the younger people are so friendly and happy to meet our son. Back home, it seems teens and tweens often find interacting with small kids a bit awkward.
I agree with you on all these points! Travelling with kids is SO different from pre-kids travel. But it’s not in a bad way at all. I love exploring places that I would never have thought of exploring if I didn’t have kids with me. #FearlessFamTrav
Exactly! We never would’ve seen all those playgrounds in Vienna and Berlin if it hadn’t been for our son 😉 The cool thing is though that they were all in local neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods we most likely wouldn’t have explored if we hadn’t been looking for those playgrounds. So definitely different, but still fun!
I think the planning is the most life-changing thing when you travel with babies. It’s never-ending and you really do have to budget yourself so much more time. Took me a while to get used to that! #fearlessfamtrav
Very interesting list, and we relate to most (actually pretty much all) of it! In particular, we love the additional contact with locals; we have four kids and they nearly always find some buddies to play with (and we get to chat with their families) 🙂 #FearlessFamTrav
I totally agree! I think lots of newbie parents forget that the nursing continues while on holiday or during a long term travel trip. Traveling with kids has its downsides but I wouldn’t miss it!!
Being home at 8pm sounds familiar. And when they nap during the day it is also being home at noon. Oh well, it’s a good thing little kids can be so adorable 😉
It sounds like you have created a “new travel normal” to accommodate life with toddler in tow. It is all about expectations and better when you realize that travel with kids is just different (not necessarily better or worse, depends on the context!) and then you can appreciate what it has evolved into now. Does that make sense? It sounds like you have done it well. And it keeps evolving as the kids grow. Speaking as a mom of two teens and a tween – they don’t just come along anymore – they want to engage in each step. Which was an adjustment for me, but I’m enjoying it now! Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin #FearlessFamTrav
I completely agree with everything you say! We have found both in qatar and abroad a lot of people want to take photos of our lo. Not had anyone grab out of her pram though!
We have found we eat our big meal at lunch as it is so much easier than at night.
Thanks for linking to #fearlessfamtrav! Hope you can join next month
We now travel with ten of our children (the three eldest have moved out/have work commitments) and don’t remember travelling without kids. Am looking forward to the day I get to try that side and compare! For now, it’s (mostly) great fun. Mostly. #MondayEscapes
It’s great that you’ve been so honest in this post but I completely agree too, we have so much fun with the kids and people talk to us when they wouldn’t otherwise have done so because of the kids. #MondayEscapes
We’re going through a lot of the same thing travel around with our baby. So far, we’ve really only been taking road trips, albeit long ones, because we’re overpacking the car. We have also found that people talk to us more. We’re going to have to look into that Totseat too. #mondayescapes
The Totseat is awesome, Stephanie! We bought ours second hand and were so lucky we brought it. Overpacking was a big issue for us too, but less of a problem if you’re traveling by car I think. You get tired pretty quickly from hauling all that luggage around to and from airports, trains and hotels…
I love the honesty in this post and also the positive attitude towards traveling with a child. Thanks for the perspective. 🙂 #MondayEscapes
Life certainly changes with kids but as you say it is no less fun. we are now at the other end where our kids are growing up and no longer want to come away with us preferring festivals with friends and I’m not looking forward to holidays as just the 2 of us again. #MondayEscapes
We always take both our boys when we travel and the biggest change we found is how many strangers just come and talk to u. Well, they kind of ignore us and talk to them 🙂 but it’s very lovely!
Yes exactly, we have the same experience! Kids are amazing ice breakers 🙂 We had so many great conversations because of our little one.
Oh I feel exhausted reading this. Sounds very full on and tiring but how amazing though! What an amazing thing you are doing, very exciting. I think finding somewhere to eat for the little one would be the one I would struggle with as my youngest is very fussy. I look forward to reading more adventures 🙂 #MondayEscapes
Haha, raising young kids is exhausting, wherever you are 😉 It really wasn’t as tiring as it sounds though. Traveling just gives me so much energy! You do get creative with food and we’re lucky our little one LOVES fruit.
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