“We are going to fly to Seattle, hang out with our friends there, and road trip to Mt. Rainer National Park, Olympic National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Glacier National Park!”
After we told our friends our summer plans, most of them looked at us with a glazed look, thinking, “Wow, you are going to do that with four young kids? Good for you, I’d never do that if my kids were 8, 6, 4, and 2 like yours!”
But as y’all know, I’ve never let our kids ages (or finances! cheers to living as cheap as we can so we can travel) stop us from traveling: we have four kiddos and by the time our oldest was 5 years old he’d traveled through America, been to Mexico, twice to Thailand, and to Europe. Yup, we took a 5, 3 and 1 year old to Europe, and I have zero regrets!
Travel doesn’t have to stop when you have littles, it just looks different in this season, is still worth doing, and still fun, if you have the eyes to see it. Here are a few tips to make traveling with littles fun for all of you:
- Picnic as much as possible
Wanna know a major fun sucker while traveling with four young kids?
Eating out at restaurants!
While traveling, kids are extra hangry around meal times, so when you roll up into your booth at a quiet restaurant it’s like attempting to tame wild lions for the circus in the middle of a library, and nope, not successful.
Plus, usually you are paying for overpriced kid’s meals your kids halfway eat, and they’d be just as happy eating an affordable, and easy to make PB & J, or whatever lunch you know they always love.
So that’s why when we travel with our little kids, we remind ourselves that we aren’t on a Foodie Tour of the Best Places to Eat, instead we are on a Picnic Tour to find the Best Places to Picnic. And did we find some:
One of our fav unexpected picnic spots during our road trip out West, was in Ennis, Montana, a quaint town that’s downtown storefronts made us feel like we’d stumbled onto a Western movie set. We parked our car on the downtown strip, and right in front of us we saw a beautiful vibrant, green lawn with large shady trees, and wrought-iron tables and chairs with a statue of a stagecoach pulled by horses. We soon realized it was actually the lawn in front of a bank, but there was also a sign saying it was a park, so we decided to try to picnic there and see what happened.
The kids had breakfast for dinner: yogurt, cereal and bananas from our cooler, while Thai Hubby and I bought some noodle dishes from a place nearby. I read books aloud that we’d just picked up for 25 cents each from the Library book sale across the street while locals walked nearby with their big, fluffy dogs.
Turkey wraps, and cherries and spit out their seeds by the bank of beautiful Jackson Lake in the Grand Teton National Park.
Eating on a ferry ride chicken tenders and Thai salad that we’d grabbed from the grocery store in Orcas Island, devouring our feast while watching dolphins dive in the water near us.
Salami, crackers, and cheese in Twin Falls, Idaho at a little playground in the midst of a beautiful desert canyon, while Thai Hubby and I bought food from a cute Thai place in a strip mall nearby.
Croissant breakfast sandwiches from the Pioneer Grill (the restaurant in Jackson Lake Lodge where I worked 10 years ago as a server!!!) and took them outside to eat on benches while gazing at the Grand Tetons and oohing over adorable whistle pigs.
And many more!!
Yay for much sweeter, less stressful memories around meals during our trip than if we’d toughed it out forcing them to eat in a restaurant.
2. Got some grumpy travelers? Ask your kids what they want to do, and do it, and then do the same for you.
We were running into some grumpiness during our trip, which happens when you travel with 6 people and all of you love some of the same things, but also all love different things when you travel.
Ever been there?
But traveling with others is an awesome way to teach your kids how to show honor and think of others above yourselves, while also getting to enjoy what you love.
Our kids aren’t massive fans of hiking, but my Thai Hubby and I are. And if we are touring 5 national parks, we aren’t going to not hike just because they aren’t that into it.
But we aren’t massive fans of going on slides at playgrounds or swinging. But we aren’t going to let our children miss out on it just cuz we aren’t that into it.
So we told our kids what we wanted to do on our trip, hike in National Parks, go to cute coffee drive-throughs, drive on beautiful epic roads, and asked them what they wanted to do. Our 8 year old said he wanted to buy special treats at convenience stores along the way, and stay in a hotel.
Our 6 year old said she wanted to go to see the wildlife, go to the big city and ride on a train there.
Our 4 year old requested swimming and playgrounds, and our 2 year old was happy with anything as long as I was within sight, so he could be attached to my hip at moment’s notice. Mama’s boy all the way!
So we all got to do what we wanted to, and each time they started to whine when doing something they didn’t love, we’d remind them that their turn was coming, and that trying to enjoy what someone else loves, is a great way to show your honor and love for them, and helps you enjoy the activity more than you ever expected you would.
It wasn’t perfect, but it really helped.
3. Give out good traveler rewards.
If we were doing something our kids were going to be challenged by, like hiking in snow at Mt. Rainer!!! we always started the day saying if they did their best, and tried their hardest not to whine, they would get a good traveler reward at the end of the day, ice cream, or their favorite, a treat of their choice from a convenience store on the way home.
When we were at Olympic National Park climbing up steep Hurricane Ridge, after already hiking at Mt. Rainer the day before, my 4 year old was tired. But every time she started to almost whine, I could see her stop herself because she’d remember at the end of the day she’d get ice cream if she finished strong. And she did it!
I know I know, some people don’t like to use rewards to motivate kids. But I tell my kids it’s like when you are an adult, if you work really hard with a good attitude at your job, you could get a bonus or promotion. If my kids work hard to have good attitudes when a doing hard thing, good things come out of that, sometimes tangibly and sometimes not, but either way you’re growing, and that’s good.
But the key is to talk about the reward at the beginning of the day before any whining has started, so it’s a reward, and not a bribe. (Um, yes I’ve definitely bribed my kids before! Oops! And motivating them before the whining happens is definitely the better route!)
4. Take it slow and explore.
Most of my favorite memories from our trips with our kids, weren’t when we were bustling around trying to see as much as we could in one spot. It was when we were moving on kid time. Kids weren’t made to hustle, especially littles.
Like instead of attempting massive long hikes, we did short ones so our kids could take their time oohing over ants carrying worms, or marveling at the funny shapes of trees and how this one looks like it’s an old man, or stopping in the middle of our hike around Glacier Lake when my Thai Hubby dared our 8 year old that he’d give him $20 if he jumped in the glacier water, and he was SO proud he braved it and did it.
We also like to treasure hunt on our hikes, aka the kids search for treasures along the way, like cool shaped sticks, tiny, pretty flowers, funny looking bugs, or during one hike my daughter said the smell of the fraiser firs was her treasure. But treasures can’t be found when you are rushing through, but only when you take it slow and give yourself time to find them.
Or in downtown Seattle while ambling along taking in the sights, we stumbled upon H Mart, which is our favorite Asian grocery store. We ran inside full of glee to escape the 115 degree heat, devoured the A/C, meandered the aisles full of all our favorite Asian ingredients and goodies. Each kiddo got to pick out an Asian snack they loved, and I got an ice cold peach Jasmine tea. If we’d been racing through the city to see all the things before time ran out, we would have missed out.
5. Find the fun in traveling in whatever stage or age your kiddos are in.
During our trip, I kept thinking that my kids will never be 8, 6, 4, and 2 on a trip ever again. Joy crushers can say negative things about traveling with kids who are any of those ages, but I see how any age or stage your kid is in has a special fun that you can draw out of it and capitalize on while traveling.
Even a 2 year old? Yes! I felt like our 2 year old added such a tenderness, and spice to our wanderings. We have about 100 pictures of him sleeping in the car during our road trip because we’d ooh and aah over how adorable he was in whatever squeezed up position he was in sleeping in his car seat.
Yes, he threw 2 year old fits, but he also made us laugh at his silly antics, or smile at the cute way he said whistle pig, and how he was so enamored with little things like how focused he was playing in the dirt with his little bulldozer that he could have cared less that we were picnikcing next to Jenny Lake at the grandiose Grand Tetons.
Our 8 year old loved doing the license plate game with me and checking them off our sheet (License Plate Game tip: National Park parking lots are the best places to check off the most license plates!) My 4 year old loved looking for animals out the windows, and still napped in the car all the time, which is always nice when traveling with kids.
My 6 year old on her own asked if she could make an adventure book about our trip. Yes please! She drew pictures and wrote down what we did on our adventures while riding in the car (the pic above is of the wild animals, like bison we saw on our trip out west).
Each stage your kids are in has beauty in it, and make the most of whatever stage they are in! If you’d like more tips about traveling with kiddos or the benefits of it, check out my 4 Reasons Why I Travel Internationally with Toddlers post! And DM me at Instagram if you have any questions!