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Graeme McRanor’s girlfriend, Suzy, and son, London, on a train trip.
Graeme McRanor’s girlfriend, Suzy, and son, London, on a train trip.

Stop putting it off: Here’s how to travel with your kids Add to ...

Exploring the world with children in tow is an education for the whole family. We asked travel bloggers what they learned about preparing their kids and themselves for the demands – and frequent surprises – of life on the road.

HEATHER GREENWOOD DAVIS

Heather Greenwood Davis is a freelance travel writer and blogger at GlobetrottingMama.com. She, her husband Ish and their sons Ethan, 11 and Cameron, 9 spent a year travelling around the world. They hit 29 countries on six continents and were named National Geographic Traveler magazine “Travelers of the Year.”What surprised you most during your travels?

What surprises me the most about travelling with my sons is the number of times they’ve forced me to question my own biases and assumptions. They bring a fresh perspective to everything we see and do and are a constant reminder of assumptions we adults make all the time. Where I might see poverty, they see happy kids who are “free” to run around without shoes. Where I saw the chaos of cows roaming free or camels intersecting with traffic, they saw nothing but wonders.

What is your top tip?

Get kids travelling as early as possible. We went from car trips to see grandma to all-inclusives to Machu Picchu to a year around the world, all before they were 10. All that travel means that now my two can get through security checks faster than many adults and are more likely to ask you to stop jabbing their headrest than to be the one kicking your seat.

What do you never leave home without?

Ground rules. We have long talks before each trip about what the trip is about and why we’re doing it. We talk about what electronic gadgets can come and when and how they can be accessed. We all know what the rules are before leaving and what the penalties will be if rules are broken. Also, with two pre-teen boys I never get on an airplane without something they can eat in my purse.

What do you wish you’d known before your first big trip as a family?

Newsflash: The trip doesn’t have to be perfect. Some days it rains; sometimes parks are closed when they should be open. Learning to not build up anticipation of any one activity has allowed us to better roll with the punches and to create some really great memories. The days when things didn’t go as planned are the ones that we still talk about now that we’re home and, yes, eventually we laugh about them.

How do you justify taking your kids out of school?

Parents have a responsibility to provide the best education they can for their kids. Some of that will happen at school; some of it won’t. While we’ve hit educational spots (guided tours at the pyramids or crawling through the Cu-chi tunnels in Vietnam for example) they’ve also gained an “education” in how it feels to be an outsider and what life is like for people who don’t take food and water for granted.

What’s your favourite destination for kids?

The Galapagos Islands. Seeing whales, sea lions, tortoises and more in the wild without any fear of humans, and in that gorgeous protected setting, gave the kids and us parents an incredible understanding of what’s at stake environmentally if we continue to abuse the planet.

GRAEME McRANOR

Graeme McRanor is a Vancouver-based writer and producer. He’s currently exploring Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos with girlfriend Suzy and his five-year-old son, London. Check out his work at GraemeMcRanor.com.

What surprised you most during your travels?

His adaptability. On our first overseas trip we landed in New Delhi soon after his fourth birthday. It was a rigorous journey that, in the initial leg, included 20 hours flying and weary hours hours on trains and monsoon-ravaged roads. He engaged in the moment and asked questions that showed concern for the people, particularly kids on the street. As a blond blue-eyed kid, he was much photographed by locals, ending such encounters with a courteous-but-crisp, “No more pictures.”

What is your top tip for parents?

Lose the Disneyland mentality. Just because you’re packing kids doesn’t mean your trip can’t pack an adventurous punch. Riding a camel across a desert within sight of the India-Pakistan border can be just as safe and perhaps more rewarding (for everybody) than waiting in line for Pirates of the Caribbean. Cheaper, too.

What do you never leave home without when travelling with kids?

A plan. Research the destination and have an adaptable itinerary. When travelling across challenging terrain, little works to schedule, so have a list of possibilities for every stop. Allowing for change spurs spontaneity; take advantage of circumstances. We missed the train for Agra and took a taxi there – a ride that at least two of us spent in prayer.

What was your worst moment on the road? How did you deal with it?

Two frights: First, he fell into a hotel pool in Udaipur while I was underwater and Suzy was organizing towels poolside. We each thought the other had an eye on him and, by the time I surfaced at the far end, he was in trouble. Suzy leapt in and I covered the distance in what felt like three strokes. I also lost sight of him at New Delhi’s international airport. It was only for minutes but I’d convinced myself he’d been whisked off and sold to a multinational human-trafficking ring. Only funny in hindsight.

How do you justify taking kids out of school? What should parents tell skeptical teachers?

You can learn about the world from textbook or by going online but nothing equals being there. The world is humanity’s classroom, one we should all experience as much as we can afford it.

MICHAEL PALMER

Michael Palmer (michaelandrewpalmer.com) lives in Calgary with his wife and three children, Andrew, 10, Ryan, 8, and Jenna, 6. Currently he is finishing No Tranquilizers! 17,000 kms, 63 Days, 3 Kids, 1 Van, a book based upon his family’s cross-Canada trip.

What is your top tip for parents?

Parents shouldn’t get lazy and allow kids to get continuously tranquilized by screens while the scenery and experiences pass them by. Keep them engaged with what’s going on around them. And entertainment bags are a nice additive: Fill with books, puzzles, crafts and make one for each child. We made them easily accessible at the foot of their seats in the van.

What do you never leave home without?

We experienced two roadside pullovers involving tantrums, negotiations and ultimatums. It ended with an adjustment of the seating arrangement in our van involving the unpacking and packing of luggage, much to the amusement of drivers passing by, hammering on their horns. So there are two things we wouldn’t leave home without: patience and ABBA CDs. Sure, I wanted to burn those CDs by the end of our trip but while on the road, they became our therapist, our anthem.

How do you justify taking your kids out of school?

For our upcoming around-the-world odyssey lasting the better part of a year we’ll home-school the kids. Experiences will become our children’s text books – three dimensional, interactive, all-encompassing, 24/7, emotional, intuitive. You can’t put a price on that – it’s true-blue education. It builds the intangibles within a person’s mind that become so useful later on in life.

NADIA CARRIERE

Nadia Carriere lives in Ontario with her three children and husband. ChildMode.com allows her to share her passion for family travel and luxury destinations around the world. Follow Nadia’s travel adventures on Instagram or Twitter @ChildMode.

What surprised you most during your travels (in relation to your kids)?

Their patience. My hesitation to travel with younger children was just that – my own personal fear. Kids are very resilient and do quite well as long as you prepare accordingly.

What is your top tip for parents?

Unplug and talk to your kids. Whether traveling by car or plane, this is a great time to interact and talk with your kids. Put away the digital devices and be present as a family!

What do you never leave home without when travelling with your kids?

Digital audio books and journals. Audio books are a great way to get in a good dose of literature. I like to encourage journaling as much as possible, especially on the road. It’s a great way for kids to record fun activities and important aspects of their trip.

What do you wish you’d known before your first big trip as a family?

That you’ll only need half of what you think you’ll need. Families (me included) tend to overpack, which wouldn’t be that big of a deal if you didn’t have to pay for luggage fees. With practice, we’ve scaled down and now manage to travel with one carry-on per person.

How do you justify taking your kids out of school?

Travelling to various destinations is an interactive form of education that broadens a child’s view of the world. That being said, I’ve always worked with the school on putting a curriculum plan together for longer trips, whether that be in the form of workbooks or reading exercises.

What’s your favourite destination for kids?

Hawaii – hands down. The volcanoes are incredible, snorkelling is some of the best I’ve ever experienced, whale-watching is sure to induce squeals from the kids (and adults), and that’s just touching the surface. Personally, I’m a fan of the beaches in Lahaina, Maui.

BETHANEY DAVIES

New Zealanders Bethaney, Lee and their toddler, Reuben, spend at least six months of the year travelling and most recently returned from a three-month trip around South East Asia.

Follow their adventures on FlashpackerFamily.com.What surprised you most during your travels?

The most surprising thing to me about travel with kids is how life goes on for them no matter what. Whether you’re trekking through the jungle in Thailand, in a five-star hotel in Singapore or somewhere over the Pacific at 30,000 feet, you still have to parent them and go through all the normal stages of development. Tantrums, fussy eating, sleepless nights, toilet training ... this can all be done at home or out and about on your travels.

What is your top tip?

Just go! Many parents are afraid of travelling, especially when children are small, but you needn’t be. Young children are surprisingly flexible and adapt quickly to different smells, sights and sounds. They don’t judge the way we adults do which makes them great little travellers.

What do you never leave home without?

An inflatable toddler bed. It packs into a small carry bag, weighs less than two kilograms, inflates in five minutes and has its own sleeping bag attached. It proved invaluable for our recent three-month trip around South East Asia as cheap hotel rooms are often small and have no provision for extra bedding.

How do you justify taking your kids out of school?

At three years old, Reuben can say “hello” and “thank you” in multiple languages including Thai and Vietnamese which is something certainly not taught at preschool. Learning can be done everywhere and anywhere and travel is a great opportunity to teach even young children about other cultures, language and money.

What’s your favourite destination for kids?

Thailand is my favourite destination for travel with kids. While the flight to get there is lengthy, once you’re on the ground everything is very easy. The weather is warm, the beaches are glorious and the food is fantastic. The Thai people adore children and we often receive special treatment (late checkouts, room upgrades, better airline seats) just by showing up with kids in tow.

CANDACE DERICKX

Candace Derickx blogs about her travels at LifeinPleasantville.com. Candace and her husband love travelling with their two daughters (11 and 9) and, when they persuade him to join them, their 21-year-old son.

What surprised you most during your travels?

I am always blown away by my children’s retention of things we’ve done. I can barely remember what I ate yesterday but they’ll pull out facts and memories from travel that we did years ago. When people tell me they’re waiting to take their kids to Disney when they’re older, I tell them to go now. To young children Disney truly is magical and it’s so great when they see it with those eyes. They’ll remember.

What is your top tip?

Take the time for photos. I was always guilty of rushing along and not bothering and then I’d be kicking myself later. Ask people to take pictures of your whole family so that someone isn’t left out of the picture. Give your kids a camera of their own; you’ll love the perspective they get. Also, be sure to always offer to snap a picture when you see a mom or dad taking a picture of their family. It’s good karma.

What do you never leave home without?

Band-Aids. They collect dust in my home but the moment we hit the road Murphy’s Law says someone is getting a cut or a blister almost immediately. In a pinch I’ve also used them as labels when sending my girls to kids’ camp for the day. I keep a box in my toiletry bag now so I’m never without.

What was your worst moment on the road?

My husband took our motorhome to Florida ahead of time and I was to fly down and meet him with my 11-year-old stepson, my two-year old and my infant. Four hours before we were to leave I was hit with the stomach flu. The tickets were non-refundable so I took way more Immodium than I should have and headed to the airport. I put a lot of responsibility on my stepson that day and he rose to the occasion beautifully. I also wasn’t afraid to ask WestJet employees for help holding my infant while I ran to the bathroom or helping us get to our connecting flight. I laugh now at what a hot mess I must have looked like with three kids in tow.

How do you justify taking your kids out of school?

I’ve honestly never felt I needed to justify it. I’m a firm believer that not all lessons can be taught in a classroom. Last year my girls missed 26 days of school and they came home with great grades. That being said, we always give notice to the teacher and I make sure that my kids are studying when we’re at the airport or driving to our next destination.

What’s your favourite destination for kids?

Without a doubt Florida. The east and west coasts of Florida offer world-class beaches. The Everglades and Homosassa Springs offer truly unique eco-experiences. Finally, the Florida Keys are the most un-American place in America. As soon you cross from Miami into Key Largo the vibe becomes very chill.

MAUREEN DENNIS

For more than 10 years, Toronto-based Maureen Dennis has been travelling with kids in tow. She shares her adventures on WeeWelcome.ca. Chat with Maureen on Twitter @weewelcome.

What surprised you most during your travels?

I am always surprised by how much my kids enjoy simple experiences. Hanging out on the beach, walking around a city, exploring a forest all get top marks from my kids. Add an ice-cream cone at the end of the day and they couldn’t be happier.

What is your top tip?

Talk to your kids about what is expected of them in advance. Before your trip talk about the plane ride and how they are expected to behave. Before you go into a restaurant remind them of the rules of eating out. Excitement will be running high so a gentle reminder before each step of the trip calms everyone down a bit and makes traveling a lot less stressful.

What was your worst moment on the road?

In a car, on a plane, kids have a nasty habit of barfing during travel. Dealing with it starts with knowing your kids: I have one that can’t eat fruit in the morning and travel. Be prepared. If you have a child who gets motion sickness be sure to give them some Gravol before you leave. Also pack an extra set of clothes in their backpacks … and don’t forget one for you, too.

What do you wish you’d known before your first big trip as a family?

I wish I’d known how to balance a trip like we do now. Scheduling every moment of a trip exhausts everyone. Now we each pick one thing that we really want to do on the trip and we set out each day to accomplish one of those goals. That way, when my kids find themselves on a winery tour in Sonoma they roll with it. They know they spent yesterday at the aquarium, which was their goal.

How do you justify taking your kids out of school?

Thankfully, I haven’t yet run into a teacher that doesn’t see the value of the experience of travel. I also don’t ask: I just let the teacher know that my child will be away for that time period and my excited kids fill them in on the trip. To any teacher I may encounter in the future who doubts the value of travel I will be happy to show them my daughter’s second grade project on Italy where my shy girl proudly presented her first-hand knowledge of the food, the clothes, the climate and the view from the Colosseum thanks to our family trip to Rome.

What’s your favourite destination for kids?

We love travelling to famous cities such as San Francisco, London, Rome, New York. Just walking around the city is an adventure. Seeing landmarks in real life and making history come to life only get more exciting as our kids get older.

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