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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 families’ 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.
The K family braved the long (very long!) trip from Phoenix to Australia and New Zealand with two very young children in tow. I am planning a similar journey in the near-ish future, so I’m so excited to learn more about what they did and how they did it. Even with some struggles during the trip, they had a wonderful time and were kind enough to share their pictures and tips with us.
Tell me a little bit about your family?
My wife is an engineer for an avionics manufacturer and I work in politics. We are based in Phoenix and have two young children. My wife and I valued our travel experiences growing up and we are working to build that appreciation for travel with both of them.
How has your traveling pattern changed (or not changed) since you have had kids?
Our travel has changed quite a bit since the little ones joined our family. Before them, we could do impulsive, quick trips like spending a weekend in Madrid thanks to a mistake fare. Or, we would fly indirect routings that maximized award availability or “trick it” fares to get the best deal possible. I used to have a habit of planning fast-paced trips where we were constantly on the move.These days, our trips are as direct as possible, and we try to make sure we stay in one place for long enough to justify the challenges of getting there as a family of four.
Where all have you traveled with your children, and what have been some memorable experiences on some of those trips (both good and bad)?
Family travel has included Seattle, Michigan, Maui, Australia and New Zealand, and our airplane experiences have been both good and bad. On one trip to Maui, an older couple gave us a dirty look as we sat down behind them in first class. In the end, they made more noise than our infant and we received compliments from other passengers who didn’t realize there was even a baby in the cabin for most of the flight. In fact, people are almost always kind and generous with their praise when dealing with kids on a plane – at least the ones with enough nerve to talk to the parents.
Flash forward to our trip to Michigan last summer when our oldest was now mobile and opinionated. With an hour left before landing at Detroit, she declared, “Mommy, I’m done with the plane” and we spent the next 60 minutes scrambling to keep her occupied with snacks, toys, stickers and silly faces. She had a knack for ill-timed declarations on that trip. We were visiting for a family wedding and she even decided to chime in when the priest asked anyone to speak now or forever hold their peace.
By far, the most challenging travel experience was our recent trip to Australia and New Zealand. We flew business class on Virgin Australia, which is probably the single greatest use of Delta miles. The segment from LAX-Sydney went well, but our connection into Auckland was delayed leaving us with a long layover in Sydney. In addition to this being a great reminder about why we normally book direct flights when possible, the delay meant we were on the road for nearly 35 hours from the time we left our house in Phoenix, until we arrived at our hotel in Auckland. My wife and I were exhausted, the kids were even worse off. It took more than a day to recover. The return flight was just as challenging because our girls didn’t sleep at the same time. So, my wife and I both wound up not getting any rest on the way back. We looked (and felt) like zombies by the time we made it home.
Even with these challenges, I would do the trip again in a heartbeat. Not only did we have some pretty incredible experiences, it was even more fun watching our girls have a blast too.
What are some tips for traveling with kids that you have learned along the way?
Get good luggage; it really does make a difference when you’re lugging baby and infant gear everywhere. You’re bound to over-pack some things and under-pack others. Either way, my wife and I know our days of living out of carry-on luggage have come and gone for the foreseeable future. So, we make sure our luggage is sufficient to deal with all the kid paraphernalia, and that it’s convenient and easy to get around.
Find parks and plan for some easy days. We never do busy days consecutively. Letting the kids recover and play at a park where they can run and be carefree helps save up the patience necessary for other more demanding tours.
Get the wiggles out. It’s pretty obvious when all of the sitting around and waiting required with travel gets to our kids. Without disrupting others, we run, jump and do anything else to burn off some energy before flying, driving, etc.
Suckers are great, chewing gum isn’t. Lollipops worked well helping our older daughter equalize the pressure in her ears. My wife’s cavernous purse, however, seemed to have swallowed up the baggy full of dum-dums so we thought she might be old enough to try chewing gum just long enough for her ears to pop. An airsickness bag later, we learned it’s important to find the suckers before takeoff.
Get creative. We put one of our cribs in the (enormous) bathroom at our hotel in Sydney. Between kid stuff, luggage and people, space is at a premium, so get creative on how to make the most of it.
Feedings are tough. Parents should keep in mind how much meals, breastfeeding in particular, can complicate travel with young kids and infants. Timing feedings, pumping, having refrigerators and dealing with TSA all make breastfeeding a real pain on the road. It’s doable, but you definitely want to go into with a plan and know the TSA regulations, which unsurprisingly change from airport to airport or officer to officer.
Stay positive. The most important thing my wife and I do when traveling is stay upbeat. The kids can tell when we’re tired, upset about a delay, or just not up for the challenges that are inevitable when you stray from the resources and familiarity of home. It sounds corny, but putting on a brave face and being upbeat always improves how the kids cope with the same stress.
Family lines are awesome. Look for family lines at security, immigration, customs, etc. They aren’t consistently there, but when you can take advantage of the special assistance lines it can be a real time saver. Clearing customs in LAX would have taken at least an hour instead of the 5 minute wait we had instead. When the girls are old enough for Global Entry we’ll enroll them as well and we won’t worry about customs, but given the impossible task of getting a legible infant sized hand print from our youngest during a recent craft project, we know she’s not ready for the fingerprint scans required.
Mommy Points Tip: You don’t have to wait for them to be hold enough to be finger printed for Global Entry. You can skip that step with young kids. They will fail at the kiosks in the airport, but that sends you to the front of the line at customs. We did this for our daughter, and it has saved us tons of time on trips.
How do points and miles figure into your family travels?
Points and miles are central to making our trips affordable and comfortable. In fact, many of the trips we’ve taken would not have been possible without them. I’d never pay the daily rate at the Park Hyatt Sydney, but we sure had a nice time using the two free nights from the Hyatt credit card. I’d never pay for business class to Australia, but Delta miles got all of us our own seats.
Being based in Phoenix, British Airways miles have become increasingly valuable because of the US Airways/American merger. Maui and Cabo are easy awards for beach vacations. And short trips to Vegas, LA or many other west coast destinations now require very few Avios.
The key with families is planning ahead. We start planning most of our big trips at least a year out. I’m often working on the points and miles to afford them even earlier than that. The most important advice I’ve read on travel blogs like Mommy Points is to diversify points and make the most of transferable programs. It really is smart because it enables so much flexibility when figuring out where you want to go and if you have enough points to get there.
What future trips are on your horizon?
I’m working on trips to Cabo and Scotland for the family. We want to try out Hyatt’s all-inclusive family resort in Cabo, and we plan on renting a rental home or two for a trip around Scotland. Maui is a favorite destination of ours, so I’d like to get back there again soon, too.
We are also planning a trip to South Africa without the kids. In fact, an annual “parents’ trip” is part of our general travel strategy. We get to spend time together, get a break from the kids, and visit a new destination that might not be practical with the little ones. Machu Picchu wasn’t exactly kid friendly, and I’m assuming the no child policies at most safari lodges exist for a reason. Technology like Facetime and Skype makes it much easier to be away. Even with a quick turnaround, parents’ trips are only possible with great childcare, and we’re thankful for our wonderful sitter who is willing to do overnights while we’re gone.
What would you say to other families that are nervous about the logistics of hitting the sky (or road) with the little ones?
If you are nervous, ease your way into travel. Try a day trip. Then go for a weekend. Attempt a short flight to see how the little ones cope. You’ll probably be surprised by how resilient they are. Also, chances are your kid(s) won’t be the worst behaved passenger on the plane. Even if they are, how you respond and the amount of effort you put into calming your kids down definitely is noticed by your fellow passengers.
Often, other passengers will help with funny faces or a game of peek-a-boo behind a seat or magazine. People are much more understanding when they see you are trying; so, don’t worry too much about ruining someone else’s trip. Even if someone gets bent out of shape, just remember you did your best and you’re unlikely to ever see that person again.
More than anything don’t be afraid to take young children with you. One of the greatest things about having young kids is not worrying about school calendars. Award redemptions often require flexibility and I know future conflicts with school schedules will make them increasingly difficult.
Finally, points and miles make bringing help much more practical. If opening another credit card means you can bring grandparents or a sitter along, open the account and earn the points. Not only do you get another set of hands, your friends and relatives who are already a part of your kids’ lives also get to be part of the memories made on the road.
Thank you so much to this awesome family for sharing their story and we look forward to hearing about more about their traveling adventures!