How to Create a Successful Family Trip with Kids

I’ve researched, planned and executed family trips with kids to over 20 countries (which doesn’t count trips without kids to over 40 more).  Our sons, now nearly 20, 22 and 24 years old, were just 5, 7 and 9 when we took them on the first of what then became our annual summer adventures. Since that first trip to Australia, I’ve figured out what ‘formula’ works to keep everyone happy and engaged while experiencing new places. As our boys grew from grade-schoolers to middle schoolers to high schoolers to college-age young adults the general ‘formula’ stayed the same, with the locations and activities adjusting as the kids grew up. 

Whether it be a family road trip to the Grand Canyon or a far-flung adventure to Namibia, successful trips with kids have a few things in common….by design. Each family is different, with specific personalities, interests, budgets, and type of travel desired but through my own experience and through talking to others who have done extensive travel with kids it seems these principles can be applied to almost any family. 

Top 8 ways to create a successful family trip :

1. Set yourself up for success. Pick a destination your kids are likely to enjoy, that you can also look forward to. 

Duh. This sounds obvious, but I know many parents who have taken their kids to places they think their kids SHOULD see and enjoy or places they themselves want to go, without thinking if their kids really are LIKELY to enjoy it. As a parent, you can feel you’re doing your child a huge service by exposing them to the art of Paris for a week. However, if I had taken my three middle school boys for 5 days of museum visits in Paris in the August heat they might never have wanted to travel with me (or on their own) again. That type of trip would have frustrated everyone in our family and been a huge disservice to the kids. 

You must know your kids and what they like, and plan accordingly around what they are likely to enjoy, but not at the risk of choosing something you won’t enjoy. Do you hate theme parks? Then don’t take them to Disney World. Do your kids find joy in outdoor activities? Consider a water-based trip. Do you wilt in hot, humid weather? Don’t go to Vietnam in August. Are your kids history buffs? Plan accordingly. Make sure that the trip has something for everyone to look forward to. The last thing you want is for you to tell your unhappy kids how fortunate they are to be doing something that you knew they weren’t interested in doing in the first place, or for you to be suffering through something you knew you wouldn’t enjoy.

I knew early that our family trips would be successful if they included outdoor activities. Exploring slot canyons in Arizona, swimming in Croatia, sand surfing down dunes in Peru, rafting in Colombia – outside was better for us. We had city visits as part of the trips, but always chose the location of the trip based around the availability of outdoor activities. 

2. Plan the right balance of activities that work for your family. Sprinkle in the culture when the kids are small, and increase as they get older.

Your kids love being outdoors….but you really want to expose them to culture and art. How to find a balance so everyone is happy?  It’s a delicate balance that gets your kids to love travel and to appreciate foreign cultures. 

Bite-sized culture paired with a larger serving of activity work especially well when the kids are young and don’t yet fully appreciate the cultural aspect of a trip. The culture can be part of the activity itself (ie learn about the history of the Incas when climbing around Machu Picchu) or can be added into a day of other activities (ie tour a church in the morning and follow it up with gelato right afterward). When visiting Paris, for example, instead of spending all day in art museums, do a Louvre visit in the am with the goal of seeing three particular works of art (that you’ve shown the kids ahead of time so they know what they are looking for) and then take a Fat Tire bike tour around Versaille or visit the catacombs to see skulls instead of portraits in the afternoon. In Croatia, wander the ruins of an ancient city in the morning, and then spend the afternoon swimming in the clear blue water.

3. Have a set agenda/itinerary….but don’t overplan….and be flexible

If you are going for a beach vacation then you don’t necessarily need to have an itinerary, but if you are traveling with small kids overseas and plan to pack in a lot of activities, then a day by day plan is necessary. Trying to figure things out on the fly, or trying to get everyone’s input into a decision of ‘what do you want to do tomorrow’ doesn’t always turn out well. 

I’m the planner of our family, researching where we are going and what we are doing in each location. I make a spreadsheet that includes all the flight and hotel reservations and schedule in a day by day general plan, especially if it involves booking any tickets/tours/activities ahead of time.   The schedule should be loose and allow lots of room for things to change on the fly but it gives a structure to the trip and makes sure that any ‘must-see’ or ‘must-do’ activities are slotted in. And don’t forget the downtime. Whether your kids are 5 or 15, everyone needs a break. Time to read a book, sit in a cafe, take a nap or check emails. Don’t overschedule. Also good to have a backup plan in case the weather affects things, the mood on a given outing isn’t working, etc.  And most importantly ….when traveling with kids remember to remain flexible and always expect the unexpected! 

4. Include a few ‘pre-booked’ activities/tours.

Having a local guide can be great for a few reasons. 

  • It gives the parents a break and lets the kids listen to someone other than mom and dad. Why not have an art historian who’s great with kids explain about the masterpieces in a great museum (and who also gets you to the front of the line and knows how to  efficiently maneuver to what you should see)? 
  • It gives the kids (and you) a close interpersonal experience with a local person. This experience often goes beyond the ‘guide/traveler’ relationship as you find out things about the person, their life and the area you are in – far beyond just learning about the particular activity you have come to experience. Your children may well remember a great guide as much or more than the tour itself.
  • You gain access to activities and knowledge you wouldn’t otherwise necessarily have access to. Take a cooking tour in Hanoi and you’ll go to small markets you didn’t know existed, learn what all the exotic foods are and then learn how to cook and prepare the food in a local home and then enjoy the final meal. Hard to do that on your own.

Here is a previous blog with suggestions on the best resources to book activities ahead of your trip.

5. Get the Kids Involved in the Trip Ahead of Time

Someone once told me that 90% of the enjoyment of a trip is the anticipation of it. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do believe that there is a lot to be said for prepping for a trip, anticipating it and generally getting excited to go. If you get your kids involved in the trip ahead of time they are more excited about it and more vested in its success as well. Here are a couple of ways to make this happen:

  • Deciding where to go: As your kids get older they can have more input on the trip destination (or at least have more opinions!). If I was looking for their input it worked best when, rather than just asking for suggestions, we gave them a few pre-selected options that I knew met the criteria for a successful family trip and met the budget and timeframe that we wanted. If they helped make the choice they felt valued and vested in the trip.
  • Deciding what to do: There are a few families I know whose kids plan THEIR ENTIRE TRIPS – literally do all the research, book the hotels etc….and have done so from a YOUNG age. I did not have this experience but I can suggest trying to have your kids each plan one day of activities for the trip – or at minimum one activity for the trip. I failed at this myself but still LOVE the idea of it. Saying you are going to Italy – tell one child (when age-appropriate) to research Florence and pick a restaurant and one activity the family should do. Another child can do it for Rome. They will be so excited to show off and experience what they have chosen, plus they learn about the city and culture ahead of time. Again, I was not successful at this….but I wish I’d tried harder to make it happen!
  • Choosing a charity/local project to do community service with for a day: This is a great way for kids to experience the ‘non-touristy’ side of a location. While in South Africa our visit to a township that had us ballroom dancing (!) and playing sports with the kids was one of the most impactful memories of our trip.
  • Getting involved with people along the way in an authentic way, through sports, art, etc:  We took a soccer ball with us to Africa and had pick up games at each of our stops which got our kids engaged with other kids (and adults) within minutes, no matter what the language barriers were. Or bring paper and crayons and do an art project. It’s not about giving money or things (although we did leave our soccer balls with some kids when we left), but about finding a way for the kids to connect and share experiences. In walking through a poor area of a village in Peru one of our kids was very hesitant until we asked a local pick up soccer game if we could join and five minutes later that same son was laughing, making friends and fully immersed in this wonderful little town’s community feel.

6. Consider Including Friends/Family

Our best trips involved a week of family time and then, as the bickering was starting to bubble up we would join one or two other families for a second week. Our kids would have friends to hang with, instead of with their parents and siblings 24/7, and we would have friends to have a glass of wine with, instead of our kids 24/7.  Everyone would recharge and have a terrific second week of vacation. If you have friends or family with kids similar ages to yours who enjoy the same type of travel like you, it’s magic. 

7. Get The Kids Off Their Phones

If you are lucky enough to find a location where your kids don’t have cell service – or don’t have access to cell service when not on wifi – that’s great!  You might think that this would create unhappy kids, but I’ve found that when service is not available to them, vs not being allowed, they are generally ok with it. It’s not a ‘punishment’, but it’s just the way it is and they forget about it. When overseas you can choose a phone plan that makes it too expensive for the kids to use their phones when they are not on wifi, making them more ‘present’.

8. Have Quick Access to Food 

Seems like a silly thing to add, but food can sure make a difference in people being happy travelers and willing participants! Traveling with three growing boys, finding good food was always important. And having food on hand is even more important. A hangry teen is a universal issue.  Just keep snacks on you at all times.

And my main piece of advice is….JUST GO! Don’t worry about it being the perfect trip or the best trip. Just get it on the calendar. If you can fit it into your schedule and budget then make it happen. As the saying goes, when raising kids ‘the days go by slowly but the years go by quickly’. My boys are now working full time or busy with summer jobs and commitments and coordinating schedules to get a family trip on the calendar is harder and harder every year.  Those times we spent traveling as a family are some of the best memories of my life and whether we were an hour from home or across the globe, that time together was such a gift to us all.

So where have been our most successful locations for family trips (our family solo or with other families)? Here is the top choice from everyone in our family:

  • Oldest Son: 
  • Youngest Son:
    • Iceland (click to see itinerary): A week where we were inside only to sleep or have a meal. The landscape was the playground and activities included everything from snorkeling (in dry suits) the continental divide, to jeep canyon tours to waterfall visits to bathing in remote thermal pools. 
  • Middle Son and Husband: 
    • Boat Trip in Croatia (click to see itinerary). The mix of outdoor sports and water activity with the beauty and the culture was perfect. Days were spent jumping off the boat and swimming in clear, warm water and stopping in small villages to sightsee and for evening meals. 
  • Me: 
    • Namibia self-driving tour (click to see itinerary). Our week in a rented van driving through Namibia is my favorite family trip ever. We visited game reserves, kayaked with seals, ran up and down sand dunes, explored a couple of cities and went on a rhino trek. The boys were engaged, the family was together and it was terrific. This was followed by joining 2 other families for a guided safari in Botswana that was also a dream trip.


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Picture of Chrissie Kremer
Chrissie Kremer

I am a mixed bag traveler - I go the budget route on some things and splurge on others. I love family adventure travel, trips with girlfriends, or solo trips with my kids. I like urban exploration but prefer it coupled with outdoor activity (and when traveling with my kids it's more outdoor activity coupled with a dose of urban). I have been to 62 countries... and counting.

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Picture of Chrissie Kremer
Chrissie Kremer

I am a mixed bag traveler - I go the budget route on some things and splurge on others. I love family adventure travel, trips with girlfriends, or solo trips with my kids. I like urban exploration but prefer it coupled with outdoor activity (and when traveling with my kids it's more outdoor activity coupled with a dose of urban). I have been to 62 countries... and counting.


and receive the “Carry On Only Packing Guide”, free.