I Want to Travel, but I Have a Child

“I want to have kids but I want to travel first.” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that phrase either in person or on some reality TV dating show, we could travel even more!

I hate to break it to you, but the wanderlust feelings do not go away when:

  • You’ve gone on a few trips, or
  • You have kids

Some people go the other way too, they decide they don’t want kids, because they love travelling too much to give it up.

I’m not willing to give it up either, and I already have a kid!

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Prioritizing Travel With Kids

I am not sure where this idea comes from, that kids are an anchor.

Maybe from looking around and seeing that other people with kids now only go to Disney, camping, or the occasional all-inclusive.

A young girl holds a pink butterfly net in front of her face as she sits in the forest camping

Not saying there is anything wrong with that, they have decided that is what they want to do.

They can’t help it if their priorities shifted once they had kids, and neither can you! You will always prioritize what is important to you.

After you have kids, if travel is still important to you, you will find a way to do it!

a young girl holds her arms wide on a suspension bridge in Malakwa BC
Suspension bridge at Malakwa BC

Is it more difficult to prioritize once you have kids?

Yup.

But I think that is more of an age, life stage, social pressure, bills vs income thing, than a kids thing.

You might be surprised that “oh…actually” having a star hockey player son is more important to you than travelling.

Rest assured, when you make that choice it will be a decision that you are happy with!

How We Afford to Travel With a Child

Of course we would all like to have it all. A nice house, stylish clothes, athletic kids, recreational vehicles, the list goes on (…and on.)

I can tell you right now that we are not rich. Far from it!

A man and his little daughter stand near a viewpoint with their hands up in celebration.
Hiking is free! – Kettle Valley Trail

We live in a rented townhome, don’t have expensive hobbies, and zero expensive toys (no ATV’s etc.)

We have one car that we share, and we spend a lot of time at home.

I clothes shop for myself about once or twice a year.

Travelling is as legitimate an expense as any other, like new clothes or a second vehicle. Frankly, I’d rather be in Bulgaria.

Seeing the world is important to us, and sharing it with our daughter is equally important!

A young girl in a blue satin coat smiles in front of a soviet apartment block in Pleven Bulgaria
We owe it to our daughter to at least visit her birth country! – Pleven, Bulgaria

Don’t let anybody tell you that travel is frivolous.

That’s for each of us to determine on our own. For us, buying an expensive truck would be frivolous.

How Expensive is Travelling as a Family?

I already covered most of how to afford travelling with kids, by adjusting your priorities. What about the extra expense?

There are no two ways about it, travelling with kids does increase your expenses.

There is zero or nearly zero discount for kids airfare, so that extra cost is pretty big.

Having one kid isn’t as big of an adjustment as two or more. One kid means your flights are $2100 instead of $1400, with two it’s doubled, and that just seems a lot worse!

Click here to read allll of my hacks for saving on flights!

A young girl in profile as she looks out an airplane window

Fear not, after you choke down the up front expense of adding the kiddos, the rest isn’t so bad.

First of all, travelling slow will definitely cut down on expenses. The less you move around the more you save.

Most hotels and apartments allow kids 6 and under for free. Most chain hotels charge the same room rate whether you have two guests or four (in a two-bed room.)

If you are renting an apartment with just a toddler we would rent a studio or one bedroom and either share a king bed with our daughter or make her a little couch cushion bed. It worked fine for us.

a little girl reaches up on her tip toes to open an old window in an apartment in Sintra Portugal
Sintra Portugal

Even if you choose a place that charges for kids, the extra accommodation cost is marginal.

(Do make sure you have a kitchenette, but most budget travellers are used to this even without kids.)

Meals and food costs don’t have to skyrocket being with your family. It’s more convenient to eat breakfast and usually dinner at the apartment anyways.

A young girl frowns over a bowl of soup in Varna Bulgaria
Not a fan of lunch in Varna, Bulgaria

Cooking for yourself always saves money. Because kids tend to be pickier, pick up lots of snacks at the grocery store because they probably won’t eat much of the foreign lunch menu (which again, just saves you money!)

In most scenarios, food costs won’t be much more than they would be at home.

Attractions will be more, but usually heavily discounted for kids, and that is a negligible amount in my experience.

We do a lot of outdoor activities and sightseeing, and not much paid entry, so I haven’t noticed a big difference.

A girl in a pink dress stands on an empty beach in Portugal stretching her arms towards the pale blue water.
Portimao, Portugal

Getting around in another place will cost very little extra (if any.)

Ubers and taxis charge by the carload, and public transit for kids is often cheap or free. Renting a car will be the same amount unless you have a lot of luggage.

Speaking of luggage, we don’t pay any extra to travel with a child. We still manage to pack carry on only, and bringing a stroller is always free.

At the end of the day, travelling with a small family is totally doable. I can see how there would be a cap to what one family can actually afford however.

If travel is important and you don’t have a high income, then having four or more kids might warrant some extra consideration.

Be Flexible

If you are a type A personality with a regimented touring schedule and a list of must-see sights in a 48 hour period, you will need to learn to be flexible. 

A man and his young daughter both in matching red plaid stand at the edge of a canal in Venice
Sometimes we are in a mood – Venice, Italy

We have been able to do almost anything we would have before, with our daughter!

I say almost anything, because real backpacking and hosteling is out now (not that we ever did that, I like a private bathroom!) as are strenuous hikes.

So you have to add more time to see everything, you take longer breaks for lunch and naps, and you have to find easier trails – None of those things make travelling unbearable!

A man and daughter peer into a fish pond in a lush green garden in Sintra
Pena Palace – Sintra, Portugal

We plan basically nothing ahead of time, in terms of sight seeing.

Maybe one or two big “must do” items per destination and the rest we discover when we are there.

If you have travelled a lot, you will know that happens anyway!

You arrive somewhere and find out there are a hundred other worthwhile things to do.

Raise flexible kids

I know a lot of this will come down to your kids’ personalities – and they can be big! – but if you want to travel with littles, do your best to raise flexible kids.

A girl sits in front of a plaster and brick wall in Venice Italy
Venice, Italy

The kind of kids that don’t need a super regimented and familiar schedule in order to function.

Have kids that are okay eating a bunch of snacks in the stroller instead of a 12 sharp lunch.

Visit nearby hotels or relatives overnight so that they can be comfortable sleeping away from home.

Don’t cancel everything so that they can nap at exactly 10:32 am.

If you aren’t blessed with flexible kids, travel with a completely open schedule so that you can maintain their routine as much as possible.

A girl smiles at the camera and holds up a piece of ravioli on a fork

There’s nothing wrong with that either.

Thankfully I have found that my own jet leg is the worst in the family, so don’t assume that it will be terrible with the littles.

I know there will be kids that just aren’t super flexible. We’re lucky and ours is.

You may decide when your kids are very small that it isn’t worth the trouble, but again that will be your choice at that time, and you will be okay with the decision.

At What Age Does It Get Easier?

If you are finding it difficult to travel with your kids, or you just don’t want to take the chance, you may be wondering, “When does this get better?”

Of course, like most parenting dilemmas, everyone has a different answer.

Most people surprisingly say that travelling with a brand new baby is not all that difficult. 

A baby being worn by his Dad

Their travel is also completely free because you don’t need to buy them an airline ticket, pay extra at hotels, or feed them anything different than at home.

If you choose to breastfeed, you can even be pretty mobile. 

Most parents agree that at ages one through three, travel is more difficult.

Because our daughter was adopted at 4, I don’t have any experience travelling with a newborn. However she was extremely delayed, diapered, and didn’t eat solids, so I feel like we got the full toddler experience. 

A toddler stands on a bridge near Big Ben
London, UK

She still travelled very well. She is actually still easier on the go, because she is so occupied with all the new things around her. It is the insane level of stimulation she needs, and I don’t have to do anything! 

We are lucky that way, but you won’t know until you try!

So, What Is the best age to travel with kids?

4+ is when Moms and Dads say that travel has gotten easier for them. 

At this age kids can skip naps, be more interested in their surroundings, and are hopefully a little more adventurous with food! Most will also be potty trained.

They also have developed some interests, and it can be so fun following them in new places.

A girl happily rides a coin operated Hello Kitty car in Lagos Portugal
We had fun trying all the coin operated rides that we came across in Portugal

Accept a different pace

In addition to having no predictable sightseeing schedule, getting around with kids is slower.

It’s also often a little bulkier because you need extra supplies and most times, a stroller.

We do still manage to pack extremely light, but it did take some practice. (See my extreme minimalist travel guide here.)

Accept that you may not see everything you wanted to. You will have quiet evenings in your hotel and apartment after the kids go to bed. 

A man and his daughter walk through a colourful garden at Balchik Palace, Bulgaria
A slow stroll through the grounds at Balchik Palace, Bulgaria

You might think it sounds horrible now, but taking things slow is a different and worthy travel experience of its own.

Enjoy the Differences

Slow travel is my new favourite thing ever!

I have really enjoyed the change of pace that comes with a family. We like experiencing a sliver of the same life as the locals at our destinations.

We like cooking for ourselves, and waking up on a Saturday to say “what should we do today?”

A man and daughter dig on the beach at sunset in Albufeira Portugal
Albufeira, Portugal

Benefits of Travelling With Your Kids

There are actually a lot of things that rock about travelling with kids!

As an anxious person, my number one is not being scrutinized at passport control or customs.

When it was just Jason and I and our backpacks, we got extra searches and extra questions ALL THE TIME.

Now they don’t even look at us twice. They see a child, and they know these crazies are going to go home (and most likely don’t have drugs, I suppose.)

Locals are friendlier to people with kids, because kids are fun!

A little girl stands in front of an open gate in Venice
Venice, Italy

You will get warmer and happier service at restaurants, hotels, and just about anywhere.

People are less suspicious if you approach for a little help with directions, because you’re clearly just a little lost tourist family.

An overlooked perk to travelling with kids, is being able to do the “kid things.”

Last year we went to an Enchanted Forest, we get to try out indoor playgrounds, and just generally do things that would be a bit weird for a couple of grown-ups.

A girl in a fairy dress admires fairy houses in the enchanted forest near Revelstoke BC
Enchanted Forest – Revelstoke, BC

Drawbacks of Family Travel

There are a few things that you just can’t do with kids. Hosteling is one that I mentioned earlier. 

There may be family friendly hostels in the world, but not in a dorm setting (because who would want that?)

Nightclubs are out, unless you travel with a family member who can babysit, or know and trust someone local. (I’m 30+ and too anxious to go clubbing in the first place, so this isn’t something we’ve given up.)

Extremely fancy restaurants are also unlikely to be kid friendly. Even if they allow kids, it isn’t likely somewhere that you will be able to relax with them. (Ditto I’m anxious, so we don’t do fancy anyways.)

We also travel on a budget, so again, not a loss for us.

A young girl stands at the top of a steep hike overlooking a lake
Hiking again! Paul Lake, BC

Is Travelling With Kids Safe?

First of all, kids add a level of protection in some ways, because most people wouldn’t attack a child in the first place. (Not that you should use your kids as a shield, just an observation!)

Second, you would be surprised at just how safe the rest of the world really is. If you haven’t travelled much yet, the things you see on the news may scare you off.

Something to remember: what you are seeing is news worthy.

Whatever scary thing has happened is so uncommon, that it made the news. 

It is definitely worth doing your due diligence and asking around to see if a destination is reasonably safe (from someone who has been there recently.) 

Keep in mind that people raise children in every part of this world, and most are comfortable doing so. Your tiny treasures are in good hands.

A man holds his daughter in front of a glacial lake on the Icefields parkway.
Waterfowl Lakes – Alberta

So, is it really possible to travel all over the world with a child in tow?

Yes! If you actually want to.

For the hardcore travel buff it will be hard to understand that most people with small kids stay home because travel doesn’t seem worth the hassle.

I know, it’s difficult to believe that could be the only reason.

I would do almost anything to travel, so to take things slower is not a big deal. If you like being able to see as many sights as possible in one day, then it will be a bigger compromise.

Venice, Italy

For others it is the expense that keeps them at home, but maybe not in the way that you think. 

Why spend the money travelling to Europe with a toddler if they would be just as happy at the spray park? 

…because you want to go to Europe. You can travel with kids and not be travelling for the kids.

We like going places, so it doesn’t matter to me if it is more expensive than something else that our daughter also likes.

A girl stands looking out over a lake with her hands on her hips
Yes, our local lake is fun too. Wabamun Lake, Alberta

Something else to consider, that you will not really understand until you have kids: We really enjoy spending that time together.

We don’t feel like we have to bring our daughter with us, we like having her with us.

So if you are already a parent, and you like spending time with your child, then you will enjoy travelling with them!

Are you feeling reassured?

Kids don’t have to stop you from travelling! You know what is more likely to stop you from travelling?

Being employed

Having a career (especially in North America) makes travel FAR more difficult than having kids does. I can honestly say that we have travelled a lot more since we became parents.

(Now our daughter was also adopted, so we literally travelled to become parents.)

Societal norms
Our workaholic culture sees travel as a luxury, but normalizes a nice house and new cars. This makes no sense to me.

Having a child is actually a pretty good excuse to take more time off. People may not think vacation is important, but they can respect you wanting to spend more time with your family.

A Mom, Dad, and daughter stand at the edge of a canal in Venice.
Venice again! (The eye bags are from jet lag and not the tot!)

Don’t Stress About Having Kids

One more thing: Don’t feel like you need to decide right now, even at 29 or 30, if you want kids or not.

The same people who are staying home because their kids are a hassle are the same people who had them young and close together so that they can count down the days until their empty nest. 

I prefer not to live that way. 18 years is a long time, and it’s better spent being enjoyed. I would way rather live every life stage to the fullest than wait for a perceived freedom later.

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Don’t worry about being an “old” parent. That isn’t a good motivation to start before you are ready.

If you are a woman and worried about your fertility, speak to your doctor. There are tests that they can do to give you an idea of how much time you have. More and more women are choosing to have their first baby in their mid-30’s or later.

In Conclusion

It’s difficult to plan how your specific kids will affect your travels, but if you are motivated to succeed then you will find a way! 

For me personally, if travelling is even the same as everyday life at home, then I would choose everyday life somewhere new and exciting!

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I could always go for a change of scenery at breakfast or on the trip to the grocery store.

If you have kids already, do you travel with them?

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