Problems of travelling with kids, oh yes, there are a few. Some consider them major problems, others, tiny inconveniences outweighed by rainbow benefits. We are firmly in the second group or we wouldn’t be doing this crazy non-stop travel thing. We did it for 6 years, full-time, maybe we’re nuts. A post on the problems or challenges of travelling with kids as a family.
A reader asked me to write this post a long time ago, thanks Kellie, sorry for the delay, I was busy travelling with kids, it’s pretty full-on.
Problems of Travel With Kids
I think the main problems of travelling with children are very similar to those of normal daily life with children. As parents we all have to get used to being on-call 24-7. We’re used to that, we signed up for it. I don’t think it’s actually a bigger deal when you’re travelling than when you’re at home.
Here for the uninitiated, are a few problems of travel with kids, most will only be problems if you let them be.
- Money & Expense
- Health Concerns
- Worry, Stress, Anxiety
- Normality & Routine
- Cleanliness and Hygiene
- Vaccinations and Malaria
- School, and Education Outside School
- Play and Playmates
- Long Journeys by Bus, Air, Train, or Boat
- Finding Kid-Friendly Accommodation
- Surprise Bonus Problem!
It costs a lot more for a family of four to travel than it does for singles or couples.
But, outside of airfares, it’s nowhere near four times as much, so long as you’re careful and do plenty of shopping around for the best deals. Google likes to tell people that the cost for a family to travel the world is approximately $30,000 each. This is complete hogwash. You can read the real cost of family travel here.
We all signed up to pay for them when we took the parenting job, no surprises here. There are ways to make your dollar go further when you’re packing a family.
- Go for a lower standard of accommodation, transport, food or entertainment. Pick whichever one is least important to you and slash the budget in that area. We know from personal experience that our kids don’t care if it’s a 5 star or a guest house. We’ll take the best value accommodation we can find and work hard at finding great deals, they do exist!
- Travel while they’re young. Under 2’s can fly free, younger children are more likely to stay for free in hotels and young children can often sit on laps on buses and trains, cutting ticket costs. They also don’t eat so much and free admission to attractions is a bonus. However- young kids won’t remember or learn from their travel experience. For me that’s a reason to wait and pay more.
- Visit cheaper destinations. We like to spend a lot of our time in Asia and Eastern Europe and keep trips to the west to a minimum. Within Asian countries, for instance Thailand, Bangkok costs more, somewhere like Kanchanaburi costs less, divide your time according to cost. Check out Southeast Asia with kids here.
Problems of Travel With Kids 2: Health
You can stay at home worrying about Delhi belly or you can get out there, throw caution to the wind and see what the world brings you. Odds are you won’t get sick and neither will the kids.
I was worried that the kids would be more susceptible than us to all sorts of bugs. It seems they’re actually not.
Tummy bugs are pretty common in Asia. Inthe last 6 months we ( the kids and I) have been fine. Chef had a nasty couple of days with high fever and diarrhoea in Luang Prabang, thanks to the terrible buffets. He ate it, we didn’t. He should know better.
The kids really haven’t had any major tummy problems at all, particularly not in Thailand.
The medical care we have received in Thailand has been of a great standard so far, Chef even had surgery. Likewise, in Guatemala and Malaysia we saw doctors we were very impressed by and Chef’s tooth extraction in Flores went well.
Dengue fever is my big worry, we have it back home in Australia, but not at the levels you’ll find in Asia. We think Boo (7) had Dengue in Vang Vieng. It wasn’t too bad, fever followed by vomiting, rash and aches. Children get it more mildly than adults. We went to the tiny local hospital, but lack of English meant we didn’t get a diagnosis.
Avoid mosquitos like the plague! If you do that you’ll cut your risk of a whole panel of diseases.
Problems of Travel With Kids 3: Worry
They could be lost, abducted or injured in all sorts of horrible ways, but they probably won’t be.
People are mostly nice and have families of their own, people look out for kids all over the world.
I suffer from anxiety, if I can do this and stay sane, so can you.
Problems of Travel With Kids 4: Being Normal
Normal families have bedtime, mealtimes, routines and rules. Normal parents have jobs, responsibilities, me time and late nights. We’re not normal.
Normal goes out the window when you travel with kids, everything works better if you ditch normal completely.
We have found it absolutely impossible 99% of the time to get the kids off to sleep while we’re still awake in the same hotel room. Our best ploy is to all go to bed at the same time and, if we’re not tired but they are, read until we drop off.
Admittedly, children’s bedtime can spoil grown up fun when it’s just the four of you in one hotel room. Our way around it is simple, no rules, no routines. We sleep when we’re ready and get up when we’re ready.
We’ve shifted our adult schedule forward to match that of the kids. If we want a fancy dinner and a few drinks, we do it earlier in the evening so that we can all go to bed at the same time and the kids don’t get tired and fed up.
We normally pick a restaurant on the beach or with some outside space so that they can play if we want to hang around with a couple more drinks. Places with pool tables are also a big hit with my two.
Lack of “couple time” and “me time” could be an issue for some, if you want it badly you can slot it in. My husband runs, that’s his me time. My early mornings on the computer are my solitary luxury. If I’m lucky, with a coffee
The better quality and non-stop family time is a pretty good pay off.
Problems of Travel With Kids 5: Not Travelling Light
You can travel light with kids, it is possible (we don’t usually through choice).
All of my boys’ clothes and small toys fit into their own 15L packs, way below hand luggage size. They have more changes of clothes than we do.
When we started this trip we were carrying a lot of educational materials, they really weighed us down. After chef’s surgery we ditched them to lighten our load but stuff has accumulated again since. We homeschool or worldschool. You don’t have to, but we like it that way. You can read more about homeschool and travel here or fast forward to worldschooling a 15 year old. We cover all things travel and education.
We could maybe downsize to carry on packs if we wanted to but I like having a few “school” books with us. Those and the electrical equipment, first aid kit, wash kit and Lego take up most room in my pack. Electronic toys have sometimes given us a few issues at customs.
I’ll carry the kids’ Lego gladly, they deserve to have some things that are important to them along on this trip.
Problems of Travel With Kids 6: Keeping Them Clean
You can get laundry done cheaply and quickly just about anywhere.
In Asia you trot along to your local laundry shop, price is normally based on weight, so the kids’ clothes cost nothing. You’ll get your clothes back, usually within 24 hours, clean, dry and neatly folded.
I hand wash the boys’ clothes a lot, they dry really quickly if you hang them indoors in air-con or under a fan. Grown-up clothes may not get as dirty, but they’re far more difficult to hand wash.
In the USA most motels had laundry facilities and, on occasion, we’ve taken an apartment with a washing machine. Laundry has never been an issue.
Showers and baths are easy, but sometimes on long travel days, children can get a bit grubby.
I still carry baby wipes for my 10 and 8-year-old babies and hand gel is my friend for times of no water. You can buy both just about anywhere.
We also carry tissues or toilet roll and a plastic bag or two for unforeseen emergencies. Particularly on buses with no access to our main packs.
We had a vomit once in Laos, travel sickness on the windiest road in the world, we were very glad of the plastic bags. We’ve also been able to help out other, less well prepared, travellers. I sometimes become mum to the gap year backpackers too.
The best tip here is to just stop caring about being spotless, who needs it. They say dirt is good for kids.
Problems of Travelling With Kids 7: Vaccinations and Antimalarials
These days many of us wonder about possible toxic effects of vaccinations.
Plenty of travelling families don’t vaccinate and survive just fine, plenty more go the whole hog and spend a fortune at the travel health clinics.
I take the middle ground, the kids have the vaccinations I think are really necessary. Same goes for Chef and I.
You have to do what makes you comfortable, if you’re spending your whole trip worrying about what your kids might catch, you won’t be enjoying your time.
So far we’ve avoided taking antimalarials, we’ve very cautious about avoiding mosquito bites because of Dengue and we lived with vast swarms of mozzies back home in Queensland, so we’re fairly good at not being bitten.
Residents in the countries we visit, local or ex-pat, don’t take prophylaxis, so do we really need to? Again, this has to be a personal choice, what are you comfortable with?
Our post about avoiding mosquitos is now published. I’ve posted about our journey to travel vaccine decision making in our travel health category.
Problems of Travelling With Kids 8: School Time
Here is a word for you : Deschooling.
Deschooling is the process of forgetting everything you were conditioned to think about the nature of education, what it is, how it happens and its need to be tested. It takes a while to change your thought pattern and I can’t cover everything here. Read up on unschooling and worldschooling (I wrote a post about worldschooling here). Homeschooling, if you take it to mean school at home, isn’t a great option for travelling families, it’s far too regimented and time-consuming, check out the alternatives, they’re magical!
You will normally have to unenroll your children or risk being truant. In some countries you will need to register your kids as homeschooled, in others you won’t. Local and state regulations vary.
I can guarantee that your kids will learn more in the real world than in a classroom. Think about it, what is there to learn in a box?
Problems of Travelling With Kids 9:Play Time
We find playgrounds, open spaces, other kids, beaches, trees and organised play facilities everywhere. We’ve never had any problem finding places to play.
Problems of Travelling With Kids 10: Finding Food
For us this is pretty easy, we have non-picky eaters and just one allergy or intolerance to accommodate. The food restriction is challenging, particularly as we like to avoid meat, but it’s do-able.
You will find shops selling western food almost everywhere if that is all your kids can face. Burgers, pizzas, french fries and yogurts could be your salvation. In Thailand there is a 7-11 every few paces, there are supermarkets and fresh produce stalls, there is street food, restaurants and night markets.
You’ll be able to find something, even if it’s only bananas, nobody will starve.
Problems of Travelling With Kids 11: Finding Accommodation
Rooms for 4, or harder still, 5 +, do exist, but they are way, way harder to find that singles and twins and they will usually cost you more.
The USA was the exception to this, all the motel rooms we stayed in had 2 double beds and there was no extra charge for 4 person occupancy.
Hostels would seem to be a good option, but we find that paying the full adult price for 4 beds usually works out more expensive than a cheap hotel room. We’ve only ever used a hostel once for that reason.
We look for children stay free if using existing bedding deals, sometimes kids right up to 12 years can get away with this. We share beds with the kids most nights, we do it at home anyway, it makes no difference to us. Everyone is happy.
Asia has mostly been easy for allowing 4 of us to share a 3 or even 2 person room. It’s always easy to go to the hotels and guest houses in person rather than online. Rules can be bent in a person to person transaction and prices are usually lower.
Problems of Travelling With Kids 12: Long Transport Hours
We’ve spent days and nights on buses and trains. Mostly it’s been fine. The kids love sleeper trains and they’re usually OK on buses, they read and look out of the window. Planes hold no demons because of the luxury of in-flight entertainment and food, but budget airlines are less enjoyable.
I think it’s the adults who worry more about this stuff than the kids. The boys have quite often got chatting to people on the backpacker buses or if it’s really boring, they sleep. It’s been fine, honestly!
Problems of Travel With Kids 13: Family and Friends
We’re unusual in that we’ve never had a support network. We’ve never lived near family or friends because we move around so much. If you’re from a tight-knit little group you may find it strange to be flying solo. For us it’s fine, so I can’t help you much here.
We’re happy with our own company, but if we weren’t there is no difficulty in staying in touch through the internet. Install Skype or Zoom, chat to your friends and show them where you are and what you’re doing through sound and pictures, for free.
In the olden days, we used to have to make sporadic international phone calls and send postcards. Those days are long gone.
My boys occasionally say that they miss a particular friend back home, but it’s very rare. Mostly they’re too tied up in what they’re doing to think about things like that. They’re not interested in going back to Australia at all, they’re enjoying our new life, as are we.
Save the picture below to Pinteres before you read what the biggest problem of travel with kids is. It will surprise you.
The Biggest Problem of Travel With Kids
The big one, the one nobody tells you about. The problem that right now is turning my world upside down is this one.
I can’t think of any other potential problems of travel with kids, can you? Pop them in the comments section if you have any thoughts, fears or worries that I or other travelling parents could help you with. Thanks for reading, don’t forget to click “like” or better still “share.”
Monday 2nd of July 2018
Thank you for acknowledging the fact you have anxiety and worry alot about your kids. I also suffer from anxiety (especially relating to the safety of my kids) - and to be honest this is one of the reasons we are choosing to travel, I'm slowly wrapping them tighter and tighter in cotton wool and its madness. Do you have any other advice? Our kids are under 6 so we are going with baby ergo for the 18month old, spare ego for the 3 1/2 year old for long walks along with a body strap harness, and wrist harnesses for our 4 and 6 year old. I know that probably sounds over the top to some but oh well! Thank you again for sharing.
Alyson Long for World Travel Family
Monday 2nd of July 2018
A lot of your worries will disappear when you hit the ground Louise. You're probably worrying about an imaginary reality. I had a diagnosis of anxiety years ago and they tried to give me medication. I threw the Xanax in the bin. Mine was brought on by perimenopause from the age of about 40. Magnesium, B vitamins and plenty of walking, running or just being outdoors seemed to help me al lot. If I get anxiety now I know it's because I'm short of Magnesium. But yes, I'm very protective of the boys because they do the craziest things. I learned through experience to expect the unexpected in the random things they do. They're very rarely out of my sight and that's great.
Thursday 14th of September 2017
Great write-up. We also travel around the world with our kids and experience many of the same issues. As we live in South Africa, our biggest problem is the high cost of flights for 4. Schooling is the next biggest issue.
Tuesday 2nd of May 2017
Your blog has been an inspiration, I have followed for a while now and we have finally plucked up the courage to take six month Sabbaticals and follow our hearts. We have two children 6 & 8 and we are confronted by families and friends in disbelief or ore. Although our journey is somewhat less world travel as we have chosen America to travel around for our six month escape travelling in search of all the movies and films we love and to become Junior Rangers at all the National Parks and Monuments there are to see. We are so excited and a little nervous but I would like to say a huge thank you for your advice and stories on your blog.
Alyson Long for World Travel Family
Tuesday 2nd of May 2017
Thank you and the very best of luck Sarah!
Friday 14th of April 2017
Hi there, loved your article and we're not far off embarking with our one year old, cannot wait! I did have two "problems" with travelling with kids which I'd love some ideas for / tips. First is money, how can we afford it long term? Any tips appreciated! And a carseat. Should we take our own? Going to South East Asia and Europe. Cheers!
Alyson Long World Travel Family Blog
Friday 14th of April 2017
If you think they need a carseat, yes, take your own. But what will you do with it on buses, trains etc? We took our own on short holidays when they were tiny, but once you go long term it becomes redundant. Money, well you live off savings or you earn online. That's too big a topic to put in a comment,but if you go to our money section you'll find lots of information on how we do it, but different people have different ways. Some hae regular jobs that they do online, but most are self employed. Bon voyage!
Saturday 15th of October 2016
We find it often takes Dad a few days to slow his pace and get used to kids 24/7 when we travel after coming from a fast paced job.