Traveling with Kids

Know Your Kids
People often ask me “Are my children old enough for this trip?” It depends mostly on the kids. I think travel is rewarding even for very young children – they learn and absorb so much in their first five years. But every child is different, and you are the best judge of your own children and what they are ready for. Ask yourself, what are their maturity levels? How independent are they – do they need constant supervision and interaction, or can they find ways to entertain themselves? What is their degree of stamina – can they handle a long flight, a long drive, a day of touring on foot? If the trip involves strenuous activities, such as big treks or bicycle rides, you need to be realistic about your child’s abilities. Usually, though, it’s not so much a question of being the right age for the trip, but of planning the trip around the child’s age.

Get Kids Excited Before You Go
Get the kids involved before you leave on your trip. Look at maps, photos, watch DVDs, read books. We've enjoyed picking an historic figure (a hero or villain), doing a bit of research before we go, and then looking to see first-hand their influence or effect on the country.

Book Activities Before You Leave
Plan and book immersive activities before you leave. It gives the kids structure. Don't worry too much about what your kids may or may not like. Take advantage of different cultures and what they have to offer. Let them have the experience. They may surprise you. Mine certainly have surprised me.

Plane Time as Their Time
Let the time on the plane, be their time. Let them play with iPods, DVD players, Gameboys, PS2s, coloring books, other books, even workbooks (mine like Mad Minutes), anything they want to do. Once they arrive, pack all electronics away until the plane ride home.

Arrival Time is Play Time
Try arriving at your destination late morning and take the kids directly to a park where they can be spontaneous, run wild, make noise and re-set their internal time clocks. Then feed them to keep them going, check into the hotel and go out again to explore.

Time to Stretch and Grow
Don't be afraid to take your kids out of their comfort zone. Let them stretch, explore, face limits, and grow. I'm constantly delighted by how much my kids grow on each trip we take.

Natural Cycles
Plan your itineraries around natural cycles for your kids. We plan educational activities for the mornings like museums or classes, and play time (or shopping) for the afternoons. The exception to this rule is interactive museums. A museum like London's Museum of Natural History can be so entertaining that your kids won't want to leave. Be flexible.

We also alternate walking days with driving days to rest young legs. And although not all the rage with my 16-year old daughter, flat shoes are definitely the shoe of choice for any walking day. I like ballet slippers. She wants to make a statement in high heels. If I can't get her to start the day in flats, I'll put ballet slippers or flip-flops in her pack.

Divide and Conquer
Splitting the kids between adults is a good way to deal with varying ages and interests. On our last trip to New York, Terry and Ali stayed uptown one day and went to the Museum of Natural History, while Emerson and I took a shopping and eating excursion around the Meatpacking District, SoHo and Nolita.

Don't underestimate how much your kids may enjoy reading, either on the plane or on vacation. I've found that packing books from a series (or uploading to a Kindle) is one of the best ways to keep kids engaged with the characters, a genre or stories.