10 Best Tips For Family Friendly Travel!

February 12, 2010

airport travel young girl child with roll bag & violin

Can international family travel or long term travel really be family friendly travel and even easy or cheap? We say yes of course, because we have been traveling the world as a family since 2006 and quite luxuriously on just 23 dollars a day per person!

This morning I came across a great post on Simplemom about how to travel long distance with little ones. I could relate, so when she asked for others ideas, I found that my comment was long enough to be a blog post! Oh dear, my passion for travel did it again. Must learn to do short comments.

Then I thought, "Why not make it a blog post? ". Not only is the original post useful, but there were also other great tips in the comments from other traveling parents. Hopefully, all of you can add even more here.

We have traveling down to an art now. We breeze through every mode of transportation from planes to cargo ships and even camels in the Sahara! 

Our trilingual & VERY active daughter was 5 when we began and turned 9 this fall. (We started traveling with her & she spent the night in her first hotel at 2 weeks old!). This is what has worked best for us:

1) Packing light is key (along with those snacks & special toys) for us.

Even when we travel for months at a time in 3 seasons of weather, we only take a small carry on, day pack for each of us. Usually that includes at least 1 laptop, homeschool supplies plus toys, snacks, books & clothes.

In case you missed it, there was a fascinating debate about families traveling light on Budget Travel at Newsweek.

2) Get a duo roll backpack for your kids and let them carry (roll) their own!

(You can add some of the family stuff in here as kid clothes don’t take up much space.). We love the basic school knapsack from LLBean. In pink of course & still looks new after 4 years of wear & doubles as her school bag when we winter in Spain.

3) Pack clothes that don’t take up much space, don’t wrinkle, multi-purpose, hand wash & dry easy.

For example, black cotton stretch yoga pants takes up much less space than jeans.

It's easy to hand wash with your feet when you take a shower, using the shampoo. Kids love it, so teach them to hand wash early! 

4) Always have matching LAYERS as one often goes from hot to cold to hot again on plane or travel.

We’ve gotten TONS of use out of a French black sweater & back vest and almost all my daughter’s clothes are in pink &/or black. Teach them the tie the sweater around your waste trick early as a great way to get through hot airports with it handy if one gets chilly while waiting. Note DaVinci modeling that with his jacket in the photo below.


5) Educate them and talk to them about the trip, rules, boundaries LOTS, BEFORE going, so they know what to expect.

Kids CAN do adult venues as mine has done museums, adult opera & Shakespeare since she was a VERY active 15 month old. Keep it an exciting adventure! Even babies like to "discuss" things beforehand.

If prepared,  even a long trip or starting at 4 AM can be a thrill to a little one. We had that and a 26 hour, 9 modes of transportation journey into Africa (that I worried about before hand), but our 6 year old loved it and it was easy. Same with a friend that flew alone with 2 toddlers from Malaga, Spain to Argentina.

6) Give them your attention and enjoy the transit time together by playing games & doing things together.

Think "little" for toys & books. Multi-purpose & endlessly engaging types work best. What that is, will depend on your kid, but we have gotten a lot of mileage out of a small sandwich size baggy or two of Polly Pockets, Playmobile & Legos.

Adding special toy or book for destination can add to the fun. ie we brought old fashion paper dolls dressed in native costumes (small book that took little space) when we took our first long flight from California to Europe when she was five.

7) Bring or wear PJ’s for long flights.

We like Hanna Anderson long johns as they are multi-purpose (can be worn as long johns or even comfy play clothes).

Do sleep routines as usual ..modified as needed. Changing into pajamas signals to them that it's time for sleep. See if flight attendant can give you 1st class over-night kit. Our daughter loooves these.

8) Where your heaviest clothes and shoes.

That's what we are doing in the pictures above when we left hot Spain to go to cold New York and Denver/Utah with a stop in warm California, then back to cold NYC before heading back to Paris and Spain on our two month trip to see family at home.

Baby standing at 5 months old, clapping in Musictogether class
Mozart standing up totally on her own initiation at 5 months old, clapping to the music

9) As soon as they can walk, let your kids walk as much as possible.

That way when you have long walks through airports or while touring they are use to it and do not tire or fuss. Young ones need to move and walking is good for them, We never owned a stroller & have been traveling with our child since she was 2 weeks old!

I've got a bad knee and Mozart has been able to out walk and out run me since she was nine months old and a very fast runner who would quickly run a football field away from me. Not always easy, but we've always wanted to encourage her sense of freedom. When we got to Europe and did lots of city walking, we had to teach her the art of hand holding.

10) Don’t worry, be happy.

If you are calm and having fun, your child will too.Travel with kids is easier , cheaper & more enriching than most know!

Every child and every family is unique. What great tips and ideas do you have?

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I love the idea of letting kids walk and not having a stroller as the default.

My mother is fond of saying something similar about food. Some parents think their kids will only eat fries and pizza, to which my mom generally responds that kids will eat anything when they are hungry, and that parents just give in too easily to their kids' requests. When they ask for fries, tell them no and stick to it. It's pretty much guaranteed that if you offer them an apple twenty minutes later they'll jump at it!


Jay- I must be kindred spirits with you & your mom because I agree wholeheartedly about food and walking!


Sounds right! My parents traveled around Europe during the summers with us three small children in tow and we loved it- I'm wearing the same simple dress in every picture during our three week trip to Italy when I was four, because my mom just washed/dried ours in the sink each night for me and my sister. In hindsight, I am impressed!

I also remember later in life when some parents would ask my mom what sort of drugs she gave her kids to keep us quiet on all the trans-Atlantic flights we were taking. I was about ten at the time, and remembering what kid wouldn't be content with crayons, paper, and a good book anyway.

Random question though, what visas are you guys using to stay in Europe for so long? I always wondered about that, thanks! :)


Ha! Mozart is often in the same clothes too, but we actually almost never do laundry every night.

Yes, indeed, it's much simpler than many realize!

We got a long stay retirement visa which is not that easy, but one can get around that easily without that.

I've known plenty who have done it by combining spending time in UK, Croatia, Ireland, Turkey etc while visiting other parts of Europe long term.

I friend did 3 months each in several European countries for a year and even brought her dog! ;)


great post! these are some of the best travel tips I've seen.

Amy @ The Q Family

Wonderful tips! I have to remember about the matching layer tips with only 1 or 2 colors for the whole trip. Great idea!

Greg London

Great tips, I think my favorite one was number 7, those long flights can get cold and PJs definitely can help.


Great tips. I tried your laundry suggestion last night and it worked!

I'd add to this: involve them in planning the trip, including routes and destinations.

Helping choose how you get to places, as well as where you go to, is really fun and empowering for a child.

Also, finding your destination on a map and then drawing your route to it on arrival really amplifies the experience of the journey.


We haven't been to Europe in a while because of our small children. I really appreciate this list because you make a major trip seem very doable.

I also like your idea of letting the children walk. Besides being healthy for them, they are likely to sleep better at the end of the day.


Suzanne- Wow, thanks so much for that high compliment!

Amy-Thanks! Yeah, almost everything mixing & matching helps so much. We get mostly black as it's perfect for Europe & last sooooo much longer because it hides dirt.

Greg- Thanks so much! Yep, we get a LOT of use out of our long john PJ's! ;)

MummyT- Great, thanks! We definitely believe in having kids VERY involved in the planning! Mozart is an expert at trip & tour planning now as well as an old hand at figuring out subway & bus routes in 32 countries not to mention perfectly comfortable on trains, ferries, rental cars & cargo ships! That's an education in itself & we're very lucky that she could read adult guide books at 5 when we left because she helped a lot!

I mainly focused these on long distance travel & have written other tips before, but really glad you added that to this conversation!

Joy- Thanks so much! I DO think a major trip is doable with kids & certainly much easier than we expected when we took off. Slow & following the good weather helps tremendously & we love the convenience of a small RV (moving home) although it is mostly parked & we're biking, walking & using mass transit more than anything.

Yes walking works in so many ways & if you come to Europe everyone will do more walking! ;)

axel g

Keep it light!

I couldn't agree more.

It's a beauty not having to hang around the baggage claim areas, not to mention how effortless traveling gets with a small bag...


Great tips!! We've lived in a developing nation and traveled with our kids (11 & 8) quite a bit but my latest desire to travel to east Africa has them resisting. They're afraid (malaria, animals, civil unrest), which is *exactly* why I want to go--to show it's not all doom and gloom. Any advice for me??? Also, we're pretty low budget travelers.

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