Traveling with Kids

My daughter has garnered more passport stamps in three short years than I had in thirty plus. She learned to skip in Singapore. She learned to whistle in Ecuador. Just weeks ago, in London, she learned the fine art of balancing a profound wanderlust for this wide planet with the delicate yearnings for home:

“Can we come back again, but this time with our house?”

And so, for all of the advice out there, I will simply say this: Find a way.

Find a way to travel with your kids. Find a way to make it work. (But they won’t remember it!) Of course they might not remember it. But you will.

You will remember how uncomfortable it felt to walk up and down the airplane aisles jostling a teething 9-month-old, the graciousness of a stewardess bringing you a plastic cup of merlot on your twentieth lap. You will remember the kindness of strangers carrying your suitcase down subway stairs. You will remember running out of diapers somewhere in Tokyo; you will remember the resourcefulness of a t-shirt.

You will remember it all.

This world unfolds in ways not unlike the very map we use to navigate it with. Travel stretches us. It is taxing at times, and achingly beautiful at times, and we will always, always return home a bit crumpled but a lot changed.

We can do this anywhere: the crumpling, the changing. We can drive across deserts for dollars, finding provisions for pennies. Free yoga in a San Franciscan cathedral. Complementary tours through Portland’s international rose garden. Art installations galore in NYC, yours for the taking: The Earth Room, Broken Kilometer. Free Friday nights at MOMA, free Tuesday night stargazing on the High Line.

You will remember it all.

If your kids do, too, it’s a bonus. And yet, I don’t know that it’s more memories our kids need. They’ll have what they have, the oft-mundane mental snapshots of summertime in the sprinkler, of birthday candles atop icing, of Christmas carols in church.

They’ll have their past.
Travel will offer them their present.

Travel will offer them our time. Travel with offer them ourselves. A parent with heightened senses; a parent paying attention. Togetherness. An afternoon unhurried at the park (Can we feed the parakeets?). Yes, yes, feed the parakeets.

No, they might not remember it.

But you will.

And so, if you’re ready to fill your gas tank and get on with it, here are some helpful tips we’ve gained throughout our own travels…

The Mantra
Your official traveling-with-kids mantra will be this: “It’s an adventure, not a vacation.”
Repeat this daily, both in the weeks leading up to your trek, and whilst in the thick of it. It’s a game-changer in terms of expectation management. In other words: if you’re prone to viewing getaways as a time to recharge and renew and drink a Mai-Tai on the beach, traveling with kids is not that.

The Materials
I’m all for packing light, and this gal shows you how it’s done.
One tip: If you’re flying with toddlers, the single best airplane toy I’ve encountered is a few rolls of washi tape. Use it to “draw” on airplane trays, spell favorite words, practice the alphabet, make tape sculptures. It’s tiny to pack, doesn’t leak, and it’s quiet. Win/win/win.

The Mindset
Before you leave, read my friend Tsh’s book. She circumnavigated the globe with her husband and three kids in tow, so you’ll be learning from the best of the best. (Plus, it’s beautifully written.)

For more tips, advice and perspectives, a few e-friends of mine are talking travel today here, here, here, here and here. Buckle up, sweet friends.


  • Beautifully written, Erin! And “this time with our house?” just melts my heart. I agree 100% about the washi tape. Our latest airplane adventure included washi tape everything, including jewelry! <3

  • We have travelled a bit and I think the best treasure from it has been “family time together. It doesn’t have to be a far away trip. My kids most favourite times are when we are at the ocean or lake.ha ha

  • Love your perspective and advice. I wish we had traveled more when we had our oldest before we added two more kids to the mix. I look forward to finding it less overwhelming and being ready to travel lots in the near future.

    • Oh yes – I’ve only traveled with two kids in tow, and I’m imagining three can feel a bit clustery. ;) Here’s to the adventure!

  • We have traveled just a little with Forrest – a few trips to Hawaii, my first solo trip with him to visit family in southern California – and he’s a good traveler but you’re right, he’ll remember different things. You’re also SPOT ON that travel with kids is an adventure, not a vacation, but that’s super too. = )

  • Erin! You are so brilliant – they won’t remember it, but you will. YES.

    And I’m convinced that a lifetime of adventures does shift things for them in ways we can’t even know – even if they’re too young to remember. We’re creating their normal, and so if they’ve always known travel and adventure, it’s just how things go.

    Big hugs to you, Sweets. Sending all the love to all of you.

    • You are so very right, friend. Travel offers such gifts – wisdom and acceptance and flexibility and empathy and such a widened perspective of the many different lives we lead. It’s such a treat to witness, isn’t it?

  • Yes, yes, yes! We don’t yet have kiddos, but often when we take non-beach trips, I tell myself the same: travel not vacation. Let the adventures roll!

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  • As someone whose mother was an air stewardess and therefore, has travelled all her life, I can confirm that kids do remember. Probably not all the details, maybe not even the sights, but they will definitely remember the curiosity, the feeling of adventure, the mind-opening exchanges with people from all backgrounds and origins. That will always stay with them, as well as the wanderlust which will always be part of them too.

  • We too, are a traveling family, and our unofficial goal is for our daughter to always have as many passport stamps in her passport as she is old. I just wanted to add another point to the “they may not remember it” point you made:

    While your child may not remember the specifics of any given trip, what they *will* learn is a sense of adventure, and develop a lack of fear of going beyond their borders — and I think, it helps reduce (though likely not totally eliminate) their suspicion of people who don’t look like them (that requires a lot of work, but travel is a start). Certainly, a huge gift of travel are the memories, but there are more gifts our children receive from travel that I suspect we can’t even name.

    Loved this, sister.


    • Yes, yes, yes. You are so very right, friend. Hearing new languages, new accents, new dialects – all of it settles in. I’ve always thought that a large portion of parenting is introducing a child to the world, and I want to be sure I”m not just introducing a child to MY world. An important distinction. (As always, you are ever wise. Thank you for sharing!)

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