Car Camping For Families

Introducing your kids to camping is a great idea. We develop our comfort level for living based on things we are exposed to as children. For example, I’m still scared of dogs, partly because my own Mom is scared of dogs and we never had one as a pet.

While backpacking camping (where you walk with your gear in a pack) is a stretch for families, car camping doesn’t need to be any less comfortable than staying in a motel.

Car camping is also cheaper than backpacking camping as you don’t need to buy nearly as much specialized gear. Since you have more weight and space available to you, you can often make do with stuff you already have. For example, you might be able to use an air mattress you already have at home inside your tent. We usually chuck a regular old duvet and pillows in the car for cooler weather camping, instead of splashing out on sleeping bags.

You can also use gear you buy for camping when you’re back home. If you’re an occasional camper, focus on purchasing gear that is multi use like the air mattress.

If you’re new to camping, you might choose to borrow gear from friends and family the first few times you go rather than buying your own. It makes sense to see if you enjoy the experience before you outlay money on camping equipment.

Don’t be too brand loyal or store loyal when you’re buying camping gear. It’s easy to be sucked in by shiny showrooms and glossy photos of people living an aspirational lifestyle. Make a list of what you really need and stick to it. A good approach is to decide your budget and then say to yourself, “I’m going to get the best tent/camp cot/camping chair etc. on sale that I can buy under X dollars.”

The best types of camping holidays for families are where you find a nice campsite that has some easy walks and, depending on your locale, a beach or lake nearby. You want to be able to enjoy simply hanging out at the campsite, reading some books and playing some family games. Make sure you pack some playing cards! Go for a tent with plenty of room so if you get rained in you can live with needing to be stuck inside it for a while. Or, ideally go to a camping ground that has adequate common areas for people to mix and mingle if it’s raining. Encourage your children to talk to and play with other children staying at the campground. Take things like a ball and Frisbee to facilitate this.

You won’t need a camping cook set if you go somewhere that gives you access to a communal kitchen. Just take along your oldest pots and utensils from home.

Ideally go camping somewhere that’s only a 2-3 hour car ride away. You don’t want to arrive all grumpy when you get there. You’ll also go more often if you find places you like that are close to home. Having some games and special toys that your kids only get to use when they’re going on long car rides will help keep them occupied and content.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, dsopfe

Multi-Generational Trips to Europe

What’s the big plus of multi-generational travel? Free child care!!

Of course, I also mean quality bonding time for grandchildren and grandparents, as well as for you and your parents.

But really, what I mostly mean is free child care, lol. Who can look past the potential benefits of free child care while traveling, meaning that you actually get some relaxation while on your vacation.

Bringing grandparents on your travels means you have the option of going out in the evenings as a couple since your kids can stay safe “at home” in your hotel or Airbnb apartment with Grandma.

If you’re going to go this route then there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind.

– Who’s paying? Families vary a lot in terms of financial resources. In some case you should accept that you’ll need to pay for the expenses of your accompanying grandparents. Hey, they changed your nappies and put up with your teenage goth phase, you owe them! At the other end of the spectrum, you may have parents who are financially comfortable and who want to pay for more than their share of the expenses. We know families where the grandparents come on the trip and insist on paying for virtually everything except flights. When they have more money than they can ever spend themselves, they seem to like to do this and it’s not particularly awkward. You just need to make sure you can comfortably pay your share if for some reason they deviate from their usual pattern.

– Grandparents may have some special needs. For example, consider their ability to walk up stairs. Some places in Europe don’t have elevators so think about that before you book a 3rd floor apartment or budget hotel. Since you’ll be doing more walking than usual, everyone will probably be tired and not have much energy by the end of the day. The types of trips that allow for more relaxation and less walking, are things like European river cruises.

– If you’re travelling somewhere with a hot and/or muggy climate make sure the apartment or a budget hotel you book has good air-conditioning.

– You will need to pace your days slower when traveling with young children and older adults. If your kids are still taking naps then this can be a good reason for everyone to have a siesta in the mid afternoon or for just a long leisurely picnic lunch back in your apartment.

– If you’re hiring a car, keep in mind that it might not be as easy for older people to squeeze in the back. It’ll probably be cheaper to book a large size car at the outset rather than upgrade at the rental car counter. Rental agencies will likely have much more inventory of very small cars in Europe since small cars are more common there than in the US. You’re therefore probably less likely to end up with a free upgrade to a large car based on them running out of small cars, as often happens in the US.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Dany13

Cutting Down Your Travel Costs When Travelling as a Family

When you travel with kids you’re going to need to expect that your costs will go up compared to travelling as a couple or as a solo traveller.

Here are a few things to consider:

– Hotels will tend to charge you for extra rollaway beds for the kids. In the US, you can usually book a room with 2 queens and make that work for a family of 4 by having 1 adult sleep with 1 kid in each bed. However in many places, you won’t have the option of two queens. A good solution is to buy a portable travel bed for your child and take it with you. Have them try sleeping in it at home so you can make sure they will sleep in it before you leave on your trip – that way you can return it if your child refuses to use it. There are quite a few options available from Walmart or Target and the like.

– Don’t forget annual multi trip travel insurance as an option for saving money if you take more than one international trip a year. Insurance is important as a solo traveller but it’s even more important when you’re travelling with kids. You don’t want to even think twice about whether you take them to the doctor or emergency room if any mishaps happen or they’re not feeling well. Make sure you shop around as there can be large differences in the premiums and coverage, what is best for one family won’t be best for another.

– Eating out. Kids usually don’t want to eat at a restaurant for every meal. In fact, we know lots of travelling families who don’t eat at restaurants at all when they travel because their kids don’t like to sit still and wait for food, and it’s more hassle than it’s worth. Overseas it may be harder to get a high chair at restaurants than it is in the US. Consider eating more meals in your hotel room, or stay in vacation apartments. You might also consider doing takeaway. If you don’t have access to cooking facilities, you can still usually make do with picnic style meals. Take some basic picnic supplies like plastic plates. Brainstorm some ideas for hotel room picnic style meals in advance. If your kids eat toast for breakfast every morning, you might even consider purchasing a cheap toaster for your room. If your kids like cereal, then make sure you book a room with a mini fridge.

– If budget is a big issue but you still want to travel, consider buying cheap camping gear at your destination. We prefer renting a car and bringing a tent to renting a camper van. Buying gear at your destination will often be cheaper than hauling it with you, but do the sums. Camping gear can be expensive in some places such as Australia and New Zealand. For some countries, bringing it is definitely the best option. If tenting is too rustic for you, you may be able to rent cheap cabins at campgrounds or book a family room at a hostel.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Aidan

Paris for Families

Paris is known for romance, but can it also be a family travel destination?

– Pastries!

Just as for adults, food can be a trip highlight for kids too. Your kids will probably even find McDonalds in Paris entertaining because the menu is in French, but what kid isn’t going to love a trip to the boulangerie. Do a bit of research in advance to find out which pastry and baguette shops you are keen to hit.

No matter how old your child is, try to teach them a little bit of the language. Older kids can try asking for their baguette in the store. Younger children can learn how to say Bonjour and Merci. You’re bound to get a great response from Parisians if you’re kids are trying out their French.

– Falafel in the Marais.

Falafel in the Marais is another family-friendly meal idea. It’s delicious, healthy and inexpensive.

– Smaller Museums

If you’re going to take on a museum you might choose something like the wonderful Musee D’orsay over the Louvre. Now it’s not small, but it’s not as giant as the Louvre and the queues tend to be shorter. Make sure you pace yourself and don’t expect your kids’ attention span while travelling to be much longer than it is at home.

– The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower is iconic enough that even most kids will be interested in seeing it. Going up to the top can involve long waits so make sure you’ve had some nap time if you plan to try going to the top of the tower in the evening.

– Disneyland Paris.

If you’re planning a trip to Paris and want to make sure you’re kids feel that their preferences are being taken into account, then Disneyland Paris is a no brainer. Shop around for your online for your tickets and find the price and package that works best for your family. It’s tempting to get a long multi-day pass since the cost per day is less but remember you don’t need to see everything on one trip. Disneyland is fun but there is a lot else in Paris that is worth devoting time to.

– Segway tours

If your children are 12 and over they’ll likely enjoy a Segway. You can even do night time tours. For younger children, you’re more limited to the hop on, hop off buses but bear in mind that there can be significant amounts of waiting involved with these too.

Our main tip for a trip to Paris is to plan to do much less than you’re thinking. Give your kids lots of chill out time so that they won’t be too tired or grumpy to tolerate waiting in line. Allow them to have some time playing on their computers or tablets at the hotel rather than expecting them to be on the go all day. Ideally, try to keep to the same schedule of bed, meal and nap-times that you do at home.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Jeremy Thompson