5 Things I Learned Traveling With Kids

September 3, 2020

The Adventure Begins

As we grow and explore our world, the spirit of adventure is built into us from a young age. We begin our adventure exploring our playpen, bedroom, living rooms, then our grandparents' homes, and backyards. If we are lucky, our parents have kept this adventuring spirit too, and have taken us places that captured our imaginations.


Traveling with my parents, and then my own kids as I became an adult and parent myself — I’ve kept my sense of curiosity and adventure. I love to see new sights and sounds. Meeting new people and exploring new cultures is very eye-opening and inspiring on many levels.

Traveling with my own children, I took much for granted. Here are a few tips that I’ve learned over the years. They will make your life much happier in the end. Trust me.

1 — Pack with a list

If you’ve been like me, you decided to take a short trip on a whim without much planning or forethought. It’s great when your young and you have very few needs. You can make do.

This is not the case when traveling with your kids — especially when they’re young. You do not want to be caught without diapers, formula, bottles, snacks, pacifiers, or favorite toys if your kids are very young.

If they are older, you must make sure you have charging cords, adapters, and their favorite music, games, earphones or EarPods, and any books or special clothing they need. If they aren’t happy — Mommy ain’t happy — Nobody will be happy. The kids will make sure of it.

Use your list to make sure you’ve put down all the essentials, so you’ll be sure to pack them:

  • pajamas/sleepwear
  • travel clothes
  • nice clothes
  • swimwear
  • prescription medication
  • over the counter medications, you’ll most likely need
  • earplugs
  • pillows
  • blankets or throws
  • favorite toys
  • toiletries (for everyone)
  • extra underwear
  • extra shoes
  • extra socks

… you get the idea.

2 — Take Lots of Pictures

Most of us are very busy in our lives and see our children too little, or don’t have the mind to take photos enough. Make a point of taking along your go-to camera with lots of SIM cards, or a couple of big ones. Use your phone’s camera for a backup when not appropriate to bring the dedicated camera.

Your children are only young once. These outings as a family are the best time to get pictures to help everyone remember the times we were all together. Looking back at the images helps burn the memories into our minds so we can call upon them later. Some of the best memories I have of my family are ones where we had pictures to remind us of trips to a zoo in another state, camping, or just around the house goofing off. The photos helped us preserve the memories by looking at them and showing them to others.

3 — Be a Spy

Here, I’m not talking about eavesdropping on the neighbors — or even other family members. After you’ve checked out of a hotel room, or the guest room of a family member… it’s time to play recon.

Go back into the room and look in all of the drawers. Check under the beds, look in each closet -both high and low- to find any trace that you and your children have ever been there.

It’s not fun to check out and be two hours down the road, only to discover your daughter’s favorite doll is missing. She thinks she left it beside her bed, or in the bathroom. Your son may have left his prized baseball glove in the closet… or worse.

You have lost your wallet. It could have fallen out of your pants pocket while on the toilet. Your wife may have forgotten to put her cosmetic case in the trunk, leaving it sitting on the bed in the room.

Always go back. Looks things over. Play lost and found, hide and seek, or whatever you want to call it.

Make this a habit.

You’ll find that not only does this bit of advice play true for overnight stays, but it also works at restaurants. An adult should always be the last one to leave the table and bring up the rear. That adult’s job is to check around the table and chairs (or booth) for lost or forgotten items — such as a purse or toys.

I personally was rewarded once by the server bringing my to-go order while doing the once-over before leaving. We’d placed an order to go and I had totally forgotten about it after we had all eaten. So much for being in a rush to leave.

4 — Put Their Wants on Your List

I used to be very bad about this. My wife has made me more aware and now I’ve seen the light.

Our vacations and other trips were mostly made up of things my wife and I wanted to see and do at the destinations we chose. We had a decent time and would see all that we wanted while dragging the kids along with us. Sometimes they’d also enjoy something about the trip.

Now, I tell them about where we are going, or ask if they have anywhere they’d like to go on vacation — to get their input. As they are pretty tech-savvy and put my own skills to shame (which I thought were awesome until they were showing me tricks and tips I had no idea existed), my sons researched the areas we were going and would find things that interested them.

As it turns out, they had at least as many good ideas of what to see and do as I did. We actually enjoy our vacations more with all of us looking for things to do together. We share each other's interests more and can see what each finds intriguing about each place. Architecture, art, zoos, parks, activities… we seem to be enjoying them all more together and have bonded closer in the process. Part of this is due to them growing up, but including them in the planning process has us all going, instead of us feeling we are dragging them along.

5 — Get Over Yourself

In my everyday role on the job, I’m a reasonably important person. I oversee several hundred people in their jobs. I know and interact with elected officials and leaders of the industry on a daily basis.

That is not who I am, it’s what I do. Who I am is a father, brother, son, and husband. I’m a dad. That is my official title that has not changed in many years. It will never change — it’s a great thing.

We have to remember that our kids are not impressed with our jobs or positions in the job world. They shouldn’t be. We should always be Mom or Dad — someone they can always call upon when they need something.

You’ll find that you can enjoy yourself much more when you are not trying to impress anyone. Just be yourself and enjoy the time with your family. Try to see things through their eyes. Your wife and children are much too important to neglect them for any reason. When on vacation, you are not subject to call and your employer should know this. When you get to be a Mayor, Governor, or President of a Country or CEO — you may never truly be on vacation, but you still must set priorities.

Be in the moment, and enjoy your family. They’ll never be the same age again — and neither will you. In the not too distant future, life may throw you a curveball. Either you or one of your children may not be here, or one of you could be injured or ill enough where you can’t explore and go on adventures as you once did. At times like these…. pour over your photos and relive the adventures you had together.

BONUS Lesson

Everyone grows old. Growing up is optional!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick read and found it helpful on some level, or at least entertaining. See more of my stories on Medium, or via my website at JohnMDabbs.com