In June, we took our kids to Europe for the first time. Although they have traveled to the Caribbean multiple times, this was by far the longest plane ride they’d ever taken. It was also the first time they’d been on a trip where sightseeing was the top priority, not the beach. To top it off, the trip lasted a total of 18 days, making it the longest trip any of us had experienced.
Do you think we’re crazy yet? Hardly.
A trip like this could have turned disastrous had we not been prepared. Ages 8 and (almost) 6 at the time, we tried to anticipate their needs ahead of our journey. Even during the planning stages, we tried to think about what they might need, feel, and want. And while we did a pretty darn good job of planning ahead, we definitely learned a lot during the experience – especially from our mistakes.
We’re already planning their second trip to Europe this fall, so I thought it made sense to jot down some of the things we learned. If you plan to travel with kids, whether it’s to London or Los Angeles, I hope these tips help your trip run smoothly.
12 Tips for Extended Traveling with Children
#1) Fly Overnight
If your extended travel plans include a really long flight, consider flying overnight. This is especially important if you’re flying to Europe or Asia. Our kids love getting drinks and food on the plane, so we called lights out after the dinner service. This helped everybody get 4 or 5 hours of sleep during “normal” sleeping hours, keeping us on a relatively decent sleep schedule. By the time we woke up, it was morning in Europe.
#2) Get Up and Go
Even though you may be a bit groggy, resist the temptation to take a nap when you arrive at your destination, especially if you’re jumping several time zones. You’ll end up sleeping the day away and lose an entire day of your trip. Furthermore, your sleep schedule will be completely mixed up if you sleep through the daylight hours. Instead, get moving as soon as you land. Put in a full day of activity, but go to bed early on night one. This helps you make the most of Day 1 and get back to a normal sleeping pattern quickly.
#3) Create a Home Base
When you’re traveling for a few weeks, chances are good that you’ll be moving between cities. If so, it’s a smart idea to create a few “home bases” where you’ll spend the majority of your time. You can then schedule side trips from there. For instance, during our 18-days in Europe, we spent 4 days in Florence and 5 in Rome. Having a home base was more comfortable for the entire family, plus it helped the kids feel like they had some sort of structure/routine.
#4) Stick to a Routine Whenever Possible
If your kids are anything like mine, they want to know what’s happening and routine is important. After landing at your home base, try creating a daily routine and sticking to it whenever you can. For instance, while in Italy, we woke up every day, grabbed a coffee, and had either fruit or pastries for breakfast. At night, we came back to the apartment and had the kids take a bath, just like at home. These simple routines helped the kids feel relaxed and more comfortable.
#5) Take the Train
One of my biggest takeaways from our trip to Europe was this: Train travel is AWESOME – especially with kids! Traveling by train is fast, efficient, and far more comfortable than by plane. There is room to move around, and if you reserve your train tickets ahead of time, you may even get a table where you can all sit. I loved it, the kids loved it, and I wish we had more train travel options back here at home.
#6) Don’t Forget the Power Packs
Having your kids bring their devices (Kindles, iPads, etc.) is a no-brainer, right? Just be sure you don’t forget your extra power banks. While most planes and trains should have outlets, they don’t always work. In fact, on our return flight, neither the TVs or the outlets worked – meaning we could have easily had nothing to do for 10 hours! Thank goodness we had our power banks ready so we could use our cell phones to play games. Seriously, they were a life saver.
#7) Tips for Tours
Some sightseeing tours can be long and uncomfortable, even for adults. Here are a couple of quick tips to help younger kids handle them with ease:
- Keep guided tours to a maximum of 2 hours. Younger kids tend to lose their patience around the 2 hour mark.
- Day long excursions are fine, provided your kids don’t have to listen to a tour guide for more than 2 hours at a time.
- When it comes to guided tours, book guided tours for historical sites but skip guided tours of art museums. Most kids (and many adults) can’t listen to a guide explain sculptures and paintings for hours. Grab a skip the line ticket/sightseeing pass and an audioguide instead.
- If you think tours are too much for the kids, you can still save money and skip lines using a city pass. Use this list of sightseeing passes to find one for your destination.
#8) Get the Kids Involved
One of the best things we did on this trip was have our kids take notes during our tours. This helped keep them involved, interested, and made each tour a great learning experience. At the end of the tour, we gave them a “quiz.” If they passed, they earned a special treat – usually gelato. (Of course, we made sure they passed each test with flying colors!) The notes also made a great keepsake that we’ll save forever. As they get older, I expect we’ll ask them to keep a travel journal as well.
#9) Keep the Snacks Coming
If your kids are like mine, they want a snack – like all. the. time. Use that to your advantage. In our house, there’s not much that a special drink and a dessert can’t fix. Whenever we needed a little extra motivation for good attitudes, all we had to do was dangle the possibility of gelato in front of them. This kept them in good spirits, and we made sure to follow through with our promise. We also carried snacks with us during the day, helping to keep the kids happy and full. And since they did such a great job eating things they don’t normally eat at home, I even caved and bought them McDonald’s once during the trip.
#10) Build In Kid-Friendly Activities
Even when you’re doing some extended traveling, time is still limited. With that said, it’s smart to build in some kid-friendly activities. Just a little break from sightseeing can keep your kids happy. An afternoon at the pool or beach, a stop by a children’s museum, or even a ride on a carousel can help keep everybody’s spirits high. It can even be a fun break for adults!
#11) Schedule Free (and Nothing) Days
Look, I can’t hide from the fact that we are über planners. With that said, one of the best things we did was plan for free days. That way, if we saw something during the trip that the whole family would enjoy, we had time to do it during one of our free days. For instance, while driving our hotel we passed a beautiful lake in Switzerland. We decided to go back and spend one of our free days at the public beach, and it was one of the best days we had during our entire trip! If you have a babysitter with you (which I recommend when possible) it’s also smart to leave a few days where the kids don’t have anything scheduled. Holly and I took a few tours on our own, allowing the kids a much-needed break to just hang out at the apartment.
#12) Let Your Kids Have a Voice
Sure, you don’t want your kids to run the show, but it’s a good idea to let them have a voice while you’re traveling. If they see something they really want to do, let them express it. Then, if it makes sense, be flexible enough to fit it into your plans. This will help keep them happy, and some of their favorite memories are often created when you let them have a choice in what the family does that day.
Tips for Traveling With Kids: Wrapping Up
Overall, I feel like our trip was very successful. I’m actually very impressed with how well our girls handled it. Luckily, we’ve learned a lot about what they can handle, and we even learned some things about our own travel style that we can use in the future.
If your future plans include travel with kids, I hope this list has been helpful. As always, please let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below. Don’t forget to follow our family’s next adventure by finding us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Thanks again for reading, and – until next time – happy traveling!