Traveling With Kids: What to Expect & What You Should Do?
What makes an adventure work is an accumulation of so many things. It’s those moments of sheer joy and just feeling alive that only come after moments of discomfort or hardship.
It’s knowing your family just accomplished something you never thought you would, reaching a new pinnacle of achievement.
It’s the rapport and tight bond that is forged between family members thrown together on an adventure. Most of all it’s an attitude, a belief that your family adventure is going to succeed.
Despite the best intentions, a few key issues can occur again and again, things that are typical of adventuring with children that can make or break a trip.
We’ve dealt with a number of them in this guide about traveling with kids, plus some general budget tips to help you in this adventure.
Knowing what to expect ahead of time and being prepared can all help contribute towards making a family vacation with toddlers work.
1. The First 24 Hours
Nothing makes a bigger impression on a family embarking on an adventure than the first 24 hours, and nothing is more atypical as to what the rest of the trip will be like.
The first 24 hours is like your first day at school, overwhelming, confusing, scary and sometimes even slightly disastrous. If the rest of the school year was like that, children would refuse to go.
The same is true of adventuring. Like the child plunged into a strange classroom, you’re presented with a whole new environment in which to function.
By some twist of fate, we’ve discovered that you can almost assume that first day will be anything except fun.
If you are bicycling, it always rains, even in places where rain happens about twice a year.
If you are going somewhere hot, it’s cold when you get there.
As a result be ready to miss a connecting flight, land in the wrong place and arrive at your destination in the middle of the night.
You could also spent a night in what must be the most abysmal pension ever in operation where you will find laundry in the tub, cigarette burns in the carpet, holes in the bedding and a clientele that never went to sleep.
In terms of adventure travel, coping with the first 24 hours is an art form.
The following is a list of guidelines for getting you through what can be the roughest stage of your trip. Short of going on an organized tour, this is an unavoidable situation, so the best thing is to be as prepared as possible:
- Prepare for bad weather
- Even if you’re heading for the tropics and the weather predictions are 90 degree temperatures with clear skies, have your rain jackets ready.
Mother Nature likes to spring surprises on newly arrived tourists.
- Be prepared to pay
- The first 24 hours are always the most expensive. You’re new to a place and have no idea how the system works.
Locals know this and act accordingly. Don’t worry about it or think things will always cost this much. There will be plenty of time for economizing later.
- Book your family into a nice hotel
- Forget bargain-hunting the first night. If there’s one time you need to splurge when adventuring, it’s now while you’re trying to familiarize yourself with an area.
- Don’t book your first night ahead
- Don’t bother trying to book your first night ahead unless you are absolutely sure of a place.
Except for luxury accommodations, this is difficult to do despite the conveniences of phones, faxes and the assurances of a travel agent.
- Get a comfortable first night place
- Until you see a place, it’s difficult to know what it will be like, or in some cases, even what it will cost. There are always places to stay once you get somewhere.
Try to spend the money when you should have to avoid arriving in a place that will be more expensive than you had expected.
The experience will teach you the value of paying for a first night in comfortable conditions, no matter what the cost.
- Bring plenty of food
- Go out somewhere nice to eat your first night, then fill in the gaps in your children’s hunger with food you brought with you.
It’s one thing to spend $50-$60 for a nice room and quite another to spend nearly that much just to eat.
Bring along some special foods to tide your family over until you discover where to shop.
Peanut butter is a good choice because even if the whole family is sick to death of it in a few days, the chances are you won’t see it again until you go home.
- Bring everything you think you might need
- Avoid having to go find a store in the first 24 hours.
This is a time for recuperating, relaxing and getting to know a place in an enjoyable way, not rushing around trying to find aspirin or toothpaste.
- Let the children play
- After the rigors of traveling to wherever you are, they need a day just to have fun.
Take a book along, sit in a cafe, go to a beach or a park while your children play.
They’ll forget whatever hardships they went through to get there and develop a positive feeling towards adventure travel.
2. First Impressions
First impressions are often a let-down. No matter what the brochures, books, travel agents and your friends say, don’t expect to immediately grasp the appeal of a place.
Places, like people, grow on you. You can’t help but visualize what some places will be like from what you’ve heard or read, while the actual place is always somewhat different.
In essence, if your vision is of your children frolicking on some pristine beach in the sunshine, don’t expect to even find the beach or see the sun when you first arrive.
The charms of most places are subtle and less obvious than you are led to believe.
You could remember your first impression of a place like an island you had nothing but raves about over its beauty, mountains and abundance of flowers.
However, after surviving the hair-raising landing, the exorbitant taxi ride from the airport, the crowded streets and a night in a sordid pension, you are hardly in a position to notice the flowers or appreciate the mountains.
In the end you will stay for a longer period of time more then you thought you could stay when you first arrived.
- ##lightbulb-o## TIP
- If it happens and you arrive in a town and one glimpse of the place and you are ready to leave, because there was too many hotels, too many gift shops, too many tourists and too small beach, within a day you will be fallen under the spell of that place.
3. Making the Best of a Bad Destination
Some places turn out to be a mistake. Your best friend may have loved it, but it just doesn’t work for your family.
Despite the amount of helpful travel information, no family can really know whether they’ll like a place until they go there.
Most will turn out to be wonderful. A few won’t. One of the reasons is that nearly all travel material is oriented to either the tourist who wants to know where to shop, where to dine and how to take a tour, or to the backpacking college crowds who are looking for nude sunbathing and where the action is.
Family adventuring lies somewhere in the middle between tourist hot-spots and singles hand-outs. As travel material rarely deals with adventuring families, much of where you choose to go will be guesswork.
If you have arrived somewhere, given it a chance to grow on you and finally realized you’ve made a mistake, what can you do?
Look at the funny side of the situation-nearly every bad moment in adventure travel has its humorous side. It’s like taking your children to the Ice Capades.
You can dread the whole experience and have a miserable time or you can laugh yourself silly. Children will simply follow your lead. If you see the funny side, they will, too.
Find something fun and adventurous to do. There’s always some adventure trips for families you can do, even in the most unlikely circumstances:
- Try exploring the surrounding area. Few tourists venture beyond the town or city limits.
- Go hiking outside that destination. The whole experience will be a wild adventure.
This is the stuff that adventuring is made of, those memorable happenings when you least expect them.
Know when to leave. Don’t be afraid to leave somewhere you don’t like, even at the risk of losing money. It’s better to forfeit a few hundred dollars than the whole trip.
Being able to make your own decisions and change plans when you want to is one of the advantages of adventure travel. There’s nothing locking you into a certain place or situation except your own actions.
- ##lightbulb-o## TIP
- On the advice of an acquaintance, if you have booked into a place that turned out to be miles from the nearest beach and store, and a hotbed of dope consumption-hardly the ideal spot for a family with toddlers.
And the other places to stay in the area were way out of you price range, flew back to your home and get your family a fabulous three weeks of camping.
Sure, you have wasted the flight money, but you didn’t waste the whole trip and you learned your lesson to avoid similar mistakes again.
4. Bad Weather
Everywhere has its moments of bad weather. Short trips can practically be destroyed by it and even on long ones nothing can demoralize you faster or make you more miserable than bad weather.
Bad weather, for outdoor adventures, usually means rain. Except in tropical showers where rain is actually a welcome respite, rain that lasts for more than an hour is no fun when you are outdoors, especially when camping.
The first thing to realize is that rain rarely lasts more than a day. So instead of worrying about how you will survive the trip if it rains the whole time, think about just getting through the day.
- Find alternative lodgings if you’re camping, find an alternative if possible. Camping in the rain is never a pleasant experience.
As bad weather doesn’t last forever, it’s well worth the money to find a place to stay that’s warm and dry. Just about anything is going to look good if the alternative is a tent or small camper, so don’t feel compelled to find luxury accommodations.
A simple motel room with access to an indoor pool can seem like you just booked into Club Med.
- Another option is to find a place to camp with access to indoor facilities.
When camping is the only option try to find a site near a shelter. This at least gives you somewhere to go other than your tent.
- ##lightbulb-o## TIP
- If the rain is really torrential and the children are desperate for exercise, send them to the rest rooms to play. The chances are no other campers will be venturing out in this weather so the children will have the whole place to themselves.
Just being able to move around makes a big difference to a child and gives parents and children the break they need from each other in weather conditions like these.
Don’t be embarrassed to make use of the bathroom this way, provided your children are well behaved and not the kind to spread water or toilet paper all over the place.
- Children like playing in the rain. Forget trying to sail or bicycle or hike, activities they won’t enjoy in the rain any more than you will. Instead, stay in one place and let them outside to play as much as possible.
Try to avoid too many wet clothes, especially if you’re camping. Have them wear sandals instead of shoes to keep the shoes from getting soaked.
- One outdoor activity that can still be enjoyed in the rain and help relieve the tedium of bad weather is walking.
Pick somewhere to go that’s interesting-through a village, down a country road, along the seashore, in a park.
Try walking where you can look at houses, a fun activity for children who like to compare houses and yards and speculate which one they would live in.
See if there’s a coffee shop or cafe or interesting shop you can head for as a destination along the route. Before you know it you will have whiled away the rainy hours and enjoyed yourselves as well.
- ##lightbulb-o## TIP
- It’s nice to have a special cache of goodies, games and projects for bad weather. If you’re stuck in a tent, get out some drawing paper, scissors, colored pencils and scotch tape.
Children can spend a long time being creative with simple materials. A pack of cards, miniature backgammon or checkers, or a surprise paperback will keep older ones occupied as well.
5. The Importance of Time
Children have no real sense of time. To them time is an endless present. What’s happening now seems like it will go on forever and what’s going to happen will never come.
This is a basic difference between adults and children and one that should be taken into account when adventuring.
Their limited concept of time means that when children are having fun, they never want to stop. If you assure them they’ve been playing by that stream or on that beach for an hour, they will insist they just got there.
In the same way if things are tough, children feel they will never get better. Telling them that they’ll be up that hill or to a certain destination in ten minutes means nothing.
All they know is that they’re not there yet and ten minutes is as good as saying forever. As any parent knows who has ever tried to hurry a child out the door to catch the school bus or make it to an appointment, children also seem to think that time can stop to accommodate them.
This is where so many trips and outings go wrong, when parents feel continually held back and children continually rushed.
- ##lightbulb-o## TIP
- If you don’t want to find yourself harassed beyond belief when adventuring with children, some adjustments are going to have to be made to their sense of time.
Getting your children to perform within some sort of time framework is best accomplished by a series of gentle proddings.
Some goals have to be met, however, if you adventure isn’t to become one endless beach scene or play session.
Forget telling your children they have already played for an hour or have ten minutes of uphill hiking before the next break.
- What they understand best is countdown:
- ##check## Five more minutes to play
- ##check## One more night before we leave
- ##check## Finish up what you’re doing now
- ##check## It’s time to go
After numerous warnings, a child can hardly throw a fit when you announce it really is time to stop playing.
- The same strategy works for bad moments:
- ##check## We’re half way up the hill
- ##check## We’re two-thirds of the way
- ##check## We’re almost there
- ##check## Just one more corner
- ##check## Time for a break
With a steady supply of progress reports, children don’t have a chance to get overwhelmed by a steep hill or long hike.
6. The Pace of Travel
As with the importance of time, the pace of travel is going to be at the mercy of your children.
Pace is a self-imposed structure that children want nothing to do with on a long-range basis. It’s an alien concept to them and pushing it only makes them unhappy or rebellious.
No child’s pace is ever going to match yours, so you might as well forget the issue. Children are naturally energetic and capable of a tremendous output when it comes to outdoor activities.
Your problem won’t be their capabilities, but keeping them from getting distracted. Stimulated adventuring children can find a great deal to keep them interested, most of which interferes with pace setting.
- You will have hikes where each one’s pace determined by what activity the children were involved in at the time.
- You will have times when they build stick signs at every turn on the trail indicating which way to go.
- Another times when they want to collect leaves of every type or look for special stones.
This is a child’s idea of a pace of travel, the kind that adapts to each moment.
On a larger scale, a whole trip operates this way. If they find a place they like, why move on to the next? They’d rather linger and enjoy what they’ve already found.
- ##lightbulb-o## TIP
- Work out a compromise. Abandon your sense of a structured pace for a more sporadic one, one that keeps you moving, but allows children time to enjoy things along the way.
Unless you have a bus to catch or a train to meet, be as relaxed as you can. In a world where time has come to be regarded as a vital part of daily life, adventuring is one of the few times you can ignore it.
Children naturally live in the present; you could do well to emulate them. With children it’s not the pace of travel that counts so much as the quality.
In family adventure travel, improvisation makes up much of what you do. There’s no set itinerary, booked hotels or guided tours.
Other than when you leave home, where you initially go, and when you come back, the trip is an open opportunity.
Beyond choosing an area and activities that interest you, the rest of the trip should be left to develop as you go along.
You’re like a pioneer family, conscious of where you are going, but not sure what will happen along the way.
If something sounds or looks promising, then pursue it with no thought for previously set plans.
You won’t find the kids complaining if you end up on the coast of Turkey when you said you’d be exploring the islands of Greece, or walking the footpaths of England instead of hiking in the Alps.
- Almost any situation can be turned to advantage when adventuring, through the use of a little improvisation:
- ##check## Bad weather
- ##check## Confused directions
- ##check## People met along the way
- ##check## A sudden inspiration
- ##check## A bad destination
Each can send you off in a new direction you hadn’t even thought of.
Who cares if your trip takes a completely different turn from what you had intended?
Eventually you will find yourself starting to sound vague when people ask you on your next adventure.
This is all part of adventuring, particularly with children when any number of unpredictable things can happen.
With a little spontaneous improvisation, all can result in an added element of excitement.
8. Traveling With Kids on a Budget
The following ideas will get you a great success in saving money where you don’t feel it’s necessary to spend it and adding to your experience in fun ways.
People are very accommodating towards families with children, especially ones traveling in a simple adventurous way.
All the tips make use of your family status without taking advantage of the people you meet. Families sometimes have unique needs that can be accommodated just by asking.
- ##info## Budget Travel Tips and Tricks for Families with Kids
- ##arrow-right## When eating out, ask for a child’s portion even if it’s not on the menu, or split a dinner and drink between two children. This saves you money and the restaurant wasted food.
##arrow-right## At a bed & breakfast, get the bed without the breakfast if possible. The food makes up a large part of what you pay for. As a place to spend the night is what you really need, breakfast on cereal, milk and fruit in your room for a fraction of the cost.
##arrow-right## At an inn, guesthouse, hotel, etc., sleep the children on the floor, making beds with camping pads and sleeping bags. Most places will let the children stay for free this way.
##arrow-right## In a pension when abroad, cook your meals right at the pension:
##long-arrow-right## Some have porches, balconies or courtyards where you can set up your camp-stove.
##long-arrow-right## Some will offer you the use of their kitchen. Expect some interest in what you’re cooking, always a subject of curiosity to foreigners.
##arrow-right## When there’s no campground, try finding a B & B, guesthouse or restaurant that will let you camp out back. Settle on a small fee for the use of their bathrooms, water, refrigeration, even sometimes a washing machine.
##long-arrow-right## If they won’t take any money, return the favor by buying a drink or food from them or giving them a picture of your children.
##arrow-right## Don’t be afraid to ask. Even if you feel incredibly foolish, ask instead of assuming the answer will be no. With children it will often turn out to be yes, instead.
9. Motorbike/Bicycle/Car Rental
If you need more family adventure vacation ideas, a day or two of motorbike, bicycle, or car rental can provide a real treat without breaking the budget.
Keep some money in reserve for just such an occasion when the time seems right: perhaps a day spent exploring an island by bicycle or an excursion up into the mountains with motorbikes or a trip through the countryside by car.
You have to try renting all three and you will found that each lends its own element of excitement to a trip.