is a time to make memories that last a lifetime.
Over two decades and to over two dozen countries, I traveled with my kids, usually without an adult partner to help out. If you want to do more than beaches and amusement parks, then read on for tips and scroll down for suggestions for the best family getaways.
My memories have been a mix of life-could-never-be-better moments and how-am-I-going-to-get-through-this hell. There was Julie’s food poisoning in Paris when she vomited all night and all the way to the airport and in our middle row seats on the long flight home.
There was Anna’s meltdown in London because she left her teddy bear in the hotel in France. And the dirty shirts and washing out their underwear in the bathtub in a Rome apartment, the daily bribes of “gelato” in every city we passed through, and no toilet paper and squat toilets in public washrooms. Oh yes, and the time we ran through the Zurich train station, hauling our luggage up two 2 flights of steps, and we still missed the train.
And then there was the camping trip through the National Parks: The Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion. And thinking what a breeze! What made the difference? Here are my tips about what can be done to make your family travels go more smoothly.
When to go
Some of best years for family travel are grade school years. When your kids are 6-12-years old. They are past the tough toddler stage and not yet at the disinterested pre-teen years. That said, I’ve traveled with my girls at all ages and loved it. Why travel with 6-12-year olds? They love airports, they love eating, they can be bribed by treats, they love to learn, they love being with you, and will usually listen to you. They are more cooperative than babies, more enthusiastic than a teen and have an amazing sense of wonder about the world.
Kids sports can rule your life
Don’t let a coach or team training rule your life…. yet. That time in your family life may arrive, but if you can travel a lot before your kids get really serious about a team sport, do it.
Yes, teens can have an attitude — with a capital “A” but if set the stage when they are young, always want to travel with you.
Family travel can be chaotic.
So plan ahead down to the smallest details.
Prepare for hunger, headaches and boredom by packing an easy-to-access bag with: water bottles, healthy snacks, as well as a forbidden food (gum, chocolate, lollipops, gummy bears), kids’ Asperin, band-aids, and activities like coloring books or Word Search.
Best way to avoid tantrums? It could be from fatigue or low blood sugar. Keep them fed, hydrated and rested.
When inevitable questions arises—what should we do now?
Grade School Age Kids Love:
- ANIMALS zoos, aquariums, discovery, natural history museums,
- PARKS play structures, hiking trails, picnic areas,
- WATER lakes, beaches, pool, water slides, squirt guns,
- YOUR ATTENTION – play Frisbee together, read, tell stories, play board games, checkers, dominoes.
- HEY, IT’S OK TO BE BORED
Give kids OWNERSHIP in the trip
Give them responsibility. As you plan the trip open conversations about budget and how to compromise.
Go to the library and get videos about your destination. We watched videos of the Louvre Museum and the kids were ready to hunt for the Mona Lisa and Winged Victory. Check out guide and picture books. Download and print maps. Your kids will buy into the trip.
Manage your kids’ expectations
Explain how long it takes to get there. What they’ll do during travel time. If there is a long car ride, warn them they may get bored. Take books and art materials.
Teens and pre-teens
Want to meet other kids their age. Best trips include accommodations with a swimming pool, cruises, dude ranches.
Encourage your kids to keep a diary, or keep a family journal. At dinner every night discuss what they liked most about the day. Bring some scissors, glue and tape and add fun mementos from along the way, i.e. ticket stubs, postcards, maps, brochures. This is a great way to keep kids busy during long car trips, and in restaurants waiting for dinner to be served, and will make a great inexpensive and personalized souvenir.
BEST FAMILY GETAWAYS
Kids are creatures of habit. Stay 2-3 days in same place
Plan age appropriate activities. Appeal to each child’s individual need, including Mom who needs a quiet bath or uninterrupted time to read a book or a magazine sometimes.
Dad may need TV time to catch his favorite ball game.
The kids will need space to run around or to swim. Find a public park or pool, river, lake, ocean.
Don’t forget the youngest. Give him or her the power to make a decision every day, perhaps what treat such as ice cream.
R & R.
Should be high on your list of activities. Plan quiet time or naps. Picnics are great way to slow down. Park, run around, meet other kids, you put your feet up.
BE RELAXED – about bedtime, eating 5 veggies a day or not ordering a coke .
Worst Family Vacations
- When you don’t set a time limit on screen time (video, gameboy, cell phone, TV).
- Move around too much. Over scheduling.
- Pack too much.
- Take responsibility for kids you don’t know well.
- Fighting. When kids don’t get along. Divide, separate & conquer.
Best Family Vacations included:
Kids thrive when have space to explore. Travel teaches kids to take pleasure from the natural world—watching a tide pool, collecting pinecones to make forest dolls, rolling down grassy hillsides, seeing an eagle hunt. Camp. Try to spend unstructured time outdoors.
The National Parks: Grand Tetons and Yellowstone in Wyoming, Yosemite in California and State Parks.
Our kids love anywhere with a beach: Hawaii, Lake Tahoe, Lake Erie, Cape Cod, etc.
Must-do Family Vacations
- Washington DC & Williamsburg
History sticks when children actually see where it took place. Background material will enhance the experience, check with A librarian. Read the Felicity Books about Williamsburg before you go.
Take your children yourself, so it’s a family memory. Then when you watch news on TV, and they see the White House or Congress in session, you can reinforce history.
- Dude Ranches Be sure to go to a rodeo. The minimum age for Dude Rances is usually 6. We loved Colorado Trails.
- Wild West Wyoming & Montana, wide open spaces, cowboys, great plains.
- New York City Go to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and a Broadway play.
- National Parks: Grand Canyon, SW – Zion, Bryce, Indian Reservations.
Cruises and Organized Family Adventures
Africa. Click here for the full story. We had a trip of a lifetime with Thomson Family Adventures
Peru and Machu Picchu. With Adventures by Disney.
Bahamas or Mexico Cruise with Disney Cruises.