Real Talk: Kids and Travel

Greetings from Camp Granola! Normally for Granola Talk I muse on something I’ve read that’s put me in a semi-philosophical mood. Today though I’d like to dive into a practical subject… travel with kids. What’s got me noodling is this post by fellow blogger Hilarye over at Dotting the Map.

Moments like these make all the frustrations worthwhile. (Fred at the Tennessee Aquarium, 2008)

Is it worth it?

So Hilarye’s conundrum is overcoming the difficulties of travel with young children. Certainly it can be an extremely trying experience… so much so that it seems a fruitless endeavor. Even when you understand the value of travel for children like Hilarye does, it’s still tough battling the frustrations of it. Fortunately, she received lots of wonderful advice in her comments on the post but I wanted to add a few thoughts to the discussion and figured I could be more long-winded about it here. Plus I can take you on a pictoral trip down Camp Granola memory lane…

George’s first camping trip? Not so smooth. In fact, it was a bit of a disaster. We worked out the kinks though… (FDR State Park, 2003)


The biggest factor in travel with little ones (or even big ones for that matter) are setting reasonable expectations and defining your purpose for the travel. Travel with kids means you have to have a different approach. You won’t be visiting swanky restaurants and plays. You probably won’t be on a week-long backcountry trek either. You simply have to stick to more age-appropriate activities. While it may seem that you will forever be stuck in the toddler years, they do slowly gain independence and you get to widen your travel palette.

So yes it gets easier but it also changes. Little ones are more just along for the ride. As they get older, their new-found independence also means new-found opinions. They want input too so you end up in lots of negotiations about what to do. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a great lesson in compromise and planning… but it can be exhausting.

Even now that Fred and George are firmly in the tween years, there are still compromises to be made. They aren’t going to get up at 5 am to go with me to shoot a sunrise. Not going to happen. So I work around it. We can still get in a great hike and I take the shots I can get within a reasonable time frame. I have to save some things for when they’re not with me but that doesn’t mean I don’t ask them to work with me in other ways.

They don’t stay high-maintenance forever… (Panola Mountain State Park, 2003)
Kids travel at a different pace. Know their limits and yours. (Fred and George at Stone Mountain in 2003)

Walk in the park…

The point to keep in mind is that parenting at home isn’t exactly a walk in the park either. It’s hard across the board and you have to look at the net difference in the challenges. Ask yourself would you rather be out exploring even though there are hiccups or would you rather be home with many of the same parenting hiccups. The true big pitfall here is that if you’ve got wanderlust, staying at home because of the kids is going to become a very, very sore point.

Travel ignites their imaginations in the real world. (George at Cumberland Island in 2009)


Depending upon your education philosophy, the kids schedules will certainly cramp your style once they hit school-age. Your travel calendar is not only limited to school breaks but those breaks are the same ones everyone else with kids has at their disposal. You’ll have to battle crowds at that point. The advantage of traveling in the toddler and pre-school years is pretty clear there. Of course, if you decide to embrace roadschooling and experiential education, you can travel whenever you like and maintain the off-peak bliss of the younger years… 😉

A love of exploring can be fostered from the get-go. (Fred at Sweetwater Creek State Park in 2001)
George’s idea of a birthday present? A trip to Rock City to see seven states. Traveling young sets the stage for blooming curiosity. (2008)


One of the tough parts of parenting whether you’re a traveler or not is balancing your needs with theirs. Speaking as someone who failed miserably in this respect, I can certainly look back and see the times when I should have been questioning my efforts like Hilarye and Reid are now. All I can say is find to a balance that works for you and that missing the kids is a good thing from time-to-time. Sure, you’ll have moments when you wish they were with you but remember they’re having adventures where they are too.

Even now that they’re tweens, I sorely missed my camping buddies on my solo trip to the Smokies. There were so many things they would have loved! But I knew full-well they were on their own adventures with Grandma. And that’s ok… it gives us so much to talk about when we’re back together.

It does get easier. They won’t always need to be carried around in backpacks… (George at Sweetwater Creek State Park, 2003)


It’s important to know your limitations in travel. I’m all for pushing boundaries but not so much that you ruin your experience. And since kids have their limits as well, it’s a tough juggling act. Work your way up to the big stuff.

Would I have attempted a five-week camping road trip with them when they were babies or toddlers? No. Way. George was horrible in the car as a baby. It would have been pure misery. Back then it was at a smaller scale that matched our abilities. We’ve come a long way!

No, I didn’t get to hike rim-to-rim but I wouldn’t have missed taking the boys to the Grand Canyon. (2009)
After awhile they even learn to help each other. (Chattahoochee Nature Center, 2005)


Yes, traveling can be expensive with a clan in tow. Each family has their own budget contraints but fortunately there are many ways to travel to accommodate those different situations. What I will say is that the return on your travel investment, whether small or large, can’t be measured in currency. It can make it difficult to justify the expense of travel when you’re questioning what the kids are getting from it. You have to trust that the experiences will pay off in savvy, perceptive, flexible adults… it’s a long-term investment. 😉

There does come a time when you can relax and enjoy watching them explore without worry. (Fred at Vogel State Park, 2010)


If you’re struggling with travel and kids, it’s time to stop and assess your trouble spots just like you would at home. Experiment with different approaches and styles of travel until you find what works. Tweak where necessary.

As you know, outdoor travel is our wheelhouse but even though we’re seasoned campers, I always do a personal trip debriefing to smooth out trouble spots before our next adventure. The kids are always changing so I’ve got to adjust with them. There’s no status-quo when you’ve got growing kids along for the journey.

From being toted in front-carriers to full-fledged confident hikers. (George at Cloudland Canyon State Park, 2011)
Before you now it, they’re geocaching the E.T. Highway like pros. (2012)


One thing I love about the blogging community is when someone else writes exactly what’s on my mind without me having to do all the hard work. 🙂 These posts help put travel with kids in perspective much more eloquently than I did so I highly recommend taking the time to soak up their messages…

What’s your travel with kids philosophy?

And now for your moment of green…

If traveling with kids is an exercise in frustration, identify the problem spots and dive back in. It is worth it!


  1. […] from Val In Real Life, says, “In a broad sense it’s a matter of framing your adventures to fit the […]

  2. Val, you did a wonderful, thoughful job with this article. I love travelling and I can relate to just about everything you said. One note I would like to make is that it’s the experiences that I like the most and exposing children to these different experiences is the special part. So if parents are not comfortable travelling long distances or don’t have the means, money, or time then take your kids out for new and different experiences locally or as far as you feel comfortable. It is the variation that is important I think.

    1. Thanks so much. And I totally agree, it’s important to do what you can do even if it’s not that far from home. We’ve slowly worked our way up from weekend camping trips in our state to bigger and bigger explorations yet we’re still not international travelers. That’s still to come! But exploring locally absolutely has it’s rewards, whether it’s by choice or by travel limitations. It’s definitely all valuable.

      Appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I thoroughly enjoy the family travel community and the example it sets for the importance and accessibility of travel for kids!


  3. Thank you Val!!!!! It is so hard and exhausting. But I love my kids and we are pushing through it. I tried the lowering expectations approach on our last trip and it helped. Also knowing we will do things that we would have normally never done while traveling like going to the zoo because it’s for the kids (although Reid enjoyed it most I think!). Thank you for your insights and friendship! We will push through when it makes sense to bring them.

    1. Glad to hear it. You guys will be fine. Experimenting with what adjustments to make can be frustrating but when you get things smoothed out it’s a heartening triumph!

  4. You said it all very elloquently indeed, a useful and informative post but very grateful for the sharing love 🙂

    1. Thanks for the kind words and the great post to work off of!

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