The Travel Blog Mob is writing about travel misconceptions this month. A particularly relevant subject for traveling with kids given that parents tend to have loads of preconceived notions about what it entails.
When I first launched Ciao Bambino in 2004 as a planning service to help families travel to Italy with kids, I’ll never forget my conversation with a friend who looked me in the eye and said, “I can barely manage to get to the grocery store with my kids … let alone Italy. You’re nuts!” That may be, but I can’t think of a single family that has used Ciao Bambino to plan a trip and regretted going.
This doesn’t mean every travel experience is flawless — far from it! The point is that fears and beliefs associated with family vacations are often greatly exaggerated.
Enjoying the garden at Borgo Santo Pietro in Tuscany
Here’s my list of the top 10 misconceptions about family travel:
“I need to wait until my kids are older before taking them abroad”
Not true! In fact, I’d argue that travel with very young kids has some distinct benefits over traveling with older kids. Kids are entertained easily when they are little. We could spend hours in a piazza in Italy when our son was a toddler — he chased pigeons while we relaxed over coffee. This type of loitering becomes increasingly more difficult as kids mature. Moreover, when kids are young, you can fit the family into smaller hotel configurations and this keeps costs down (not to mention that many hotels don’t charge for kids under 12).
“Young kids won’t remember going to places like Europe, so why bother?”
Our son visited Europe a few times a year since he was a baby. Admittedly, he doesn’t remember Florence as a baby or Spain as a toddler or our trip to Banff when he was 3 or our week in Mexico for his 4th birthday … That said, we do! These are memories we’ll cherish forever as parents, plus the overall developmental benefit of these trips is significant. Travel builds flexibility in kids and an awareness that the world is a diverse place. I can’t think of a better way to teach kids to become global citizens (see Jessie Voight’s article on volunteer family travel for wonderful insight on this topic).
“A kid-friendly restaurant means there must be a kids’ menu available”
A kids’ menu is a nice perk, but there are loads of restaurants that are willing to make smaller portions of the adult selections for kids (at reduced pricing). Moreover, for a trip that is longer than a weekend, it’s easy to get bored of the same chicken nuggets with fries option, not to mention the lack of healthy food on typical kids’ menus. Hotels and restaurants are getting better about accommodating families — check one of the many excellent family travel blogs for suggestions!
“Traveling with babies requires so much stuff that travel with them is a hassle”
Yes, babies need equipment and a big list of supplies. The good news, however, is there is a growing list of companies providing essentials to parents at their destination. Translation = you don’t need to “carry” everything with you and this reduces the hassle factor exponentially. See our directory of kids and baby equipment rentals for reference.
“Art museums aren’t fun for kids”
A visit to an art museum may be the highlight of a trip for every person in the family. It’s all about who you approach the experience. Nancy wrote a timeless article with tips on visiting museums with kids — the trick is to get kids to interact with what they are seeing. There are a few great companies offering family-focused art tours including ArtXplorers in New York City and Paris Muse in Paris.
“Parents need to a long list of structured activities on vacation or kids will get bored”
It depends on where you go, but in general, the best trips involve a balance of playtime, sightseeing, and structured activities vs. too much of any one thing. We are so used to being over-scheduled at home that it’s disconcerting to leave chunks of time open while on the road. Some of our best travel memories are unique, planned experiences (see finding and booking family tours for examples), but I find that wandering without a plan can be equally as enjoyable when you are open to discovering unexpected treats and points of interest.
“Jet lag is more challenging for children than adults”
The first two days in a new time zone can be sheer misery with young kids. If you can get through that first 48 hours, you’ll find that kids are more resilient than we are. On most of our trips, I’m still experiencing caffeine emergencies in the afternoon while our son is bright-eyed and ready for action. There are great posts about coping with jet lag and time changes on Best Family Travel Advice.
Water balloon toss at Montage Laguna Beach Paintbrush kids’ club
“Kids’ clubs are glorified babysitting and not a consistent, reliable entertainment option on vacation”
Families have different vacation priorities, but sending a child to a kids’ club need not be a guilt-inducing event. There is a growing list of hotels featuring unique kids’ club experiences offering everything from cultural to environmental lessons and activities. Choosing the best kids’ club set up for your family is key — but there’s no reason in the world not to take advantage of qualified clubs offered by some hotels.
“Luxury hotels with plush furnishings and gourmet dining aren’t kid-friendly”
Au contraire, I think it’s easier to find a luxury hotel that does a wonderful job of catering to children than a mid-range or budget hotel that manages kids well. The world’s best luxury hotels will work hard to make every member of the family comfortable. All experiences, however, are not created equal — see my tips for finding and booking luxury family hotels.
“Flying long distances with young kids is stressful”
It can be! I don’t want to minimize the angst of being on a long flight with a screaming child. All of us that have passed the baby and toddler years have been there. The good news is that these flights are not the norm. I hear more stories of flights gone well than awry.
The point is that fear of flying with kids is not reason to postpone travel. Portable electronics have come so far that entertainment is easier than ever. If you need activity inspiration see our great list of travel activities for kids of all ages.
Travel Blog Mob’s round up of “Everything You Know About Travel Is Wrong” posts: