Common family travel mistakes and how to avoid them

by The Traveling Canucks

Travelling with young children doesn’t always go according to plan. In fact, family travel rarely goes exactly the way you envisioned it would when you booked your flight.

We’ve taken our two young boys (aged 7 and 5 years old) on many adventures over the past few years and each trip has taught us something new. In many cases, the lesson learned is what NOT to do.

Today, we reflect on past adventures and share a few of the most common family travel mistakes and how you can avoid them.

Mistake: You travel the same way you did before having kids

Let’s begin with the most important lesson we’ve learned since travelling with young children. Slow down! Don’t try to do everything in one day.

The biggest mistake you can make is replicating the way you used to travel before having kids. Times have changed – you must also change.

You must be selective with your activities and plan for some down time at your hotel. We often get up early and tackle the most important activity in the morning. Then we return to the hotel and relax for a few hours before the next activity.

If you attempt to fill your entire day with sightseeing and activities you will have meltdowns and there’s a high probability you will end the day feeling exhausted and stressed out. That’s not fun for anyone. It’s better to do less and enjoy yourself, rather than do everything and constantly feel rushed and overwhelmed.

Why bring unnecessary stress to your trip? Slow down. Set realistic expectations for each day and accept that things will not always go the way you planned.

Mistake: Sharing one room with your kids to save a few dollars

Accomodations can make or break your trip. Regardless if you are travelling around Europe or relaxing at an all-inclusive beach resort, the room you choose will significantly impact how you feel each morning.

Before kids, we did not spend a lot of time researching accommodations. Often times, we would just show up and take the cheapest room available. We cannot operate like that anymore. Now, we must put thought into the accommodations we choose.

To ensure everyone has a good night sleep, it’s best to find accommodations that have separate sleeping areas (ideally with the ability to shut the door). Consider this: if everyone is piled into a standard hotel room you’ll likely need to go to bed when your kids do. What else are you going to do? You can’t leave the lights on. You can’t watch a movie or have a conversation. If you’re visiting a tropical destination, look for accommodations with a balcony or patio so you can enjoy the evening while your kids sleep.

We look for accommodations with one- or two-bedroom suites, instead of the standard hotel room with two queen-sized beds.

We look for accommodations with one- or two-bedroom suites, instead of the standard hotel room with two queen-sized beds. You will likely pay a little more for this convenience, but a good night’s sleep is essential for successful family travel.

It’s a good idea to be located close to attractions, restaurants, amenities and transportation. Being close to the things you want to see and do will increase the amount of time you have to explore and have fun. It also gives you more flexibility if things go sideways. If your kids have an accident or need a nap, it’s nice to be close to your hotel.

Mistake: Packing too much, or not enough

What to pack for your trip is highly subjective, depending on the destination and purpose of your trip. It’s more common for families to over-pack than under-pack, but both scenarios are not ideal.

Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Will you need to bring a stroller with you? How much walking do you think you will do? Do you need a sturdy stroller or will an umbrella stroller suffice?
  • Do you need to bring a car seat(s) with you? Will you be taking taxis, private transfers or shuttle buses? How will you get from the airport to your hotel and vice versa?
  • Does your hotel/apartment offer cribs for your baby or toddler? Will you need a high chair? Should you purchase portable equipment or rent these items at the destination?
  • Do you have enough clothes? Is laundry service an option?
  • Have you researched the weather at your destination? Will you need rain jackets or warm clothes?
  • Do your children have dietary restrictions or allergies? Do you have enough food and snacks for the trip?
  • What about diapers, wipes and creams?

Think about your travel days. Once you drop off your luggage at the airport, do you have what you need for your flight? What about when your child falls asleep just before landing – will you need your stroller or will a baby carrier be sufficient?

Don’t forget the small stuff.

Don’t forget the small stuff. You never know what will happen on your trip so you need to be prepared for everything. Think about the less obvious items like nail clippers, liquid dish soap, Children’s Tylenol or Advil, band-aids, zip-lock bags, kids’ sunglasses, sun block, plastic bowls and cups, batteries, etc. Make a list so you actually pack these items!

Mistake: Not being prepared for long flights

Bring enough food and snacks for the flight. We like to bring packages of flavoured oatmeal, instant noodles and rice – the ones with the built in bowl that only require hot water. Don’t forget disposable cutlery, napkins, tissues and condiment packages (like soy sauce or ketchup).

Don’t rely on airlines for entertainment. Bring a tablet (or two) loaded with games and shows. If you have Netflix, download a few shows/movies and assume you will not have Wi-Fi available. It’s also wise to have back-up battery power in case your seat does not have a power source. Don’t assume anything.

Our boys have their own carry-on luggage. In their luggage is a change of clothes, small toys and colouring books, tablet and children’s headphones, small blanket and a sweater. We also bring a surprise toy and treat and give it to them if/when they get restless.

Reserve your seats ahead of time to confirm you are all sitting together. Seat selection is included when redeeming Aeroplan Miles for flights.

Mistake: Not booking direct flights to your destination

Before kids, we had no problem with connecting flights. We were much more flexible. Nowadays, we want to arrive at our destination as quickly as possible. We avoid connecting flights and prefer to depart and arrive at reasonable hours. We don’t do 6:00 a.m. departures anymore.

We understand that direct flights are not always an option. But if there is a direct option, take it! Even if it costs more. You will be so glad you did.

To secure direct flights, you may need to book your flights well in advance. Experts say that the best time to purchase flights is between 6 to 8 weeks before the departure date.

Mistake: Booking flights based exclusively on price

We all want a great deal. Nobody wants to pay more than they have to for flights. But, like many things in life, prices can be deceiving. What are you sacrificing for the best price?

Often times the price is lower because you are departing from a secondary airport. Is it really worth saving $100 to depart from a secondary airport that’s located a few hours outside the city? How much will it cost for you to travel to that airport?

Cheap flights rarely depart at desirable times. To get the best price, you may have to depart at 6:00 a.m. or 11:00 p.m. Not fun when travelling with tired and cranky children. Are the savings worth the extra headache?

Baggage typically won’t be included with these cheap flights. Sometimes baggage fees can be as high as $50 per piece, which can get quite expensive when you have 3 or 4 pieces of luggage. If you have connecting flights on different airlines, you may be required to pay for baggage per flight segment.

Seat selection is rarely included when booking the cheapest flights available. The price per seat is typically $25-$40. If you have a family of four, and there are multiple connections, you may blow all of your savings on flights by paying for seats. If you don’t select your seats you may end up not sitting together or you may end up sitting at the back of the plane beside the toilet.

Consider the full picture of your travel day, not just the ticket price.

Mistake: Not planning or preparing for jet lag

Jet lag is real. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Crossing oceans can be tough on little ones. Heck, it can be tough for adults. If you’re lucky, your children will sleep on the plane. However, your children may also stay wide awake for the entire flight, so plan for it.

If the time zone change is only a couple of hours, you should be okay after a day or two. But if you’re changing 8+ hours the jet lag will undoubtedly rock your world, especially if your child is on a consistent sleep routine.

We don’t plan any big activities the day after we arrive. Instead, we take it slow and let our moods dictate how the day will play out. We also look for accommodations that have a swimming pool. If no pool is available, we make sure there is at least a bathtub in the room. Soaking in a swimming pool seems to really help the adjustment period.

It’s okay to do nothing while everyone adjusts. Even if that means watching movies and ordering room service. Don’t put unrealistic expectations on the first 24 hours.

Mistake: Forcing your children to experiment with new foods

One of the things we love about travel is trying new things. We look for local dishes and enjoy experimenting with new flavours and culinary styles. Our kids, however, do not. They don’t care about eating sushi in Tokyo or currywurst in Berlin.

Don’t make the mistake of forcing your kids to eat the exotic foods you’re eating. It’s okay to eat at an uninspiring family restaurant if it means your kids are happy. There’s nothing wrong with pizza and chicken nuggets – they’re on vacation, too!

Mistake: Putting travel on hold until your kids are older

Don’t make the mistake of putting your travel dreams on hold because you have young children. Travelling with our little ones has given us some of the most rewarding experiences of our lives.

Yes, travelling with children is more difficult than without – but we’ve found the most impactful moments in life come with a little sacrifice.