So many young backpacking couples have told me:
“We love that you’re still traveling as a family. When we have kids we want to travel them too.”
Having experienced both child-free travel and travel with kids I recommend the former. If you have a choice do most of your traveling before you have kids. It’s faster, cheaper and more fun.
It’s not that travel with kids isn’t fun. Travelling with kids gives you a whole new perspective on the people and places you visit. But it also means less time touring the party islands of Greece or Thailand and more time spent in toilets you’d have rather avoided.
Kids bring responsibilities. Gone are those carefree travels with months spent playing backgammon on beautiful beaches and evenings while away sampling the local laughing grass.
So now you’ve read the health warnings here’s how to make your dream of traveling with your kids bearable, or maybe even fun, for the whole family.
This is how I handled my brood of three aged 14, 11 and 7 on a recent weekend in Canberra. I was in solo parenting mode too while the Mucho Man had a lovely quiet weekend at home. That should tell you a lot about traveling with kids too.
#1 Put the kids first because happy kids mean happy parents
As soon as we stepped into the Clifton Suites in Canberra we ran round taking the photos before we messed up everything. We had a massive two bedroom apartment, with two bathrooms and a lovely big balcony with a view.
I don’t think the kids appreciated that as much as I did but they liked the goodie bags with toys the Visit Canberra team planted for them. They also liked their bedroom and beds, so much so that they even agreed to pose for a photo.
If you want your travels go smoothly forget all the things you’d like to do on your travels and do what will make your kids happy. It’s better for everyone that way.
#2 Bathroom stops are the worst
With three kids in tow there’s always one that wants to go to the loo and always at the most difficult time.
One time in Guatemala where there are no public toilets our youngest, then aged two, was suddenly caught short. I asked a nearby restaurant owner if we could use her bathroom but she said no. Being desperate to avoid an accident I rushed into the loo with my girl anyway.
The owner had all kinds of horrid things to say to me when we came out but what can you do in that situation? Most people are friendly and helpful when you travel with kids but you will come across people who aren’t.
Even when you have two lovely clean bathrooms as we did in Canberra one of the kids will do their worst in your bathroom (not theirs!) as soon as you arrive.
#3 Forget safety
Despite being under strict instructions never ever to let anyone into the house or room if Mummy or Daddy aren’t there when tested the kids failed. Miserably.
When I left the room for 10 minutes a male housekeeper arrived to check we had enough towels. Kiara happily opened the door and let him in whereupon he wandered around while her brothers didn’t bat an eyelid.
Of course the Clifton Suites employees were fabulous and no harm was done but the point is you have to let go of all safety concerns when you travel with kids and just do it anyway. Otherwise you’d never go anywhere.
Kids are just as likely to come to harm at home as they are when traveling so don’t waste time wondering what’s the worst thing that could happen?
#4 Be spontaneous
As part of The Human Brochure tour group we had a busy weekend ahead of us but when in Canberra you really should see the Houses of Parliament (pictured up top), Old Parliament House and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.
So on the spur of the moment I frog-marched the Candy kids to the largest grassed rooftop on the world at the Australian House of Parliament and did roley poleys down its grassy banks.
#5 Feed kids regularly
Like many children mine are bottomless pits and they are happiest with regular feeding times.
Stick to those feeding times even when you’re traveling unless you want to deal with endless moaning and low-blood-sugar-induced temper tantrums.
#6 Little things please little minds
You think you know what your kids will love when you travel but you soon discover all kinds of other things they also love.
Kids are easily distracted so leave time to explore the little things that fascinate them but which would never have made it onto your radar if they hadn’t stop your kids in their tracks.
My were strangely fascinated by a hole in the wall shop in Canberra and of course we simply had to nip into a party shop they spied with their little eyes.
#7 Teach them life’s not fair
This is probably the biggest life lesson I wanted my kids to learn from traveling. I want them to know that sometimes you get what you get and you don’t get upset but that other times there are injustices in this world that are worth fighting for.
Travel has allowed my children to see the huge gulf between the haves and the have nots.
We took time to look at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra and talk about the struggles of indigenous Australians and the relative ease of life many other Australians enjoy.
Aboriginal people erected the Tent Embassy outside Old Parliament House in Canberra in 1972 to protest against a court decision over mining operations on Aboriginal land.
Many struggles and battles later, the Embassy has become a heritage-listed landmark for Aboriginal protest and today Australia’s status as one of the wealthiest countries in the world is based around the ever-powerful mining industry.
#8 Low expectations create the best experiences
Despite being a pacifist I was strangely moved and impressed by Canberra’s War Memorial
“Leanne says the War Memorial is boring,” Kiara kept telling us. Apparently, of all the things there are to see and do in Canberra the Australian War Memorial impressed Kiara’s BFF little Leanne least.
So my kids weren’t happy to learn that the Australian War Memorial would be the first stop on our tour.
Indeed, when I told my own friends we were off to Canberra for the weekend the most common response was “Why?”
So of course, because we expected nothing we were delighted with what we found at the War Memorial in particular and in Canberra in general.
#9 There are learning opportunities everywhere
Don’t worry about taking your kids out of school. The education system’s terrible just about everywhere these days so you’re probably better off spending time with your kids teaching them about social skills, creativity and happiness.
Yes, you can learn stuff in schools, libraries or museums but at any tourist destination the real action take place behind the scenes. Poke around behind the back wall of the Taj Mahal in India and you’ll see the real Agra, escape from your tour group at the pyramids in Giza and you’ll see a slice of Egypt the other tourists will be hurried past.
So during the course of my usual pokings around behind the scenes I discovered the clever catering team beavering away to make sure The Human Brochure launch party at the War Memorial was a success.
When you’re traveling with kids sometimes you have to let standards slip, forget healthy eating and just let them eat cake. They will love you for it.
#10 Sleep matters most
When it comes to children’s bed times I’m a traditionalist and our trip to Canberra reminded me why. After a very early morning, a very late night and a lot of excitement in between Kiara had a major meltdown as soon as we got back to our hotel room.
When traveling with kids give them plenty of down time and get them to bed early to keep them on an even keel.
Failing that let them have a lovely long lie in the next day.
Because getting a good nights sleep is key to making sure that you love traveling with kids as much as childless people love the idea of it.
The day after our first day in Canberra – stay tuned to see what we got up to with the rest of our weekend
We were guests of Visit Canberra and stayed at the award-winning Clifton Suites during our travels in Canberra. To find out more about traveling to Canberra, with or without kids, check out The Human Brochure website.