This year I travelled to 9 countries in six weeks with a four year old and a baby. And they weren't all countries that were close together either - we went from the North Pole in Finland to the very southern parts of Australia. The response I get when I tell people this is always the same. It's not "Did you have fun?" or "Which destination did you enjoy the most?" It's always "How did you DO that?"
There is no great secret to how to travel with kids. It doesn't require any special skills nor do you always have to have a lot of money (although that helps of course). The best way to survive any sort of family vacation with kids is to plan it well. If you get the plan for the holiday right, it will actually be enjoyable for everyone. Here are some travel tips for how to plan the perfect family holiday that will help you get to the end successfully (and maybe be able to relax).
• Select your destination carefully. Think about the weather, the time zone changes and the type of holiday you are signing up for. It's important to take everyone's interests into account so opt for somewhere that has activities to suit everyone's tastes. If you have school aged children, getting them involved in the planning is not only a good lesson in geography but will help get them engaged before you've even left home.
• Be mindful of your flights. Take into account the length of the flight, what time you will be arriving and whether it is likely to be a restful experience or not. If, for instance, your kids can't sleep on the plane then opting for a long haul overnight flight is unlikely to lead to a good start to your family vacation.
• Plan the itinerary. This doesn't mean you can't be spontaneous when you arrive, but it's good to take into account that kids generally move slower than adults in foreign environments. Changing hotels every night can be unsettling and overwhelming. If you want to explore different parts of a region try to pick accommodation that is central so you can do a few day trips and sleep in the same beds multiple nights in a row rather than constantly unpacking and repacking the suitcases.
• For every adult activity, plan a kids' activity. This provides an incentive for the children to behave when you are sightseeing and also gives them a welcome respite to play and do the things they enjoy. A good rule of thumb is to do adults activities in the morning (for instance museums, city walks or shopping) and then kids' activities in the afternoon as a wind down until bed.
• Don't overthink the kids' activities. You don't always need to be running around to search for the next children's gallery or cultural interaction. While these are great, kids will equally enjoy an afternoon in a public park, on the beach or even the occasional hotel room screen time. Often the most memorable family holiday activities for kids are those unexpected interactions or small differences in every day life that they observe rather than being dragged to another traditional ceremonial dance.
• Don't forget the chill out time. Travel with kids can be busy and not exactly relaxing for parents. This is especially true of family adventure holidays or city tours where you spend all day every day exploring and trying to keep everyone energised. Factor in a couple of days at the start or end of your family vacation where you can all just unwind by sleeping in, hanging out at the beach or lounging around the hotel and transition from real life to holiday mode.
• Factor in at least 24 hours at home into your holiday itinerary. While it's important to maximise your vacation time, be realistic about how long it will take the kids (and you) to readjust to home life. For instance, planning to arrive home from a family holiday in a different time zone the night before school starts probably won't work. Give everyone at least a day (or more if jet lag is likely to be involved) to come down from the vacation and return to reality.
• Remember to relax and go with the flow. Sometimes the best-laid plans go awry and this seems to be particularly true when traveling with kids. So be ready for all these plans to go to waste - and to still be able to find a way to have fun. If someone gets sick and you can't leave the hotel room, take it as a chance to download a movie or grab a catnap. If you're running late and that gallery is closed, stop and have an ice cream instead. After all, the whole point of family travel is to be together experiencing a foreign environment not ticking off a checklist.