Family travel tips. Tried and tested travel tips for families tackling their first trip with kids. Learn from our mistake, laugh with us and get tried and tested travel tips for family travel we learned on the road!
Have you ever made a mistake, when traveling?
Something you wish you hadn’t done, or done differently or something a bit silly that just made your family vacation not quite as perfect as you were expecting it to be?
We sure have and, while it’s never pleasant to make a mistake and even less to admit it publicly (we are all perfect and live happy, judgement-proof lives, no? Facebook says so!), there is no doubt that mistakes have a great upside: we can learn from them!
We have learned from the mistakes we made when traveling with kids and they are actually one of the main reasons why I write this blog and the source of all my family travel tips.
What is expertise if not experience of what worked and what didn’t?
A good few travel bloggers shared their family travel disasters lately and so, encouraged by them, I feel like revisiting some of the ones we made.
I am taking this as an end-of-the-year exercise: I am sure I will make many more mistakes traveling, but hopefully not the same ones: if any, I’ll try make them creative!
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So here we go. From my very personal experience:
What not to do when traveling with children – the source of our family travel tips!
Assume lap babies fly free and kids have discounted airfares
When we first started travelling with our kids, we made some assumptions:
1) surely lap babies fly for free,
2) surely we can all pile up in a double bed and save on the cost of an extra bed in the hotel.
As it turns out, it doesn’t exactly work like this!
On planes, lap babies do not pay full fare but still pay airport tax (which in many cases can be quite steep) and once your child is over 2, it will have to have their own seat and pay for it, plus luggage.
Rules vary between airlines: sometimes children under 11 pay discounted fares but sometimes they don’t so the tip is: do not assume anything!
If you are planning your first flight as a family, find our tips for flying with kids here.
The same happens on other means of transport such as trains and buses.
We used to train travel in Italy (kids go free there), we were feeling pretty smug about choosing train over plane when heading to Quebec.
We were sure we would save tons of money this way, at least enough to make the additional 6 hours of traveling acceptable.
Let’s put it this way: while looking at our 4 full-fare train tickets, at least we were on a greener means of transport….
Assume hotels have kids go free policies
Another assumption we quickly had to revise what that hotels would be ok with us getting a double room and simply have our child with us.
Again, this is not a rule everywhere!
While some hotels indeed have kids go free policies, many do not: some hotels may simply add a surcharge for adding a crib while other may require that you get a different type of room.
This happens for instance if you are traveling with kids in Italy: hotels follow strict occupancy rules dictated by fire regulations – always tell the hotel if you have a child with you, even if you do not need a cot.
Rely on hotel cribs
Many family friendly hotels offer children cots, sometimes for free and sometimes at a surcharge.
They can be a good option and we have used them extensively on trip when we did not want to pack a Porta cot however, you never know what you get!
Last minute document checks
A rookie mistake, but one of epic proportions that we have made not once but twice!
The first time we forgot to check the expiry date for the Bear’s passport and showed up at the airport with an invalid one. Not our finest hour!
The second time we moved on time, but a backlog in the system meant we would not have the Rabbit’s passport back before traveling!
The Irish authorities put us a priority list and got us sorted in 48 hours, but still, we should have never left it to the last minute.
Just remember: don’t assume children’s documents last as long as adult ones!
I have always been a light packer or actually a very light packer.
I am known to have moved to Brussels for 6 months with what others would consider a weekend bag, but when we first started traveling with children we believed well-meaning friends who told us we would ‘absolutely need’ stuff and ended up lugging around kilos and kilos of bags.
Take it from me: on a trip, you don’t need half the stuff you think you will need, especially with kids, you can really do without pushing oversized bags trough airport corridors.
Was that fold-up bathtub that got stuck in the x-ray machine at security THAT crucial?
Sine then, we have perfected our packing and have learned to travel light with kids! You can find our tips at the following links:
- Baby Travel essentials and nice to have
- Toddler travel essentials
- Master Family Travel packing list for all destination
We made our worst over packing mistake last summer, when we went to Florence with our two toddlers.
Overloaded with a stroller, a full-size car seat, a big wheelie bag, 2 kids trolley bags and a rucksack each, we crawled out of the station and into the smoldering hot streets of Florence exhausted, before we even started the trip, and looking like a perfect target for pickpockets!
That said, Florence is fab with small kids! Have a look to our selection of het best things to do in Florence with kids to see why!
Not pre-booking seats on planes
Never ever assume that because you are travelling with children you will be assigned seats beside each other.
When we travelled long haul, we arrived at check in early, but because of the option to pre-select seats, that we had ignored, we could not find seats together: not even 2!
We were really lucky with this one because AerLingus shuffled other passengers around to accommodate us and they were all decent enough not to mind.
This, I discovered, it’s not something they were obliged to do and I know of many other airlines who will not accommodate this kind of last minute request.
We are pretty chilled out travellers, but even for us not be sure we could sit together was a stressful experience and one I’ll accept paying to avoid
Not bring a stroller
Not all destinations are stroller friendly and we always recommend bringing a baby carrier when traveling with small kids however, how we regretted not having a stroller too!
When we went to Barcelona with our baby and toddler, we decided we could do with one stroller only and lived to regret is. As annoying as a stroller can be, they are great when you want to keep your child safe and not on you!
The trick is to get a good stroller for travel, which is easier said than done. Different strollers worked for us in different situations. Find our notes about them at the following links:
- The best strollers for European Travel
- The best lightweight double strollers for travel
- Best all terrain strollers and jogging strollers for travel
- Best strollers for the beach
Not bring enough snacks
I don’t know about your kids but my two are not great with new food (one of them in particular, find my tips for traveling with fussy eaters here).
Things get particularly bad if they have new food in front of them when they are hungry – so I have learned to always have a LOT of snacks on me!
Once the hunger pangs are kept under control, they are more willing to try even unusual stuff. You can find my favorite travel snacks for toddlers here.
Not bring a first aid kit – out of all family travel tips, this one you don’t want to ignore
Always, always, always bring a first aid kit with you! You don’t want to have to use it, chances are you won’t need to but always have it with you for piece of mind!
We really wish we had it when our daughter had a fall camping in Mont Tremblant – she was ok but she got a freight and things were not help by us having to rush to find a doctor instead of being able to clean the wound straight away!
We always have one with us now – find what we have in our family first aid kit for travel here
Not foresee downtime
I am a great believer in planning cultural activities with young children but as much as adults can’t do child things all the time children can’t do adult things all the time, so factor in some free play: playground, pool, play centre even just park.
My favourite day in Ontario was the day trip to the Niagara falls, but the kids adored the hotel playroom!
We agreed to one day there and the following day we were rewarded by great mood from both kids.
This is particularly true if you are on city trip with kids, where the attractions you want to see may differ significantly from your kids’ idea of fun
Confuse family friendly with ethical
This one is really close to my heart.
The mark ‘family friendly’ is very often used to mark activities that are fun for children but possibly unethical or detrimental for the environment.
Dolphin shows are the perfect example of an activity that is cruel and unsustainable, many restaurants use the words ‘family-friendly menu’ to indicate international, rather than locally sourced, sustainable food.
When you go for family friendly, don’t take it at face value.
Question it like you would question anything else and make sure it’s not only friendly to our family but to families of the animals and of the people who live in the community we are visiting.
This is the story of when we got this point very wrong.
Now that I confessed all of our mistakes, tell me: what are the mistakes YOU made when traveling with children? Find us on Facebook and tell us the story!
I hope you enjoyed these family travel tips and gave you good tips on how to plan your first family vacation.