What are your biggest concerns when you think about traveling as a family to a foreign country? Do you wonder whether the kids will like the food? Do you worry about entertaining them on flights or on long drives? What if they get sick? Or lost?! Perhaps the idea of being with your kids 24×7 makes you a little nervous!!
We had all these questions and worries plus a million more when we decided to travel the world for 12 months with kids.
In 2017 we set off on a family gap year. Over the year we traveled to 30 countries on 4 continents and completed a full loop around the world. It was a busy, adventurous and rewarding year. Needless to say we learned a LOT along the way about travel with kids.
We want to share what we learned with you so that you can put aside concerns you may have about travel around the world with kids. While it is natural to feel protective towards our kids, many fears we hold about travel with kids are unfounded.
These fears simply hold us back from taking extraordinary adventures
Not planning a trip around the world with kids? Don’t worry – we think these tips are just as relevant for families setting off on their annual vacation as they are for those planning a longer trip. Read on for our best 20 tips on how to travel the world with kids.
Places to travel with kids
I’ll let you in on a little secret we learned on our family gap year – there are no “best places to travel with kids”. We traveled through first, second and third world countries with our kids and loved them all.
Every country offers unique cultural experiences and landscapes. Don’t limit yourself to first world countries in the belief it will be safer/better/easier. Most places are possible with kids.
If you want to travel the world with kids, our best tip is to choose the countries and places that offer the travel experience you are looking for as a family.
What this means is different for every family. Some love adventure travel with kids. Others prefer to travel Europe with kids. Many families enjoy exploring their own country.
Do your own research and encourage the kids to provide input too. Our daughter had read many books about France and as a result Paris was at the top of her list. My son wanted to try curry in every country in Asia.
Pool your ideas and choose the destinations that tug at your heart and start planning. These stories by families who have been on a longer trip will help get you started.
Home is wherever you are
One of our big concerns when we decided to travel the world with kids was how they would cope with moving and staying in different beds all the time.
In 12 months of travel around the world with kids we moved on average every 2.5 days! We stayed in hotel rooms, apartments, hostels, big campervans, little campervans, with friends, in bamboo shacks, on trains and ferries and with local families.
What we discovered is that where we stayed didn’t matter one little bit. The kids coped just fine. It is highly likely your kids are far more adaptable than you give them credit for.
Our tip? When you travel with kids, it doesn’t really matter where you stay. Home isn’t defined by a house. When you travel, home is wherever YOU are.
Teach your kids the basics of the local language
When you travel the world with kids it is the perfect opportunity to teach them new languages. In our experience, the locals are always appreciative when you make an effort to engage with them in their language. Even if it is just a smile and “Hello”. They especially love it when your kids try too.
Make it a priority to teach the kids basic greetings, words and numbers. Apps like Google Translate and Duolingo make it fun and easy for the kids to learn the basics.
Sure, there will still be plenty of miming required and a little embarrassment when you get it wrong. But learning the basics of a language and putting it into practice every day is a great learning experience for both you and your kids.
Be friendly and open to new experiences
When you travel the world with kids it opens up so many opportunities to engage and chat with the local people. Family and children are common across all cultures. There are far fewer children traveling than 20-something backpackers, so there is often a natural curiosity and desire to engage with traveling families.
In India, Asia and Africa locals would say “hi” to the kids, ask where they were from and often request a photo with them. It was so common we suggested our kids start charging for the privilege! The local kids would often shyly approach us, curious and keen to practice their English.
Our kids were offered seats on trains, lollies and cuddles from complete strangers. On our daughter’s birthday in India, the manager of our hotel took her to a cake shop to choose a birthday cake and organised a party for her. In a packed bus in Croatia late at night a woman put my tired son on her lap for the short journey home. In India an older woman beside the road gave my kids an enormous cuddle as they walked by…
It took the kids (and us) a little while to accept these random acts of kindness not as some weird ‘kidnap my children thing’, but just a genuine love of children. It was genuinely heart-warming and greatly enhanced our experience of traveling the world with kids.
Encourage your kids to play with the local kids
While we think this is often easier for younger kids, it is a good idea to encourage your kids to play with other kids when visiting playgrounds, parks and in campgrounds etc.
Not only does it give them a break from playing with each other, it is often these interactions the kids remember more than the museums or sights they visited.
Unfortunately the language differences seems to become more of a barrier as the kids get older. They become more self-conscious than when they were little and more frustrated at the lack of conversation.
Despite this challenge it is still worth encouraging them. Once a game is started, the language barrier usually disappears. A game of football, frisbee, cricket, tiggy, UNO, or any game in the pool – these are all possible regardless of language.
Try the local food
Food is an integral part of any trip. Our kids now have their favourite foods from each country and request them now we are home.
While it may be tempting to give in to requests for pizza or burgers, it is worth encouraging kids to try the local food. You will save money and the food will be much tastier!
Don’t forget to try the street food. You have to get past any fears you may have and try it! In some countries like India we were more careful with uncooked foods, but some of our best meals were cooked and eaten at basic roadside restaurants.
Street food was tasty and cheap. It was particularly good in Taiwan, Vietnam, India and Thailand. Eat where the locals eat and you won’t be disappointed.
Our best tip when you travel the world with kids is don’t panic if at first they resist! It might take a while for the kids to be prepared to try the local food. Especially in countries where the food is very different from home.
Our advice? Persist. The kids won’t starve. This might sound mean, but there will ALWAYS be something they will eat. It might be rice, naan, fruit, vegetables, bread, smoothies or crackers. Don’t worry if they eat the same thing for a week. If you persist with the local food the kids will eventually find something they like and expand their food horizons.
Health and Safety
What to do when you get sick
Food and water borne diseases are common place in many countries around the world. We were fortunate that in 12 months of travel around the world with kids we were only sick a handful of times.
We travel with a small medical kit that includes hydration powder, basic antibiotics and charcoal tablets amongst other things. A visit to a travel doctor before you leave is worthwhile for advice on what you should carry with you.
If you do get sick our best tip is to stay hydrated, drink water mixed with those awful hydration sachets and stay put (if you can) until you are feeling better.
If your kids won’t drink the rehydration drinks, find whatever sugary drink they like and encourage them to drink frequently. In most instances they will bounce back within a day or two. If not, don’t worry! Every country in the world has doctors, hospitals or private medical centres to get help. Which leads me to our next point…
Don’t scrimp on travel insurance. You never know if you will need it. In fact on almost every international trip we have taken, we have had to claim. Are we unlucky?!
On our family gap year we claimed against our travel insurance three times. Thankfully they were all small issues:
- chipped rental car windscreen
- minor accident in our campervan in Europe
- a very expensive visit to the medical centre when I fell off my bike and needed 3 staples in my knee.
We use World Nomads for international travel. They offer different tiers of insurance based on the type of activities you plan to do and you can even take out insurance once you are traveling.
Our best travel insurance tip is to read the boring policy document and check inclusions carefully.
You may not think you will go scuba diving, skiing or rock climbing on your trip. But it may be worth covering yourself just in case you change your mind. Click here to get a quote from World Nomads.
We recommend you seek advice from an experienced travel doctor before you leave regarding vaccinations and medications. They can provide advise on the level of risk, and the best options for the kids for each destination.
Not all vaccinations are mandatory and it comes down to a decision around level of risk. For example, we decided to have the Rabies shots. They were expensive, but our kids love animals and we thought the risk was greater than if we were traveling on our own.
We chose which anti-malarial to take based on known side-effects and cost. Discuss possible side-effects with your travel doctor so that you can keep an eye out for these when traveling.
Check for dangers in your accommodation
Watch out for kid-unfriendly furniture, dodgy electricals and poor construction in your hotel, even if you have older kids. This is something I never would have worried about when traveling pre-kids.
What do I mean? We checked into a serviced apartment in Johannesburg, South Africa and our son sat on a chair next to the round glass topped dining table. As he leaned his elbows on the table the entire glass top lifted up 45 degrees.
He jerked his arms away and the glass top came crashing down smashing into pieces around him. He was so lucky not to be badly injured.
We had exposed live wires in our room in Vietnam and bathroom tiles that fell off the wall in Thailand!
You can’t protect kids against everything, but an initial check of the room is a good idea.
Plan for travel days
In a 12 month trip around the world there is a lot of travel involved. When you travel with kids, our best tip is to plan some travel activities for kids in advance. We share our best tips for travel on the road with kids here.
Kids often seem to find it much harder to pass long chunks of time without going stir crazy. Then soon enough you are going stir crazy too.
To help deal with the boredom factor when you travel the world with kids make sure you have some of these options on the ready. Some of them make great gifts for the kids before you leave:
- movies on a laptop (good for long RV road drives)
- books on kindles
- card games (great at the train station)
- diaries for them to paste paraphernalia into and write about their trip (good for the airport)
- audiobooks downloaded to mobile devices (great for the car)
- games you all can play, like “I spy”
- some games on a mobile device or tablet for when they are really bored (great in the car and at the airport)
Finally, have healthy snacks on hand, all the time. This is especially important if any family members need to manage their blood sugar while traveling, but also as any parent knows, hungry kids (and parents) can be a real downer.
Don’t take valuables
When packing and unpacking every couple of days things are gonna disappear. For every item you plan to pack, consider how you would feel if you lost it. Apart from our electronic and camera gear we try not to take anything of value. No jewellery, no watches, no nice wallets, no expensive clothes, no special toys.
To reduce the chance of losing things:
- Have a designated home for everything in your luggage. It soon becomes obvious when something is missing. Packing cubes make this much easier to manage.
- Always check the pockets of all your seats in the plane/train/bus before you disembark.
- Do a final check when leaving accommodation once you have packed up and the kids have left the room. I don’t know how many times I have picked something up that the kids had pulled out of their pack at the last minute.
For the valuables you do take (passports, mobile phones, cash, cards, laptop, tablet) keep them safely locked up when you are out. We travel around the world with a Pacsafe Portable Safe. It is one of our best travel accessories. Click here for latest prices on the Pacsafe Portable Safe.
Our best packing tip is to pack as if you are going away for a week. It will be enough for a fortnight, month or even a family gap year. Don’t forget you can always buy things along the way. Believe me, you will be grateful every time you and your kids pick up your packs and walk down the street.
Packing light is a skill and needs a lot of self control. It is amazing how little stuff you really need when travelling. On our family gap year we had 4 backpacks and 2 day packs. Our packs contained all the clothes, shoes, toiletries, electronics, and toys we needed for 12 months. We list our favourite travel accessories here.
We found travel with backpacks much easier than luggage. It limited how much we carried and the kids were able to easily carry their own gear up and down stairs.
It is tricky to find good quality backpacks for kids. Some are too big for them and many are not very comfortable for regular use. We love the Macpac Torlesse 30 litre pack. It comes in blue and purple and was the perfect size for our two kids. Typically our son carried around 6-7 kgs (13-15 pounds) in his pack. Our daughter was comfortable carrying 8-9 kgs (17-19 pounds). Click here for the latest prices on the Macpac Torlesse.
Also, the kids don’t need a lot of toys when you travel. By freeing them from the piles of toys at home you encourage them to become more creative in their play.
We traveled with some card games, a Frisbee, a football and some coloured pencils. You can always buy small gifts for them along the way too.
If you have older kids encourage them to learn new skills, like photography. You will most likely already have a camera with you (we travel with a small mirrorless camera) so it is a great way for them to experiment and develop new interests.
The kids did bring a small favourite teddy bear each. We always double and triple checked they were packed! To help ease the pain if teddy decided to stay on location we also left another favourite with a friend at home just in case we needed a familiar replacement. Thankfully an emergency delivery was never required.
Flights and Identity Papers
- Check you have entered everyone’s full name correctly
- Confirm the dates and time are correct
- Double check the departure date is BEFORE your visa runs out (yes, we made this mistake).
Why is this important? Changing flights for a family is a very expensive mistake.
Dealing with jet lag is always a drag, and it is no different with kids. There is no magic solution to this problem, but here are some tips for managing it:
- If you arrive early in the morning, try and stay awake all day. Get outside, eat meals at local meal times and go to bed a little early.
- When arriving late at night, get the kids to bed but wake them in the morning at your normal time. The quicker you can align your body with the local time the better.
- Inevitably there will be times when you are all awake at 2am. If the kids wake in the night and they cannot get back to sleep we get them to read or watch a movie until daylight. Take advantage of the early morning wake up to get out and see popular sights. Peaceful early morning walks are one of the best things about jet lag!
- Often the kids (and you) will feel tired through the afternoon. Try not to nap in the afternoon as it delays the adjustment time. We would often head to the pool, go for a bike ride or to the playground at this time to ward off the desire to curl up in bed.
- Drink plenty of water, eat well and share parental responsibilities. It can sometimes take a week for your body to adjust when hopping more than 2 timezones, so be kind to yourselves.
We also recommend you take hard copies of your kids’ full birth certificates and your marriage certificate (if applicable). They are almost impossible to get once you have left your home country, especially if you are moving regularly.
In South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe we were required to carry the kids’ birth certificates with us at all times. We had to show them to officers at all border crossings, whether by plane or car.
In some countries we needed them to prove our kids’ age to purchase child tickets. It is worth putting a copy in your day pack so you have it on hand if and when you need it.
Be prepared for everyone, including the kids, to experience homesickness when on longer trips.
I suspect older kids feel this more than younger kids. Both our kids missed their friends, their sport teams, school and they missed routine.
Homesickness can have a big impact on how they feel about the trip and their mood day to day. Strategies to help ease homesickness when you travel the world with kids include:
- Organise a skype session with friends back home. Being able to see them, say “hi”, chat about what is happening back home and share what they are doing is often enough to buoy their spirits.
- If you are moving often, try stopping in one place a little longer to restore their mojo.
- Plan a special kid-focused day trip like a water park, an awesome playground or a movie.
Ultimately we reminded our kids that everything they missed would still be there when we got home and to try and enjoy the time they had away traveling the world.
During our family gap year we rented cars, bought campervans, slept in cabins on trains, took the local bus and paid drivers to take us places. Wherever you want to go, there is always a way to get there.
Do research on the transport options available in each place. Sometimes the best or cheapest option may not be immediately obvious. It will also depend on how much you want to spend and how quickly you want to get there.
If you are traveling on public transport, have a plan if, heaven forbid, you are split up. I write our local phone number on a piece of paper and put it in the kids’ pockets. Sometimes I put the hotel card in their pocket. Another good idea is to hold hands with an adult when getting on and off trains and buses.
Thankfully, it never happened, but I was always worried it would.
When it comes to purchasing tickets for public transport, often ticket machines won’t sell child tickets. You will need to purchase them at a counter. In some places the kids travel for free on public transport, in others kids may travel for free on the weekend. Plan in advance so you know what you need to ask for when you get to the counter.
Also consider alternatives to public transport when traveling as a family. It is often cheaper to use Uber or Lyft when you have 4 or 5 people.
Consider traveling by campervan
Traveling by campervan is a fun and flexible way to travel as a family. We did three road trips by campervan during our family gap year – in Europe, Botswana and the USA.
A campervan gives you so much freedom to explore at your own pace and removes the need to pack up all the time. There is a lot to learn about full time travel in a campervan, but we love a road trip and can’t say enough good things about them. Click here to find out more about road trips with kids.
You know at home when you are stuck inside for a few days and everyone goes stir crazy? Well, it is the same when you travel the world with kids. The best thing we did was get outdoors. When our kids are outside and active they are happy.
We recommend locating National Parks wherever you travel as a great place to start to explore the outdoors. They will have a good selection of marked trails. In the USA the Ranger Programs include an impressive range of activities and guided walks. The best thing about National Parks is they are often free or cheap to visit.
Consider hiking as a family. I read about families hiking to Everest Base Camp and I remember thinking there is no way my kids could do that. But it wasn’t long before we were hiking 15-20 kilometres together in Spain.
There are so many different outdoor activities you can look at doing as a family when you travel. Hiking, stand up paddle boarding, surfing, multi-day cycling trips, white water rafting, skiing, kayaking. All these activities are possible with kids.
Our best travel tip is to find an outdoor activity that works for your family. Who knows, you might develop a new passion while you travel around the world with the kids.
Teach kids about money
Travel around the world with kids offers the perfect opportunity to teach them more about money. Some ways you can do this include:
- Involve your kids in budget planning and tracking. Show them your budget, explain how you track it and even get them to manage the budget for a day.
- Have your kids work out the currency exchange on purchases.
- Put your kids in control of their own spending money.
Our kids earned pocket money before we left on our family gap year and were given full control over how they spent it. If they wanted to buy a souvenir, they paid for it out of their pocket money.
This responsibility made them more thoughtful consumers. They weighed up their options and assessed value for money far more intently. As a result they treasure their purchases and they have learned some valuable life skills along the way.
Activities with kids
Don’t worry – a family gap year doesn’t have to mean a visit to every playground or theme park around the world! It isn’t necessary to shape your entire trip around what are considered “kid-friendly” activities.
There are plenty of engaging and fun activities that are enjoyable for everyone. We took our kids zip lining, white water rafting, on alpine coasters, even on a multi-day cycle trip.
We do suggest you are flexible and mix up the types of activities. Perhaps plan to do some things in pairs instead of together. Tailor activities to suit the particular interests of each child and adult.
Our best travel tip when it comes to paying for activities is to be choosy. Get input from everyone about what they would love to do and select a small number of unique and fun experiences. Some of our favourite splurges have been white water rafting in Bosnia, a trip to Disneyland and a night in the desert in India.
Remember there is no need to fill every day with expensive activities. When looking for cheap or free activity ideas the local tourist office is usually a good place to start. Museums and galleries often have one day a week where they offer free entry. During school holidays there are often free activities available for kids.
Another tip is to look online for discounted tickets. We often found cheap tickets for great activities by searching online. Some of our best finds were an awesome Hanoi Street Food Tour and a Cooking Class in Hoi An, Vietnam. Click here to find your favourite activity and prices.
Don’t stress about schoolwork
We worried when we left for our family gap year that the kids would fall behind as they were missing a year of school. What we didn’t realise at the time is that travel educates them in a way school never can.
In the end I was relieved they weren’t required to log in and complete school work online. We often had terrible WIFI and there was no way they could regularly access online education sites.
Instead, we found ways to integrate learning through our every day travels. When you travel around the world with kids it opens up many conversations and learning opportunities. We talk about poverty, pollution, wealth, caring for the environment, history, religion, war, geology.
Seeing a small child on their own begging for money, watching piles of rubbish float down the waterways, questioning why they can’t drink the water out of the tap, talking about why people dress differently, visiting religious temples and looking out on impressive natural wonders are all opportunities to teach and learn.
They may not learn how to calculate fractions or form their letters properly when they travel. But I hope travel makes them better, more caring and more open minded citizens of the world.
Now we are home and they recount their travel experiences to friends, I realise how much they were absorbing on our family gap year. They are articulate and knowledgeable. They can retell an event in a thoughtful and amusing way.
So our best travel tip? Don’t worry too much about the kids missing school – travel is a pretty amazing teacher.
Travel the world with kids
Our final tip is to embrace family travel and travel more. There are so many beautiful and unique places in the world and it is absolutely possible to go there with kids.
Yes travel with kids is different to travel before kids. I am not going to deny there are some things I miss when traveling with kids. Like reading a book uninterrupted or spending hours wandering through a gallery in Paris.
But, traveling with kids comes with its own set of unique and rewarding experiences. With kids you engage with the locals in a very different way and the worst of the hustlers seem to leave you alone. You tend to travel and explore at a slower pace. Plus you get to see the world through the eyes of your kids – and it can be pretty different place!
If you are looking for the best resources to start planning travel around the world with kids, hop over to our Travel Resources Page. There you will find our favourite apps, sites and products for planning family travel.
What is your best tip for family travel? Let us know in the comments below!
Read More about travel around the world with kids:
- The Definitive Guide to Europe by Campervan
- Self Guided 4 Day Cycling Trip along the Danube River
- USA West Coast Road Trip with kids
- 12 Unique Ways To Take A Gap Year With Kids
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