The best thing to do before going on this vacation is to know what to expect and to prepare ahead of time for your children.
With the right tips you will be able to have the magical experience that you have dreamed of. You will enjoy the trip with your children and will be able to fully understand what to expect before you get to the park.
Once there you will be able to enjoy all of the activities and make the most of the magical memories that your children can enjoy.
Here are the 38 useful tips to have perfect family trip with your kids.
1 – Take the Kids to the Beach
Most of our trips center on places with a beach. In Barcelona, we chose an apartment that wasn’t too far from the beach.
Since the temperature of the trip was so high, the kids tired of seeing yet another church. So, we decided that every other day would be a beach day.
Just make sure to bring those sandbox for your kids.
2 – Use Incentives to Motivate the Children to Endure Activities
Giving incentives can help out. You could offer an ice cream for every museum they visit without complaining. The kids have something to look forward to and we can enjoy the museum. It is a win-win situation.
This approach can have a down side if children expect a reward for doing any activity aimed for adults.
However, if they complain and are miserable the whole time, it might be a wise choice to consider all of your options. We have also found that having an iPad and giving added screen time works when we are in a bind.
There is nothing worse than looking at famous artwork and being rushed or having to shush your children.
With a drawing program on your iPad, you might even get them to draw what they see. This approach expands the experience beyond one more boring painting.
3 – Freeze Bottles Overnight When in a Hot Climate
This single tip is one of the best tricks I have learned over the years. When you are traveling to an area that is scalding, it pays to fill bottles with water and freeze them overnight.
You can then drink them as they thaw the next day. The best part is that if you pack them next to cokes, they will keep the cokes cold in your bag even when the outside temperature is scorching.
I learned this trick from men selling frozen bottles of water in Athens. They were selling the bottles for 1€ each. The temperature during our trip hit 95F (35C).
When walking around the Parthenon at that temperature, the ancient Greek stone ruins reflect the heat they have absorbed all day. The bottles melt and you have an unending supply of ice cold water until they are empty.
If the temperature isn’t too cold, freeze the bottles halfway full. When you start the day, add water to the top of the bottle and bring it.
Thus, you ensure you still have ice cold water, but you don’t have to wait for it to melt. The trip needs to be fun for the kids. If they aren’t happy, you won’t be either. If they are hot and dehydrated, you will end up having a lousy trip.
4 – Don’t Force Fun
Fun is something that happens naturally. A friend took his child to Legoland, and all the kid wanted to do was play with the Legos.
The parent was concerned that the Legos at Legoland were the same as the child had at home. What’s the point of going to Legoland if you aren’t doing anything different than you would do at home?
The problem is that we think like adults. From the child’s perspective, playing with Legos at Legoland is very different and more exciting than doing it at home.
There is a connection and bonding experience that might seem from an adult’s perspective like a waste of time and money. Unlike adults, children have a way of enjoying the moment.
For a child, the trip is full of adventure and mystery in minor details. They also may find excitement in the larger attractions.
Forcing the child to stop playing with the details can drain the magic from the experience for them. This is why it is so important to allow children to explore the sights and sounds of the trip.
Don’t rush them into having fun. You may find you are actually taking away the fun you want them to experience.
5 – Involve the Kids in the Planning
The best way to make the trip as fun as possible for the children is to let them decide what you will see and do. Help them understand you have a limited budget.
Also, let them be part of the decision making of how that money can be divided between the different options for your trip.
This has three major benefits:
- They learn how money and opportunity cost works.
- They feel ownership regarding where you travel and what you do.
- They develop an adventurer’s spirit when involved in the details.
6 – Give the Kids Money to Buy a Souvenir
To this day, I am reminded of visiting different places by the trinkets I purchased there. There is something about buying things when traveling that has a way of drawing you closer to the place.
I am not arguing for giving the kids piles of cash to spend. Rather, the ability to buy something that costs a few dollars and is special to that location can help build memories and remind them of the trip many years later.
7 – Review Each Day
It is important to keep a pulse of how a trip is going with the kids. At the end of each day ask them what they liked and didn’t like. Ask them for advice on what could be better for the next day.
The worst thing you can do is to wait until the end of a trip to find out if the children were miserable during the trip.
Sometimes, the requests and desires of the kids are cheap and easy to meet, but they don’t know how to ask for what they want. So, they are unhappy and you are puzzled why the trip isn’t going as planned.
8 – Use the Kids Club for Adults Only Nights
Just because you are traveling with children doesn’t mean you have to spend 24 hours a day with them. It can be healthy to take a night out with just the adults.
However, you need to make sure the kids will be cared for while you are out. This means you need to ensure that at least one child is old enough to watch the others in the hotel room.
In addition, we tried kids clubs at some of the hotels we visited. They have deals where there are adults who supervise the activities of your children while you are away.
These are popular with the kids and allow the adults to have an evening with dinner or a show without the children.
The goal of the trip is bonding as a family.
However, that doesn’t mean the family has to be together every second of the trip.
So, take time for adult alone time. This will also maximize the memories from the trip and will expand bonding among the adults.
9 – Establish a Routine
Younger children are happiest when they have a routine. The world is full of learning in even the simplest of activities around them.
Everything is new and they are continually exploring the world. They develop a feeling of safety around the routines of their normal lives and have a sense of security in these routines.
Traveling will, by its very nature, break that routine. When traveling it is important to maintain the daily cycle as close to normal as possible.
- Getting up at the same time.
- Going to bed at the same time.
- Eating meals at the same time.
- Eating the same foods, if possible.
For the older children and adults, the whole point is to break routines to better experience life. Younger children and babies are already getting a high level of exposure to new things. They will be happiest when you hold to the normal routines.
10 – Bring an iPad
If you are waiting in a long line or a boring patch in your trip, there is no reason your child should be bored.
Instead, have an iPad or similar tablet they can play games on, draw, or read. You don’t want them to remember the trip as being boring and hot with long lines. This outcome can be avoided and using screen time is perfect for addressing such problems.
From time to time they can come in handy when facing a slow point on your trip. The alternative is having your children complain about the trip. You may try using books and educational games on your devices.
11 – Pay Attention to Changes in Mood During the Trip
It is easy for us to assume that our children are having a great time on a trip when we are enjoying ourselves. However, that isn’t always the case.
I remember when one of our sons was three years old and we were visiting Disneyworld. We started with a few rides, hit the haunted mansion and then traveled on the jungle cruise.
At the end of the ride, my son asked if we were going home soon. Without paying much attention, we hadn’t noticed that these rides and shows were too scary for him. Our son hadn’t been able to express what he was feeling and we had crossed a limit.
This is important to keep in mind when traveling. In Norway, parents take their kids to Syden (any vacation around the Mediterranean Sea).
The problem is that, unlike Norway, alcohol here is cheap. Consequently, some Norwegians get drunk every day of their vacation. They don’t notice the impact this has on their children.
This is another good reason to pay close attention to how your choices affect your children when traveling. I consider it a great idea to ask the children if they are having a good time during the trip or if they would rather be doing other things.
Keeping things flexible gives children permission to let you know if they aren’t OK with something. If the kids aren’t having a good time, I am not having a good time. I may wish to see a few more cathedrals.
However, if the kids are too hot, it may be time to hit the beach instead.
12 – Bring Sunscreen
Getting sunburned can make the trip miserable for the kids. It is always better to apply too much sunscreen than to hope for the best and allow the kids to get sunburned.
When they are sunburned, it drops the desire to do anything. They feel the pain of the sunburn and are more sensitive to the sun and warm temperatures for the remainder of the trip.
Sunscreen is a cheap price to pay to avoid all of the problems that come with sunburn.
13 – Bring Bug Spray
If you will be in the forest or near a forest, you will want to bring bug spray. Like sunscreen, bugs can make the experience miserable.
I have been in a situation where everyone is getting eaten alive by mosquitoes or other blood sucking creatures. A little bug spray goes a long way toward avoiding misery.
14 – Everyone Carries a Backpack
This is one of my favorite tips.
If each person has their own backpack, we can keep drinks and winter clothes separate. If a person gets hot or cold they can take off layers and put them in their own bag.
In addition, everyone has their own drinks and food in their bags. If they wish to bring along a stuffed animal or toy, they can carry it in their sack.
This trick also works great if someone buys something. We use this method to divide the common items we need to bring along.
This means that no one ends up having to carry much weight since it is all distributed. It also means that if someone needs one of their items, they have it on their back.
The final advantage is that the backpacks, if padded, can be used as a seat. This is important if you need to sit on:
- The ground.
- Something wet.
- The snow.
15 – Use Public Transportation
Although I use public transportation anyway, it is important for the children. They enjoy looking out the window and being on a bus or train as they move around the city.
This is exciting for the kids and much more than mere transportation. It is part of the adventure. So, when visiting a new place with the kids, take a bus, train or boat to make the adventure more exciting.
16 – Have the Kids Take Pictures
Kids love to take pictures.
They don’t need an expensive camera and it creates an activity that requires nothing other than a subject for the photos. They focus on taking the best picture they can of that location. Even the most boring of places can become exciting and new.
I include the best pictures taken by the children in our photo gallery. This gives even more incentive for them to take pictures while traveling.
The more activities and options they have during any trip, the easier it is to get them to try things.
17 – Use Arm Bracelets With Contact Information
A common fear is losing your child in a foreign city. Investing in an armband that has your contact information can make it much easier to find your child if you should be separated.
You can also write your phone number on their arm with a permanent marker if you don’t have an arm band available. Another option is using a thick hair band and writing your contact information on it.
We tell the children to go into a store and ask them to make a call to the police or us if they get lost.
If the children are older, they may have cell phones with them that ensure they are in touch in case of emergency. The most important thing is for them to stay put when separated.
18 – Bring a Stroller for Small Children
This one can never be overstated. If your children are six years old and younger, having a baby stroller will keep them from getting bored and having nowhere to sit.
In addition, if they get exhausted from walking or the sun, you can put them in the stroller and give them coverage.
The trip doesn’t have to stop just because they are tired. You can push them in the stroller.
We like umbrella strollers.
However, if you have space for a jogging stroller or a double jogging stroller (if it’s a twin), they can be even better since they provide room for luggage.
This is very handy when you don’t want to carry backpacks. You can just put them in the jogging stroller and use the stroller to move everything.
19 – Choose a Meeting Place in Case of Separation
Even if you are being careful to keep track of everyone, it is possible to forget someone. In a busy shopping area, someone may see something interesting.
They walk over to it and the rest of the group moves to a different direction. Within seconds, you are separated and can’t see or hear the other people in the group.
No matter where you are, establishing a designated meeting spot eliminates the time wasted trying to find each other. While this doesn’t work well with small children, it does with older children.
There should always be a designated meeting area. In the worst case scenario, the hotel itself should be the meeting spot. I have never lost any children while traveling abroad.
Even though I like to hold their hands and keep a close eye on them as we travel around the city, I still establish a designated meeting area regardless of where we are.
In addition, I change that designated area as we move around the town. That way, we can meet somewhere close like the doors of a church or a large statue.
20 – Put Name and Number Labels on All Bags and Gear
Losing luggage or mobile phones during a trip can be painful. One trick that helps avoid this problem is using labels with your contact information.
Many companies sell these labels and you should place them on all your belongings. If something is stolen, you may not see it again. However, if you misplace something, the label could be the difference between losing it and getting it back.
21 – Consider Splitting up the Group From Time to Time
Not all activities will work for everyone in the group. This is where it is useful to split up the group to ensure that age differences won’t stop you from enjoying certain activities. I like guided tours but they are boring for small children.
So, this is a perfect example of when I split off from the others and take the child who enjoys them. The same goes for eating at fancy restaurants.
Some of the children don’t like strange food. By splitting up the group, it is a win for everyone. The children who like the exotic food get just that and the others enjoy eating at the hotel.
22 – Have the Kids Make a Journal
Another trick for keeping the kids engaged is having them keep a journal. This is something they always keep in their backpack. Whenever we have downtime, they can pull it out and write.
There are plenty of things this journal can be used for:
- Drawing pictures of the buildings you see.
- Writing your thoughts on the food.
- Writing what you like the most or least.
- Writing all of the things that are most interesting in the city.
The key is that this is something they can take with them and review later. Writing a journal is an excellent way to help you verbalize what you are thinking or feeling. Often, our thoughts fly by without reflection.
Journaling is a way to slow down those thoughts and absorb them a different way. It also makes it easier to remember the events later. We want to maximize every possible experience from the trip and journaling is a sure fire way to make that happen.
23 – Let the Kids Choose a Magnet or Postcard for Each Trip
Souvenirs are a great way to remember a trip. It is even better if the kids can choose which souvenir to take home.
We like refrigerator magnets from the different places we visit, although other people like buying spoons or key chains or postcards.
All of these tokens will help the kids remember the trip and maximize the bang for the buck you get out of the trip. Allowing them to make choices gives them the feeling it is their trip and not just the adults pulling them along.
24 – Meet the Locals
Traveling is about growing and expanding who we are as people. Your children should be exposed to the different people in the cities you visit.
It is important for them to understand that people live differently. This helps them break out of the assumptions that:
- We only like people who are like us.
- There is something wrong with people who aren’t like us.
Rather, by embracing the differences, we become more open and better suited to live as a citizen of the world. It also helps us to appreciate the things we have more when we see the contrast with the locals.
25 – Bring Motion Sickness Pills
Motion sickness pills are a life saver for us. There is nothing fun about going on a boat trip or long car ride while feeling sick. It is easy to get these pills over the counter.
The best part is that they don’t even have to work.
They only need to cut the intensity of the sickness to make the trip bearable. We have found that for the kids they drop the sick feeling by 50%, which means they are able to make it.
26 – Be Careful Buying Drugs in Other Countries
In many parts of the world, some drugs purchased over the counter or by prescription are not real. To save money, the medicine is replaced with harmless alternatives.
So, you need to know that you may not get what you think you are paying for when getting drugs elsewhere. It is best to take your medication with you, although you should buy medication if it can’t wait until you get home.
27 – Avoid Going to Foreign Hospitals
The problem with hospitals is that they are often packed with diseases you may not have been exposed to before. This is true in countries that already have diseases different than those in your home country.
While we have been to clinics in the past with the children, you ought not go unless you have an issue that must be addressed.
Otherwise, you may expose yourself and your children to much worse problems. So, it is best to wait until you get home and avoid the risk.
28 – Weigh Your Kids’ Bags
Your children shouldn’t be carrying more than 10% of their own weight in their backpacks. This means you need to control what they are carrying with them on the trip.
The tendency can be for them to over pack. However, you need to set clear guidelines for what they can take. One option is to provide a small bag that would be hard to over-pack.
It is also important for them to know that if they buy things during the trip they will need space. Things in backpacks can get broken.
So, they shouldn’t take items that can be easily broken.
29 – Bring Eye Blinders
Some areas where we travel are bright even at night. In particular, as you move closer to the Arctic Circle in summer, the light can make it difficult to sleep.
By having light blocking eye blinders, your children will sleep much easier no matter how much light is in the room.
30 – Carry a Roll of Toilet Paper
This is a great idea for multiple reasons. One obvious reason is that when you need to use the toilet and are in the forest or a location that has no toilets, you will have toilet paper.
The next reason is that if you spill something or make a mess, you can clean it up if you have toilet paper. We also use toilet paper when lighting campfires. It takes up little space and makes a huge difference when you need it.
31 – Bring a Roll of Plastic Bread Bags
This is an uncommon tip that is useful. Bread bags take up little space and are versatile.
We use the 6-liter size bags made of thick plastic. They make great trash bags when you aren’t near the trash can. In addition, they are excellent when you buy crackers or fruit or anything that will make a mess in your bag.
When your shoes or boots get wet, bags can be placed around your feet and keep your feet dry and warm. If you cut them open, you can sit on them to stay dry or use them as a plate. You can also put them around your books or maps to keep them dry when out in rainy weather.
I also put my technological gadgets in them if the weather is bad. I can’t even recall the original reason we used them, but they are an integral part of our travels now.
32 – Go Geocaching
Geocaching is a fantastic activity to do with the kids or alone. There are millions of plastic boxes filled with toys hidden all around the world. With your smartphone, you can download an app that will show you on a map where these are near you.
Then, you download the map or use live data and try to find the box. Some caches are as big as buckets and others are small magnets.
Either way, they will take you to interesting places you might not have hit otherwise. In addition, when you find one in a different city or country, it will put a pin in your map. This gives you a way to remember trips later.
The kids like the ones that have toys in them. The only rule is that if you take something out of the box, you need to put something back in.
You can buy cheap toys for swapping. We always have a box of toys with us when traveling. If the kids get restless, we are only a few clicks from a game that can get them real toys.
You can also try a similar app that is a real life video game called Ingress for iPhone and Android phones. It involves going on “missions” to capture portals.
The key is that it gets you out walking and hiking to reach the different destinations as you go through different levels competing against another team and other players.
33 – Make Sure Their Backpacks Fit
With most backpacks, it is easy to tighten the straps to ensure they fit nice and snug on the backs of your children.
The problem is that many times a child won’t complain even if the backpack isn’t sitting properly. That is why it is important for you to adjust the backpack.
The consequences of the backpack fitting improperly include back pain and irritability. When your kids are happy and comfortable, you will be the same. This problem is easy to fix and will save you and them pain.
34 – Make Sure All Backpack Zippers are Zipped
This tip may seem obvious. However, after years of experience I can say it isn’t obvious at all.
The kids get things out of their backpacks and then don’t zip them up afterwards. This has resulted in lost items. The other trick is to make sure that even empty pockets are zipped.
We almost lost items from a small pocket where a cell phone was stored. The child thought the pocket was empty and didn’t zip it up. So, the best rule is for all zippers to be zipped.
One final note is that the zippers should be placed on the side and not be located on the top. When the zippers are slid to the side, it is harder for a pickpocket to get into the backpack.
If the zippers meet at the middle, backpacks can open themselves when the weight of their contents open the zippers. This isn’t a possibility when the dual zippers are on the side.
35 – Bring Layers of Clothes
You can avoid children’s complaints about being hot or cold by bringing layers of clothing. If they get hot, you remove layers and if they feel cold you can add layers.
I sometimes take my layers and add them to kids who have all of their layers on. Layering is the key to proper thermal control. Remember that kids don’t always tell you how they feel.
I recall one of my children sweating with a sweater on and not saying anything for hours.
This is easy to fix and you should check if they feel OK even if they aren’t complaining. Children who aren’t hot or cold are also children who are happy.
36 – Make a Game Out of the Trip
Traveling is an adventure. There are many ways you can make a game out of your trip with your kids. Teach them words and phrases in the language of the country you are visiting.
Buy a coloring book or craft kit from that city so they get to know the buildings and then visit the famous sites.
Recognition of the sites before the visit will make the trip more educational and fun for them. Keep in mind it is a fantastic opportunity for family bonding if done right.
37 – Bring Nalgene Bottles for Everyone
One of the most useful things we have in each person’s backpack is a Nalgene bottle filled with water.
We use the Oasis model. It is lightweight and breaks only if thrown. We freeze them overnight when traveling to hot regions.
In addition, you can use it as a hot water bottle for warming yourself.
No one should get thirsty during your days away from the hotel. The top reason I like these bottles is that they:
- Are dishwasher-safe.
- Never leave a plastic taste in your mouth.
- Never leak.
I have never found a bottle of the same level of quality with all the features found in these bottles.
38 – Always Have Snacks and Drinks Just in Case
This also can be an issue if the kids aren’t getting enough food or water. I recall a long hike in the high mountains of Norway where we were heading to a cabin that served food. The problem was that we had run out of food, but we were pressing on with our six-year-old son.
He was just fine with hiking. However, when he got hungry he became an emotional wreck. Once he ate at the cabin, everything calmed down. It was then we realized that there was an energy crash going on and we weren’t hiking with enough food.
On a different hike, when we ran out of food, I gave raw sugar to the same child to prevent that from happening. This was the best choice, even though we normally control sugar. Since that time, I always have extra food in my backpack to cover emergency hunger.