#DoYouIndie Day 6 Travel Challenge: Top 5 travel tips…with kids

Us crossing the river with our bikes. Tess is on the left.

QUESTION: What are your top five travel tips for new travelers before they start a trip?

I’m putting my own spin on this and I’m going to append “with kids” to this question, since that was obviously a huge focus for us in our recent travels and the majority of questions I get about our trip are centered around specifics regarding the kids.  So here goes…..

Tip #1: If you are committed to traveling light, then YES, it is still possible even if you are traveling with children! Choose a pack to fit their frame, and only take what fits inside, and what they can carry comfortably for at least 2 miles. Typically, we didn’t have to carry our packs that far, but there were a few times that we were all pushed to our comfort limits in terms of how long we wanted to carry our packs, so best to plan for that. Packing cubes are indispensable travel companions (we each had four), as they allow you to organize your pack by color coding (Yellow=shirts; Orange=pants, etc) and make it so easy to pack and unpack. For certain excursions, such as our trek to Machu Picchu and our week on Ninamu, we each only took 1 or 2 packing cubes, instead of our whole pack. Carrying their own pack teaches them about consumerism as well; my kids regularly made hard decisions based on the fact that they were in charge of their own stuff. They might decide to part with a bulky hoodie so they could expand their beach wardrobe or simply because stuff wasn’t fitting into their packing cubes.


Predeparture. I was kind of joking (2nd from right), but actually I would have been better off with a 65L pack rather than the 85L

Tip #2: Roadschooling is not one size fits all, do your home work, make a plan and then adapt (or toss it out the window) as needed. Before our trip we had met with a family that traveled with their three kids and they told us they gave up on schooling during their year away. At the time, I thought I’d never do that, but as the trip got underway, and I tired of the power struggles over schoolwork, I could see how that mom made the best decision for her family. We had kids in their last year of middle school all they way down to first grade during our year away. Our 7th and 8th graders needed online courses to fulfill requirements for math and history so that they would not need to repeat these courses in high school. My first step was to check with the district to see what courses were accredited. I saw that there were many, so then I searched for those that offered the courses my kids needed. My criteria for picking an online school were a) no books (see tip #1) and b) independent study rather than logging on to participate in class (although they did meet with their teachers and did discussion groups), c) flexible start date and d) works with an ipad, since that’s what they had. “D” turned out to be a deal breaker more than once, but tablet compatibility has no doubt improved in the last 2 years, as it did even over the course of our travels. For our 1st and 3rd graders, we did math books, and both of them completed their current grade and their subsequent grade in a few months’ time. For clear explanations and enhanced math learning and science, we used Khan Academy. All four kids were required to post on our blog and sometimes were assigned papers based on tours that we took. Word of warning here: be prepared to be loathed by your children if you do this, but persevere anway because not only will they learn something on the tour, they will be so happy for that account later. Later in the trip when we were all getting a little lackadaisical, we started basing their allowance on whether they posted to the blog or not. Other roadschooling methods involved interspersing tour and museum days with fun park days or other active excursions. We also encouraged the kids to learn a few words in the local language, and they all avidly played DuoLingo during the trip in the foreign language of their choice. The other big activity was reading – I gave them unlimited kindle accounts and let them read as many books as they wanted. This worked great for all except Viv, who really wanted to have the actual book. In the end, our kids’ reentry into traditional school was seamless from an academic standpoint and they are all doing well. What your children learn on the road and from being with you and their siblings 24/7 is more than they could possible gain from a year in school, and the lessons will impact them for the rest of their lives.

Predeparture. I was kind of joking (2nd from right), but actually I would have been better off with a 65L pack rather than the 85L

Wifi is everywhere.

Tip #3: Give your kids an allowance; it engages them in day to day transactions, gives them greater independence, and teaches them valuable life skills! I think we were a couple of countries into the trip when Jon and I had finally heard the last we could stand of “can I have a smoothie with lunch” or “can we please get gelato?” We explained to them that if we were to buy a beverage with each meal for each of us, then that is automatically another $20 on our tab in some countries. We hastily decided on a $5 per week per child allowance, paid in the local currency and life on the road got a whole lot more enjoyable for all of us. Of course, $5 went a lot further in SE Asia than it did in Australia, but the kids quickly learned to scope out the best deals, save their money up and buy what we really spoke to them. Which, is a “sub-point” here that I want to reference from a previous post: If you really want something while traveling, just buy it!

Travel day. Viv is especially loaded down with her birthday loot, a hat that she made on Rangiroa, and a little "slap" bracelet she got in Australia

Travel day. Viv is especially loaded down with her birthday loot, a hat that she made on Rangiroa, and a little “slap” bracelet she got in Australia

Tip #4: Think hard about what “living in the moment” means to you and do whatever it takes to make that possible. For some, it might be giving up their smart phone; for others it might mean booking the entire trip down to the last tour and accommodation so they aren’t doing that while on the road. For others it might actually mean not booking anything in advance so that they can be as flexible as possible (although I wouldn’t recommend this if you have small children or large families, where booking accommodations can be challenging). I can tell you that each day can easily be consumed by what at first might seem to be a small distraction. Booking an excursion, researching “things to do” in Trip Advisor, or trying to get your laundry done can easily kill an entire morning on the road, where you don’t have your usual routines and destinations all dialed in. A trip to the grocery store will take at least an hour longer than usual, as you hunt for your “familiar” items and get distracted by all the new and unusual finds. I spent an entire day in the French countryside (by bike!) distracted by the task of trying to buy contact lens solution before I realized that they only sold it in pharmacies and not supermarkets. A little advance research on certain individual “needs” of your family can save you a ton of time and help you make the most of the days that you are able to spend in a city or country.


The unhappy roaming joneses – tired of running errands for mom

Tip #5: Engage with local people as much as possible. As I’ve touched on in previous posts, for our family, this is where the secret to meaniningful and authentic travel lies.  Meeting locals and engaging with them unlocked so many amazing experiences for us.  Although certaininly not a requirement for this tip, I think traveling with children made us more approachable and also in many ways less of a target for sketchy characters.  Gifts and hugs were bestowed upon our children on a regular basis and I think the kids were often what drew people in and helped us start a diaglogue. If you are invited to someone’s home, say YES and offer to bring something.  If you have an opportunity or the adventuresome spirit to stay in someone’s home, by all means, this is the ticket to the real deal.  Just try it!  If it doesn’t work out, book a hotel at your next destination!

I was reading a post by Hallie O’Reilly at Little Talks and she made a salient point that I want to restate here:

i do not, will not, nor will i ever claim to be ANY kind of expert on the subject of traveling.  that’s the beauty of the traveler’s journey, you become seasoned, you become experienced, but you are ALWAYS learning…so for this fact, i will not ever consider myself an expert on anything having to do with travel…no matter how many countries i adventure to.

So true!  Each of us is unique, and when it comes to kids, only you know what’s best for your family.  That fact that you are even reading this tells me that you are an adventurer and you might even be considering stealing your kids away from their routines for a year or indefinitely to see what is out there in this beautiful magical world we live in.  To that, I say, GO! Just do it.  It IS within reach and you will never regret it.


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  1. Jennifer Sutherland-Miller

    I love these! I relate to so much of what you write, having traveled a fair bit with our own kids and schooled on the road. Keep going!

  2. Dani

    We love this article and included it in our Weekly Indie Travel Challenge recap!

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