Yes, travelling as a family is challenging at the best of times, but it’s such a rewarding experience that you shouldn’t avoid it while your children are growing up. Away from life’s everyday pressures, you are able to spend quality time together, get to know each other, make memories and share experiences that will last a lifetime. Research has also shown that children who are exposed to different cultures at a younger age develop better social skills. Eclectic childhood experiences broaden their horizons and leave them better equipped to deal with challenges and adopt an open mind. Travel to a new destination is a great way to teach your children about new cuisines, cultures and customs and give them the opportunity to develop a sense of independence by means of experiential learning. In short – the gift of adventure is one of the best things you can give your child.
Now, let’s take a look at successfully planning, preparing and travelling as a group before you head off on your first (or next!) family excursion:
1 – Where shall we go?
As with most things in life, when it comes to travelling as a family, failing to plan is planning to fail. Here are a few top tips on laying the groundwork for a successful family getaway:
Choose a destination that resonates with everyone
First things first – where are we going? When choosing a destination for a multi-generation family holiday, it’s very important that it speaks to all members of the family. Ask yourself: Will there be entertainment for the kids? Will there be other young people the teens in our group can engage with? Will this destination provide the older generation with a few nice leisure options? What season and weather do we prefer?
Another way to winnow down your options is to determine what exactly your group wants to get out of this trip. If your aim is to spend a lot of quality time together away from the pressures of daily life, an island or secluded countryside destination could be just the ticket. However, if you’d rather use the time to stock up on shared experiences and learn more about a new culture, you might want to consider a more multi-faceted destination like Italy or France, where there is plenty to do and see throughout your trip.
Go guided if you can
Guided trips with pre-determined itineraries can be a lifesaver for large groups and families with younger children. Your entire day is mapped out, transport is all sorted and your accommodation is ready when you arrive – all you have to do is pitch up and have a fantastic time. Most guided tours also have some free time built in that can be spent in any way you choose, so there’s no need to feel like you’re painting by numbers.
If you like being a little more independent and choose to go on a self-guided family adventure, always book ahead. It helps to have accommodation and activities all sorted when you reach your destination. If you’re travelling to a foreign country, chances are you will be overwhelmed by the options, so choosing and booking your outings in advance will make things much easier on everyone.
Allow for personalised excursions
Whether you’re going guided or hitting the road by yourself, make a point of allowing a personalised excursion that appeals to each member of the family – e.g. a trip to a maritime museum for dad or an outdoor movie in the park for the kids. On guided tours you can give each family member a turn to choose how free time will be spent; on self-guided trips you can schedule a specific outing chosen by each family member ahead of time.
2 – Let’s get ready to go!
Once the bulk of the planning is out of the way, it’s time to prepare for your grand family adventure. Getting on the plane and choosing to just see what happens might work if you travel alone, but when you’re in a group you need a lot of preparation. Here are a few things to bear in mind while you tackle the momentous task of getting everyone packed, prepped and ready to go:
Start the excitement early by planning together. Get out a map and give everyone an idea of exactly where you’re headed and the routes you’ll take once you get there. Plot out your itinerary on a big calendar, and use it to decide what you will need day-to-day, plan multi-use outfits and determine which items need to go with you and which things you can purchase once you arrive. This is also a good time to discuss your travel budget and find clever ways to make the best use of it.
Dole out responsibilities
If you’re travelling with teenagers or older children, a good way to rope them into the planning process is to give them each a designated travel ‘chore’. E.g. make a specific person responsible for learning useful phrases in the native language of the country you’ll be visiting and ask them to teach one phrase to the family over dinner each night; another person could be in charge of reading up on the history of the country and sharing interesting facts about places of interest you’ll be visiting in the lead-up to your tour. If you have a particularly tech-savvy teen, you could even put them in charge of making digital copies of everyone’s travel documentation to save on a shared Dropbox in case it goes missing en route.
Have an action plan in case of emergency
Travelling with children places a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the parents/guardians. Always have an action plan in case of emergency (e.g. someone should get separated from the group; a natural disaster should occur, etc.). Ideally you want your children to memorise all of your vital information (telephone numbers, home address, contact person in your country of origin in case of emergency, their ID number, etc.), but a good plan B is to have this information stored in a Dropbox folder that they can access via their web-based email.
Top tip! Every person in your group should have a ‘travel buddy’, i.e. another person they should look out for when you’re out and about. This way you spread the responsibility of making sure that everyone is accounted for before you leave for your next destination.
Get & stay healthy
There is nothing that spoils a trip quite as quickly as somebody getting ill. Now is the time to boost those immune systems and get everyone as healthy as you can before you hit the road. Take your supplements, eat healthily and get some flu shots if you’re up to it. If you’re unsure about whether you need to get any shots to protect you against diseases in countries you’ll be visiting (e.g. malaria, yellow fever), it’s a good idea to visit your nearest travel clinic to get some advice.
Tip! Go for check-ups with your family physician and get everyone’s prescriptions filled two weeks before departure. This way you’ll have a window to get any health concerns sorted out before you leave.
Pack & repack like pros
Once you’ve had a good look at your itinerary, and consulted a trusted weather app to get an idea of the conditions you’re likely to encounter throughout your trip, get each member of your family to spend one evening planning out their travel wardrobe. Have them lay it out on their beds and walk you through their outfit/s for each day. Next, shed any items that are superfluous. Now, pack it all up into their luggage to see if fits and weigh their bag/suitcase for airport regulations. If everything is in order, take a walk around the block to see if each member of the family can physically manage their luggage – you don’t want any surprises when you arrive on the other side. Designate an adult to carry the family’s GO! Pack, i.e. a backpack with all your vital travel documents, emergency medication , extra cash, etc. Also remember some light travel games for the plane ride over.
Related: Read up on our pro packing advice before you go!
3 – We’ve arrived (now what?)
Oh happy day, you’ve arrived at your destination in one piece and everyone is raring to go. Here are a few ways to make the most of your family adventure:
Make it educational for everyone and keep the kids entertained
Get ready to give history lessons! Do a little research about sites you want to visit and keep it interesting with tales about wars and pirates, especially when travelling with young children. If the kids are older, let them guide you on a map, and even get a little lost if you have to. It’s a good lesson on how to navigate in a new city and you can see unexpected things on the way – bonus! Travelling can be super educational – embrace and enjoy the cultural and linguistic nuances, and use the trip as a language course to get to know the local lingo. Use different means of transport – go by ferry, boat, bus and train to make it interesting. Also think about hiring some bicycles or going paddle boating. It’s the best way to really explore a destination.
Tip! Challenge everyone to keep a travel journal and display it in your bookcase back home. This is a wonderful way to keep track of all those mementos and keepsakes (e.g. ticket stubs, postcards) you gather along the way.
Spend money on experiences rather than souvenirs
Carrying a 6-pound teddy bear or fragile coffee mug all the way from France can be a huge hassle. Before you leave, have a discussion with your kids about the merits of having experiences over buying souvenirs. Eating gelato can be an experience in Europe and will only cost you a fraction of a toy that you could’ve bought back home. Educate the family about certain ‘food experiences’ for every stop along your trip and get everyone excited about sampling it ahead of time.
Tip! Though you shouldn’t avoid seeing massive historical sights like the Colosseum and Eiffel Tower, try to avoid tourist traps that are busy and expensive. Walking along the back streets or talking to locals in a park can be a much more rewarding and organic experience.
Travelling as a family can be a grand adventure and you will reminisce about the special memories for years to come! At Expat Explore, we welcome children over the age of ten on all our tours. Get in touch to find out more about our range of family-friendly destinations!