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Our Top 10 Tips for Making the Most of a Big Family Trip

Should I travel RTW with my family?

Is an Around-the-World (RTW) Trip a good choice for my kids? Are there any tips I should know to make travel easier for my children?

Let’s face it, for every fantasy you have about showing your kids new and exciting places on a family-friendly RTW trip, you have a nightmare about them screaming for the entire 15-hour flight to Sydney from Shanghai, or bickering in the back seat while you try to find your way from one picture-perfect village to the next in Tuscany. What will they eat? What if they get bored? Will they really learn or remember anything at all? How do you plan an itinerary that keeps everyone happy?

Before you spin out into full panic mode and decide to send them to boarding school for the year and head off on a kid-free escape with your spouse, take a deep breath. Then read our top 10 tips for family trips from the expert travelers on the AirTreks team–many who travel with their own families. From how to build your route to how to keep kids happier on the road (and in the air), we’ve got you covered.

1. Give Kids A Say

It might be easier to plan your RTW trip at 10pm after your kids are tucked in for the night, but it’ll probably make things more difficult on the road. Giving your kids a say can make all the difference in one very important element: attitude. When your children feel they’ve had a vote in at least part of the process, they’re more likely to “own” the experience and be positive.

“I’d suggest involving your children in the planning. Before booking the route, show them pictures and talk about the locations but also ask them, “where do you want to go?”  Sharing this process got our kids  involved in the entire experience – those locations became “theirs” and the children were more excited and positive when we got there. Providing scheduling choices on the road is another tactic we found useful. Simply giving children options on how to spend the day can be quite beneficial. ‘These are the things your mother and I want to do this week and here are some things you might want to do. How should we schedule this week so we all can see what we want?’ Sure you still get the occasional whining but having a little control does seem to alleviate the complaints.” – Daniel Gamber, Travel Planner

“You may go certain places that only dad wants to go or mom wants to go, but make sure and find places where there are activities you can do together as a family. Let the kids choose from those activities – it’ll keep them happy.” – Justin Baker

Justin Baker, Travel Planner

2. Use Travel As a Learning Tool

We might be biased, but we believe that the world is the best school for kids. We believe in the power of seeing the countries, cities, and monuments you’ve read about with your own two eyes. Because traveling teaches us not just about physical places, but about each place’s people and culture.

Have no fear. Kids often adapt better than the parents to change in my experience. And even in my worst moments when kids are screaming and I feel like the entire plane/bus/etc is looking at me, it passes, and all is well. I’m motivated to show my kids how long-term travel is perhaps the world’s best way to get a boots on the ground education.” – Sean Keener

When traveling abroad when I was young, I loved the novelty of new things like public transportation. Make sure you take this experience to show your kids the differences of life in different parts of the world.” – Kate Voehl, Product Manager

Travelers of all ages will always benefit from trying out the local language, but there’s something pretty special that happens when a local hears their native words coming from your little one. A simple Namaste, Shukran or S’il vous plaît will always elicit a big smile and gives your children an insight to this special travel experience. “ –Daniel Gamber, Travel Planner

“When you stay long and really dig into a city or country, you learn so much more about that place, its people, and its culture, and the educational benefits for your kids increase as well. It’s impossible to really learn about a place in a few days.” – Adam Seper

3. Allow Extra Time

Whether it’s in the planning phases, at the airport, or at destination, all of our team members agree. When you’re traveling with little ones, budgeting extra time into pretty much every activity is a must. One option we love for all travelers, but particularly for families on a multi-stop itinerary is turning layovers into stopovers. This eliminates the need to rush between terminals to catch a flight and can even help with jetlag – one of the leading causes of whiny kids (and adults) on a big trip.

“I tell this to most everyone planning a long-term adventure, but it especially rings true for families: TAKE IT SLOW! Long-term travel isn’t a race to see how many countries and cities you can see the fastest. Travel burnout is a real thing for even the most experienced of travelers, and the faster you move, the more likely you are to get burnt out, even without adding kids to the mix. Be flexible. Have fun. Leave empty time.” – Adam Seper

“Give yourself enough time to connect, and book overnight stays between long flights if you can.” – Sara Tiffany, Product Manager

“Instead of a connection, book a stopover so you don’t have to rush to make your next flight.” – Aurelie Noyer

“Take advantage of early boarding! This allows your kids extra time to get comfy in their seats without the craziness of general boarding.” – Kate Voehl, Product Manager

“Always stop to ask yourself: is that enough time? Cape Town in 3 days? You need at least 5 days. When in doubt about a particular destination, ask someone who has been there and  has kids.” – Justin Baker, Travel Planner

4. Have Your Child’s Documents in Order

To travel internationally with children, you’ve got to have the right documents. If you don’t, you could be denied boarding, or even worse, entry into the country you’re visiting. Make sure you allow plenty of time in your planning phase to get your kids a valid passport and remember to research country-specific requirements for entry so you don’t get surprised at border control.

“If a family is traveling through South Africa they need to travel with kids birth certificates or other official documentation.”-Chris Heidrich, Travel Planner

“Make sure you allow enough time to get kids a valid passport–this can be especially tricky for blended families. For children under 16 years of age, both of the child’s biological parents or legal guardians must either appear in person at the passport office, or provide a legal document of parental consent. For more details, see the State Department’s Tips.” –Jean Ciolli

5. Choose a Family-friendly airline

When it comes to families, not all airlines are created equal. While it’s not always possible, when you can, choose an airline that offers kid-friendly amenities, or at minimum, one which publishes the seating plans for their planes so you can choose the best seats for your family.

“Some airlines, like British Airways, publish the seating plans for their fleet.When you can, try to choose seats with movable armrests, so your child[ren] can lay across on your lap to sleep more comfortably.” – Anthy Kapsalis, Travel Services

This article has a really nice chart on amenities offered by different airlines when traveling with kids. Some airlines make it easier than others to get a bassinet or ensure kid-friendly entertainment. Emirates, Qantas, Lufthansa, and Singapore Air have all got great reputations for going the extra mile for kids.” – Sara Tiffany, Product Manager

6. Connect Less

Deciding between a slightly more expensive direct flight versus extra travel time with a layover? Unless the connection is mercifully short or can be turned into a stopover, skip it, even if there’s a child discount offered for your kids’ tickets. When you’re traveling with children spending a little extra on a more direct route is worth the investment to get to your destination with minimum fuss.

“For families it’s usually best to have minimum connections, and minimum connection time with little ones, just to connect them through is always a good thing. I always try to think about family itineraries from my perspective as a parent and go from there.” – Chris Wadsworth, Senior Travel Consultant

“Some airlines have child fares but others don’t– my advice is to prioritize for comfort and convenience rather than price. Usually savings on child fares are only about 15% after taxes are factored in, so if the most direct route does not offer child prices, weigh the convenience factor before just opting for the lower cost. Extra travel time and layovers can be hard on little ones.” – Sara Tiffany, Product Manager

7. Book comfortable seats and accommodations

We understand you’ve got a budget to consider. That said, if you’re traveling with kids, spending a little more time or money to make sure you’ve got comfortable seats, particularly on long flights, and a clean, safe place to stay should be at the top of your list of priorities. Long-term travel is hard work. At the end of the day, you want everyone to be as comfortable as possible so they sleep well, in the hotel or on the plane.

“Book aisle seats so you and your kids can get up to stretch and walk around.” –Sara Tiffany, Product Manager

“A Bassinet and a bulkhead seat go hand in hand for comfortable travel with little ones.” – Chris Wadsworth, Senior Travel Consultant

“It’s worth paying for advance seat reservations, to ensure you’re all sitting together. Many airlines arrange this free of charge – just be sure to request this sooner rather than later, especially if you are a family of four or more.” – Anthy Kapsalis

8. Keep kids entertained

There’s a lot to be said for being extra prepared on this front. Bored kids are known to get into mischief, or worse–get cranky. Make sure to help children of all ages (from toddlers to teenagers) pack a carry-on full of activities they can do on the plane to keep from going stir-crazy on long flights, car rides, or the odd lazy rainy afternoon, when mom and dad need a break.

“On long flights take things for entertainment: books, playing cards, video games, coloring books or travel-sized board games. Long flights can be insanely boring for kids.” – Anthy Kapsalis, Travel Services

“Airline earbuds aren’t made for little ears. Make sure to pack headphones meant for children, and then fill up your Ipad/Iphone with kid-friendly movies and apps. This is especially important if there’s no in-flight entertainment.” – Kate Voehl, Product Manager

9. Manage Picky Eaters

Have a picky eater who is hard to manage at home, much less on the road? Never fear, there are more options than you might imagine, both on the plane and at many destinations. The key is being prepared with foods you know your kid will eat, and doing as much as you can before a trip to prepare children’s taste-buds for new cuisines.

“Some airlines will allow you to pre-order your children’s meals before flying and offer options like chicken nuggets or mac and cheese. If your child tends to be a picky eater, I’d recommend looking into this, as well as packing them snacks that you know they like.” – Kate Voehl, Travel Planner

“I think one of the best things about travel is experiencing the local cuisine, however with young children this can obviously be a challenge. When planning a trip with our children we like to find a local restaurant that serves the cuisine we’ll encounter on the road to visit prior to our departure. This way we expose them to some of the foods they might get to see on the trip and perhaps find something to look forward to! Even if your kids don’t like the spicier Indian dishes they might love the Naan or Lassis! “ – Daniel Gamber, Travel Planner

10. Don’t travel with sick kids

We know you wouldn’t drag a seriously ill kid out and about unless you really had to. So it’s worth saying again, book travel insurance that will cover you not just during, but before your travel plans. That way if Becky’s really sick with a sinus infection, you can push back departure without losing your investment. Remember, pressure changes and turbulence don’t get along well with kids that are under the weather.

“Try to avoid flying if your child is suffering from a cold or ear infection. If you must travel, it’s worth visiting a doctor in advance for advice on managing ear discomfort during rapid air pressure changes, especially during climb or descend.” – Anthy Kapsalis

“You don’t want your little one developing an aversion to flying because you took them on board with the stomach flu. Book travel insurance so if one of the kids is ill, you can change plans.” – Jean Ciolli

Get Out There and Make Memories While They’re Young!

Everyone has ideas about what the perfect age is to travel with kids but we all agree it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. Whether you’re trying to reconnect with your teenager or college student or travel with your toddler, something about the highs and lows of long-term and complex travel strengthens family ties. So get out there and make memories with your kids — they’ll be grown before you know it.

“Between the ages of 7 and 12— kids at those ages are old enough to enjoy traveling, but young enough to want to hold your hand, we tried to take advantage of that window to take our RTW Trip and make memories as a family.” – Daniel Gamber, Travel Planner

“The excuse of they won’t remember is the absolutely worst excuse ever—experiences affect you no matter your age, even if you don’t have a concrete memory.” – Adam Seper

“There’s a misconception that when you travel with your kids that they’re not going to remember it or anything and that you’re kind of wasting that experience, and also that it makes things much more complicated when you have a kid. But there’s kind of a window in your life in those early years, between 6 months and five years old, you can kind of go any time you want.  You can see the world through their eyes and they kind of open doors for you. You have more conversations with locals and make real connections. Your kids remember more of it than you might expect. ” – David Derrick,  Director of Air Product

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