Embarking on a family travel adventure can create lasting memories for both parents and children. However, it requires careful organization and preparation.
From the initial stages of planning to save on flights and accommodation, managing transportation, adjusting to jet lag, enjoying the destination, and returning home smoothly, this comprehensive guide will provide you with the best tips and tricks for a rewarding family trip.
Family Travel - The Planning Stage
Family Travel - Choosing the right destination
When preparing for your family trip, there are several essential considerations. From the early stage of drawing up family travel, involve the children in the process. Of course, it depends on their age since travelling with an infant is more about you than them, but from the age of 4 years old or so, you need to adapt your travel style with your children.
Indeed, from 4 years old, it can be extremely meaningful for them to have a say in your family travel plans. Getting them to help you plan the trip will also impact their experience and create even better core memories.
It obviously depends on the child, but the easiest time to travel with children is when they are 6 months and under. At that age
- they are very easy to carry everywhere
- they are not eating solid food yet
- they are easy to put to sleep and sleep everywhere
Therefore, choose wherever you want to go as parents. Breastfeeding makes it very practical to travel at this age, but it is also very manageable to bring formula with you.
Between 6 and 12 months, it’s a little bit more complicated as it’s a time when you have to introduce solid food and allergens. Consequently, family travel may be more challenging since they are not exactly eating the same food as you, and you need to be aware of possible unknown allergies surfacing.
Depending on how to want to introduce solid food, you may wish to select a destination with good health care in case it turns out they have a severe peanut allergy. Also, I’d advised against going somewhere very remote such as Tibet, for example, and staying relatively close to major urban centres.
Then, until 18 months, they are very curious and want to explore every corner of everywhere. They also tend to eat everything that is given to them, so you can take off the pressure of ordering things that are easy for them to chew or swallow.
From 18 months to 3 years, it’s pretty much an “in-between’’ period that most parents will know under the terrible-two phase. Most of the time, family travel during this period will be the most difficult because of their opposition phase; they will likely not keep still throughout the flight as they are not at the age of extended screen time yet. Also, hunting for diapers and wipes can be easily done in most places, but working around getting your child potty-trained on the road would be more challenging.
After they hit 3 or 4 years old, family travel will be much more manageable. No matter the age, taking it slow and avoiding an overpacked itinerary will allow flexibility and relaxation during your journey.
While pre-booking major attractions or excursions is advisable, leave room for spontaneity and involve your kids in the planning process to make them feel more excited and engaged.
Consider staying in one place for longer periods rather than constantly changing hotels to avoid unnecessary stress. Tailor your activities and destinations to suit the age and interests of your children, ensuring an enjoyable experience for everyone.
Family Travel - Health Safety
Stock up on essential medicines, including pain relievers and Band-Aids, to be prepared for unexpected illnesses or minor injuries. Indeed, even if pharmacies are available a bit everywhere, these do not take up too much space and can remove a lot of stress when you have the basics on hand.
If anyone in your family has special needs or allergies, learn how to communicate these requirements in the local language of your destination. An excellent way to do this is to prepare cards you can show to waiters; remember to emphasize the severity of your allergies if it’s a real issue so they truly understand the consequences.
It is also very important to have decent travel insurance covering the whole family, especially for emergency medical care. While most credit cards require you to put most of the trip’s charges on the card, the World Elite Mastercard from National Bank gives coverage, including cancellation and trip delay insurance, as soon as you put something on the card. This is very useful when you employ points to offset the cost of your family travel.
Family Travel - Airports and Transit
Getting Nexus or Verified Traveller status can save you time at airports with expedited security screening. At the same time, most families with children under the age of 6 can usually just roll through, it may not be the case if you are travelling with an impatient 8- and 10-year-old.
While they should be more understanding at that age, they can still be very grumpy about waiting in line, especially if they are sweating, hungry or sleepy! Under 18 years old, a NEXUS membership is free.
As for adults, several credit cards offer a NEXUS credit to cover the fee. If you do not have one of them, there’s another great incentive to sign-up for one as they also come with generous welcome bonus points offers like the TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite* Card.
Don’t forget to stock up on snacks, notably for the little ones, as they can be a lifesaver during long journeys. When packing, consider your family’s specific needs, including diapers and wipes for young children, spare outfits (both for you and your kids), and items to alleviate ear pressure, like bottles and pacifiers.
Depending on the age of your children, a stroller or baby carrier can be invaluable for navigating airports and exploring destinations without tiring out little legs. Speaking from experience, a stroller may not always be useful based on your destination. For example, Santorini is made up of many stairs and isn’t stroller friendly at all! Also, while in the Maldives with our 18-month-old, we walked plenty and barely used our baby carrier. In addition, there was a complimentary buggy service at the resorts we stayed at, so we were glad we didn’t have to pack a stroller.
Investing in good travel gear, such as quality suitcases, backpacks, and car seats, ensures comfort and safety throughout your journey. Indeed, you don’t want your stroller wheels to break midway. Over the age of 2, the child will need its own seat. So, take advantage of this to bring your car seat on board the aircraft for their comfort, ensure it arrives in one piece at your destination, and help avoid rental fees!
Plan flight times that align with your children’s sleeping patterns to maximize comfort. For example, we scheduled a lot of 2–3 hour flights during our child’s nap time, and it was always very smooth sailing. Longer layovers provide an opportunity to relax and avoid the stress of tight connections.
If possible, consider flying premium for added comfort and extra legroom. Indeed, lap infants often fly for free or for a minimum fee (primarily taxes), so you can still indulge yourself in honeymoon flying without too much extra cost. Indeed, you may not enjoy the business class experience to the fullest, but you will definitely be much more comfortable than flying economy should you choose to splurge.
Electronic devices, such as tablets, smartphones, and new toys and books, can keep children entertained during long flights or layovers. Encourage your older kids to carry their own luggage, teaching them responsibility and lightening the load for parents. Comfortable headphones will allow them to enjoy their favourite shows or music without disturbing others. Try to pack light and go into a carry-on mode, as nothing brings the fun down as lost luggage at the start of your family travel trip.
Remember to have all necessary identification documentation, such as passports or birth certificates, for each family member. If you are travelling as a solo parent, bring the proper paperwork so you don’t run into any trouble at immigration.
It is also worth looking into how to access VIP Lounges with family travel as they can be very useful to fill their belly before an overnight journey. For example, flights to Europe often take off late, and the meal service can sometimes eat up precious sleep time. Therefore, if your family can eat in a lounge, you could skip the airplane food and go straight to sleep. Arriving rested can make a difference on your trip!
Your credit card may give you free access! Children under a certain age can also enter for free, depending on the lounge and the credit card you hold. To name one, the World Elite Mastercard from National Bank allows free and unlimited entry for the cardholder + one guest + up to 2 children under 12 years old at the National Bank Lounge in YUL and a DragonPass membership for lounges worldwide.
Family Travel - How to Save on Flights and Accommodation
Going one step further, you can look into airline loyalty programs such as Aeroplan or Flying Blue. The former is very easy to earn in Canada with the various credit card sign-up bonuses available. The latter is known to have very good monthly Promo Rewards allowing you to travel at a fraction of the cost. In addition, Flying Blue offers discounted award flights to children. The best program will also depend on the destination you wish to visit.
To give you an idea of how you can play this out, with current promotions, both parents could subscribe to each of the following cards and earn up to 320,000 Marriott Bonvoy points.
Several places, like Indonesia, requires between 5,000 and 10,000 points per night. That means you could easily earn enough points for nearly a month of family travel (depending on the country).
For larger families, you may want to aim for hotel chains that offer complimentary breakfast to start the day on the right foot or Airbnb accommodations since not all hotels worldwide can house more than two or three people per room. Indeed, outside North America, rooms with two double beds or sofa beds are not common.
Family Travel - At Destination
Once you’ve reached your destination, there are essential considerations to ensure a smooth experience. Keep track of your child in crowded areas or unfamiliar surroundings using wristbands with contact information or GPS tracking devices. I find Apple Airtags very useful.
Provide each child with a card or wristband displaying their name and your contact information in case you become separated. If they are old enough, instruct them in the basics, such as recognizing museum workers or public servants in uniform. This can be very help in places such as Disney World.
Jet lag can be challenging, but there are ways to help your family adjust. Establishing a routine for meals and sleep based on the new time zone as soon as you arrive at your destination can aid in the transition. Spending time outdoors during daylight hours can help regulate sleep patterns due to exposure to natural light. Gradually acclimatizing your family’s sleep schedule a few days before departure can also make the transition smoother.
Indeed, taking it slow for the first few days can be a good idea and don’t force sleep, especially onto infants and toddlers; they may be awake in the middle of the night, try to keep them occupied and go out for a short walk instead of desperately attempting to rock them back to sleep.
Don’t hesitate to inquire about family discounts at attractions, hotels, or restaurants; you may be surprised at what you may get! Indeed, I’ve often seen large families being able to get a free pass for one or two of their children for an excursion simply because they asked.
Giving your children a camera to capture their travel experiences from their perspective can be fun and engaging.
It’s important to accept that things may not always go according to plan with family travel, so maintain a positive attitude and be flexible. Remember to schedule downtime to allow for relaxation and rejuvenation. Adapting to this new kind of family travel beat is crucial with every age stage. Letting them choose activities or attractions that interest them fosters their enthusiasm and involvement during the trip.
Family Travel - When Coming Home
When it’s time to return home, ensure a smooth transition by gradually adjusting to your regular routine. This will help everyone ease back into work, school, and daily life without feeling overwhelmed.
It’s also very pleasant to go over your family travel pictures together; if you have a digital frame, you can select meaningful pictures to remind you of the memorable moments as time pass.
Communication is also key; ask your kids what they liked and didn’t. You will be able to adapt the next one so it caters to their needs a bit more. Children will also appreciate being considered and heard. Family travel must remain fun and shouldn’t be imposed onto them as a burden if you want them to carry on with the same passion you have.
Family travel is an incredible opportunity to create lifelong memories. By following the tips and tricks outlined in this article, you can plan and execute a successful journey with your family.
Remember to prioritize flexibility, involve your children in the planning process, and be prepared for unexpected challenges. Enjoy your adventures together and embrace the joys of family travel!