Travel with small kids tends to divide opinion somewhat.
Plenty of people question if it isn’t the same old mundane rubbish, just in a different location, plus the added stress of being somewhere unfamiliar. It’s hugely tempting to say that you’ll put off travelling with kids until they’re older. We almost did – and what a mistake that would have been.
There’s no escaping that travelling with small kids has its challenges, but just because you’ve got a couple of ankle biters doesn’t mean that you have to stop travelling, if you love it. It could even be beneficial for your kids, and you!
Here’s a look at the reasons as to why you should travel with small kids.
Reasons why you should travel with small kids
Because you have to
Parenting small children can be a struggle sometimes, to say the least. The squabbling, the screaming, the constant wiping of faces and bottoms, the mess; sound familiar?
Personally and physically, I’m a wreck. I mean, who doesn’t love watching their face (and everything else) head south quicker than you ever thought possible? Who doesn’t love waking up every couple of hours through the night, every night, for FIVE years (mine are not good sleepers) and shuffling through the day, zombie-like, until just before it’s time to go to bed again? Wonderful!
But I could write a whole blog on the joys of parenting, so I’ll stop there. You get the picture.
The one damn thing I’ve got left is going on the occasional trip.
It’s when my husband and I get to do something for us, choose what we want to do. And, in all seriousness, you need to put yourself first once in a while. We (well, I, mainly) love the planning, getting excited and counting down the days; and then the best bit of every trip – when you arrive, the journey’s done, and you’ve got the whole thing to look forward to. Unfortunately, leaving the rugrats behind is not an option. They’ve got to come. No choice.
They’ve already taken so much from you – don’t let them take your holidays too!
They do remember travel
So, on a slightly more serious note, I’ll get this one out of the way quickly. There’s a charge often levelled at parents taking cultural or adventurous trips with their kids. We’ve all heard the old chestnut – Why do you bother? They won’t remember anyway; it’s a waste of money.
Well, why bother doing anything then, if that’s what you’re worried about?
I don’t remember all the specifics of my family holidays in Devon when I was a kid. But what sticks in my mind is how I felt, how happy I was, what fun I had with my parents, sisters, and grandparents. That’s what matters. I know that I was having a great time even if I can’t remember exactly what we did, and being on holiday was a big part of it.
And you know what? Some things do stick in kids’ memories. Both of our kids remember going to Rome and Paris – they loved the Colosseum and the Eiffel Tower. The girl remembers going to Petra and riding a camel in Wadi Rum. We do remind them, we use places we’ve been in games and look through books (yes, and the TV too, we love a bit of Go Jetters).
But even if they don’t remember, you’ll remember and you can talk about it with them and look through the photos when they’re older. Those memories that everyone bangs on about making all the time? They’re for you too.
Start them travelling early and they get used to it quicker
Flights are always the thing that you worry about the most when travelling with kids, right? We were so worried about this that the first time we took the girl on a flight she was just over 12 months. Our first trip was great, as luckily she fell asleep for the whole flight, there and back.
Not every flight we’ve taken has been so smooth, but now she knows what to expect she’s much better. The boy, more even-tempered, now follows his sister’s example so our flights tend to go without a hitch (in the behaviour department at least). Not bad considering how small they still are.
The kids are used to airports, to long car journeys, to living out of suitcases, to staying in different beds and new places. It just doesn’t faze them any more. They’ve grown more patient and learned that sometimes you’ve just got to sit around and wait. So, we can get on with (hopefully) having a good time and not having to worry about travel-induced meltdowns.
We still get other meltdowns, mind.
Travel is cheaper when the kids are small
Small kids often travel cheaper. It’s not always the case; some airlines have a flat fee for kids up to 2 and if you get a good deal the adult ticket can be cheaper. But in general, you pay less for their plane ticket. Winner.
In many places they will travel on a train or buses for free, usually up to about age 4. When we took them to Spain and travelled by train, both kids went for free. On the Eurostar from London to Paris, the boy was free and the girl had a much reduced ticket. Expensive attractions are often free for small kids, so you can pack in all that cultural stuff.
Even hotels may allow children aged two and under to sleep in a cot or existing beds for free, so actually, a family holiday with young kids doesn’t have to end up costing a ton more than a couple’s holiday.
Although I haven’t allowed for all the ice cream you’re going to have to buy.
Go before they have to go to school
Travel is soooo much more flexible before your kids start school. You get better prices and can pick the best times to visit your chosen destination.
School comes around horrifyingly quickly. In the UK the legal age for kids to be in school is September after their 5th birthday, but our kids have been in preschool since just before turning 3. Most UK schools won’t authorise any extra holidays and taking trips in term time can result in a hefty fine.
We haven’t taken our girl out of reception (nor will we) but we did take her out of preschool to get better prices and to fit in with the husband’s work. We’re very glad we did it then as now we don’t have that option.
Of course, you don’t have to put your kids in school at all if you don’t want to. You can choose homeschool if you’re willing and able, and pootle off on holiday whenever you feel like it!
Kids break the ice
Enough of the practical reasons, and on to some of the fun reasons why you should travel with kids.
Kids break the ice. The husband and I are both introverts and unlikely to just start up a conversation with anyone. But when you’re travelling with children, especially two extroverts like ours who don’t stop chattering, you’re forced (in a good way!) to interact with more people than you normally would.
This is especially true in Asian countries; when we travelled to Jordan we lost count of the amount of people who came over to us, kissed our kids, and then started chatting away. We met some great people this way and had some insightful conversations. None of this would have happened if we’d not had kids; we’d have kept ourselves to ourselves and missed out.
Travel gets kids learning languages early
I’m not necessarily talking about speaking another language fluently. Even learning a few words of a language will help your kids to understand the world better and to broaden their minds. Learning a few words of a country’s language is a great habit to get into; it’s polite, it teaches your kids to respect other people, and it helps their awareness of other cultures as well as being fabulous for brain development.
Travelling also teaches flexibility and adaptability when it comes to communication. Our kids love playing with anyone and everyone, and they don’t care if their playmates speak the same language or not. It’s amazing to watch our kids playing with local kids, even when they don’t understand what the other is saying.
Our kids always get a great response from locals when saying a few words of French or Spanish. Perhaps they will be inspired to learn other languages when they’re older – we need more of this attitude in the UK!
Travel fires kids’ imaginations
It doesn’t matter where you go, just taking the kids somewhere new fires their imagination. You can look at all the books you like and watch as many documentaries as you can on the TV; nothing, but nothing compares to seeing and doing stuff for yourself – and it’s especially important for kids. There’s science behind this, too.
You might spark a lifelong interest in a country, culture or history.
You don’t have to go far for this to be a success. Recently we went to Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean, about an hour’s drive away. Our daughter made up fantastical stories the whole time – this fairytale wood was just different enough to ignite the spark.
Travel teaches kids about different ways of life
If we never left the comfortable bubble of our home life we’d run the risk of letting our kids think that ours is the only way of doing things. By exploring we open up our kids’ minds to different ways of life around the world. This gives them a first-hand appreciation of other cultures that just can’t be learned in the classroom. We can’t wait for our next big trip to Japan where we’ll be staying in traditional inns and learning about Japanese culture.
Travel also teaches children to be thankful for what they have, especially as many families who can travel come from a privileged background.
The most important lesson is that in the end, no matter what kind of home we live in, what we wear, what we eat, whatever the colour of our skin, people are people. We’re the same on the inside, and travel teaches this in the most fundamental way.
Travel means kids become more resilient
I’ve already covered increased patience when doing the physical part of travelling, but experiencing other countries helps with building kids’ resilience in other ways too.
They learn that you don’t need lots of toys. When we go away we try to pack as light as possible, and this means that the kids get to pick one or two toys to bring, max. So if they get bored with what they’ve brought, they’ve got to improvise. This means using their imaginations more, making up new games, or playing with objects they find while we’re out and about. They can’t rely on a ton of plastic crap like we have at home so they’ve got to adapt!
Increased confidence is another big one. I’ve mentioned the effect trying new languages has already, so interacting with people adds to kids’ personal confidence; and having the opportunity to try new activities can help to push kids out of their comfort zone and become braver physically, too.
Although it seems that some things you can’t change. My kids are bloody picky eaters and so far, travelling hasn’t done anything to sort that out. Oh well; you win some, you lose some.
You might pick up better ways of doing things
Now I’m a parent I’m always fascinated to see how people in other countries raise their kids. I’m always comparing the UK’s attitude to kids with the attitudes in other countries (the UK usually comes off worse).
As a family we have never been into a strict routine which does help when we’re travelling and said routine goes out the window. But seeing toddlers playing in the Spanish plazas at 10pm made me realise that we could relax even more! Although perhaps we don’t have the weather for this in the UK…
See things through their eyes
Your kids’ experience can add to your experience too. Even the smallest, most mundane activity for you becomes a huge deal for your little kids if it’s new to them. Seeing their excitement at taking a new form of transport can take you right back to when you were a kid. Kids’ enthusiasm is infectious!
Travelling with kids isn’t usually as fast-paced as travelling with adults. Slowing down to kid pace means that you’ll all notice and appreciate the little details more; again this can enrich your travel experience as well as theirs.
More quality family time together
This is probably the most important reason of all. When you’re travelling you’re spending quality time together as a family. This is one of the best things you can do to raise happy, well adjusted kids. Kids who feel valued by their parents are more emotionally secure and confident.
Travelling is also a great way to take a digital detox. If you’re busy on a packed day out (or somewhere the Wifi’s not great) then you’re not going to be looking at phones or TV screens. Instead you can re-connect with each other and this build closer family bonds.
And anything’s better than lying slumped on the sofa, glassy-eyed, in front of Paw Patrol all day.
One reason why you shouldn’t travel with kids
Don’t go expecting an actual holiday. It’s going to be bloody hard work and you’ll be on alert 100% of the time. You’ll come back even more tired than when you left.
But it’s worth it!
Do you agree with this list? How have you found travelling with small kids? Let us know in the comments!