As a parent of four kids, I’m well aware that travel does not equal vacation. That said, if you can plan your trip in advance and be prepared for all kinds of situations, you can make any trip with kids more fun than stressful. When we moved to Spain from Canada 12 years ago with my husband and 2-year-old daughter in tow, we relied on these tips when travelling around the country:
Plan for Rest Days
The best way to make the most of your rest days is to plan them in advance.
These should be days when you have nothing planned, but use it as an opportunity to explore and do whatever you want. In Spain, there are many options for fun, meaningful activities for families. For example:
- The Andalusian horse park at Jerez de la Frontera has a beautiful nature reserve where you can ride horses through beautiful terrain and see wild animals. If your kids love horses (or ponies), this would be an amazing experience!
- Explore Seville’s historic quarter or surrender yourself completely to shopping madness on Córdoba’s streets—an activity sure to please everyone!
Relax About Mealtimes
It’s possible that your kids won’t eat the same foods as you, and they may not want to eat them either. Try not to worry too much about it. They will get hungry when they are hungry and eat when they are ready. If you are eating a snack or something light while on the go, then bring some food for them too. If nothing else, there is always water in Spain!
Allow for a Playful Pace
If you’re travelling with kids, I know that the first thing that comes to mind is “How can I make the trip more fun for them?”
But sometimes it helps to flip that question on its head. Instead of asking how you can keep your kids entertained on vacation, ask yourself if you want them to enjoy their time there.
If your children are younger than six, chances are they already have an intrinsic sense of what makes for a good day at the beach or park. They need a little help from us as parents! The same goes for any other aspect of travel—if our job is just to get out there and do stuff with them (instead of planning every minute), they’ll naturally have fun themselves and create their own favourite memories without us having to plan anything at all!
Pack for Success
- Pack a few favourite toys, books, and movies.
- Bring a few favourite games to play together as a family.
- Bring snacks you know your kids will enjoy (and that you can tolerate). If they’re picky eaters, pack an extra snack or two just in case!
- Bring clothes similar to what they wear at home, so there’s no need for wardrobe changes or laundry during the trip. It’s also good to have spare clothes on hand so one can wear them without worrying about getting them dirty while playing outside or having fun with friends at campgrounds, hotels, etc.
- Also bring toiletries such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, and towels (unless renting from hotels).
Prepare for Road Trips and Train Journeys
When travelling with kids, it’s crucial to be prepared. You’ll want to make sure you have everything you need at hand. Here are some tips for road trips and train journeys:
- Bring snacks and water. You don’t want your child to be hungry or thirsty on a long trip, so pack plenty of snacks like fruit and crackers in the car or train carriage for them to munch on during the journey. It’s also important that they stay hydrated, so bring a bottle of water too!
- Bring toys—and maps! A bag full of toys will keep them entertained in the car or on the train, but it’s also vital that you have something else ready too: A map showing where exactly it is that you’re driving or riding along so that when your child asks “Are we there yet?” (which they will), you can give them an honest answer instead of saying “Not yet.” And even better than just having one map would be two—one for travelling north-south (like France) and another one east-west (like Spain).
Bring Along a Mix of Activities
When you’re travelling with kids, it’s especially important to have a mix of activities. Not only will it keep them interested and engaged, but it can also do the same for you and your partner.
If you find yourself in a place that has a lot going on, like Madrid or Barcelona, then consider taking advantage of all the sights there are to see. The little ones will probably love some of the histories behind these cities. You might even want to check out some museums together! If your children are older, they might enjoy seeing some local football (soccer) games while they’re there as well—but if not, taking them around town is still an option!
Allow Kids to Feel a Sense of Power and Responsibility
Let your children be involved in the planning and decision-making process.
- Let them make some decisions. You may not have to ask your 12-year-old to decide whether you should go to Spain, but you can let him or her pick out the hotel, restaurant choices for dinner, or even where to go on day trips.
- Give your children opportunities to help with tasks during the trip. For example, do they want to carry their own backpack? Does she want more responsibility for packing a suitcase? How about organizing passports and other important documents?
This is a great way for kids—especially teenagers—to feel like they are part of the family unit rather than just along for the ride or tagging along behind everyone else (which can frustrate them). It also fosters confidence by giving them an opportunity to show off their skills as well as develop new ones!
When travelling with kids, know that it’s not about seeing all the sights, but having a good time together.
One of the most important things you can do when travelling with kids is to keep your expectations in check. People often think that travel is something that has to be done right—that it can’t be done wrong, and if it isn’t perfect, then they have failed. That’s a lot of pressure! Instead of worrying about all the things in Spain that you want to see (or don’t want), focus on having fun together as a family.
Travelling with kids requires flexibility and adaptability: be willing to change plans at the last minute if necessary and know that there will be times when things don’t go according to plan because kids are unpredictable (for example, they might not sleep well for three nights in a row). However, these moments are opportunities for bonding as you figure out how to best handle them: maybe your kid wants an ice cream cone after dinner instead of going swimming, or maybe she needs extra attention from her parents because she’s tired from being awake so much earlier than usual during their morning train ride through France!
Give children some control over their trip by letting them choose which activities they would like to do each day—whether this means choosing between visiting museums vs riding bikes along la Rambla de Barcelona or deciding whether they prefer pizza or pasta tonight at dinner time!”
Travelling with kids can be a stressful experience, but it doesn’t have to be. As long as you plan and stay flexible, your trip will go smoothly. And even if things don’t go according to plan—which is bound to happen—remember that it’s okay! The most important thing is that all of you are having fun together wherever you are in the world.