While living abroad in England our family had the opportunity to travel right at our fingertips. I knew I had to take advantage of living close to so many iconic sights. We were creative when it came to budgeting and always looked for deals. Some of the countries we explored as a family (and even visited many a few times!) were Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Spain, Wales, Italy, Austria, France, Sweden, and Poland.
My kids attended the American School in London and luckily for us we had many breaks throughout the school year. Being a stay at home mom (gosh I was so lucky) allowed me time to research, plan and act as the family travel agent! Of course my kids did often moan and groan about seeing one. more. castle. But I knew in the end, one day, they would appreciate these experiences. Here are some things I learned while planning a trip with kids:
- Do your research. With so many options on where you can travel and sightsee, research and know what it is you actually want to see. Will it be good for kids? Will they also enjoy? Is there a lot of walking — will you have access to public transportation or will you need to rent a car? Do you need tickets for a particular site? Can you buy them in advance online, cheaper? I would research and read travel books from our library, but today all you have to do is google and read on!
- Don’t forget your Passport or Visa? Do you need a passport or a special visa? Be sure to check State Department for more information on what exactly the requirements are for your particular destination. Also check to see if you need special medical treatments, shots, etc.
- Determine the best location for hotels. Location, Location, Location. —Finding that perfect hotel is sometimes difficult to pin point. Read reviews on how other guests liked (or disliked) the property. But in the end, find a good and safe location. Sometimes staying a little further away from the main sites is best, but also know how you plan to get around.
- What type hotel accommodations works best for your family size? Finding accommodations for a family of over four is sometimes tricky, especially in Europe where they typically have smaller rooms. Most hotels only have 2 beds. There were many trips where we chose to stay in apartment style accommodations over a typical hotel room. This allowed for more bedrooms and many times came with a kitchen, which helped save on food cost. Typically, I found this option was also less expensive than major chain hotels.
- Determine your mode of transportation. Planes, Trains and Automobiles —How will you plan on getting to your destination? Will you jump on a train, plane or drive? Depending on how many days you have for your trip may determine your means of travel. If you are going somewhere close, is it best to all jump in the car, or do you need to fly? If budget is a concern, price out all the various travel options, and remember to include gas price and any road tolls. Sometimes you can fly cheaper than driving! (Ryan Air was our go to for cheap European flights). Also, don’t forget to price out additional fees for flying (ex. extra baggage). We had it down to a science when we traveled in Europe… we all had one carry on, and we wore our heaviest coat and winter boots, saving space in our luggage! There were times when we were spotted at the airport shifting things in and out to meet the weight requirements for that checked piece of luggage. If I could go back I would have purchased a luggage scale to have on hand while packing.
- Make an itinerary. What is it that you want to see? Many times, there are so many things to see, but if you don’t have a plan, you spend time during your trip thinking, discussing, and wasting time! If you have three kids like me, chances are you will not please them all! They will appreciate seeing the Leaning Tower, or Changing of the Guards, etc., one day! Spend time planning out approximately how much time you need to see each sight, taking into consideration the time for commuting. But remember, if you don’t get to see everything, don’t fret. The main goal is to have fun while making memories with your family.
- A game plan reduces stress. Once you have an itinerary… congratulations, you now have a game plan! Gather everyone and have a quick family meeting and review the plan. This will give your kids an overview of the trip and help build excitement while keeping stress to a minimum.
- Let your kids pack for themselves. One of the things I always did was allow (or make, ha!) my kids pack for themselves for every trip. I would give them a detailed check list with all the items they would need for the trip and they would gather each necessity and set it out. We reviewed together and then they would pack their bags. And guess what? Once we arrived, they knew exactly what options they had! (plus I could not get blamed for not packing the right items!) Each person always included a rain coat for every trip, and they always came in handy while sightseeing. Our favorite brand was always LLBean, similar to this one here.
- Add ribbon to your luggage. Many bags are black so tying a colorful ribbon on your luggage makes it stand out. Also be sure to place a secure and sturdy luggage tag in case your luggage is misplaced. I also added a sheet of paper inside luggage with name and phone number in case all else fails, the airport would have a contact from inside the luggage.
- Carry a back back. Stock the backpack with snacks and water bottles. (I mean kids are always hungry and buying snacks adds up!) Depending on how small your children are, you can also throw in the necessities (diapers, etc.). BUT be careful with your backpacks! Do not put anything on the outside, like wallets, where you can get pick pocketed. (trust me…) Back packs are great for allowing you to keep your hands free so you can grab your kids hands to help keep them safe while moving about.
Traveling with kiddos is always an adventure (and sometimes challenging). As they get older, they share these special memories together and will talk about the “remember when’s” for a lifetime. Making a plan is key and leads down a path to a successful travel journey wherever you may go!