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While I am always happy to share my own traveling stories with my family, there are tons of other great traveling families out there with kids of different ages, different numbers of kids, and who have had different experiences than me. As part of my “Little C’s Traveling Friends” series, I am sharing different family’s stories so we can all learn from their experiences. If you would like to be a part of this series just shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julianna and her husband were frequent and exciting travelers before their children came along. They not only learned to adapt to having children as their traveling companions, but they made it work in an amazing way. Read more to learn about the exciting places they have been and the traveling traditions they have chosen to make along the way.
We are a family of five,Julianna (me), the Hubby and the boys ages 14, 12, and 10.. We live in the midwest, smack dab in the middle of the country. Hubby and I both grew up here, but have traveled extensively all of our lives. When we found each other we knew it was a perfect match! Hubby travels for his job in our region and I stay at home with the boys and chauffeur them around to their many activities. I am the travel planner for our family and a sounding board for the business travel that my husband’s job requires.
How has your traveling pattern changed (or not changed) since you have had kids?
Traveling times have changed since we were a double income, no kids household. Before kids, we did things like take off for two months and travel to Australia, New Zealand and Tahiti. Aaahhh, those were the days….
We promised ourselves we would keep traveling after the kids came along. So, we took our first son at six months old to the NCAA Football championship game in Miami (in a baby bjorn carrier) and never looked back. It takes a lot more planning and research when you have kids in tow. Especially when you are working around school schedules. Looking back on it now, I wish I’d taken them out of school to travel more in elementary school. I think you just have to make the decision to make travel a priority and stick to it. I’m determined to help my kids understand just how diverse this world is and time’s a wastin’.
One travel tradition we have taken on is traveling with only one child at a time. It is rare to get a long weekend away with only one kid in tow. We naturally take a lot of entire family trips and couples travel So, we decided when each child changed schools (from elementary to middle school, or from middle school to high school) we would take that child on a trip with Mom and Dad to a city of his choosing and leave the other two children at home with the grandparents. We had to put a limit of anywhere in the continental US, since Paris was one of our child’s first choice. When it’s their turn, each boy really likes being the center of attention and the main decision maker in the trip planning process. We gotta plant that travel bug in them from an early age, right? Those trips have taken us to DC, NYC and San Francisco so far!
Where all have you traveled with your children, and what have been some memorable experiences on some of those trips (both good and bad)?
Internationally we have done England, Austria, Poland, Ireland, Costa Rica, and the Bahamas. In the States we have visited LA and New York, both Disney properties, Texas, Colorado, Missouri, North Carolina, and even Alaska!
One of our most memorable experiences was spending New Year’s in London, England.
On New Year’s Eve we hit the Kensington area just outside the Museum of Natural History in the late afternoon. During the holidays, there are ice-skating rinks in several neighborhoods with outside food stalls and little carousels and such. We purchased timed tickets for the rink and went into the museum. Hubby was doubtful that it would go well, but he let me do it, thinking he could say “I told you so” later. When we came out it was dark and all the trees hanging over the rink had thousands of white Christmas lights. I’ll never forget that hour and half skating underneath the holiday lights on a beautiful winter’s night, it was just magical. Hubby and I took turns with the youngest, who was only 6 at the time, and then glided around with the two oldest children.
Later, to top it off, the manager at our hotel took us on the roof at midnight on New Year’s Eve to watch the fireworks over the London Eye. Fireworks on New Year’s Eve on the rooftop in London! The kids napped in our suite until 11:45PM then about twenty hotel guests, including our family of five, went to the rooftop with champagne. We had decent fireworks, no crowds, and champagne in hand. When it was all over we walked back down, put the kids to bed and finished our drinks in our pj’s! Most New Year’s Eve nights don’t live up to the hype, but that one was epic for our traveling family.
I don’t think very many experiences can be really bad. It’s all in your attitude and how you face the challenge put it front of you. We like to turn our “bad” experiences into an inside joke for just our family.
Like the time we lucked into VIP tickets to a football pre-game party and didn’t read the ticket thoroughly. We entered the stadium thinking the party was in there, but it wasn’t. With no re-entry to the stadium we could not leave so we were stuck and missing the party. So we ended up making up stories about how great the party was. To this day, that is the party we missed that was filled with cheerleaders handing out bars of gold.
When you have kids it seems there is always a “bad” story involving food. We spent Christmas in Krakow, Poland, a few years ago visiting friends. Since the mom was Polish, we enjoyed all of their traditions. On Christmas Eve they prepare a twelve course meal. It starts with several soups, lots of pierogies, fried carp, fruitcake, and vodka. Privately we told all the children they had to try a bite of everything (minus the vodka) and be polite.
My youngest was six and took a spoonful of Borscht. I could tell by his face he didn’t like it, so I offered him a sip of a traditional “fruit drink” served during the holidays. When silent tears started rolling down his cheeks I knew something was wrong. I brought his glass to my lips. I mean what could be wrong with fruit drink, right? The smell can only be described as smoky liquid bacon. Hubby turned to him and quietly whispered, “Man up and swallow it.” It was so horrible but he handled it like a champ and our friends had no idea. “Man up” has become a catch phrase when any of us are a little nervous about a new food, experience, etc. Even mom gets told to “man up” occasionally. We scoured our backpacks that night for candy and snacks and ate them in our room before bed. That will be a Christmas Eve meal we won’t soon forget.
What are some tips for traveling with kids that you have learned along the way (gear, where to sit on the airplane or train, choosing hotels, destinations, flying or riding the train with infants, etc.)?
One of my favorite tips is to keep one of those pop up hampers in every suitcase. My boys tend to peel off dirty clothes and leave them on the floor, but if we have a hamper set up in a corner of our hotel room, the dirty clothes have somewhere to go. This makes it easier to pack it all up when it’s time to go.
Safety with kids is also a big deal. When getting on a busy subway, train, or bus, one parent leads our brood the other plays the caboose. That way if the subway doors close in the middle of our entrance, one parent is on each side. There’s nothing scarier than being on a train as it pulls away from the station without the entire family on it. Just imagine if the only one left on the platform was your child?
On that note, the other safety measure we take is that everyone has a Road ID bracelet. The kids only have their initials on them along with mom and dad’s cell numbers. This came in handy once at Sea World when our middle son got separated from our group when we were headed to get in line for a ride. We had noticed we were short one kid, and backtracked to find him talking to a person with a name tag and showing them his Road ID.
How do points and miles figure into your family travels?
Since Hubby travels for business primarily on Southwest, we’ve been fortunate to get the companion pass for several years in a row. I travel on the companion pass for free, and we use the miles he accumulates for the boys’ airline tickets to wherever we want to go in the states. I can only remember a handful of times that we have paid for any portion of a domestic airline ticket for our kids. We feel lucky that our domestic travel has been so smooth and affordable for us.
International travel is a bit harder. We have really ramped up our family international travel in the last few years, so that was how I found Mommy Points. I had one airline credit card that we used successfully to get us all to Ireland using miles last summer, but I needed to do more. Mommy Points is guessing this was a British Airways Avios redemption on Aer Lingus?!
I only started looking at hotel loyalty programs a few years ago, and I feel like I am figuring that out. Simple things like dining programs and shopping portals seem like no brainers. It is much harder when most hotel rooms will easily fit four people and you are a family of five. It makes points even more important. We managed to stay in LA for a week on points last spring, and spent eight days in the Historic Triangle this Christmas, all on points. I’m slowly getting the Hubby to think I’m not insane or getting scammed somehow.
What future trips are on your horizon?
We have an annual snow skiing trip and beach trip in the states each year. This summer we are cycling through Yellowstone for a week, trying to plan Thanksgiving in NYC, and looking ahead to the Women’s World Cup (Soccer) in Canada next summer. We gave up on the Men’s World Cup in Brazil due to safety concerns, so maybe the Women’s World Cup next year will soften the blow.
I will say, since my oldest will be an eighth grader, I am thinking about how many school family vacations are left until he graduates. He has already gone on separate trips to DC and Germany with small school groups, so part of me feels like the days of vacationing separately are fast approaching.
What would you say to other families that are nervous about the logistics of hitting the sky (or road) with the little ones?
Start early and traveling will be second nature to them. People tend to be a lot more understanding of babies crying than some terrible toddler or teen. The biggest key is communication with your kids. We often give our kids a 2 or 3 minute “pep-talk” about expectations and the fun to be had before we head into a museum, airport, theme park, whatever.
As they get older, today’s electronics make it a lot easier. Each boy carries their own backpack that they have packed as a carry on whether we travel by sky or road. I have a laminated list of things they could consider packing (books, games, electronics, snacks, etc). We also have a special box of card and travel games that they can choose from that only come out for traveling.
We try very hard to have them watch movies or read books about the places we are going. New York City is not hard since it seems like every superhero movie takes place there. We watched ‘The Secret of Kells’ animated movie before we went to Ireland and it made all the difference. The boys stared at the historic book a lot longer because the mysterious history around the book made more sense to them. It takes a little homework but you can find relevant books and movies for a lot of destinations.
Even little kids can be read the great books by Miroslav Sasek called “This is (insert city or country name)”. Older kids can read beloved books like “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” that takes place at the Met. These are just examples, but you get the idea.
Remember, the journey of family travel is never flawless but worth every minute!
Thank you so much to this awesome family for sharing their story and we look forward to hearing more about their traveling adventures!