Life dramatically changes after kids, but that doesn’t mean you need to pause your travel plans.
There’s nothing like unfamiliar places that will stimulate a child’s curiosity, appreciation for other cultures, and open mindedness to new experiences. From food and transportation to language and architecture, everything will be exciting and new to your little ones. Don’t feel like you have to wait until they can remember the trip, either — travel teaches important life skills at any age.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at first. However, with proper planning and flexibility, traveling with kids can be affordable, gratifying, and well worth the extra hassle. While you won’t be able to travel as you did solo, a different approach and mindset will bring new ways to enjoy vacationing with your entire family. Here are some time and tested tips and tricks to get you started.
Money-Saving Strategies for Families
- Take it slow. You might have perfected your last-minute dash to the gate, but you now have to factor in cranky children and extra luggage. Everything will take longer than you expect, so one of the best ways to avoid unexpected expenses is to plan for things to go wrong. Add extra time to get to the airport, during layovers, and throughout a day of sightseeing. It’s better to have some downtime than to miss your flight, prepaid excursion, or other reservation.
- Pack smart. Most parents, new ones especially, are tempted to bring every item that kids use at home. Lugging around all that luggage, and the high risk of losing something along the way, isn’t worth it though. Keep in mind that almost anything can be purchased abroad, and avoid paying extra baggage fees. You’ll be surprised at how little you actually need.
- Known which documents to bring. Children’s passports only last five years, so be ready to renew them more frequently than your own. (If you need these quickly, Swift Passport Services can help.) Passports are typically all that you need; however, some countries ask for each child’s birth certificate to prove that you are the parent. Paperwork is especially crucial if you’re traveling without the other parent or with children who aren’t your own. In either case, you may need documentation to prove that you have permission to travel with that child, which should be notarized and available in both English and the language of your destination.
- Reconsider your lodging. Hotel amenities are tempting, but vacation rentals often cater more to families’ budgets and specific needs. You’ll feel more at home, pay up to 50% less per square foot, and save on eating out by cooking in your own kitchen or kitchenette.
- Look for bulk attraction passes and free museum days. Most major cities around the world offer discounted admission bundles to their main attractions, such as CityPASS. Some even offer monthly or biannual free admission days. Plus, you can often save money on transportation by buying public transit’s day or week-long passes. Do your research beforehand and take advantage of these offers before you arrive.
- Ask for child discounts. It doesn’t hurt to ask, and you’ll be surprised by how many places offer savings for families or kids, even when they’re not advertised. These can include:
- Transportation, including buses and trains
- Tours and excursions
- Attraction admission fees
- Restaurants (some even let kids eat free)
Best Places to Travel with Kids
There are seemingly countless destinations for family friendly vacations, both domestic and abroad. To help you choose, here are our top picks based on convenience, price, and local events.
In 2019, Alaska is celebrating its 60th anniversary of statehood! While cruises may be the most popular and convenient method of seeing the Last Frontier, a good, old-fashioned road trip will bring you up close to its rugged beauty without breaking the bank. Starting in Anchorage will give you several options to choose form: drive along the Seward Highway to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to see bison, reindeer, and brown bears; visit Seward to check out Kenai Fjords National Park and the Alaska SeaLife Center; or climb aboard the Alaska Railroad to go into Denali National Park.
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Mexico has several resort towns to choose from, but Isla Mujeres’ Playa Norte might be the country’s most kid-friendly beach. Away from the crowds of Cancun, this small island (roughly 4 miles long) is accessible via a half-hour ferry ride across the Bahia de Mujeres, making it perfect for a quiet and relaxing family escape. Popular excursions, either through a tour company or DIY, include exploring nearby Mayan ruins, snorkeling in Garrafon Natural Reef Park, and visiting the Tortugranja, a turtle sanctuary.
The plane ride over might be pricey, but the joys of visiting this Oceania country are well worth setting an airfare alert. Queensland promises both indoor and outdoor adventures for the entire family. In Brisbane, you can check out the inner-city Riverlife Adventure Centre, free gardens, and nearby koala sanctuary. The Sunshine Coast offers Noose National Park, the Australia Zoo, and the SEA LIFE Aquarium. For thrill-seekers, be sure to visit the Daintree Forest to take on rainforest walks, swim in the lagoon, and boat out to the reef or islands.
Thanks to an advantageous exchange rate for Americans, this nearby Canadian city is an affordable destination sure to entertain your entire family. This year, Toronto is debuting some new can’t-miss attractions, including the Museum of Illusions and the world’s tallest and longest dive roller coaster at Canada’s Wonderland. Take the city’s streetcars to visit the famous CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum, Ontario Science Centre, and Kensington Market. For a quick day trip, Niagara Falls is just over a two-hour drive south of the city.
Beyond the typical European capitals, the “Imperial City” promises an affordable, pleasant, and inviting escape. Families can easily walk the compact streets to visit museums, bakeries, a giant Feris wheel, and the Vienna Zoo, the world’s oldest zoo dating back to 1752. To make it easy, the Vienna Pass gives you and your family access to more than 60 top attractions within a single day or up to six.
Zion National Park, Utah
If you want to introduce your kids to Mother Nature, start with one of the most accessible parks in the country: Zion National Park. Spending time outdoors has proven to have various benefits for children, and it’s one of the most economical options for a family vacation. Far away from the crowds of Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, Zion’s mesmerizing waterfalls, sandstone cliffs, and desert wildlife can be witnessed from its many short, accessible trails or a scenic drive along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway. You can further explore the park through horseback rides, ranger-led youth tours, and stops at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and Zion Human History Museum for one unforgettable family trip.
Rob Lee is co-founder of Swift Passport and Visa Services. Originally from Michigan, Rob is an avid fisherman and SCUBA diver who enjoys adventure travel.