It’s no secret, I love to travel.
There’s something magical about experiencing a new place, a new culture, new foods, new smells, & new sounds. Although I’ve taken more than my fare share of international trips, & I’ve given my boys various travel experiences throughout the United States, it wasn’t until this summer I finally braved a family trip abroad. It wasn’t easy, but with the right preparation it was amazing.
Check out these 10 tips on traveling abroad with kids to ensure your trip is as amazing as you imagine it to be!
10 Tips on Traveling Abroad with Kids
1. Consider Your Kids’ Ages
I’ve wanted to take my boys abroad for years, but I was forced to put my impatience aside & wait for them to be ready for the demands of travel before we would even attempt such a trip. I knew it was in the best interest of everyone. Each year I watched for certain signs of physical & emotional maturity. Some three year olds can handle leaving their toys & home behind; some six year olds can sit on a plane for long hours; maybe some two year olds can sleep in a hotel night after night, & eat foreign foods day after day – but not all.
While some of our boys were ready younger than others, it wasn’t until they reached the ages of 11, 8, & 7 that everyone was capable of taking a trip abroad (our travel included 5 flights, 2 red eyes, 1 border crossing, long walks, long drives, & 21 nights in hotels).
2. Consider Your Kids’ Personalities
I always say that every person has a unique travel style. Some people enjoy being catered to in five star hotels, others would rather strap on a backpack & explore. Some want to relax on a beach while others prefer the streets of a busy city. There’s no right or wrong way to travel but when traveling abroad with kids you might want to consider catering your trip to their personalities.
Knowing that our boys are active little athletes, we wanted to take them somewhere that would compliment their energy levels and allow them the freedom they need to move their busy bodies.
After much consideration we decided that the adventurous countries of Costa Rica & Nicaragua would be the perfect match. I begged my husband to bring our boys on our last trip to Japan. We were ready to bring them abroad and I knew the boys were ready. I am grateful my husband knew better. Looking back, they would have struggled with the food options (they love ramen, but meal after meal, day after day? No way.) The miles & miles of walking each day would have drained their little bodies, & the packed subways & endless amounts of public transportation would have been too much.
3. Connect Your Kids
Now this step takes time, but it is worth it. The idea of traveling abroad with kids is exciting, but it can also provoke worry; especially, for the little ones.
To minimize any of your kids’ concerns & maximize the excitement I recommend connecting your kids with your destination prior to take off. Just don’t give away too many details! It’s always fun to keep some surprises for the actual trip. Take time to research the language, cultures, food, & location of the place you plan to visit. Then share what you learn with your kids.
To prepare for our trip we studied Spanish individually and incorporated Spanish into our daily life. We located Costa Rica & Nicaragua on a world map & discussed our air travel routes. We printed off a map of each country we were going to visit, mapped out where we were going and how we would get from place to place. I didn’t want to spoil every surprise so I didn’t share too many of the details about what we would be doing at each location (They were pretty excited to find out the itineraries of each location as we got there. I don’t think they could have handled the emotions of volcano boarding, monkey hikes, soccer games, horseback riding, zip lining & a crocodile excursion all at one time.)
4. Research Your Airline
Most international airlines make the flight abroad as comfortable as can be. Not all. Research what entertainment & food options will be available on your flight. You may not need to pack as much as you think.
Prior to our flight I checked with our airlines & discovered that we would be served two meals, each traveler would receive a small pillow & blanket to use during the flight, & we would have t.v.’s at each seat full of in-flight games & movies. Knowing this, I minimized what my boys carried in their backpacks to allow more foot room on the plane & more packing space for souvenirs.
5. Consider your Accommodations
Traveling abroad with kids is tricky. You can help minimize the stress by booking a hotel & transportation that will be the best fit for your kids. Taking a train ride through the alps may sound tempting, but is it something your kids can handle? Do you really want to navigate the Tokyo train system with three kids in tow? Does your daughter need a bathtub for her nightly bedtime routine?
I always look for hotels that have pools & complimentary breakfasts. I know that if I can fuel my kids with a hearty breakfast & give them a refreshing place to cool off, they can handle most anything. Oh, and a car is a must. We aren’t quite ready to handle massive amounts of public transportation as a family. Having a place to store our things while we are on the go & the convenience to stop as needed is invaluable.
6. Don’t Front Every Bill
Traveling abroad with kids allows for so many unique parenting lessons. A vacation is a gift, it’s not a free ride. I know it’s tempting to pay for every little thing. It feels so good to give! But when you allow your child the opportunity to take ownership over a piece of the vacation you are giving so much more than anything you could pay for with cash. Providing your kids with financial responsibilities allows for some great finance discussions.
My husband & I cover the majority of the costs but we do let our boys pay for their own souvenirs. Before we leave, they plan the amount of money they are willing to spend & how much money they want to bring. When my boys took charge of their own spending money they asked for less, they wanted less, they were motivated to speak Spanish to ask for prices and negotiate deals, and they were more careful with the items they did buy. Plus, we didn’t hear pleads to stop at every gift shop!
7. Connect with the Community
Meeting new people, in an unfamiliar place, and speaking a new language can be intimidating. But so rewarding! Don’t be afraid to get to know the locals wherever you go & encourage your kids to do the same. Check to see if there are any events going on during your stay, search out markets, look for a nearby church, or just stop by the neighborhood park.
Some of my boys’ favorite moments were playing pick up soccer at beaches & pueblos along our journey, running around the playground at a local fast food restaurant, chatting with the sellers at the various markets we visited, & attending a small town carnival. We took cooking classes & art classes, we rode the chicken bus, and stopped by more parks than I can count. My heart burst every time I heard them use their limited Spanish to connect with new people. They may not remember every beach we visited, but the feelings of these moments will stick with them. They even gained a few new Fortnite friends to connect with from home!
One of the best ways to connect with people is through giving. In our travels we always try to find a way to help those we are visiting. I say try because, this doesn’t always work. Some destinations don’t have readily available service opportunities & occasionally time limits stand in the way. Service provides lasting memories, deep connections, & greater gratitude; all the feelings we strive for in travel.
Prior to our trip to Central America I did some research; I wanted to find a way to give back that my boys could connect with. I made contact with a sponsor of a local youth soccer league. He expressed a great need for soccer gear. Through the generous donations of friends & teammates we were able to outfit three teams with cleats, jerseys, goalie gear, and coaches apparel. We were able to meet with the league to drop off our donations. It was an experience I don’t think my boys will forget anytime soon. It was very humbling for my boys to see the conditions that these Nicaraguan children play in. They realized they don’t need the newest Messi cleats or a soft, clean field, or reputable coaches. As long as they have friends, a ball, & space to run they’ve got everything they need.
9. Keep it Kid-Friendly
Sure, roaming the streets of Paris stopping in every museum & boutique may sounds dreamy to me but my boys would be miserable. Remember, you are traveling abroad with kids. Your trip doesn’t need to cater completely to your kids but it should be kid-friendly. I try to keep 75% of the activities we do & restaurants we eat at kid-friendly. When kids have appropriate outlets for their energy & places to look forward to they are much more pleasant when adults request calm bodies at a four star restaurant or an hour in a store.
We checked every thing off our boys’ Central America bucket list (except for ancient ruins-we’ll be returning for a stop in Guatemala one day!). We went to so many parks, so many pools, so many beaches, we zip lined, & rode horses, & slid down volcanoes, & ate at every churro spot we passed. And in exchange, they quietly tolerated a few shops, some long car drives, more seafood than they would have preferred, & all the colonial architecture we could squeeze in.
10. Squeeze in Some Kid-Free Time
Wait? Did I really just say that a key to a kid-friendly trip is taking time away from your kids? Yes, I did. The whole point of traveling abroad with kids is to experience all the things together, right? Well, kind of. It takes balance.
If you are running on empty because you’ve been in parent-mode every second of every day chances are you aren’t going to be the most pleasant person to be around. Carve some time away from the kids. Most hotels offer babysitting services; book a sitter & soak up that museum you’ve been eyeing or stop by those shops with all the delicate handicrafts. If a sitter isn’t an option take the kids to a nearby park & let them play while you soak in a little quiet, or at the very minimum, let the kids experience some foreign cartoons while you embrace a long bath in the hotel. Find time to recharge!
Growing up on the beach our boys are pretty comfortable in the ocean. Most of our trip was spent near the coast. If I needed a little break or some quality time with my husband I could lay my towel on the sand & let my boys get their energy out on the waves while I watched & rested close by. Also, with a larger family most hotels required that we book two-room suites or neighboring bungalows. While this wasn’t ideal financially, the space & separation proved invaluable for our family.
Traveling abroad with kids is life changing. Both for the kids & the parents. Travel broadens horizons, creates lasting lifetime memories, strengthens relationships, provides real-life education, fosters creativity, improves communication skills, enhances tolerance, & boosts happiness. The only question is, which country are you visiting first?
For more tips on how to successfully travel with your kiddos, check out these great ideas!