Reasons Not to Travel with Kids… Debunked!

This post is the first in my “Family Travel” series, which will include posts about places to go, family travel gear, tips for staying sane while traveling with them, and interviews with inspiring traveling families. (If you’re new, please hop over to Spreading Our Child’s Wings.)

This first post will look at some of the reasons not to travel with kids (from what other people say) and, of course, why I disagree with them.

Carmel, California

Exploring Carmel, California with my two little guys

1) You’re a parent now. Take your kids to Disneyland.

This was told to me on a travel forum where I asked for tips for traveling in Italy. I was surprised by one person’s response and the fact that it was then recommended by 22 other readers! Here it is:

“A two-year-old is hardly likely to appreciate what Italy has to offer. Sorry, but you’re a parent now. No more grown-up vacations for you. Try Disney or something.”

This just makes my blood boil!

“Sorry, but you’re a parent now.” The tone implies that I am denying my role as a parent, that I’m being selfish by wanting to travel to Italy with my toddler.

“No more grown-up vacations for you.” It’s not like I wanted to take him to Italy and then go to nightclubs or drag him to a bunch of museums. And I resent the separation between “grown-up” vacations and children’s vacations. We have fun doing things together. There is no need to cross off destinations because they’re not Disney. My son would be happy going anywhere as long as we are together.

Disneyworld with kids

My son and his Brazilian cousins having a ball at Disneyworld. I stayed home 7 months pregnant, and I was OK with missing this one.

And a word about Disney…  I have two friends who love taking their daughters to Disneyworld/Disneyland, so there is no judgment coming from me on this one. I think that’s great for them, and I know their kids love it. However, I personally am NOT interested in spending my vacations with my kids at a Disney park. It’s expensive, involves a lot of lines and crowds, and is predictable. I also don’t want vacations to center around typical “children’s activities.” I’d prefer a place we can all enjoy. Maybe I’m a Scrooge… Let’s see if I change my tune on this one.

2) I’m not going to travel with my kids because they won’t even remember it later!

I hear this pretty often, so I know it’s a common sentiment. Before I explain why I disagree, I need to mention something. We have traveled with our older son several times because we have to. We have family in Brazil and Indonesia, and it’s important for us to visit them. This is especially true of Brazil, where we have a lot of family there who can’t all come visit us, and it’s very important to my husband to keep his cultural and linguistic ties to his native country.

Kids remember things earlier than we may expect. My son vividly remembers lots of things he did in Brazil when he was 3 years old. What is more important is that his travels have colored the person he is. He sees the world differently because of the trips he has taken with us. And at the same time, we have had so much fun traveling together.

He doesn’t remember our time in Japan, but who cares? We had a blast!

3) There’s nothing for kids to do there.

There is always something for kids to do. They are explorers! With a little planning and a good attitude, just about any destination can be family-friendly. As part of this series, I will post tips for keeping kids entertained on the road. For now, keep in mind that children love to learn new things. Make any day out a time for learning about the world around them, from plants and bugs to transportation and new foods.

Take a walk, look for flowers, play games…there’s always something for kids to do!

4) We don’t have the money for a big family vacation.

I know this feeling, but there are lots of less expensive alternatives, like road trips or renting a house. Keep it simple, and keep it close by if necessary.

Lake Tahoe with kids

With weekend trips & day trips, there are plenty of low-cost but memorable travel options. My son still talks about this day-trip to the mountains.

5) The flight to _____ is too long.

Trust me, the flight to nowhere is too long. We have taken many long flights overseas with our older son, but we did a marathon trip once– we flew with my son from Sacramento, California to Bali. We took 3 flights, crossed 15 hours of time difference, traveled for a total of 29 hours, and did it all with a toddler who got sick right before we left and had a fever the whole way. We made sure he stayed hydrated and rested. We were exhausted, mentally and physically, but we made it. When we look back on the trip, we have tons of great memories, and the long flight was just a blip in those three weeks overseas. (Check out my tips for traveling with little ones on airplanes.)

Boy, that was a lot of flying to get to Bali, but I’m so glad we did it!

6) Take the kids to Grandma’s.

GREAT idea. I would love to drop my kids off and take a trip somewhere without the hassle, but… not all parents can take their kids to grandma’s. Some kids (like my older one) are not comfortable being away from their parents for very long. Some kids may not want to stay at grandma’s for 2 weeks while the parents are away. Some grandparents are busy. I really hope to take a trip to Italy with my husband while my kids stay with family, but in the meantime, we enjoy traveling with our children.

Balancing family and travel is hard. In fact, balancing just about anything with kids is hard. I understand where some of these concerns come from. If you are a parent and aren’t sure about traveling with your kids, I hope that you may feel inspired to find the joy in exploring the world with your children.

What do you think about traveling with kids? What concerns and/or suggestions do you have?

49 Comments

  • Oh the things I could write about this!! You already know my thoughts about Disneyland – too many people, too much money, waste of time for kids under 5. I will go one day but definitely not now.

    As for the other things, I have to say I dread flying with 2 kids. One of them, now that he is older, I can handle. But between 1 1/2 and 2 is a very difficult time to fly in my experience. I guess I will have a little more insight on this one in a couple of months when we take a cross country flight with both kids. I have to admit neither one of us looks forward to it. Flying with kids when they are a little older (3 and up) or even under is fine. It’s just that time between 18 months and 2 years that has been a nightmare in my experience.

    As for the other things, I completely agree. I can’t just take a quick trip to grandma’s and nor can I drop my kids off for long periods of time. Neither one like being away from mommy and daddy for extended periods of time. It’s nearly impossible to go on a date much less get a break. However, you can do anywhere with kids. It’s amazing how little things can entertain kids and you don’t need fancy kid themed vacations for them to have fun! And you don’t need to go far or spend much to go on vacation!

    • Jenna says:

      You’re right that 1 1/2 to 2 years old is a hard age, but don’t worry. It will be OK. We did lots of long flights with Noah that summer, when he was 21-24 months old, and it went pretty well actually. We were very well-prepared, though, and it was a little easier because there was just one kid. But try to relax and it will be fine. 🙂 At least he can watch his older brother as an example of good behavior.
      I agree with you on the other points, too. Thanks for the comment!

    • Jenna says:

      About your comment about Disney, I hadn’t thought about the age thing, but I guess I’d kind of agree with you, although maybe for 4 and older. You and I are the same when it comes to crowds. I know that we will go someday and have a lot of fun, but it’s not something I really look forward to. Not everyone likes everything, and I think it’s great that some people enjoy it.

  • Audrey says:

    I agree with you! My parents travelled with 3 young kids in tow and most of our childhood trips were to South America; which meant looong flights. I’m sure it wasn’t easy getting us all there, but they made it happen. So glad they did! 😀 I remember looking forward to these trips months in advance!!!

    • Jenna says:

      I meant to ask you this before, but why did your family go to S. America when you were a child? Was there a connection, or did they just like it? What a great childhood for you!

      • Audrey says:

        We had relatives spread across South America, and then ended up moving to Argentina for a few years on business 🙂 It was a pretty sweet childhood!

  • Jen says:

    It amazes me how many of my friends can’t believe the places we take our children for all of the above reasons. My kids are 4 and 7 and we just did a three day trip to Disney. We had a blast and the kids loved it but now that we have been there, done that they are just as excited about our upcoming trip to DC and Maryland to explore. We have taken them overseas with us several times and we plan on doing it again. I want to raise children to be explorers and look for adventure everywhere…it doesn’t have to be in a destination made just for kids. Besides, kids are everywhere. You are bound to find something to do with them!

  • Jeff Titelius says:

    What an inspiring post and lesson for all parents who love to travel. Why not open new doors for your children and teach them about the “real world.” I commend you and all parents like you who want to teach their kids to grow and learn to respect various cultures and people around the world.

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks, Jeff. Respecting cultures and people around the world is a very important point. We are an open-minded, loving family and teach our children to be the same.

  • Angela says:

    Well said, and happy travels 😉 Your son is gorgeous!

  • Sophie says:

    I’ve travelled with my daughters since the oldest was 11 weeks. Travelling is part of my life, my children are part of my life – a no-brainer, really.

  • Melvin says:

    Nice article! I can’t say much about traveling with kids. Our son just turned 4 months old, but we just got back from a blog trip with him from France. It worked great & I think it’s just up to the parents.

    There are parents who like to go to All Inclusive Resorts & give their kids to a kids club, so that they don’t see them much & have some holiday for themselves. Sorry, but this is not why I’ve decided to have kids. I’m looking forward to travel with my kids together. I’m looking forward to play with them & explore the world. 🙂

    • Jenna says:

      I wouldn’t have expected less from a travel pro like you! 🙂
      Yes, it’s up to the parents. I have learned that as long as you know the trip will be a bit different with them along, it is a wonderful time. (When I say different, I mean that you might not be able to see or do everything that you might see/do without them.) And taking them along makes them good travelers from the beginning, and they learn to be flexible.
      I agree with your perspective about the taking the kids to the kids club. My older son wouldn’t go anyway because he doesn’t like to be with strangers, but I want to travel with him to learn and explore with him.

  • Emiel says:

    Jenna, what a GREAT post! Spot on!

    You probably knew it already but I fully agree. We can shake hands (and I’m sure we will do this in real life somewhere, someday).

    Take your kids to Disneyland is both a hilarious as well as a very sad comment. But I also can understand how other people feel, we are all different. I got some of the comments you mentioned as well, especially the one on kids not remembering a thing. Sure they forget some, but we strongly believe these experiences shape our kids in becoming global citizens. Love your expression about how it ‘colors your children’.
    I am looking forward to all your upcoming posts and the interviews with other traveling families 🙂

    Well done
    Emiel

    • Jenna says:

      Yes, I knew you’d agree, especially since you are all about overcoming fears and trying new things despite what others tell you.
      As you said about Disneyland, it’s true, we are all different, and I completely respect people who enjoy taking their kids there. It bothered me that someone told me to go there as though that kind of place is the only option (and that 22 other readers recommended his/her rudely-worded advice!).
      About the kids not remembering the trip, I also understand why some people would think that, especially if they don’t have the chance to travel very often. However, I don’t think it matters, but that’s my personal opinion.

  • Suzy says:

    Great argument Jenna to those who say you shouldn’t travel with kids. While I don’t have kids, I can vouch for growing up traveling at a young age. Being one of five, my parents would take us all over the US and Europe. Some people would tell them they were crazy, but all of those travels at a young age completely shaped each and every one of us. As far as remembering, I sometimes can’t remember everywhere we went, but I always remember the act of going, of traveling and all of that excitement.

    • Jenna says:

      What a wonderful childhood, having so many siblings and traveling as a family. You guys must have had a big van! I traveled as a kid, too, but nothing like what my kids are doing/will do.

  • Theodora says:

    A great case. You’ll have plenty of time to do theme parks when the kids want to do them, which they will. I’ve travelled with my son since he was a baby and we’re now travelling full time and it’s an amazing opportunity for him to have.

    Children do change your life. But the notion that you shouldn’t travel because you have them just strikes me as insane.

    • Jenna says:

      I’m glad you added your perspective since you are an expert on traveling with children! And I’m sure you’re right– with 2 boys, I will have plenty of time to do the theme parks because they surely will want to (even the big amusement parks here in CA). Your son is getting an amazing experience. How wonderful for both of you!

  • Lisa Wood says:

    Congratulations on taking your kids on a trip, and for enjoying yourself. Congratulations on not listening to those that say kids wont enjoy the trip, or remember it.

    The only thing that I would do differently is travel when they were younger, instead of waiting for so long!

    cheers
    Lisa

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks! It’s hard to do everything when you’re a parent, so I can see why people don’t travel a lot when the kids are young. Having kids is so tiring that just being at home sometimes sounds good! 🙂

  • Brandon Pearce says:

    Great post! I totally agree about Disneyland. We took our 7 and 5 year old to Disney World last year, and while we had a fun time, we felt like we were being ripped off at every corner. And it just felt llkind of fake. We had so much more fun exploring Central and South America together with them, than we did Disneyland. Next month we’re moving to Malaysia and will be exploring that part of the world together, along with our new baby. We’re excited for the adventure!

    • Jenna says:

      I am pretty frugal, so I would hate things being overpriced at Disneyland. How exciting that you are moving to Malaysia! Why are you going there, and how long will you stay? I’m sure you and your kids will love traveling in Indonesia.

  • Great post! You are so right that we need to get kids out and about – don’t wait til they’re older. Go now! We’ve traveled with our twins since they were 6 weeks old (they flew from the USA to Ethiopia for their first flight!) Kids are great travelers.

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Nancy! Wow, to Ethiopia when twins were 6 weeks old? That’s adventurous! 🙂 But I agree, kids are great travelers.
      One thing I love is how people from other cultures treat children. They are generally friendly, welcoming, and patient with kids, so traveling with kids allows us to get a slightly different view of the culture. I’m sure you have experienced that on your travels with your children.

  • Barbara says:

    For us, taking the kid to grandmas would involve a nine hour overnight flight, then an hour’s drive.

    I can’t believe that Disneyland comment you got. What a toad!

    Like Sophie — my philosophy is that the baby just comes along whereever we go. On Friday we head off to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand for six months. I’m sure we’re going to have an absolute blast!

    Loved this post, by the way. 🙂

    • Jenna says:

      Ha ha, what a toad indeed. It would have been so much better if he/she had used a more polite tone. So condescending!
      How exciting about Thailand! How many kids do you have and how old?
      Thanks for your comment!

  • Jenna what a great post! I am a professional in the travel industry. My family took me all over the world to visit family and explore new places as a child which has shaped me into who I am today. I love exploring our world and cannot wait to take my recently turned 3 year old to more exotic destinations. We just returned from our first camping adventure and she loved it!
    However I do disagree with Disney. I loved Disney as a child and it just added to the mix. I remember exploring Epcot and wanted to explore other parts of the world – it was an adventure in itself. I have taken my daughter as well but I have perks being in this industry. I will not do the character meals or princess events. We go to explore and open her mind to creativity!
    I cannot wait to take my daughter overseas to retuan and see family in Austria and New Zealand or to share some of my favorite places and other exotic destinations. I am in this industry to broaden people’s minds and create memories. Thank you for sharing the great article! Christina vipalpinetours

    • Jenna says:

      What an exciting childhood you must have had! I completely agree– those experiences really shape us. And about Epcot, I also remember going there as a child. It was the part of Disney that I liked the most. I also have fond memories of some of the rides, and as you said, it is creative. I really don’t dislike Disney, but I really resented being told that I should take my kids there instead of taking other kinds of trips. Have a wonderful time traveling, and take advantage of those perks that the rest of us would love to have! 😉

  • Karen Wise says:

    Great post. I have an “almost 6 year old” girl and a 3yo boy.

    We flew to NY when my eldest was 10 months old. When they were 4 & 2 we went to Australia via HK and Singapore. In 3 weeks we did 44 hours in the air. A few months later I flew with them – on my own – to Mallorca. They are so used to flying now that it really wasn’t a problem: my little boy ate his lunch and then curled up for a sleep. My girl got out her colouring in. It worked so well, that I also managed to have a 90 minute doze on the plane!

    I’ve just come back from travelling around Spain for 4 weeks with them. For two of those weeks it was just me & the kids as my OH had to work. Already my “almost 6 year” is planning next summer’s big and I love being able to share this passion with them.

    Much of their general knowledge is based around travel:
    – their geography is amazing
    – they are happy to try and eat anything.
    – My daughter will talk at length of the different aspects of various sub-way systems (eg Barcelona’s is the best and & the Paris one scares her)
    – We do end up going to the Zoo on every holiday – but it’s amazing how different each zoo is.
    – I will also take them to an art museum or something similar. This summer they really got into Miro.

    Travel with kids is different, but it’s incredibly rewarding too.

    • Jenna says:

      I agree about the kids getting used to flying. My older son is so great on airplanes and has his own in-flight routine. My son’s geography is also really good– he understands how the world is shaped and where different countries are and where people speak different languages (pretty unusual for a 4-year-old). Having a kid-friendly activity like going to zoos is a necessary part of traveling with kids. My son loves aquariums and wants to go to more. I love that you take your kids to art museums. This is something I’d love to teach my son about, but I haven’t tried much yet.
      How exciting that you just spent 4 weeks with them in Spain! That is something I’d love to do because I went to Spain just once and really want to explore the whole country.

  • Andrea says:

    I’m not a parent yet but I loved this piece – I agree with everything you’ve said here. I can’t imagine how much more of a hassle it’s going to be to travel with kids (currently we find travelling through airports and the process of actually getting to places to be aggravating enough) but I’m sure it’s worthwhile. What better way to get to know your children and help them to learn about the world in new and exciting ways than travel!

    • Jenna says:

      True, some parts of traveling are aggravating enough without kids, but I think the key with them is to start doing it when they’re little so that they get used to it and know what kind of behavior is expected when they are at the airport, on airplanes, etc. Thanks for stopping by, Andrea!

  • Dad says:

    Jenna, You go Girl! As expected, I am in complete agreement with this post. More parents should have the same perspective as you on traveling with children. Yes there are challenges but the experience for the child, parents and family make it well worthwhile. Experiencing contrast from daily lives serves to open our children’s minds and make them better citizens, especially in this modern age of increased globalization. As for Disneyland, there is a time and place but it should not be considered the only alternative for family holidays. IMO D-land is far too commercialized and as your blog and followers flagged, far too expensive. I would rather parents invest in their children’s future through travel experiences visiting new places with cultures, values and experiences that are different from their mainstream American life.

    • Jenna says:

      Agreed, and good point about globalization. The rest of the world is busy connecting, and we should be, too.

  • ayngelina says:

    You know the reason I left my career to travel was that I was 32 and I thought if I wanted children then I would have to have one last great adventure because I would no longer be able to travel. But on the road I have met so many great traveling families.

    European families seem to travel a lot but not North American, it’s an interesting cultural difference.

    • Jenna says:

      You definitely can travel with kids, but I’ll be honest– I think you did the right thing by having that big adventure before having children. The kind of travel you can experience when you are alone, or with other adults, is entirely different from traveling with kids. I’m curious about the cultural difference between European families and North American families. I feel like American families do travel a lot (road trips, theme parks, national parks…), but Americans don’t travel as much as Europeans in general…?

  • Michi says:

    Some of the BEST memories from my childhood are from having traveled with my parents. I was very young for the first few trips, so I only remember bits and pieces, but a lot of the positive emotions from those travels stayed with me. I remember seeing children that were my age (only 4 years old at the time) in Guatemala, already working to make an income for their families selling gum, candy, or Kleenex on the street, and realizing how lucky I was to have the life I had back in California. I remember being encouraged to try new foods that looked strange, but that soon introduced my taste buds to new flavors and textures (to this day my sister and I have never been picky eaters and are willing to try just about anything), I remember my mom scolding me for doing something that was “rude” in the new culture I was in (but that might have been acceptable back home) and therefore making sure to be more observant and ask more questions. I’ll forever be grateful to them for having opened my mind to the world and its cultures at such a young age, especially to my mom for always informing us and teaching us along the way.
    Michi recently posted..A Parisian Escape – first day’s travelMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Michi, Thank you so much for your comment. I enjoyed reading your observations. I completely agree that those experiences really stick with us, and it sounds like a lot of the ways travel impacted you are similar to how it has affected my older son.

  • I totally agree! We also take our kids everywhere, and my younger son went to Brazil to spend the holidays with my side of the family when he was 1 month and a half (much easier to take them at that age IMO) ;-). We just came back from a week in Mexico and we all had fun, older daughter (who is almost 5) had her first experience snorkeling while the baby (now 6 months old) went to the beach for the first time. For the people who say take them to Grandma’s, oh well, we do, one Grandma is a 3 hour flight away and the other one a 10+ hour flight 😉 Both kids are pretty good on planes and I do agree with the dreaded age between 1-2, in our experience it was the hardest. So I see you took your son to Japan, we are taking our kids there in July, I will take a look around your blog to see if you have any posts from that trip. And where in Brazil is your husband from? I’m from Rio and we always go there to see the family, we want the kids to be close to their cousins as much as possible.

    • Jenna says:

      Luciana, Glad you stopped by. I checked out your site a bit, enjoyed the post about the museums. We seem to have a lot in common–my older son has a very strong relationship with his cousins and the rest of the family in Brazil. My husband is from Sao Paulo. I have several posts about it. I think you will love Japan. I hope you saw the Kyoto post I recently added. Japan was beautiful, friendly, and very convenient–a great combo for traveling with small children!

      • Glad you liked it! I saw your Kyoto post, but I think we won’t go to Kyoto this time (we were there in 2006, before the kids were born). We will primarily stay in Tokyo and do day trips this time (to Kamakura and Hakone, places we didn’t visit before). We love Japan, and one of my best friends is living in Tokyo, so we’ll stay with her. I have to read your Brazilian posts! Do you have other posts about Japan? I only saw that one and a photo of the Kiyomizu temple.

  • Lauren says:

    Great post! I agree with you.
    One thing I really appreciate and have noticed while living in Spain, is how much kids self-entertain themselves. Parents enjoy a café or a meal with friends or family for hours, sometimes. Kids just hang out, play… be kids.

    I always reflect that you don’t really see this in the USA. parents are always eager to appease and entertain the kids. The mentality is very different. It’s all about perspective!

    Good for you to taking your kids and providing all these incredible experiences!
    Lauren recently posted..Eating my heart out: Granada, SpainMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Thank you, Lauren. You’re right, especially about this generation of parents. We are really into entertaining our kids. And we don’t want kids to be too noisy, so it’s hard for us to just let them play and be kids in public. I would like to know more about yoru experiences living in Spain, so I’m going to check out your blog very soon!

  • Great list! I’m going to share this on my site 🙂
    Rachel Denning recently posted..FYL Series: Living Outside the Box – Becoming Location IndependentMy Profile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *