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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 us. 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.
Spencer and Emily have a family travel blog called Family Explorers, featuring some really interesting and entertaining family travel information like their segment “Tuesday Travel Trouble” which discusses everything from keeping “big” and “little” kids happy on the same trip, to extra hotel fees, to travel sickness! Go check out their website when you get a chance, and read on to learn more about this traveling family.
Hi! We’re Spencer and Emily. We have four boys ages 7, 6, 4 and 2, and we love to travel using points and miles. Some things have changed as our family grows, and traveling with our crew gets a bit crazy at times, but we are learning what works well for us, and plan to keep on exploring the world!
How has your traveling pattern changed (or not changed) since you have had kids?
Spencer grew up in a traveling family. They’re always on the go! By the time he left home to go to college he’d visited every continent other than Antarctica. My family was not quite so adventurous, but I started exploring the world as soon as I could. I did two study abroad programs in college and later spent time as a missionary in Taiwan. Together, Spencer and I have been to London, Mexico, France, Switzerland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.
When our oldest child was born, I was totally overwhelmed. Ben was a difficult baby. It was hard to take him anywhere because he cried all the time. Now, remember that Spencer’s family travels… When Ben was only five months old, his family planned a trip to Alaska. Not wanting to miss out, we decided to go. However, I was terrified. We packed WAY too much stuff. The flights were challenging, the baby cried a lot, and there were some sleepless nights, but we survived.
But guess what? We had a wonderful time with our family on that trip! Alaska was amazing. What a beautiful part of the world! Now, all these years later, we have great memories of that time. I am so grateful that we chose to be brave and participate in that family adventure. In the long run, you don’t remember the tear-filled flights nearly as much as you remember the beauty of a new place, the adventure, and the time together.
Since then, we’ve added three more boys to our family for a grand total of four. Our little boys are a pretty wild crew. They are young, energetic, and often difficult to travel with, but still we go! It takes some planning—and more preparation—but we love to go places with our boys. They’re bright and curious and ever entertaining. We figure they’re a challenging bunch wherever we are, so we might as well be somewhere interesting.
Where have you traveled with your children and what are some memorable experiences you’ve had, both good and bad?
We’ve taken the boys to New York, Philadelphia, the Washington coast, Utah, California, Hawaii, and many places around Texas that we can get to by car. Last year we got really adventurous and took our first international journey with all the boys. We went to Portugal to spend Christmas with my parents (who are there on assignment). We had a wonderful trip. Encouraged by the success of Portugal, we decided to pack up the boys and head to France for five weeks this past summer!
We’ve had our share of memorably bad travel experiences. There was the time when toddler Ben threw such a wild tantrum before our flight took off that the flight attendant told me that if we couldn’t get him to calm down and sit on my lap (he was flailing on the floor), we’d have to get off the plane. I was crying, he was crying, everyone was crying. Thanks to a kind and brilliant flight attendant with a cup of ice, he finally calmed down!
And then there was the time that Peter (age 3) got sick and threw up all over Spencer on the long flight to Hawaii. Spencer didn’t have an extra shirt and the stench of vomit permeated the cabin. It was bad. Lesson learned: always bring a change of clothes for everyone in our carry-on (not just the little boys).
Although difficult at the time, those memories are funny to look back on now. We’ve earned our traveling-with-kids battle scars. But the good experiences are so many, and often so simple. Being together, sharing the excitement of seeing or tasting something new—those are the good things. One particular experience comes to mind. One day, while visiting Portugal, we decided to use all the forms of public transportation to get into Lisbon and then back out to the place we were staying—just for fun. It was a quest to ride everything we could ride.
We rode a train, the subway, a trolley car, and a giant bus. We let the boys read the map and search for the right subway lines and bus numbers. We got stuck at one point with the wrong kind of tickets and had to figure out how to escape the platform to ask an attendant for help. That day is such a wonderful memory! Perhaps you have to have little boys to understand just how exciting trains, subways, and buses can be, but in our family, they are super exciting. It was a puzzle and a challenge that we figured out together. We felt so triumphant at the end when we actually made it back home!
What are some tips for traveling with kids?
We like to rent apartments or vacation rentals when we travel. It is less expensive than two hotel rooms, and no one sleeps well when we try to squeeze our family of six in a single hotel room. We love the extra space of renting a small house or apartment, having our own kitchen, a separate room for the baby to nap, and a good place to rest and recoup in the middle of a day of sightseeing.
We try to do things that our kids enjoy when we travel. For us that means a lot of outdoor activities. We always plan downtime into our days. We try to have some familiar routines even when we’re away from home, like stories at bedtime and talking about our day over breakfast in the morning. Since restaurants can be challenging, we have a lot of picnics. We invested in a good baby carrier for the youngest and like to bring a stroller for whoever else is tired (someone always is!).
My biggest tip is to allow your child to sleep! We’ve learned that good sleep is the key to happy little travelers. It’s tricky when you’re away from home, but we do what we can to protect our children’s sleep routines even when we’re on the road. We always pause in our day to let the littlest ones take a nap (back at the house or hotel room, if possible). And we don’t keep our kids out late. For us, tired and cranky children the next day isn’t worth the late-night fireworks show, except on rare occasions. Be mindful that your children need a lot of sleep, especially when experiencing new things.
How do points and miles figure into your family travels?
We love points and miles! Using points and miles really became a significant part of our lives since we had children. One thing that changes quickly when you have kids is the cost of multiple plane tickets and family-sized accommodations. Spencer is the points and miles guru in our family, having picked it up four or five years ago when he stumbled upon the original British Airways 100,000 Avios sign-up offer. He strategizes with credit card signup bonuses and spending rewards. My job is to use the credit cards that he tells me to use, especially when we’re earning more points from certain categories of purchases. I do my best to keep track of his instructions and the ever-changing array of credit cards in my wallet.
The rotating cards are sometimes hard to keep track of, but we’ve used miles to get our family of six to Hawaii, Portugal, and France, so it seems entirely worth the trouble! We’ve also used miles on domestic tickets—to attend family events, and very importantly, to visit grandparents.
What future trips are on your horizon?
We recently started a family business called Family Explorers. We share ideas about traveling as a family and ways to prepare your kids before you go. As research for Family Explorers (and for the fun experience, of course), we anticipate many wonderful family trips in the future. That said, our biggest surprise relating to our time in Paris was the discovery that we are expecting a new baby in the spring! So we’ll probably stay stateside for 2015, with a visit to grandparents in Utah and Dallas. Not the most exciting destinations, but a great way to spend time with family and lots of fun for our boys!
What would you say to other families who are nervous about the logistics of traveling with little ones?
I would say to be brave. You can do it! As kids get older, traveling becomes significantly easier. By about age four, for most kids, traveling is pretty easy (as compared to traveling with really little ones). They’ll sit and watch a movie on the plane, they’re potty trained, they eat a wider range of foods, and the can occasionally get by without a nap. Two and three-year-olds are the hardest, but we’ve had great experiences and think it’s worth the extra effort to bring the whole family. So if you have very young children, hang in there! Getting to where you are going and getting home are always the hardest parts, at least for us.
Taking a child to a new place is so fun. Their excitement is contagious. Traveling is good for kids. They experience new things, learn to be adaptable, and build confidence. There will always be challenges when traveling with young children, but you’ll forget (or laugh) about the bad parts, and the good parts are completely worth it.
Thank you so much to this awesome family for sharing their story and we look forward to hearing more about their traveling adventures with a fifth child next year!