Thursday, January 8, 2015

Traveling with Kids: the basics

Back in December, I explained that Without Directions was going to change direction a bit.  It started as a blog with four contributors, but over time really only had one lady writing, me.  And I almost exclusively wrote about my sewing or other crafty endeavors. But, I have a desire to add talking about travel, specifically traveling with children and with that adjustment, I also decided to acknowledge the reality that I was the only one writing (which is perfectly fine and there has been no negative emotions related to that).

So ...... (insert drum roll here)  Here is my first official travel post.

How does your family spend vacations?  Do you go to visit family?  Camp? Go to the same tried and true destination?

Well, my family of five loves to explore.  I am in the military and my job requires us to move quite frequently.  This is just fine with my husband and I because we love to get to know new places.  We always use the new location as a home base to see a new part of the country ... or the world.

Anchorage, AK

We have lived in Alaska, Washington (the state), and a couple different locations in Virginia in the United States.  Also, we have been lucky enough to be sent to Germany on two separate occasions.  And at each new home, we traveled around to see the sights and learn the history of the area, and those locations within easy driving distance.  Though the stress of the moves can be difficult, they have really fed our hunger for travel.

Our first time to Germany was when we were newlyweds and we did not have any children.  We had a blast.  Conversely, our second time in Germany we arrived with a seven year old, three year old, and a five month old.  Many people assumed that we were not going to be able to really experience Europe this time because we had three kids ... one of which was an infant ... in tow.  But they really could not have been more wrong.  I have been surprised at how many people believe you cannot travel with children.  Now, don't get me wrong, it was not the same; but it was still entirely delightful and completely possible.


We have learned several lessons that have made traveling with young ones quite enjoyable.  And as I have time, I am going to share them here, on Without Directions.  Let's start now with some basics.

First, have a plan.  When my husband and I were a young married couple, we would on the spur of the moment decide to leave for the weekend on a Friday afternoon.  We rarely made hotel reservations and often would not make it to our original destination because we would get distracted by some sight we saw along the way.  It was impulsive, seat-of-your-pants travel and so much fun.

But this is not wise with children.  One, children do have schedules and really need them to not be completely tossed to the side.   Two, if you have more than two children in Europe, you are a LARGE family and many hotels will not have room for you.  So, you should know where you are going and have sleeping arrangements made before you leave.

Smokey Mountains

A second key to success is to not over plan.  We found that our kids could do two big events in one day very successfully.  But rarely could they do a third.  We would plan accordingly.  Several times we had a third, minor event/sight as a tentative plan in case they were up to it.  If you push your kids too hard they stop having fun and if they are not having fun, you probably aren't either.

So how do you choose your big events?
We like to have a few travel books dealing with the region we are traveling in.  Each travel book seems to have a different focus/personality, so it is helpful to have more than one available as they will have different perspectives on what to see.  I recommend getting at least one that has a lot of pictures.  This way your young children can participate in the planning by pointing out things that look interesting to them.

link to Amazon

Our two favorite "brands" of travel books were the Fodor's and DK Eyewitness travel guides.  The the DK books have wonderful pictures and discuss a lot of the history and demographics of the region in the first chapters.  Fodor's is very data intensive and can recommend where to go, stay, eat, drink, dance, etc.  Other travel books we have used is the Lonely Planet and Rick Steve's.

link to Amazon

Third, pack food.  Always.  Nothing saves the day more frequently than an easily accessible snack.  In the best of worlds, you will find a place to easily whenever it is needed.  But, we don't live in a perfect world and when you are in an unfamiliar place, the likelihood of you making all meal times is slim.  A snack can go a long way in averting a melt down.

And finally, be flexible.  Plans will change.  And that is OK.  It is part of the adventure of travel, with kids or without, to not know what exactly will happen next.  It is helpful to have a 'spare' sight to go see when the primary sight is suddenly unavailable.  Or, if the kids really need a nap, go back to the hotel and let them rest.  Then get back out there and have fun. 

Well, that is probably enough of an introduction.  The main point is that traveling with children is not just doable, it is enjoyable.

If you are interested in hearing more from me, there are a couple ways for you to keep in touch!

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