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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 latest family to become a part of the Little C’s Series is an experienced family of travelers and have a website, Adventures in Family, full of great stories to prove it! If you have a minute, head on over to check it out.
Tell us a little bit about your traveling family!
My name is Dena and my husband, Mark, and I have two small children. Mark and I got married in 2009 and started our life together with a honeymoon in Tahiti. For a small town girl from Pennsylvania, it was such an eye opening experience. In addition to enjoying the fabulous weather and crystal blue water, we met so many interesting people and learned so much about the local culture.
My husband’s family is from Croatia and he’s been going there every couple years since he was a small boy. The first time I got the chance to go there with him, I was bitten by the traveling bug! Every trip abroad became such an adventure, always pushing the limits on new foods, interesting people, and different cultures. We always knew we wanted to have kids and once they came along, we didn’t let parenthood stop us from traveling.
Currently we are a family of four living at the beach in New Jersey, always planning where to go next. Our oldest, Luke, is five and we’ve had to come to the realization the kindergarten schedule is a big determining factor on when we travel. Gone are the days of planning a trip days before departure if we found the right deal. We had to get much better at planning ahead. Our youngest, Ella, is three and is just starting to prove she can handle longer flights which is exciting for future travels.
How has your traveling pattern changed (or not changed) since you have had kids?
Our travels had to become a lot more planned once Luke came along. Packing alone became a whole new challenge. Little ones need more stuff even though they are physically smaller, and it took a lot of practice before I figured out how to pack efficiently. Our first trip on a plane with my son was to Charleston, South Carolina. He was seven months old, the trip was short, and he was perfect so we really patted ourselves on the back. Flash forward to when he was one and we took a trip to Mexico and he cried 50% of the four hour flight. We realized that traveling with kids is much less predictable than it was before; but in the end, it’s worth any hiccups you may encounter. Our adventures aren’t always smooth, but overall it’s so much fun to have that family time together to experience new people and places.
Where all have you traveled with your children, and what have been some memorable experiences on some of those trips?
Our biggest trip was to Europe while I was seven moths pregnant with our daughter, and Luke was two. We did a home exchange with a family from Utrecht, Holland, for two weeks and then visited Paris by train for a long weekend. From there, we flew to Croatia for two weeks before heading back to the States with a fabulous one night layover in London. Everyone thought we were nuts to take on such a big trip at the time, and even I was a bit nervous. But in the end, we had such an amazing experience, and will never forget that trip. It made us realize more than ever how flexible kids can be and how cool it is to expose them to new culture and languages at an early age. Luke was a trooper with time changes, various sleeping arrangements, new food and all, he handled it all better than some adults!
What are some tips for traveling with kids that you have learned along the way?
I would say the hardest age to travel with is one to three years old. Before kids can walk, it’s pretty easy, minus all the baby gear. After three years old, kids have the attention span to stay seated and watch a movie or play games. However, even during those tricky toddler years there’s always ways to make the flights easier. The element of surprise can be key. I always pick up some new stickers, coloring books, small toys, etc. right before a flight so there is something new for them. A great carry on bag with easily accessible pockets is a huge help. Also be sure to have changes of clothes for everyone, as I’ve been puked on by both kids during flights. If you can swing the costs (or have the points), it’s worth it to upgrade to the bulk head seats. It really allows a busy toddler some space to roam or stretch out during the flight.
At four years old, my son actually had to sit a couple rows behind us on a flight, and we were told by the couple next to him that he was amazingly well behaved. He has been traveling from the beginning so that experience, along with an iPad, did the trick for the four hour flight!
You also want to make sure your destination is family friendly. Our house was flooded during Hurricane Sandy so we decided to turn lemons into lemonade and take a trip while we were living with our parents. We picked Costa Rica and rented a condo for two weeks in January. Cool right? Well, cool for everyone except our then 13-month-old daughter, Ella. The condo was two hours from the airport, on a dirt road, with no baby proofing in the condo or on the grounds. The waves in the ocean across the street were crazy, and a challenge even for my husband who is a very good swimmer. It was still an awesome trip, but point being, make sure your location is age appropriate for everyone in the family.
How do points and miles figure into your family travels?
We’ve always been big credit card users, so how great is it that you can make your everyday expenses and purchases turn into family vacations? It’s amazing how far you can stretch your points with some research and organization. Our last trip to Mexico was essentially free (minus food or activities) due to using miles for our flights and points for our hotel. There are obviously limitations on dates and availability when you are depending solely on miles or points, so you need to do planning a bit more in advance if you don’t have a ton of flexibility on dates, etc.
What future trips are on your horizon?
We did the Starwood Platinum challenge this year, so we are scoping out a nice Starwood resort to take advantage of our Platinum status and use some points at the St. Regis Punta Mita Resort in Mexico. We headed to Mongolia at the end of August without the kids, partially for business, and partially for pleasure. As with most of our other trips, we used miles and points to make it happen.
What would you say to other families that are nervous about the logistics of hitting the sky (or road) with the little ones?
I would say go for it! Like anything else in life, you learn through trial and error so you’ll figure out what works for your family and what doesn’t. If traveling is important to you, it’s worth a couple of rough experiences to gain all the great ones.
Thank you so much to this awesome family for sharing their story, and we look forward to hearing about more about their traveling adventures via their website!