As a working family, vacation time is extremely precious. You may only get one shot a year to satisfy that craving for adventure, culture and relaxation. Travel mistakes can cost time and money, or leave you coming away with the feeling it wasn’t all it could have been. Don’t let that happen to you!
To have the best vacation ever, avoid these 10 family travel mistakes:
Eating only at well-reviewed restaurants
One of the best things about a new country is all the incredible food you get to try. When researching food and places to eat, there’s usually that one exceptional restaurant that you’re really excited to try. Awesome! Just don’t go overboard trying to stick to restaurants that have been heavily rated on TripAdvisor. These places are used to tourists and have adjusted their menu – and prices – accordingly. For the most authentic food around markets and touristy areas, watch for where the workers are eating. Plastic chairs and a hand written menu in the local language are good signs. It can feel a little intimidating to approach, but trust me, THIS is how you will eat the best food for the best prices.
Avoiding the locals
There are two types of vacations you can have:
1 – Your family is driven from point A to point B, you see all the touristy spots on your list, you dine with other tourists, and you come home with some lovely family memories and photos to show.
2 – You get a feel for the way of life, use the transit systems, let your children play with local kids and have an open mind when meeting new people. A more enriching way to travel, each new place will become part of you forever.
One of my favourite travel memories is in Turkey, we were parasailing at a resort, and we were invited back to the parasail operator’s house to have dinner with his family. We trusted our gut, accepted the invitation, and had a wonderful evening with this kind stranger’s family and most of his neighbours, who all popped in for dinner too!
If you’re lucky enough to be invited to someone’s home- and your instincts tell you it checks out – go for it! It could become your best travel moment.
This one makes all the “travel mistakes” lists because it is just so true. Travel light and travel happy. I can usually get by on two pairs of shoes (Rasho is a different story!). I avoid jeans when possible because they’re heavy and take forever to dry. A week away would look something like: three pairs of leggings, one nice pair of pants, three T-shirts, two long sleeved shirts (one kinda nice), one tank top and one sweater. A hot destination would be skirts (long and short), tank tops, at least one modest shirt that covers shoulders, one pair of light pants and one light sweater. Pockets are good. Microfibre travel towels are awesome and can be strapped to your daypack, if you’re going to the kind of place where you need to bring your own towel. Minimal toiletries don’t waste weight and space. I’d rather spend $5 – $20 on laundry (self serve or a service) than carry around twice the clothes. Besides, if you desperately need something, you can just pick it up wherever the locals buy their essentials.
Being too cool for rolling suitcases
While we’re on the subject of packing…Rasho and I used to backpack everywhere, but now with two little kids in tow, FORGET that. Don’t be too cool for suitcases that you can load up and steer with one hand. Don’t forget kids get full luggage allowance on airplanes too! Unless you’re…
Trying to save money on the cheapest possible air fares
This one can SOMETIMES work, if you bring your own snacks, fill up water bottles at the airport and bring your own entertainment. Discount airlines charge extra for all that, plus luggage will be an extra fee. However, if parents and kids can share suitcases you’ll probably still come out ahead. UNLESS the idea is to buy a cheap fare to a major hub and then connect on a discount airline to another location. This is where it can get expensive and I haven’t had any success with this. Especially considering major airlines often fly into one airport and the connection you need could be at a different airport (think Heathrow and Gatwick in London; Pearson and Billy Bishop in Toronto; or Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang in Bangkok). The transfer between airports can be super expensive (you’ve got to come back too), and you need to pay luggage fees again. Also, if you opt out of cancellation insurance, you’re 100% out the money if your plans change, whereas full-fare airlines usually have some options (for a big fee, but at least not the whole fare) if you need to change your flight. Which brings me to….
Not getting insurance
You need this, and you know it. I honestly don’t buy cancellation insurance or anything directly from the airline, but I do try to book with a useful credit card that has my back if anything goes wrong. Medical insurance, however, has my respect and I don’t mess around with it. Some workplaces provide worldwide medical insurance for employees; check if yours does. If not, shop around and don’t leave the country (or even the province, really) without proper coverage. There’s a running comedy of errors in my travel history that has left me hospitalized with: a tooth being knocked out; mysterious tummy illness (one full week in hospital); a sunburn event that left me temporarily paralyzed; and various other annoyances (UTIs just love vacations, am I right?). Tens of thousands of dollars that insurance has paid for. Say no more.
Not giving every family member a say
The secret to a successful family trip is making sure each family member gets something special out of it. With competing values – relaxation vs wanting to see EVERYTHING in our case – it doesn’t pay to railroad the other into what we want. Plan something for everyone, even if that means splitting up for a day. Bonus: I love saving money this way. Why pay for four tickets to a death mask exhibit when I’m the only weirdo that wants to see it?
Not splurging at least once
There’s driving from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon in a discount rental. And then there’s driving from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon in a white Mustang convertable with the top down. The splurge: worth it. We never shell out for 5 star luxury treatment on our trips because if we did, we could only afford to travel once every few years. BUT there is usually one experience that can take your trip to the next level and leave the best memories. Whether it’s the Kobe beef in Japan, or hammam treatment in Turkey, indulge. Future you thanks you.
Being too strict with the kids
We’ve been guilty of this one. Screen time, later bedtimes, candy…lifesavers of a travelling family. Enforcing these like it’s home can lead to a bad situation. Being too free will backfire of course, but on vacation it’s okay to loosen up a little. Long hours flying takes a number on everyone, and if some Wiggles videos make things easier, take the help! Same goes for sensory overload, or scenery fatigue (that’s a thing). Sometimes we all need a little pick-me-up and some time out to process. Which brings me to the last point…
It’s natural to want to get the most out of every second of your trip. You’re thinking ‘I didn’t travel halfway around the world to watch TV!’ True…but…an overscheduled itinerary will leave everyone exhausted and cranky. Build in rest days on a longer trip, or set aside a couple hours a day on shorter trips for everyone – especially children – to relax however they like. Playing in the pool, reading, colouring, video games – all good. Remember that while this is your big trip, it’s also your vacation – maybe the only one you get all year – so don’t feel guilty about doing absolutely nothing at all. You deserve it.
Are you guilty of any of these? I know we are! What’s your best family travel tip? Share in the comments!