How to survive a family travel with young children and elders


My husband and I have been travelling with our children and our parents since we have 2 kids 5 years ago.

We have travelled in large groups including with extended families to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Phuket, Cruise, Malaysia, Australia and the furthest is Sweden.

Whenever friends tell me that they worry about travelling with young children or even worry about giving up freedom of travelling after having kids, I find that their worries are rather unfounded. What you really need is to have a positive mindset and some good planning, and things will just work out naturally. There is really nothing big to fret upon.

There are some important tips to keep in mind when travelling in large group with young and old.
Here are some tips that help us keep cool and enjoy the holidays:

1) Be mentally prepared
One of the most important tool to surviving a large group family travel or a travel with young children is to have a positive mindset and be mentally prepared.

Firstly, if this is going to be a trip with young children, you have to have the correct mindset that this trip itinerary will be child friendly and suited to children’s pace. This trip may not be the honeymoon kind where you and your partner get to enjoy relaxing spa and fine dining. Don’t even think of going shopping to your heart’s content. Because with children, it usually means THEY are the king and queen and it is wise to ensure that the pace is suited to them and be prepared to handle tantrums along the way despite very good planning. Having the right mindset that this trip is not about you and only you will certainly help in managing the correct expectations. With this mindset, you will not be disappointed that this is not the kind of couple holidays you are expecting. If you want couple time, then plan for the next one without kids.

2) Be flexible
I cannot emphasize how important being flexible is. I am not talking about physical flexibility but flexibility with your plans. As with any holidays, there are disruptions that may cause you to change plans or itinerary. With children around, such disruptions can be more. It will be good to plan in advance on contingency plans should things not work out as according to schedule.

Imagine this: the car that you rented had some problems and require a couple of hours to fix. You have impatient children in the car and what are you going to do to entertain them? One can imagine impatience to the maximum from both parents and children. However, with a positive mindset and be prepared that you may have to forgo the next 2 destinations, plus having a list of tricks to entertain the kids, that couple of hours may not seem that long and a waste of time. If you are very prepared to change plans or even give up going to some places, chances are you will not be too stressed or too disappointed when things do not go according to plan. What’s most important is to enjoy the experience. Even hiccups can be good experience and interesting stories to tell in future.

3) Activities list and kit
Have a list of activities ready to entertain the kids on the air plane, in the car, waiting at the transit, and anywhere stuck in traffic jams. Journey to the fabulist has lots and lots of such activities for the kids. She has lots of amazing ideas to entertain her children. Read here to add to your list!

Prepare simple activity kits for the little ones too. If you have 3 kids, prepare 3 sets. I love to prepare surprise kits to wow the children.

Some examples of activity kits are:

Drawing set – crayons, pencil, small booklet, colouring papers
Craft set – coloured paper, origami instructions (print a few of such instructions), ice cream sticks, aluminium foil. Read here for more simple and creative crafts from freebutfun that are good for travelling.
Puzzle set – small jigsaw puzzles, can be printed ones on paper, crossword puzzles, Sodoku, word search, Spot the difference
Education set – solve Math, English, General knowledge worksheets.
Letter set – Print some lovely letter and envelopes from templates to entice the kids to write. Write a letter to one best friend or jot down travel experience.

4) Planning the itinerary
Be sure what is this travel going to be. Honeymoon? Family travel? If it is the latter, then plan the itinerary to suit the young and old. In our Taiwan trip back in June, our itinerary includes activities for the children and we went to theme park, visited the sheep and horses on the mountains, and includes activities for the elders like the temple visit, street markets, and for the entire family enjoyment, we went to nature places and stay in a cosy homestay that suited the kids and everybody. As much as I would love to go for spa, Kel and I would avoid that in family travel because we simply do not want to leave the family alone while we enjoy ourselves. If we are going as a family, then we would want to do everything together. Leave the spa to honeymoon travel.

5) Everyone knows the itinerary

I find that it makes the trip smooth if everyone who is travelling knows where we are going and what we will be doing. Even if grandparents say they are fine with anything you plan, it is better to brief them about it. This is the time when you can know if everyone’s expectations are aligned and concerns are addressed. Then, you will not be trapped for surprises during the trip.

6) Meals

When you have the elderly travelling with you, you need to be aware of meal times. If Kel and I are travelling alone, we can delay meal times and eat at odd hours, or even survive on snacks (See below). But grandparents surely are not able to do so, and it is important that they eat on time. Kids, the most adaptable ones, are usually fine with snacks but you would not want to make them too hungry that they start to throw tantrums and have meltdowns. So, plan your itinerary well and be ready to move off for meals even if plans need to be disrupted.

7) Pack snacks
Snacks are always my saviour. Despite Kel’s constant complaints that I carry too many things in the bags, I am not going to forgo the snacks. When we were in Australia, our drive up to the Blue Mountains exceeded our planned time for lunch. In the end, all restaurants were closed for the afternoon and many children and elders and all were hungry. We survived on snacks! Children are usually the ones who cannot stand hunger and same for the elders. So, always have some bread, dry foods such as energy bars, biscuits and sweets with you. Snacks can be used to entertain the little ones too!

8) Let the kids do their own activities while parents are away

This tip came from Dominique from Dominique’s Desk. She is an amazing mother who travels alone with 3 children last holidays to meet up her hubby. In order to let everyone enjoys the trip, she arranges activities for her children in the same area if possible and gets them to stick to the timing strictly. Each one of them has his own watch so each child knows what time and where to meet up and how to contact the parents. If there are other family members in the same trip, she pairs her kids with them, for example, grandparents with grandkids for certain activities if they are taking part in sports or activities that are not suitable for the kids – jetsking, parasailing etc. This can be done with good planning and trust in your children. It teaches children independence as well.

9) Please everyone and you please no one

With all travels, especially in big groups, you cannot expect that everyone will be pleased. For us, if we invite the grandparents to join us, we will make sure that they are not with us to provide nanny service. We want them to enjoy the trip and be as relaxed as possible. They can be extra pairs of eyes and hands to us, but we ensure that most times, we take care of the children ourselves. We have encountered different preferences when it comes to dinner time, or timing of going to certain places, etc. I think it is important that there is an in charge who will make decisions. Even if that means someone in the trip may not be happy but the in charge has to take into consideration of what suits majority.

I am sure that on some trips, we, the parents end up more tired than we would have if we did not travel. Hence, we have to have the correct mindset and appreciate the enjoyment of a big family travel where everyone gets to enjoy each other’s company and experience new things together is worth the tiredness. We love to bring our parents around the world while they can still walk the trip with us and we certainly enjoy travelling with the children and seeing their laughter and smiles with our planned activities for them. Such joy is the main reason we love our family travels.

It’s the time of the year to travel with the children again! How do you prepare yourself when you travel in a family?

12 thoughts on “How to survive a family travel with young children and elders

  1. I normally plan activities for both Adults and Kids so that they can go off on their own adventure if the particular chosen sport is not suitable for either party. It’s quite easy actually as the kids are very adaptable and are game for anything fun and exciting.

    • Good tip! Leaving a neutral party in charge sounds good. But this can be tricky if we are doing it free and easy without driver or tour guide. With both side parents and young children, sometimes it’s rather challenging to please all. Me and Kel are more like the tour guides trying our best to let everyone enjoy themselves while we are contented that everyone enjoys.

  2. What a wonderful list. I especially loves things that we should prepare to entertain the children. And I agree with you, I rather bring a lot of snacks while travelling just in case we miss our original meal plan. My husband used to shoot the same complain like yours, haha!

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