Let’s get something straight from the outset: I LOVE family travel! Exciting, adventurous, exotic family travel. I’m passionate about it, and I always have been.  When my kids were younger, I raced after them on 14 hour flights; changed diapers in an Amsterdam toy store (we were kicked out); was the victim of countless poorly aimed throw ups (also on planes – my youngest son, now 15, has unfortunately maintained that habit to this day).

I know what you’re thinking. How do we get past all the minefields of family travel, and to the good parts? No one can deny that family travel has its challenges. Whether it’s finding a bathroom in a foreign language, or combating boredom in the later teens, there are simple strategies to making it all work. Here are a few of the things I have learned.

- The golden rule of family travel is to keep your kids happy and engaged, because if your kid is miserable, you will be too. It may take 5 minutes, or several hours, but take my word for it; it’s going to happen. There are many ways to make sure this is the case.  Be prepared, do your homework and don’t put yourself under more pressure and stress than is necessary.

- Get to the airport early so it doesn’t become a crazy scene of anxiety and tears.

- Be aware of the climate at your destination. It sounds logical, but assuming Iceland would be warm in the summer is a huge mistake. I once refused to let anyone pack jackets, not thinking that it’s called Iceland for a reason.

- Be nimble with luggage- don’t use any massive suitcases from the Neolithic era.

- If you’re taking checked luggage make sure the family’s luggage is evenly spread amongst all bags – that way if one case doesn’t arrive, everyone suffers a little instead of one person having nothing.

- Carry two days of clothes in your carry-on, double check flight times, flight connections, and passport and visa requirements of the places you’re going. You wouldn’t believe how many different rules there are. I once stood watching my family on the other side of passport control in Dublin while I was awaiting possible deportation due to not having a full empty page in my passport.

- Use common sense: if your child gets carsick, don’t sign up for a tour in China requiring 5 hours of driving on a bad road.

- If your kids are scared of exotic foods, hire a guide to show you around the local market. Surprisingly, a market excursion in a foreign city can be a really fun adventure for the whole family—sort of like a contemporary food museum, a cultural experience for everyone.

- As they get older, let them be part of the planning. They can suggest activities they really want to do. That’s how we went skydiving! In a foreign country you’re always only a few minutes away from something fun or exciting.

Ultimately, there is nothing quite as rewarding and special as seeing the world with and through the eyes of your kids. After 20 years of family travel, 6 continents and 40 countries, my kids are world citizens. Climbing Machu Picchu at 6 am with my 15 year old; watching my 12 year old haggle in an outdoor market in Marrakech; skydiving with 14 and 12 year olds in Wanaka; sleeping in a family tent in the Wadi Rum desert; getting lost in temples at Angkor Wat – when you do these things as a family, everyone is richer for the experience. There’s nothing quite like it. Travel tales, even bad ones, provide a shared memory, which lasts forever (and is much more fun than family therapy).

Traveling with your kids can be a fantastically rich experience—an opportunity to create memories that last far longer than a trip to Disneyland. There may not be any larger than life cartoon characters, but being made to dance with a goat in an ancient Mayan ceremony is priceless.


Article from The Happiness Issue