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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 email@example.com.
Today I’d like to introduce Shannon and her family. She is a travel junkie who started traveling around the world (on her own!) in high school and hasn’t quit since. At some point (no pun intended) along the way she got into the miles and points game, and it has helped them be able to take even more trips to some pretty amazing places.
I am a homeschooling mom with three kids – no need to panic friends, we are perfectly normal! Well, I guess if I am this into the points and miles game maybe not perfectly normal, but close enough. My kids are 12, 11 and 3 years old. I live in the Midwest, but grew up on the East Coast. Most of my trips involve just myself and the kids. My husband likes to travel, but he is not quite the junkie I tend to be, and he often has to work while we go on our advantures.
To give you just a small idea of how much I love to travel, when I was in high school I was all set to take my first international trip with my high school German Class and the trip was canceled. I was not going to take no for an answer, so somehow I convinced my parents to allow my best friend and myself to backpack through Europe by ourselves for a month.
We were totally unchaperoned for a month as juniors in high school. I still don’t know why my parents said yes, but I had a great time (and didn’t even drink or get into trouble!). Dating back as far as I can remember, I have always loved to travel, and I try to take my kids everywhere I can. This is partly because of my love of travel, and partly because I really want to show them the world. In case my kids read this later, don’t even ask about backpacking through Europe by yourself while in high school – never.gonna.happen.
How has your traveling pattern changed (or not changed) since you have had kids?
I have had to get more creative since having children. Prior to having kids, I would travel the “old-fashion” way by saving up money and going on a trip. I rarely used points for travel, because I only received them for actual travel and those points did not add up very quickly. Fast forward to having two kids, and once they were both over two years old the cost of travel began to add.
I realized that if I was going to travel with children, I was going to need to find another way. Around this time, my husband began to travel more often for work. He also began to use credit cards for work with sign-up bonuses! The points started to add up, and I began to look for a way to utilize them in order to get the most “bang for our buck”. At some point, I found the Flyertalk website and began reading the forums with regularity. After that, it was only a matter of time before I stumbled onto various “points and miles” blogs such as Mommy Points.
Where all have you traveled with your children, and what have been some memorable experiences on some of those trips (both good and bad)?
With my older kids I have traveled to the East Coast (Pennsylvania, DC, Florida) many times to visit family or escape winter. They have also traveled to France, Germany, Italy, Cambodia (we stayed for a month), Korea and China. The little one had a passport by two months old and traveled to the Dominican Republic at four months old for a trip with the extended family. The little one has also made the frequent trips to Pennsylvania and Florida. The trip to Europe was the first big trip with my older kids who were 6 and 7 at the time. I was not certain how well they would do, but they loved it! They still talk about it as one of their favorite trips.
Later that same year, we took a trip to Cambodia. That trip was interesting because the country itself is so unique. Since we spent a month there we had some time to really explore. Since I am the kids teacher via homeschooling, I was able to tailor the curriculum to include information on Cambodia and it’s history. One thing that was always an adventure were the hotels.
We stayed in some great ones (the Almond Hotel in Phnom Penh) and some not-so-great-don’t-touch-anything-always-wear-shoes-and-put-shirts-over-the-pillowcases-in-case-of-bugs hotels (I will allow those hotels to remain nameless). Angkor Wat was amazing and the whole trip itself allowed us to teach our kids about this part of the world.
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.)?
Overall, my kids are great travelers. I am big on what my husband calls “managing expectations.” This means that I try to manage my children’s and my own expectations before every trip. A few things I do to help that along are:
- I always talk with them before a trip about the rules, what is expected, what type of behavior is allowed and not allowed, etc.
- I talk to them about what they want to do or see on our trip, and I also try to plan lots of “down time” for them. It can be difficult to come off a long plane ride and be ready to go to a museum the next morning, so I often plan trips to parks or playgrounds or other things that might be fun for them. We do also visit museums and historical sites, but just not the first day – homeschooling on the road!
- When the kids were little, I was always very conscious of the seat in front of my child. I would try to get a bulkhead, if possible. If not possible I would check to see if my child’s feet could reach the tray table once they were placed in their carseat. Some carseats are large and little legs that could not reach the seat in front of them before suddenly can reach the seat once in that carseat. If they could reach the seat in front of them with their feet I would take their shoes off and we would talk about not kicking or pushing the seat in front of them. I would also watch them like a hawk to make certain they did not do it during the flight.
- One “tool” that I have used for about 7 years is the Ride-on Carry-on. It is basically a fold up seat that straps onto your roller bag. I used this with my oldest two, and now with my youngest one. I get no less then a half dozen people askig me about the seat every time I use it. I should get a cut of sales because I talk to that many people about it. Once kids are out of the “bucket type” carseat this is my go to for travel as it makes going through the airport so easy.
- I also travel with a white noise machine if we are going to stay at a hotel. I have found that just being away from home can throw kids off, but when you add people going into and out of rooms at all hours of the night, loud TVs, the cleaning cart, etc., sometimes the noises are just too much. The white noise machine usually makes just enough noise so that we can all get some rest.
- Finally, when we get to our seats on an airplane I wipe everything, I mean everything, down with an antibacterial wipe. If we are going to go on a trip, I want to avoid getting sick as much as possible.
How do points and miles figure into your family travels?
Points and miles are a very big part of our travel these days. In 2011, I flew to Beijing with my two oldest to visit my father. We flew out on Korean Air and back on China Southern in business, all booked on points. For a trip that long the extra space in business is really wonderful. I was also able to book a trip just for my husband and myself to French Polynesia (Bora Bora and Moorea) last fall in business on Air France using miles. While in French Polynesia we stayed at the Hilton Bora Bora Nui and Hilton Moorea, also all on points. So, the points and miles game has really worked well for us!
What would you say to other families that are nervous about the logistics of hitting the sky (or road) with the little ones?
For those who may be hesitant to travel with your little ones, I would say go for it. I don’t know if anyone comes to the end of their life and wishes they had spent less time with their children. However, you may be a bit more risk adverse than I am, so then I would say, know you and your children’s limits, plan well within those, manage expectations, and have fun!
Thank you so much to this awesome family for sharing their story and we look forward to hearing more about their traveling adventures!