Ten Realities of Family Travel

Airplane SafetyWe’re planning a family trip!

Okay, I’m planning a family trip and I’m periodically keeping people updated on details, which is sometimes how we do things around here.

In a couple of weeks we’re bound for a conference in Korea and taking the boys. Mike and I are currently getting mileage out terms like “Seoul Brothers,” and taking bets on which of our kids will be the first to freak out when he’s served kimchi.

We’ve traveled with the boys since they were really young and I can say without a bit of sarcasm that family travel is an area where teens win out over any other age.

Or maybe it’s just that our perspective’s evolved. First there’s the journey. If you’ve flown with babies and toddlers, everything else is cake. The only thing less fun than flying with a crying baby, after all, is trying to pretend you’re not the silly person who brought the baby on the plane.

But no teenager worthy of his teen card is going to be put off by the thought of the twelve-hour stretch from Seattle to Southeast Asia. Sitting in front of a screen for a good chunk of time with an occasional snack? Around here that’s called Saturday.

And, no matter the evidence teens regularly provide that entire lobes of grey matter have yet to develop, they can usually carry their own luggage, read maps, and navigate subway systems. Some days that’s more than I can manage.

Okay, maybe they’ll fall asleep on the train and miss all the good scenery. They might declare in a crowded museum dedicated to a certain earless artist that van Gogh is the most boring painter who ever lived. Maybe they’re prone to messing around with revolving doors, leading a certain mother to stub her toe and swear loudly at the exact moment she is entering the very echo-y main hall of a cathedral.

On the whole, though, travel with teenagers is fabulous.

But, no matter the age of our kids, as we’ve traveled as a family, there are a few things that remain fairly constant from trip to trip:

  1. There will be meltdowns. Whether I’m cussing in a cathedral, or my kid is losing it over six floors of van Gogh, there is a point on every journey for which one of us will need to be forgiven later.
  2. Someone will lose something. Whether it’s a laptop charger or an entire bag of souvenirs for the people who are keeping our lawn from dying, by the end of the trip, something will have been sacrificed to the travel gods. You know the mantra: “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints?” We’re prone to leaving a little extra. We try not to pack anything that can’t be replaced.
  3. We’ll need a down day. Whether someone’s recovering from a meltdown, or a stomach problem, there is usually one day where we split up as a family so one of us can stay behind with a sicko.
  4. We cannot pack as much into a trip as we’d like. We’re from the west where a person can drive all day and barely make it across state lines. It’s not easy to have the proper perspective with places, say, like Europe, where they’ve packed all the things so close together. We’d drive 400 miles out of our way to see a Corn Palace for cripe’s sake (well, we haven’t but totally would. It’s a palace. Made of corn). Having done the “five countries in five days” thing, we’ve learned the hard way that seeing everything isn’t the same as experiencing it. This trip we’re staying in one city.
  5. We will probably pack too much into our bags, however. I cannot fathom how my son can wear the same outfit for ten days in a row. It completely grosses me out. But it’s a gift when you don’t want to carry so much. Someday I’ll get it. In the meantime, there are space bags for chronic over packers.
  6. We’ll never be sorry we packed the Pepto. I’ll spare you the details, but a week on travel food has uncomfortable consequences.
  7. Not everyone will be enthusiastic about the same thing. My idea of a good time might well be six-floors of sunflowers and street scenes. I travel with people whose wish list includes sampling the McDonald’s value menu of every place we visit. We compromise. Kind of. I’ll wait in the café down the street while you get your burger.
  8. Anxiety comes with the territory. Although we enjoy travel, there’s a low hum of stress going on the entire length of any trip. Will we be able to find our hotel? Will someone barf in the taxi? Will lunch trigger a food allergy? Will someone be goofing around like an idiot and not make it on the train before the doors close? These are all things that float around in the back of my brain.
  9. We’ll need to go easy on each other. Travel tension tends to bring out the worst in people. We need to remind ourselves to accept apologies easily, pay compliments readily, and stop reminding mom about that time she swore in a cathedral.
  10. We’ll have stuff to talk about for a long time. Family travel, with all its ups and downs, is a bonding experience. Let’s face it, no one will enjoy our trip photos, or our hilarious-only-to-us stories as much as we will. After we’re safely home, we’ll relish this trip and others with copious rounds of “remember when” at the dinner table.

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2 thoughts on “Ten Realities of Family Travel


  1. Oh I love your list and can relate to so many of them!!! Traveling with little kids is not really fun, lol. I always remind myself to just go with the flow and don’t expect too much….then I won’t be disappointed. Ha ha. That’s so nice you just have teenagers now! And how cool is that that you’re going to Korea! What a neat experience. I can’t wait to hear all about it!
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