Travelling is one of my passions. I love travelling! Always have, always will.
Growing up in Europe I travelled a lot with my parents, perhaps that’s where I got my travel bug from. Later on, I chose a profession that requires travel and I loved the fact that I got to live in some amazing places across the globe.
I met my husband while working in Australia – he is Canadian with English roots and I am German, with this mix you are bound to travel with kids to visit with family. Regardless of that, when my husband and I decided to have kids we didn’t want to “settle down”, we wanted to continue seeing the world. We decided to make some specific lifestyle choices that allow us to continue our amazing travelling journey. For example, we founded our own company that we can run remotely, and we started homeschooling the kids to be able to travel whenever it suits us.
Our first trip with our first child was a 7.5 hour plane ride at his tender age of 8 weeks. Travelling with babies is a lot easier, especially if they just sleep, eat and poop! The challenges come later when they don’t want to sleep, become picky eaters and don’t want to sit still. 😉
Over the years, I found some tips and tricks that work well for both us and our two boys, who are seasoned travellers and surprisingly easy to travel with. As we’re travelling frequently, I often get asked on how we do it. Especially when we travel for long durations with multiple locations. With the travel season around the corner, I’ve written down a few handy tips and tricks on travelling with children.
I hope you’ll find them helpful!
First things first: packing suitcases to travel. I’m very specific about packing and none of the other family members can interfere with this or it will drive me crazy. To minimize space I roll everything, which also means it creases less and it’s handy to sort into drawers if need be. I have a very specific order, so I know exactly what to say when I get “Muuuuuummmm! Where are my PJ’s?” I also divide everyone’s clothes into each suitcase, because luggage goes missing and you don’t want to be stuck with family members without anything to wear! It takes me about 2 – 3 hours to pack two to three bags. By the end of 6 weeks, I’ll manage to pack bags in less than 20 minutes following the same pattern every time.
Before you start travelling, discuss the process with your kids and your spouse. We have plenty of books about airports and airplanes. We often read them before our travel and go through each step from arriving to the airport to going on the plane. They now understand each step and know the importance of security and passport control. During the time of travel, keep checking in with the little ones, make sure you know how they feel and comfort them to prevent possible meltdowns. I travel in old clothes for this reason – floors can be dirty, but I would rather have dirty pants from kneeling down to be on their eye height checking in with them, then have a meltdown at boarding time!
The other important communication is with your spouse. Decide before starting the journey who will handle kids, who will handle passport control etc. For example, in our family I handle the kids, while my husband handles the communication with various staff.
Entertaining the kids
Keeping the kids entertained on a long trip, either car or plane, is hard work! Digital entertainment made travel easier, but we don’t allow the kids to be on a screen non-stop. (screen time is totally banned in the car) Overnight flights are tough, as the addiction to a screen won’t let kids sleep at all. We started a rule where they can play for 30 minutes, and then need to be off for an hour before going back on. (Usually they will fall asleep during the hour screen free time)
I’m proud to say that the following idea came from my mother and I continue with the “tradition” of a travel suitcase. It’s a special suitcase (or backpack) filled with games and other surprises which only come out when we’re travelling. Every trip there will be a new surprise or two, but their favourite travel toys will stay in it and they are always excited to see their favourites again, playing excitedly for hours. Suitcase includes things like magnetic board games, play dough, card games, pens and notepads. As I have two LEGO crazy kids, it also contains a special homemade travel friendly LEGO box.
Speaking of LEGO, I always travel with some packages of LEGO mini figures. These come out as a special treat if the kids have been good at a dinner in a restaurant.(mealtime is also screen free in our household)
Of course not all parts of your travel allow toy suitcases to be rummaged through. There are situations like standing in lineups, waiting for boarding or sometimes even stressful situations like loosing connecting flights, lost luggage, etc. For those times I have a list of fun things to do with the kids to distract them and also nurture my relationship with my kids, so they feel safe.
Fortune telling: Take your child’s hand in yours and pretend to read her/his fortune by looking at the palm. Saying lots of positive things about the future (easy if you travel to a beach and can build sand-forts 😉 )
Weather report: Sit with your child facing away from you so that you can put your hands on her/his back. You then describe the weather and rub her/his back to match the weather. For example, “It’s a warm sunny day,” you make a circle. “The wind is beginning to blow,” you swoop your hands lightly across her back making a swishing noise. For “thunder,” use the sides of your hands to shake gently on the back. For “rain make light finger taps. For “lightning,” make a large zig-zag across the back. This also works well with telling other stories like planting a garden, etc.
Mirroring : Face your child standing and move your arms, face, or other body parts. Ask your child to move in the same way. If your child is very active, you could use slow motion and vary the speed. You and your child could take turns being the leader.
If you are waiting on delayed flights and have kids who just need to blow off some steam, you could also try some of these:
Red light, Green light: Ask your child to do something, such as run, jump, move arms. Green light means go, red light means stop.
What time is it, Mr Wolf?: You stand on one side of whatever space you’re in, your child on the other, facing each other. Your child calls out “What time is it Mr. Wolf?” You reply “1:00” and your child takes one step towards you. You can vary the time you give to vary the number of steps your kid takes towards you. Once she/he gets to you, you can give her/him a big hug, or also add in a reply of “lunchtime” and playfully catch your child to give a hug.
Some of these activities actually attract other kids and you may find yourself in the middle of a waiting lounge with a bunch of kids playing and laughing together.
We also have a few favourite games for the restaurant that just require a pen and paper:
Art Share: This game can be played with the whole family. One piece of paper to draw a single picture together. Every family member takes one pen, then each player takes a turn to draw one line on the paper. The start may look like a scribble, but the end goal is to create something together. We’ve created some fantastic creatures this way.
Scribble Art: Let your child scribble something on a piece of paper, then it’s your turn to make something out of that scribble. I.e., add some legs and a face to create an alien or robot. You can also take turns with your child to scribble something.
I could go on and on about our trial and error process, and perhaps I will write a part 2 of this blog post. My personal conclusion about travelling with kids: expect the unexpected! No matter how much you pre-plan, things will not always turn out the way you thought they would and that’s okay! Try to stay as calm and grounded as possible. Kids need you to be their rock for them at any time. Look after yourself, stay hydrated, make sure you have snacks for yourself and if you travel via plane, pack some spare clothes for you as well… you never know what’s going to happen!