The Definitive Travel With Kids FAQ

Here’s a brief overview of some common questions I get here at My Little Nomads.

Q. How is traveling with kids different?
I honestly think it’s funner and more rewarding traveling with kids. I’ve written about children’s keen eye for seeing the new and why you should take advantage of the time you have to travel before it slips away — and it’s all true.

I was the kind of traveler who would grab the Herald Tribune and hang out at a cafe all morning reading and drinking coffee. So I’m pretty certain I do more now that I travel with kids. They keep me moving, and learning, and being active. I do a lot more touristy stuff with them — but good touristy stuff, and I think it’s ultimately made traveling even more interesting than it was prior to having kids.

Q. I’m new to all this — how do I go about planning a trip? Where should I start?
Read tips for planning a family trip or go to the getting started page.

Trip to Bali

Q. Your travel stories make it sound so easy. What’s your secret?
Attitude is a big one for me. Be positive. Be energetic and enthusiastic and your kids will come right along with you.

Count to 10 — or at least to 2 — before you say anything. Is what I’m about to say going to make things better? Like most parents I say way too much and things go much more smoothly when I edit myself and concentrate on communicating ideas and expectations that will actually make a difference.

In the end — much like parenting at home — my guiding principle is consistency. The things that you hedge on are the things that cause the most trouble and tension. The things that you never vary on are the things that cause very little friction in a parent-child relationship.

Rewards and punishments have the same effect as back home — they don’t work.  And usually make things worse.

If the reason your child stays seated or puts away his toys is that they get to a treat then when you remove that “reward” — or punishment — there’s no incentive to listen. What possible reason would a kid have for doing it if it’s been ingrained in them that you get a reward for doing certain things — or a punishment for not doing them?

(If this sounds crazy to you I should add that this is incredibly well documented in numerous studies. Extrinsic rewards make kids less likely to listen and behave over the long run.)

Much like consistency, the situations in which you don’t depend on rewards and punishments are the things that are the easiest to deal with — though they might require more attention over the short term.

If you’re the type of parent who says, “if you do that again there’ll be no movie tonight,” then you’ll have a very hard time when you’re out there traveling with your kids — with hundreds of unique situations to navigate. Change the dynamic of your relationship before you leave home and focus on 2 details: consistency and engagement.

As for managing life on the road here’s a list of my top tips for traveling with kids.

Q. How about eating with kids in foreign countries? How about that hot shot? How do you do that?
I’m pretty hardcore on this. Food is important to me. I think it’s one of the main ways you interact with a different culture so I really want my kids to try new food while we’re traveling — and hopefully enjoy it too. It comes down to this — and once again this is pretty similar to how it works at home — if kids believe they have another option — pizza, mac and cheese, chicken strips — then they’re more than likely going to wait it out and get the chicken strips. But if they know that this food sitting in front of them is all they’re getting then they’re going to at least try it. Eventually. Yes, there might be some reluctance, but kids adjust quickly — especially if they have parents that believe they’ll adjust quickly and act as if they’ll adjust quickly. Stay calm, stay cool, have fun, and don’t give them any other options. 🙂

Q. How do you deal with jet lag?
Stay up as late as you can on the first night. Try your hardest not to nap on the first or second day and get out there walking, playing, and being active. Yes, it can be a little tough but the kiddos will probably be so excited by their new environs that they’ll keep going far past their breaking point at home.

Swimming is a great way to be active and get through that first day. What you want is tired kids when night-time arrives. As tired as you can possibly (and happily) get them. If you do this you might be shocked how fast they adjust.

One word of caution however: eating and meal times seem to adjust much more slowly so be prepared for some huge breakfasts, tiny dinners, and ravenous midnight snacks (keep some munchies and fruit in your hotel room).

Q. Is traveling the world with kids safe?

It is.

Sort of.

Who knows.

Life involves risk and the only way to ensure complete safety is to stay at home and do nothing. (But I guess there are health risks with that approach as well.)

If you’re like us you will make some odd decisions with your children’s safety but hopefully you won’t end up taking your kids to the emergency room in a number of foreign countries.

(You could also read some expert advice about preventing malaria when you travel and recommended vaccinations for international travel.)

Q. When should we buy tickets?

It’s going to vary, so there is no simple rule. Sometimes buying early will secure a great ticket deal and sometimes waiting until the last moment will make you look like a travel genius.

Check out last minute fares at Airfarewatchdog.com and Farecompare.com. If you’ve already booked your ticket then sign up at Yapta.com and they’ll email if the price drops enough on your route to get a refund from the airline. (Yapta is primarily for American fliers.)

I’ll say this however: anticipation is one the greatest joys of travel — of anything really — so by doing things last minute and on the spur of the moment you’re depriving yourself of the excitement of anticipation. Whether it be buying a camera, planning a trip, or searching for an airline ticket – if you want to maximize happiness stretch out the planning, buying, and doing process for as long as possible.

Train trip in Vietnam

Q. What should I pack?

I’ve made a list of recommended gear for traveling with kids. I strongly suggest using backpacks (suitcases are a pain when traveling with young kids) and packing as light as you possibly can.

Q. Pack light. That’s easier said then done — isn’t it?
Picture yourself losing any item on the first day of your trip. Would you have to replace it immediately — if not, it’s a good candidate to leave behind.

Q. Should I take a stroller?
Simple answer: If the child is under 2 years old then yes. Over 3 then no. Gray area in between. More info here: Pros and cons of traveling with a baby stroller.

Q. Should I take a car seat?
If you’re going to be doing a lot of driving then you might as well take your own rather than have to worry about getting one from the rental car company. If you’re not planning on doing a road trip you might be surprised by how little you use it. In the main European cites, for example, you’ll be getting most places by bus and subway so your car seat will be sitting back at the hotel. If your child is very young, even a few rides in a taxi is probably too much of a risk so keep this in mind as your planning.

Q. Should I take a baby carrier?
Yes you should. They’re great and can be a lifesaver while traveling — especially in cities. A hands-free way to check in at the airport, get your bags on the subway, and walk around the city. The BABY BJÖRN is my favorite and works well for babies up to about 15 pounds. The Ergo carrier is great for older babies.


Elephant ride in Indonesia

Q. This will be our first trip with our kids — what’s a good first destination?
Islands make great destinations for everyone, but for first timers they’re especially good. Caribbean islands such as: Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Aruba or Tobago. Bali and Ko Samui in Southeast Asia. Crete, Naxos and Sicily in Europe. Even Iceland or Ireland (my first destination as a parent) in Northern Europe.

They all have similar characteristics: easy to get around, a distinct feel from the nearest mainland, with typically kid-friendly, warm people. Islands give your trip a good focus. They place natural limits on your inclination to always keep moving.

Q. We have 2 weeks in Europe. Where should we go?
I love Greece and think it’s a great destination for kids and families — especially if you’re looking for some beach and island time.

If you wanted more of a cultural and historical tour of Europe then I’d suggest starting in London, Paris, or Amsterdam and making your way south to either Barcelona or Rome, visiting 2 or 3 places in between.

Q. We have 2 weeks in Greece. Where should we go?
These are my top 5 Greek Islands for a family vacation. But in many ways you really can’t go wrong in Greece. All the islands are great — though some certainly have nicer beaches than others — and most are a close ferry ride to their neighbor so it’s easy to visit 2 or 3, even on a short trip.

I’ll say this, I’ve never regretted going to any island I’ve visited in Greece. The one drawback with Greece — for some people, anyways — is that it doesn’t work very well with visiting other countries in Europe. Even neighboring or nearby countries like Turkey, Italy, and Croatia are not as easily accessible as, say, France is to Germany. If you’re pressed for time and want to see more than 1 country then you’re better to stick with the well connected countries of Western Europe.

Q. We have 2 weeks in Thailand. Where should we go?
I’d try to get to Chiang Mai, then visit Koh Samui on the east coast, Railay on the west coast, and save a day or 2 at then end of your trip for touring Bangkok — one of my favorite cities in the world. Take a look at the 5 best places in Thailand for kids. Where to go will also depend on what time of year you’ll be visiting. In particular the different monsoons hit the 2 coasts at different times of the year so you can get markedly different weather on the east and west coasts depending on the month of your visit. Sawadee.com is a great site for climate info, destination descriptions, reviews, and some pretty decent discounts on hotels.

Q. We have 2 weeks in India. Where should we go?
You shouldn’t go to India with only 2 weeks. It’s too long a flight from most Western countries to make a 2 week trip worthwhile. It’s big and takes a bit of getting used to. 3 weeks is doable but even then you’ll really be on the move. That said, with 3 weeks I would spend a week in Kerala, a week in Goa, and a week in the north around Delhi — probably Jaipur, Agra, and Shimla (if you’re really pushing it).