Family travel trips: Common mistakes and how to avoid them
We’re in full trip planning mode right now. In just a few days we will be traveling to Ireland for the first time. This trip will also be the first time Connor, our youngest, will cross the Atlantic and set foot on European soil. He’s 2.5 years old right now, which is not an ideal age to take a long haul flight, so we’re crossing our fingers everything goes smoothly.
We’ve been mapping out our road trip around the island nation and firming up the 2 week itinerary. We want to limit the number of unexpected surprises, so we’re spending a little extra time researching this trip.
Times have certainly changed. Once upon a time we would just show up to a new destination and let our curiousity guide us.
Those days seem like a lifetime ago.
As we put more thought into this upcoming trip to Europe, we are reminded of the lessons learned while traveling with young children. We’ve taken our boys to quite a few places over the past couple of years and each trip has taught us something new.
In many cases, we’ve learned what NOT to do!
Today, we want to share some of the mistakes we’ve made and the lessons we’ve learned from our travel experiences.
We share most of our travel stories on this blog and our social media channels, which opens the door to plenty of feedback from other traveling families. The big takeaway from these comments, tweets and messages is that we are not alone. Every parent wants to make their family travel experiences enjoyable and memorable, but things don’t always go according to plan.
In an effort to share the learning, here are a few family travel mistakes we’ve made… and how we now avoid these mistakes.
(1) Don’t try to do everything in one day.
In other words, SLOW DOWN.
Don’t try to replicate the way you used to travel before having children. Things are different now, so try not to squeeze too many activities or sightseeing into one day. We plan our big activity or adventure in the morning when everyone is fresh and recharged. Then we break up the day and spend quiet time back at the hotel/apartment.
It’s important to accept the fact that you can’t see and do everything on your wish list.
The most enjoyable family travel experiences we’ve had are the ones where we’ve set proper expectations for each day. The worst thing you can do is put yourself in a position where you’re constantly feeling rushed or disappointed because you didn’t check every box on the list.
Why bring unnecessary stress to your vacation? Slow down. Embrace the little moments and set realistic expectations for each day.
(2) Book accommodations with separate sleeping areas.
Consider this, if everyone is piled into a standard hotel room you’ll likely need to go to sleep when your children do. What else are you going to do? You can’t leave the lights on. You can’t watch a movie or have a conversation. If you do, it will be tough for your kids to fall asleep. And you can’t leave them alone in the hotel room by themselves.
To ensure everyone gets a good night’s sleep, it’s best to find accommodations that have separate sleeping areas.
We look for accommodations that have one or two bedroom suites, instead of the standard hotel room that come with two queen-sized beds. You will likely pay a little more for this convenience, but a good night’s sleep is an essential ingredient for successful family travel.
In some cases, you might actually spend less money by staying at an apartment rental. Most apartments come with a kitchen, which is super convenient when traveling with little ones, especially when one has a food allergy. Having access to a fridge, stove and microwave makes a BIG difference.
(3) Book your accommodations in a central location.
Building on the above point, it’s always a good idea to be located close to attractions, restaurants, amenities and transportation. We used to book accommodations outside the city center to save money but we’ve learned that’s a big mistake when traveling as a family. When you factor in the cost of taxis, transportation or parking, it doesn’t take long for those savings to evaporate.
You never know how much time you have before your kids burn out.
Being close to the things you want to see and do will increase the amount of time you have to actually explore and have fun. It also gives you more flexibility if things go sideways. If your kids have an accident or need of a nap, it’s nice to be close to your accommodations.
When booking near tourist attractions, be careful not to get sucked into tourist traps. You can save a lot of money on restaurants that are located a few blocks away from the popular attractions.
(4) Jet lag is real. Plan for the worst, hope for the best.
Crossing oceans can be tough on little ones. Who am I kidding, it can be tough on big ones too. The first time we traveled overseas with Braydon was a real eye opening experience. Literally. He had his eyes wide open at 3:00 AM. This lasted for 3 nights. Not fun.
Since that trip, we’ve learned to give ourselves a few days to adjust.
We don’t plan any big activities the day after we arrive. Instead, we take it slow and let our moods dictate how the day will play out. We also look for nicer accommodations that have a swimming pool. If no pool is available, we make sure there is at least a bath tub in the room.
Soaking in a swimming pool seems to really help the adjustment period.
It’s okay to do nothing while everyone adjusts. Even if that means watching movies and ordering room service. Don’t put unrealistic expectations on the first 24-48 hours.
(5) Choose your seats at the time of booking.
This is a big one, especially for long haul flights. Don’t risk being seated in separate areas. Most airlines will group families together in the same row, but don’t rely on this. If you don’t choose your seats at the time of booking you might end up sitting on opposite ends of the plane.
We travel as a family of four, so there have been a few times when we’ve been seated in different rows. If you wait until check-in to select your seats it may be too late to find seats that are grouped together.
Flight attendants will usually help when this error occurs, but it means asking other people to move and it creates unnecessary tension during the boarding process. And, if you do have to switch seats, and your luggage is in an overhead compartment that’s behind you, it delays the off-loading experience and can be quite frustrating for everyone.
You may be required to pay extra to reserve your seats, depending on the airline and distance. Yes, it’s an additional expense and it’s super annoying, but we pay the fee to ensure we get the seats we want. Both of our boys love the window seat, so it’s important that we get at least one window seat on every flight.
Travel Tip: Normally when you reserve seats by redeeming Miles or Points, like Aeroplan, the seat assignment fee is included, so there’s no extra charge to select your preferred seats.
On our upcoming 10 hour flight to Dublin, the window row on the plane has only 2 seats, instead of the typical 3 seat row. We booked two window seat rows (4 seats total) that are beside each other, so each boy will get a window seat and we get the aisle. Everybody wins.