By Leo Babauta
As I write this, I’m in London with Eva and all 6 kids on our European adventure! I’m in the middle of my Grand Travel Experiment, and we’re all excited as hell.
A number of people asked me to share how we went about planning this and if I have any tips for traveling with kids … so here you go! This is a post with some of the things I’ve been doing to plan and keep the trip a fun and peaceful one with our large family.
Well, we’ve been planning and saving for this trip for awhile now … I have a regular savings fund just for travel, and we don’t buy a lot of things so the savings is automatic and healthy right now. We also used lots of rewards miles that I’ve been accumulating to help lower costs.
Democratic planning: One of the best things we did was plan the trip as a family. We did this by voting on our destination cities using an online poll. We then took the winners and did a second poll, where everyone voted on how many days to devote to each city, and averaged out the results. Thus our itinerary was created.
Have them take responsibilities: We had the four older kids each take one of the cities and find an AirBnb apartment for that city. That means we had to decide what neighborhood to live in (I use a combo criteria that uses the density of things to see, vegan restaurant options, and good coffee shops) and then they had to do a search for good apartments that had criteria like a washer, decent photos and reviews, enough space and bathrooms for our large family, etc.
Pack light: By now, the kids have all adopted the “pack light” philosophy, and we travel with one light backpack each and no roller bags or other luggage (the younger ones carry their own small backpack). This allows us to easily navigate cities, airports, trains and buses with our packs, and we don’t get tired from lugging things around. The packing approach: take as little as possible, and wash clothes at each destination so we don’t need a lot of extra clothes.
Give Them Responsibility
We try to teach them self-sufficiency by asking them to help out with travel responsibilities as we travel. Of course, this has to be appropriate to their abilities and ages, but two of our “kids” are actually adults now, and two are nearly adults, so they can definitely share most responsibilities. Even the younger two have things to do.
Take turns being leaders: On past trips I usually play the role of being leader, but this trip I asked them to each take a day where they are responsible for planning, navigating, finding restaurants, and more. This should give them a lot of travel skills they haven’t developed much before. But we’re just starting this experiment so we’ll see how it goes.
Let them take care of their own stuff: I think as parents, we have a tendency to check on what the kids have packed, make sure everyone has their stuff, wash their clothes for them … but the philosophy I like best is to let them figure it out. It’s their stuff, and if they forget things, or lose them, they’ll figure things out.
All of the logistics are great, but what about happiness while your walking for hours around a city, and kids are tired and hungry? I don’t claim to have all the answers in this area, but here are some things I’ve been trying to do:
Give them a spirit of adventure: Things will go wrong, we’ll get lost, miss trains, and so forth … and that can be frustrating for our family, or it can be a part of the adventure! So I try to talk to them about how we’re going on an adventure, and things going wrong and getting lost is all a part of that. Putting them in the right frame of mind can be helpful.
Be flexible: It’s easy to get stuck into a rigid schedule and try to hit everything on your plan, but we all know that plans always go wrong. So I’ve found it helpful to take a more flexible approach, and not plan everything rigidly. We often have an idea of what we want to do each day (decided the day before, perhaps), but it’s best if we go with the flow of things and decide each activity as we go. This way we’re not stressed out when things don’t go according to plan.
Don’t rush: I tend to rush, if I’m being honest. I don’t know why, it just seems in my nature to want to walk fast, and expect everyone to keep up. I’ve been trying to remind myself not to be in a rush, though I often forget. There’s no need to get everything done in a day, and while I don’t like to miss a flight, we try to leave a little early so we don’t have to rush everyone (even if I prefer to wait until the last minute when I’m alone), and I’ve also found that it’s not the end of the world if we miss a train or flight. Anyway, main lesson for me: take your time, don’t rush people, and everyone is happier.
Realize they get frustrated too: It’s easy for parents to get frustrated when kids don’t behave perfectly, but honestly, why would we ever expect them to behave ideally? The truth is, they get frustrated and tired and grumpy just like we do. So when they behave imperfectly (daily, just like me), I try to remind myself to breathe, and to feel their frustration. To see that they are tired. To realize they’re struggling with things. And to feel compassion for their struggles.
Drop expectations: My mission this trip is to remind myself to drop my expectations of the kids, and of the trip in general … and just be there with them. Just experience the joy of travel with them.
Remind ourselves to be grateful: I have been constantly asking them (and myself), “How lucky are we to be here right now?” In the middle of a trip, it can be easy to forget how great our lives are, how amazing it is to be where we are … and sometimes we just have to stop and take notice, and appreciate the moment around us.