Travelling with Kids: Appeasing All Ages
Today’s modern and diverse family is busy, to say the least. Am I right?! That’s why it is so important to carve out some quality time together to reboot and reenergize. Planning a vacation for the whole family is a great way to reconnect and introduce children to the great big world out there. Of course, travelling with kids of different ages adds a whole new dimension to trips, but fear not, there are virtually endless options to keep all ages entertained.
Like any holiday though, things can go awry very quickly without the proper preparation. It can be challenging to create experiences that are appropriate to all ages, but a little planning goes a long way to ensure every member of the family has the time of their lives.
To be honest, no matter how much planning goes into a vacation, I find pool days to be the easiest to appease all the people, all the time. However, you’re on holidays and you’re here to explore your new surroundings, create new traditions, experience the culture and make memories to last long after the trip is over.
Here are some of my tips, tricks and suggestions to maximize success with children of multiple ages:
Know your kid's limits and play within it.
Travelling with kids is exhilarating but exhausting, so it’s best not to over plan your days. It’s so tempting to pack your itinerary with a crazy amount of activities and check off all your must-sees, but trust me, less can be more.
When you see that you’ve maxed out the older kids attention spans on a tour (aka they are back on their devices) or the younger ones are getting whiny and fussy, respect that they have had enough and schedule some downtime.
I would suggest no more than two activities a day and keep them interesting, short and sweet. Maybe try to get out and about in the mornings and relax during the afternoons, or allow the occasional sleep-in, you are on “holidays” after all!
Minimize the stress and maximize the fun.
Choose destinations that already offer choices like theme parks, cruises, or all-inclusive resorts. These types of vacations offer multiple levels of activities for all ages. For example:
Teen clubs - where they can hang out with other teens, make new friends, with sports games and social activities geared towards their age. They usually provide an unlimited snack bar, pool tables, air hockey, internet centre and video games and all things teen life.
Kids clubs - many resorts offer programming for kids as young as 4 months! Most include supervised recreational and educational activities for the little ones including nature walks and more hands-on play.
Consider an all-inclusive family holiday on a cruise ship.
A lot of cruise lines do cater to families and are great value for the money. Cruise lines specialize in multiple activities and provide various onboard facilities that are suitable for all age groups. Just like an all-inclusive resort, cruise ships offer kids clubs, teen clubs and even adult only clubs. You can choose to do as much or as little as you like.
Day time activities will keep everyone busy while at sea, and the themed night time entertainment can be as good as Broadway itself! Once you reach port at your different destinations, you can embark on multiple day trips to satisfy everyone's wishes. Waking up in a different port every morning is exciting and you don’t have to deal with the stress of transportation, accommodation or meals as this is already inclusive.
Some resorts even offer babysitting or kids only themed dinners so the adults can have some well deserved alone/regroup time. Try to book childcare in advance so you’re guaranteed a time. Not all are created equal, so do your research and see which ones fit your family’s needs.
Whatever type of resort you choose, be sure to plan for space. At the end of the day, if families can’t sleep comfortably in the room configuration, it’s not going to work. No matter how good the deal is or how convenient the location. If possible, try to choose larger family rooms, connecting rooms or even self-contained apartments to give the older kids (and everyone for that matter) a bit a breathing sp
ace. At the very least, a balcony to escape to!
If exploring Europe or trekking on a safari is more your speed, work with a travel planner who understands the unique requirements of families and can suggest cities or tours that will enrich your learning while keeping the kids engaged.
Keep routines as close to normal as possible.
While little ones run smoothly on regularity, older kids learn from unpredictability. Pushing the schedule a little is ok but if your younger children still nap you need to allow time for naps or everyone will suffer. Same goes for bedtime routines. I like to keep evening plans close to or even in our resort. That way one parent can head back while the other hangs out with the older kids (while trying not to embarrass them too much.)
You can always switch up shifts every other night with the other parent or even the older kids.
Even better, bring the Grandparents along. They usually have an early bedtime as well so win-win!
Mix up the excursions.
Museums and art galleries are fantastic ways to learn about different cultures, but too many will turn into fun killers, no matter what age they are. Try to schedule activities that offer opportunities to learn, sneaky ways to exercise and push everyone out of their comfort zones, just enough to be fun and memorable.
Get the kids involved in planning (especially the older ones) and make a list of their must-do interests and try to schedule one for each person. Incorporating some of their wishes will make the vacation a better experience for everyone. This is where having strong negotiating skills comes in handy!
Some all ages activities could include; cooking classes to learn how to make a family favourite, swim with dolphins, conquer horseback riding at a dude ranch, or dare to take on a zip line - which I did recently after caving to peer pressure from my kids.
While it scared the pants off me, I was happy I did it and lived to tell the tale. I now have the Instagram photos to prove it and I can check that one off the list! Whew.
Side note - the 5-year-old in our group was the bravest of all!
Break up the band.
Don’t feel obligated to do everything as a group 24/7, it’s ok to divide and conquer and do separate things for a few hours, then come back together for dinner. Divide into natural pairings of age groups and choose appropriate excursions accordingly. Just be sure to discuss expectations and rules with older kids ahead of time.
Be clear on the amount of freedom they may or may not have in a different country, and remind them of family commitments. For example, the older teens might be free to explore on their own some days but all meals will be together.
If you are travelling with kids as a bigger group download the ‘WhatsApp’ to keep everyone informed of what’s happening. WhatsApp has been my go-to app for messaging abroad with larger groups for years. It uses very little data for multiple texts and keeps everyone in the loop conveniently and easily.
Once you reconvene you’ll be surprised how interesting the dinner conversations get when you’re all sharing your epic stories of the day.
The fun kind 😉 Organize some challenges for the trip ahead of time to inspire them to learn about their new surroundings. For example; a photo contest for your family Instagram (it’s so fun to see how creative they can be), who can learn the most words in the native language, or a scavenger hunt, or maybe even your own amazing race challenge.
Family challenges are a great way to encourage teamwork and bond as a tribe.
Accept what you cannot control.
Relax and keep your schedule flexible. Figure out what works best for your family. Everything might not go according to plan and not everyone is going to like all the activities you’ve organized. The trick here is to experiment and see what happens. What’s that old saying… you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it rate 5 stars??
No doubt there will be many bumps along the holiday road, but if you stay open-minded you will have fun, learn lessons and make cherished memories. Most importantly, as Gloria Gaynor said, you will survive. If all else fails - POOL.
Now…what are we going to do with the dog? That’s a whole other blog 😉
Happy Family Travels!
How do you plan for a large, multi-age family trip? We’d love to hear your suggestions 🙂
Marsha is a travel designer and founder of Preferred Pineapple. She quit her advertising career of 25+ years to turn her pursuit of travel into a full-time job. If she’s not designing and planning bespoke itineraries for her clients, she is traveling with her husband and two sons – adding to her little black book of amazing places. Marsha travels with curiosity and passion and inspires people to do the same! She’s been to 22 countries and counting!
If you need help planning your next dream vacation, email her at Marsha@preferredpineapple.com
Or click on the pink icons below for Marsha’s awesome social media!