I'm a professional travel writer and mom of twins.
I made travel a priority in my family and have brought my kids on trips around the world.
Traveling with kids isn't easy, but is always worth it, especially if you know pitfalls to avoid.
I'm a travel writer by trade and wanderluster by nature, so it's critical for me to stay on the road as a mom. But it's not always easy and I've made many mistakes.
After I had my twins, traveling as a family wasn't as natural as I thought it would be. It came with challenges that sometimes made the trip feel like the complete opposite of a vacation.
Now that they're seven years old, I'm happy (and relieved) to report that together with my husband, I've built the family travel life of my dreams, fostering global awareness and curiosity in my kids.
It's not always easy — travel never is, and trust me, tantrums still take place. But its rewards are more than worth it, especially if you can recognize pitfalls to avoid.
To start, learn from the mistakes I made and the lessons I learned the hard way. When I keep these key tips in mind, it always helps make the experience seamless, streamlined, and joyful … for all members of the family.
Skimping where it matters means you'll end up paying for it later, one way or another.
I'm always dazzled by ultra-low-cost long-haul fares and airlines. Who wouldn't be excited to score a transatlantic flight in the $100s? But I've learned my lesson about the realities of such cheap flying experiences, and now I'm much more realistic when it comes to springing for extras that make the experience more palatable.
My family flew from Dubrovnik to Los Angeles, a long journey with a connection in Stockholm on a basic economy ticket. The last leg alone was an 11-hour flight, which we spent in the very last row of a completely full economy cabin, on a ticket that specified we were not to receive any perks.
I didn't prepay any meals or drinks, thinking we'd get ourselves sustenance to-go in the Stockholm airport. When this turned out not to be possible, we were stuck with packaged snacks for an excruciatingly long, uncomfortable overnight flight. And when the drinks cart rolled by, it skipped us because our tickets didn't even include so much as water.
From that point forward, I always make sure to put myself in the mindset of a tired, hungry, jetlagged traveler dragging hangry kids before I let my itchy booking finger get the best of me. That means I always at least pay extra for an airline ticket that comes with meals, and more legroom when possible, too.
It's a huge mistake to avoid bulkhead seats on planes. They can be some of the best seats when traveling with kids.
Yes, the bulkhead seating on the plane has some limitations. With no seat in front of you to store luggage for takeoff, you'll have to wait until cruising altitude to access your stuff from the overhead bin.
That said, I've learned it's a huge mistake to avoid these seats. Perhaps most importantly, there's no seat in front for kids to kick and disturb.
Additionally, if you're flying with an infant, these are the only seats on the plane where airline-supplied bassinets may be affixed to the bulkhead wall, which is far more convenient than holding a sleeping baby for hours.
Finally, consider the massive amounts of legroom you can get in the front row of the economy cabin if you choose bulkhead seats. I find it's enough to put a bag on the floor in front as a leg rest and really stretch out, and that I can easily slip out of the row for a bathroom break without waking up sleeping kids.
Even if selecting that seat costs an extra $50, in my opinion, it's well worth it.
Flying internationally without Global Entry for the entire family means waiting in long lines with cranky kids.
If you travel internationally even a little bit, I now firmly believe that Global Entry is a must for the whole family. The program allows you to move swiftly through checkpoints when returning from a trip abroad, but to use it as a family, every member (including kids) must be enrolled in advance.
The cost for Global Entry is $100 and it's good for five years. Membership also includes TSA Pre-Check privileges, which is a domestic-only perk that costs $85 if you enroll in it separately. Many credit cards with travel perks also reimburse these costs.
Before enrolling my family in Global Entry, I endured dragging our overtired, likely dehydrated bodies back through LAX after long-haul travel when everyone was jetlagged, cranky, and generally worse for the wear while we waited in long immigration lines.
I cannot underscore enough the value we now experience from Global Entry. We breeze right through that last hurdle and cut straight to the agent's greeting of "welcome home." To me, it's priceless.
Don't travel too light. I've focused so much on packing my checked luggage that I forgot key items in my carry-on.
For a two-week European island-hopping and road-tripping jaunt, I spent two weeks staging suitcases to ensure I packed everything we needed in a thoughtful, non-rushed way. I nailed our checked luggage.
But what I didn't do, as it turned out, was pack enough stuff in my carry-on. We'd just barely taken off from our home airport of Los Angeles when one of my kids had … a gastrointestinal situation. Sparing the details, after sealing the sullied pants in a plastic bag, I had to put my kid in the only change of clothes I brought on board: pajamas. That's fine in a pinch but was not ideal for emerging into a sweltering July heatwave in Barcelona upon landing.
On other trips, I neglected to bring a lightweight plastic bag on board for trash and had to contend with an explosion of snacks and no sense of relative order.
These days, I never fly without the aforementioned items, as well as antibacterial gel and wipes, lip balm, and an extra charging cable for any family member's eventuality.
I once thought it was a mistake to check multiple bags. Now I know the opposite is true.
Traveling with kids means always having your hands full. So I thought the last thing I needed while traveling was the responsibility of some teeny-tiny backpack containing crayons or a stuffed animal that would be easily left behind if not for constant parental oversight.
When my kids were really small, we traveled with one enormous piece of checked luggage for the family, and one carry-on for each adult, which also contained the kids' essentials.
We thought a strategy of traveling light would make things easier by reducing the sheer number of bags we had to check and cut costs in baggage fees.
However, my one-giant-bag-fits-all approach meant I often over packed and regularly found myself well over luggage weight limits. I would frantically readjust heavier items into carry-ons, suitcase splayed out pitifully on an airport floor, in a last-ditch attempt that almost always resulted in additional fees anyway.
Now, I check more than one bag if I have to. In my mind, I was going to be waiting at the baggage carousel for that one checked bag anyway.
Skip the gimmicky child suitcases and give them real luggage instead.
When my twins turned about five and were responsible for carrying their own backpacks to kindergarten, I decided they were big enough to handle their own rolling bag at the airport, too.
But tiny bags marketed to kids are more ornamental than anything and always prove to be a liability in real-world situations. I found they were unwieldy or didn't actually fit enough items that my kids wanted to bring. Things got easier when I opted for real suitcases, ones that were large enough so that each child could actually be responsible for their own stuff.
Follow my lead and avoid the gimmicky luggage in favor of something more functional. I like a 20-inch rolling bag that comes in a fun color and they'll grow into it — while keeping your hands free.
I failed to embrace hotel kids clubs in the beginning, but now only stay at resorts that have them.
I cannot emphasize enough the degree to which the hotel kids club has been an absolute game-changer when it comes to family travel.
Initially, I avoided them, thinking it was just a way of dumping kids off with a babysitter, or later, because my kids weren't old enough. In my experience, in most cases, children must be four or five years old to access the club without parental supervision.
When we had little ones, it was a goal we longed to reach, and a perk that didn't disappoint when we got there. I now know that these kids clubs are invaluable experiences for children and in many cases expose them to cultural immersion opportunities and friendship.
Through these programs, my kids have baked Moroccan bread in Marrakech, raced hermit crabs in Bora Bora, and busted pinatas in Mexico — all among new friends from all over the world.
At the same time, us parents shopped the souks in the medina, jet skied around islands, and enjoyed the spa, respectively. And I believe that refreshed parents make patient, effective, and happy parents. I reject the premise that traveling with young kids can't be rewarding — and even restful — for all.
For this reason, I now only book hotels where this perk is included in the room rate, or where we can add access it as an add-on. Even when it means a higher nightly price, I think the value is always worth it.
I missed the opportunity to really travel when my kids were babies.
Because my adjustment to motherhood came with two infants at once, I was often overwhelmed, and those first couple of years were about survival. For that reason, we didn't travel much with our twins until they turned two.
That means we missed the perks that come with traveling with babies. For one, you don't have to pay for a seat for a child under two, and that's a big deal when it comes to cost savings. Though, fun fact, you can't fly with two lap infants in the same row because there aren't enough oxygen masks, anyway.
For another, babies too little to even crawl are not mobile enough to squirm too much, making the flight a bit easier for parents.
I regret that we missed some opportunities to actually travel with them as infants. If I could, I'd go back and do it differently. But now, my twins are seven and are seasoned world travelers, overflowing with global cultural and geographical awareness and curiosity. We did it! And with a little planning, you can too.
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