Tips for Traveling with Young Children
Plan a vacation with your family’s needs in mind
by Ellen Regenstreif
A new year brings so much promise and hope: a fresh, new outlook, increased awareness, growing kids and burgeoning interests. For those of us with toddler and elementary school-aged children, we are already planning what trips we will take this year. We are making sure vacations line up with our interests and debating with ourselves about taking those extra days off from school before or after a vacation to eek just a little more precious time with family before we all return to routines and obligations.
Vacations are all about time together as a family or with friends. It is precious time that allows us the luxury not only of time together, but also of the chance to “return to wonder,” to go to a place of sheer happiness and laughter that many of us as adults abandoned a long time ago. Children are masters of wonder, everything is so new and exciting, and so by bringing them on a vacation with us, we will discover that those feelings are contagious.
So where are you going this year? What is feasible for families differs like the socks that come out of the dryer. But never fear! There are a few tips that will help you make the right decision for your family.
Know your own family
Planning a successful vacation near home or farther away depends on your ability to manage feeding and sleeping schedules (your own as well as kids) within the context of the place you are visiting.
Be mindful if you have young children that are still pushed in strollers or who tire of walking that you will need more breaks, and remember that playing is a necessary part of every day so find a park or a zoo and let your wild animals free.
Be wary of taking children to very solemn places or where they need to stand very still or remain quiet for a long time unless they are used to it.
Prepare your family
For pre-readers and readers, a traveling experience that they have prepared for is a lot like predicting what comes in a story: it allows them to imagine, to associate myth and fantasy with reality and it GETS THEM EXCITED TO GO! Even the most reticent traveler can’t help but be enthralled by the stories of King Arthur or seeing where Madeline falls into the Seine.
Don’t overwork your family
Less is more. The greatest temptation of vacation is to do or see everything you have ever heard about that is in that place, whether it interests you or not, just to say you have done it. Different children have different attention spans and stamina levels (I guess the same can be said of parents, too). Choose activities on your vacation that are proportionate to your children’s interests, energy levels and that are age appropriate.
Families are so diverse and every family’s interests are different. Some families love history. Other families have children (and parents, too) who are obsessed with sports. They will make a trip around their favorite team’s game schedule. And yet other families have budding storytellers, artists or musicians who would love to tie those interests into a trip to New York City or Paris, France. Some families are dedicated to water and sun, and would head to a beach over anywhere else.
Whatever your interest, travel savvy and mobility as a family, there is a destination and a way of handling the trip when you’re traveling with young children. The key is to let yourself be guided by your own knowledge of your family dynamics and interests, and to seek the help of a professional when you need it.
Ellen Regenstreif got her Ph.D. in Spanish Literature and is an avid family traveler, daydreamer, researcher and family travel professional. She is the owner of ChildTours, a family travel planning company that customizes trips for families en route to anywhere. She gives all of her trips an educational bent through trip preparation in geography, language instruction, customized travel guides for children and recommended reading. She currently blogs www.travelingmom.com as travelingwithtweensmom and can be reached through her website www.childtours.com.