What is it actually like to go backpacking with small kids? Is it really vacation or just work? Well, it depends what your intentions for the trip are.
First and foremost, it is always a challenge to travel with other individuals than yourself. You have to consider the needs and wishes of other people and the compromise is always floating around to poke you in the back when you need your me-time the most. To travel with children is like putting an extra weight onto the compromising-cloud. And if you think you can just travel with your bucket list and tick all the sights off the way you want it you can be sure to get a real reality slap in the face.
So what do you do? We´ve listed a few things that have helped us during our travels so far.
#1 Drop the to do list
I think the key to a successful family trip is to throw away the bucket list. Or make a completely different one. One that is less focused on concrete goals and more on experiences. For example, we have sketched out a rough road map that we are following during our trip, of spots and cities we would like to visit in the US. But most of all we are taking each step as it comes and depending on how well each step works out we will adjust our roadmap to that. This kind of day-to-day travel is not only making us open to whatever interesting spots we find on the road but also make us more flexible to the kids needs. The traveling is more about us exploring together than us exploring the venue. And sometimes exploring can be about something as simple as going to the nearest playground and interact with the kids and their parents.
#2 Make room for reflection
When you travel around you get a lot of impressions. If you don´t take time to process these you get pretty tired. When you are traveling with kids it is even more important to take these breaks where you just sleep in and watch TV or read a book for a whole day just to get back on track. It is easy to get struck by the “we-have-to-get-out-and-see-the-place” feeling when you are on the road that you easily forget why you are actually traveling and who you are doing it all for. We humans are natural performance-junkies. We constantly strive to do things, be productive, get somewhere and to show off with our performance we take pictures of it and post them in social media. And the performance devil works just as hard during a family vacation as in your daily life, unless you choose to actively break up with it. Here you can really learn from your kids. They usually put their small fingers on a feeling long before we adults have detected it ourselves.
#3 Focus on the people you meet
Early on when planning this trip, we decided that our main goal during our travels is to be open to the people we meet, and through them get a picture of our destination. Airbnb is a great way of traveling if you are really interested in meeting people and find out more about how their lives look like. Compared to a hotel you can also get much better deals and you very often have the possibility to cook yourself. We´ve stayed at great places in the US for under 100 dollar per night (whole apartments with kitchen and two bedrooms). Very few hotels can offer a prize setting like that. In Cuba we were blessed with the casa particulares which works out more or less in the same way as Airbnb. You stay with people in their homes. In casa particulares however it is not very common that you get your own kitchen. There the host often offers to cook for you for a very fair prize. Money-wise it is a very cheap way to travel. Approximately 25-30 dollar per night as a family. We´ve met so many fantastic people through casa particulares and Airbnb. And we´ve gotten much more genuine and upfront pictures of our destinations than we would get at any hotel.
#4 Stay longer at each place
Now this is something that we are still practicing. When you go on a road trip the natural behavior is very often to go somewhere, maybe stay two or three nights at the most and then go further. But this constant on-the-road mentality is something that can be really energy draining. Especially when you have kids. For children, it often takes some days to get accustomed with the surroundings and accept the new people they´ve met. And if you only stay two days you more or less leave when they start to feel comfortable. So, we will try to make the stays longer in general. This is also giving us the opportunity to get closer to the people we meet on the way.
#5 Bite the bullet
And still, even though you try your best to work out the perfect travel mentality sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. There are moments where you are destined to chase screaming kids through the aisles of a supermarket, or yell at them in the backseat because they cannot stop hitting each other, mostly because they are totally unstimulated after sitting in the car the entire day. Some things you just have to live through as a family because there are things you have to do and places you need to be. But you´ll manage and your kids will manage. And suddenly, 10 minutes later the sun is shining again and the kids are giggeling while you sigh out your frustration and put a smile back on your face.
What is your own recipe for a successful family trip?
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