FANNING: How to travel overseas with kids

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By Ben Fanning, contributing editor  |  Often, when parents take an overseas trip, they leave their kids at home; however, this can be a missed opportunity.

Fanning

Fanning

Recently, we traveled to Italy for two weeks and decided to take our 5-year old daughter with us. We discovered taking our kid added to the fun and was a rewarding experience for the entire family…without the stress.

Here are ten quick tips to help you travel overseas with kids:

1. Make your trip preparation an adventure. Involve your kids in the trip preparations, and explain to them what’s happening each step of the way. This can make even the most mundane task (a.k.a. getting your passport picture made) more enjoyable.  Try taking inexpensive language lessons over breakfast with the family on iTalki. Download the Google Earth app to explain your travel route, geography and time zones to help your kids understand the differences.  Include your kids when shopping for travel gear on Amazon, such as for power converters (here is my favorite that comes with a nightlight).

2. Use packing to teach prioritization. Pack light by limiting everyone to one carry-on bag.  This makes travel much easier.  Ask your kids to make a list of what they believe they should pack, then let them try to stuff them all into the suitcase. You can help prioritize what they need to take.

3. Choose playful, interactive activities .  Some of our most memorable moments were in fun classes.  We scheduled a few classes like gelato making, pizza making  and Venetian rowing lesson.  This added variety and were fun activities everyone could enjoy.

16-1017-rowing4. Book walking tours.  The best way to see a place is often by foot.  To get more out of your experience, book a guide that can cater a tour for kids. Whether it’s sketching in Florence or “Lion hunting” in Venice, it helps bring the experience to life no matter the age.  Use Trip Advisor to research walking tour guides.  Note, schedule a walking tour for your first or second day in a new city. This will help you get more out of your stay.  Ask your guide for the best restaurants, parks and activities for kids.

5. Play. No matter the age of your kids, they’ll want time to play. This can take many forms. We rented a chalet in the Tuscan countryside that had a kitchen and was near a pool and soccer field.  Our daughter made new friends and played while we were able to relax a bit.  Here are 16 of the coolest playgrounds in the world.  Note that every city has at least one playground, and if you go in the afternoon after school, there will be plenty of other children to add to the fun experience.

6. Cook. We ate in a lot of amazing restaurants, but we also cooked some of our meals at our chalet.  Cooking saves money and provides another adventure…the grocery store!

7. Surprise your kid with something familiar. We took a couple boxes of Annie’s Mac and Cheese so our daughter would have something familiar after a week of trying new things. This went a long way and brought a huge smile to her face.

16-1017-sketching8. Have a souvenir budget. We didn’t have this, but I wish we did! This is also a good way to teach prioritization.

9. Travel for as long as possible. We thought about making our trip shorter, but we didn’t want to feel rushed and also wanted to allow everyone plenty of time to adjust to the new time zone.  Some of the best parts of the trip happen when you’re hanging out in the plaza or over a long dinner.

10. Let them lead the way. When you’re exploring a new city, it’s tempting to walk in front and let everyone follow. Instead, let your kid have the thrill of reading the map, deciding on the direction and walking in front.  If you get a little lost, you can always course-correct.

Bonus Tip:  Encourage your kid to bring a journal. Our daughter’s pictorial journal helped us see our trip from a different perspective.

Now select one of these tips above, and get to preparing your family trip overseas.  Have a great time!

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5 Comments

  1. Hi Ben,
    Thanks for your article. I feel as if you are reading my mind as I’ve been preaching this approach to family travel for years:) I ended up writing a travel book for my kids for our trip to Cambodia years ago and have now a series of traveling books for kids to help the kids enjoy a grown-up trip. The destinations follow our family itineraries and most are in places that are not particularly kid-friendly on paper but that are amazing if you prepare a little. And I totally agree that letting kids lead is key. It empowers them and they love it. Thanks again!
    Isabelle from Leap & Hop

  2. Hi Isabelle, You’re welcome! Thank you. Congratulations on your trip to Cambodia with your kids as well as your book!
    Ben

  3. We travel with our 6 year old son, in exactly the same way as we used to travel – backpacking.
    It’s not for everyone, but we spent 7 months backpacking around SE Asia when he was 11 months old and have since backpacked around India, Sri Lanka, Australia and the USA to name a few.
    He’s grown up travelling in this way so he enjoys the adventure. In fact my son and I are heading off to Thailand tomorrow, nothing booked, we’re going to go with the flow and see where it takes us.

  4. Hi Ben, this was great. We have a bank travel club and I would like to share.

    Love From Pelham, GA

  5. So awesome, Lorenda. Can’t wait to hear more.

    Susannah, What a terrific example!