Family Travel Tips and Tricks – 965 days to go

We wanted to go ahead and share some travel learnings we have acquired the last couple years with our kids. We had scribbled these as reminders to ourselves for future travels. We still have some more to pull together but this is a good starting point.

Plan ahead
Last minute can be done but your margin of error is smaller. Planning does make it go smoother .

Schedule a bathroom visit before boarding the plane
It can be a long time from the boarding queue to when the pilot turns off the seat belt sign.

Keep an extra pair of clothes close by for EVERYONE who is traveling
Whether it be a plane, bus or ferry, children can get sick or have accidents. In such tight confines your clothes are bound to get something on them.

Seat cushions on some airplanes are removable
This is just good to know in case a child has an accident. We were pretty embarrassed when our child had an accident on a flight. The flight attendant just came on by and said not to worry and switched out the cushion right away.

Diapers can be changed in an airplane bathroom
You can actually change diapers in an airplane bathroom. Be honest until you actually have a kid, how would you know this?  There is a pull down that you can try and fit your child on. Our first time with the baby we tried to change her in her plane seat until the stewardess kindly pointed out the more sanitary option.

Download digital shows on your devices before you hit the road
Children get upset when you promise them that they can watch their favourite show only to find out the internet connection is weak. We load about ten 30 minute shows on our phones to ensure we have a backup.

Take your time with car seats you have not used before
It takes time to install a car seat you are not familiar with.  Give yourself time, properly secure it and familiarize yourself with the restraints.  Car seats have nuances across the globe and you can easily find yourself getting frustrated. I allocate 10 minutes to myself to get the car “setup” before the rest of the family gets into the rental. Let the kids go get a snack or use the washroom while you figure out

If using your own car seat make sure you actually know how to use it
If you are using your own car seat from home, make sure you actually remember how to install it. Take time and familiarize yourself with the options you might not normally use (i.e. lap belt vs. LUAS).  Just because you installed it once in your existing car does not mean you will remember how to do it in a rental.  

Clean your baby gear before the trip
Whether it be a car seat or a stroller, spend 15 minutes and clean them before the trip.  They can be pretty gross.  It is embarrassing to be cleaning it out at the airline check in counter. You can burn a lot of goodwill from others by doing this.

Give yourself lots of time at the airport, bus terminal, ferry, train station
Things will happen.  The days of sprinting in order to make it should be long past. You do not need more stress than you already have. Plus it does not really matter how fast you might be, you are now dependent on the slowest member of the team.

Bring reusable bottles for water
At airports, fill them as soon as you pass the security check.  Our kids seem to want water long before the stewardess arrives.

Bring good snacks
We like carrots, cucumbers, grapes and oranges.  We can pretend we don’t, but we always seem to buy candy and salty snacks on the go. 

Pre-purchase meals on long flights
We pre-purchase meals on any flight over 3 hours.  The last few times it has saved us about 50% off the cabin price for food.  Purchasing ahead of time has ensured first pick of the food before it sells out.  Also, letting the kids go through the food pamphlet and select their items kills at least 10 minutes of a flight for us. 

Board the plane last
I could argue both sides of this as we used to be early boarders.  We just decided that the less time on an airplane with them the better.  Letting them run around the terminal an extra 15 minutes is not the worst thing.  The biggest con to this is we rarely get overhead storage space near our seats.  However, most of our carry-on is toys and entertainment that make sense under the seat anyway.

Get your child a camera
I am not advocating going out and getting anything good.  It is going to get bumped, dropped and gummed up with all sorts of dirt.  Just find an old clunky digital camera that can still hold a charge.  At one point in time, those cameras were cutting edge and they took good pictures. I charged up an old Sony Cybershot that I had long since put out to pasture (I think I had not used it in 5 years).  I found an old 256mB memory card and gifted it to Isabella at the start of a trip.  At the end of a travel day, a highlight is to see what she took pictures of that day.  It adds an entirely different perspective. Here is a link to some of the gems from a recent trip.

Get some local currency before your arrival
We don’t do it to get the best exchange rate or anything like that.  We do it to make the transition from our entry point to our day 1 accommodation a little bit less stressful.  Just looking for a bank machine (with the kids and luggage in tow) to pay for a taxi, coffee or a washroom can be a major pain.  Again, any small headache that can be avoided is a win.  We enjoy being able to clear customs, walk to the taxi line and immediately hop in a cab without having to worry if they take credit card or not.

We like rooms with some sort of kitchen
If we are staying somewhere for more than 2 nights we will try to get room with a kitchen.  Sometimes we just know dinner at a restaurant isn’t going to happen.  Other times, we just want to save some money.  Yes, the fridge is the main element we use, but don’t discount the value of the tableware and cookware that you have access to when booking this type of room.  Good luck finding a cereal bowl  or even paper towels in a traditional hotel room.  I have yet to find a vegetable peeler.

A grocery store is a great “outing” when on the road with children
First, it allows you to take advantage of the kitchen you might have paid a premium for.  Second, it allows you to load up on good snacks that you always seem to be short of.  Third, I have yet to be “spoken to” about my children’s behaviour in a grocery store.  Fourth, it does give you an opportunity to teach your children and yourself about the different types of food that exists out there (I remember being as shocked as Isabella that some oranges were actually green).  Fifth, you can save a bunch of money on food.  Sixth, we have always found people are willing to help you in a grocery store even though you have no idea how to do simple things like weigh your produce or even order cheese from the counter.  Seventh, our kids love picking out cereals and snacks they haven’t seen before.  In a previous life, we might have raved about bars and clubs but now it is all about the grocery store.   

Find the local pool
If your children like to swim do not feel “pigeon-holed” into finding a hotel with a pool.  Public pools can be a mini-culture shock for adults as they try to navigate the different bathing etiquettes around the world.  Kids on the other hand just seem to dive right in.  A pool is a pool and ours just love them.  Some have toys, some have slides, some have floaties.  Most are economical.

Check your passport expiration dates
It is not just you or your partner traveling.  In our case there are 4 of us all with different expiration dates.  For some reason I never clued in that all would have different renewal dates.

Use the stroller to its maximum benefit
If traveling with a stroller, use the stroller.  We check the thing at the gate when boarding a plane, not at the desk.  Walking through an airport carrying a child when you could be pushing them in a stroller does not make sense to me.  When walking around a city, we hang our bags off the stroller and use it to carry purchases home.  If you are going to invest the energy to bring a stroller with you, don’t forget to actually use it.

Stickers might be the greatest family travel accessory
They take up no room.  They are ridiculously easy to share (just rip a sheet in half).  They are a great ice breaker with other children.  And if you lose them, they are relatively easy to replace almost anywhere in the world.  Did I mention they are light weight?

Children eat frequently
At daycare and school I think our children eat/snack 4 times.  That doesn’t include the breakfast and dinner they get with us.  When traveling we forget that 3 designated eating times just won’t cut it.

Off season travel is underrated
Reasonable queues, more room, better prices.  We have been able to get rooms at prices we could only dream of during the high season. Yes more things might be closed but playgrounds seem to be open all the time.  

Pay attention to the day of the week
Before children, we used to say every travel day is like a Friday and we rarely paid attention to the day of the week. With children you probably need to know when a restaurant or amusement is going to be packed. See the big sites on weekday mornings.

Some places rent gear
Instead of bringing a pack and play you might be further ahead renting when there. In Germany instead of paying outlandish car seat rental charges from the car rental company, we got them from a third party and saved a bunch. Thanks Oma Inga for this one!

I had no idea these even existed. They are essentially hotels that cater entirely to families. You won’t have to lift your children up to the sink to wash their hands again.

Children do not eat free everywhere
We are spoiled here in North America. Some countries do not even have kids meals. If they do, don’t expect them to be cheap. We often just get the children to share an adult meal.

A playground is a playground is a playground
Slide, swing, climb repeat. Kids love them. Gives you a break. Grab a coffee, meet some locals and relax for an hour.

When raining jump into a museum
Before you could have just gone shopping when the weather didn’t agree. Children and browsing around shops is not as fun as it used to be. “Look with your eyes and not your hands”. Museums on the other hand seem to be moving towards a kid-friendly environment. They have washrooms, climate control, education and cafeterias.

Public transit can be fun
Save yourself the headache of driving in an unfamiliar locale. Public transit can be relaxing for parents and a wonderland for children. From getting tickets to finding seats on a train there are many activities that children can be a part of.

Headphones can be a pain
We have yet to crack this one. We lose them, we break them and our youngest can not stand them. We are doing something wrong.

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