It’s safe to say that the world has changed in ways that no one could have anticipated . As we’re all continuously adjusting and adapting, it might seem as though traveling should be the last thing on our minds, especially as a family. But travel is opening up slowly but surely and it’s a great time to start planning.
Maybe you’re familiar with the expression, “You only have 18 summers with your child”. When our children are young, it can sometimes seem like we have all the time in the world to spend with them, but at some point, we begin to realize how fast the time really does fly by. At some point, “waiting until the kids are older so that they can appreciate it” turns into “we’d better do that soon or they’ll be off on their own”!
But is it worth the time and expense of planning extraordinary family adventures when kids are young? Yes! Taking a family vacation together helps families get out of their routines and helps them focus on making memories, and genuinely appreciating the (relatively brief) amount of time that they have together (and less screen time is a huge bonus!).
One experience now can become a treasured family story for years to come. Helping to care for an elephant, taking a chocolate-making class in Paris, or zip-lining through a tropical rainforest are things that you’ll be able to look back on forever. It’s amazing how many great dinner table conversations start with, “Remember when we…” Those shared moments bring families together.
Family travel isn’t just for a good time. Exposing kids to different cultures, experiences, and locations can be valuable parts of their education. Culture doesn’t just encompass history and works of art, after all (although those are certainly important aspects!)– it can be as subtle as a new way of looking at things or an appreciation for the differences among groups of people or languages. And it doesn’t have to be far flung trips. Taking small trips within a few hours of your house or going to your favorite all-inclusive that caters to kids on a non-stop flight are all great options.
I’ve talked about some of the benefits of traveling as a family(both within the United States and abroad)but what are some ways to help ensure every member of the family has a great time? It all starts with planning. Here are some of my top tips that I share with my clients as I am designing their trips:
- Don’t assume that just because your children are young that they cannot travel the world. There are countless ways to incorporate even exotic locations in family travel. From safari camps that cater to children to resorts that include engaging kids’ clubs, and some that even have baby gear included. The more your little-ones travel, the easier it becomes (for you and for them).
- Start small and work your way up. Globetrotting with a three-year-old is possible but not necessarily recommended for your first trip. Understanding how your children react and adjust to new situations is critical before adding some jet lag.
- Remember that the dynamics of your family will travel with you. We often get caught up in the romantic side of travel. We envision every family member is always smiling and laughing (and not having a tantrum or fighting with their siblings) and forget that our family idiosyncrasies will still be there in other locations.
Make a plan in advance for meltdowns, naptimes, and entertainment when they get bored. Prepare kids for what to expect from both the destination and the activities – perhaps even bringing some favorite snacks from home for some normalcy. The less stress you have, the better time the kids will have.
- Include everyone in the planning. Ask your kids what they would like to do or see, or use their hobbies and interests as a jumping-off point for discoveries. In my experience, when kids have a role to play in the creation of travel plans, it creates excitement and a “buy-in” to trying new things. Do they love trains? Animals? Harry Potter? Marine life? Try to work those interests into the itinerary.
- Slow it down. Children (and even grandparents, too, if a multi-generational trip) need downtime built into the day. Structure your day so that there is time to swim in the pool, play at a local playground, or scout out the best gelato and enjoy it under a shady tree. You may not check off every site on your list, but remember, that might not be your goal when traveling with your family. Physical activity and rest are important ingredients to a great travel experience.
- Create experiences that are immersive and interesting for the whole family. Get hands-on in a cooking class geared for kids, or opt for a scavenger hunt through the Louvre instead of walking the halls with an audio guide. If sustainability is important to you as a family, give back to the community you are visiting by helping out.
- Speaking of the Louvre, avoid lines. Getting passes in advance for locations that are sure to be packed or having a restaurant reservation for a popular restaurant makes everyone happier—the less waiting, the better. The caveat to this tip, however, is to not over plan. Leave some room for spontaneity too.
- Hire professional private guides. This may make the biggest (positive) difference in the entire trip. Using a professional that is accustomed to working with children and families will allow you to go at your own pace, ask as many questions as they want, and have a tour customized to precisely what you wish to do in both timing and subject matter.
Local professional guides know the best tricks for beating the crowds, often have priority access for behind the scenes, know the hidden gems for dining and unique places off the tourist track. In our current health situation and as travel returns, using a private guide also allows you to be further away from big crowds. Along with having drivers for tours, reserve private transportation to other components of your trip to alleviate stress. Almost every good company will have car seats and boosters for their younger passengers.
- Include your accommodations as part of the experience. The accommodations that you choose can make or break your vacation. Having family suites or connecting rooms is just the beginning. Many hotels and resorts offer special amenities to their youngest guests, from coloring books, milk and cookies, and spa robes in the room to curated kid menus for picky eaters and on-property activities. And if space and privacy are on your must-have list, villas are a fantastic way to experience a destination – and childcare and private chefs can easily be arranged.
- Hire a professional travel advisor (of course!). Professional travel advisors know the ins and outs of creating a trip to suit every family member, the best guides and accommodations that specialize in family travel all over the world, and help take all the stress out of the planning and booking process so that you don’t need to worry about the logistics.
We also have plenty of suggestions to enhance your stay, as well. For instance, hiring a professional photographer is a great way to capture the memories of your family enjoying the location you are visiting. Now more than ever, having a professional to advise and update you on the continual changes in regulations and requirements is something I highly recommend.
So when the time is right, give us a call, get out there with your small citizens of the world, and make some memories!