(Rant Alert) If Family Travel Is Too Hard You’re Doing It All Wrong!

Paris 2016. Baby Ellie’s first big international trip for her 1st birthday.

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If Family Travel Is Too Hard You’re Doing It All Wrong!

Growing up my family pretty much only took one type of vacation. I lived in the Los Angeles area from when I was born until I turned 11. During that time we would go on vacation a couple of times each year. The destination? Las Vegas!

The astute reader probably noticed that I live in Las Vegas, so where did we go on vacation once we moved to our vacation destination? Well, we didn’t really. The occasional trip back to SoCal happened, but with a lot of family issues going on, I pretty much stayed in Vegas and went to school. I found myself on my own at 16 and with an 8 month old baby boy, a wife and a contract on a brand new home by my 19th birthday. Today that 8 month old baby in a tux at our wedding is 18 years old and so is our marriage.

Seeing The World – Kid In Tow

Since many readers know my story, I’ll fast forward a few years to when my son was six and I had a revelation that we could travel around the world. So we did. Yes, there was agony over the decision to leave and months of planning including the selling of that house, but we did it and we haven’t stopped traveling as a family (including with our new baby girl now toddler Ellie) since.

My son’s 7th birthday was spent on a somewhat dark and depressing day in Guatemala that turned out to be one of my worst days of travel ever!

It All Started On The Road

So why the heck do people make it so hard? One of my great joys in life has been the road trip. I guess it all started when I was a kid on those SoCal to Vegas trips, but since then I have driven a lot. That initial 18 month around the world trip in 2007-2008 started with 3 months and 15K miles around the U.S. and I really haven’t stopped driving since.

But there is one thing I have noticed when it comes to driving and traveling in general. People make it too hard! For example, I see a 4 hour road trip much differently than others. For my family it is just a matter of throwing a few things together and hitting the road, especially when in the United States. It should be so easy, but ends up being so hard for most. I have literally watched family friends pack for Armageddon before they get in the car for a short road trip.

And this hurts your children. They learn from your ways and before you know it the simple road trip is a spectacle. The kids are stressed out and suddenly the car ride isn’t fun. They need snacks, they need drinks, they need to pee every 5 minutes. I have driven TENS OF THOUSANDS OF MILES with young children and I can assure you they don’t need to pee that often. If you make travel complicated the kids will too. Then they’ll grow up to repeat the cycle or even to hate travel. Or at least that’s my opinion.


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Take The Leap

What isn’t an opinion (well it is but it’s an important one) is that you should take your kids to travel. This site is about helping people travel well beyond their means, but even if you can’t afford much, your children need to have their eyes and minds opened. This isn’t a political post for many reasons, but mainly because I don’t believe in force feeding your own beliefs on your children. Show them the world in varying degrees as they grow and they’ll form their own beliefs. I no longer needed to relay to my son how horrible the Holocaust was for example, because he felt it deep within his bones when visiting Auschwitz and elsewhere.

Yes, that might be a bit dark, but it is all real. What is also real are the thousands of positive and memorable experiences that also shape children’s beliefs. Anecdotally I have found children who travel to have more perspective and empathy compared to those who sit at home with the excesses of American culture thrown at them day and night without any alternate perspective. Don’t get me wrong. I’m American. I love America. I love American culture. It’s just that the world doesn’t end on our doorstep.


I am writing this as I sit at the end of an 18 hour flight with my 3 year old daughter. I have covered that flight on this site and have played a little tongue and cheek about how disastrous it could be, but the truth is I wasn’t ever worried. For me an 18 hour flight to Singapore is less of a thing than a simple drive down the road for many. What a shame.

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  1. The results of their poor parenting skills are on display for all to see when traveling. If they did a good job parenting then traveling would be easy. When I see people defending the parents of an obnoxious, squealing toddler on a flight, as if the parent had no control, I want to vomit. Unfortunately in this day and age the worst parents are so deluded that they think they are doing a great job, and so narcissistic that they don’t care how many others they inconvenience while travelling, due to their out of control child.

  2. I loved reading your story Shawn! Sometimes I enjoy knowing more about the bloggers I follow, you feel closer. I think traveling with children is a way of life. My parents didn’t travel much and didn’t take my sister or me on longer trips. Now we take our daughter everywhere. We don’t have family to leave her with but I also think that it’s a great experience. She learns to navigate the adult world better while she has experiences that can only enrich her life. Now on the previous reader’s comment, I have to say that it’s very easy to judge others when we don’t know what they’re going through. I work with parents of disabled children and I can tell you for sure that an autistic child looks the same as a non autistic child and they can have terrible outbursts that are very hard to help calm down. That especially happens when their routine is changed. People need to travel at times, with our without their disabled children. A bit of understanding and empathy can help a lot.

  3. Shawn, I love your posts! You are the one who got our family to Hawaii on miles and points 4 years ago. We now go every year: it costs me less than going to Disneyland an hour away. Family travel does stress me out though and so many times I am ready to give up. I say this is the last trip after each one of them, but continue planning the new ones. We are going to Washington DC next. Your post is very timely: I’ll keep trying and hopefully will never give up. Thanks again.

  4. Appreciate a lot of the sentiment and thoughts in this piece. Of course children absorb our energy – we can pass on our feelings of stress and anxiety to our children, or our feelings of joy, happiness, and patience. I also agree with what Leticia said about families with children with disabilities. My child is on the autism spectrum and its not helpful when other people judge my parenting when they don’t understand or know my child. You might think it is my lack of discipline that causes my child to have a meltdown and not notice that the sound of a public toilet flushing is the source of pain and anxiety. I think we all do well when we focus on ourselves and how we can be better and avoid judging how other people should be doing and acting.

  5. Lol, out come the snowflake parents, blaming their children’s attrocious behavior on “conditions”. Tip: if your child freaks out about a toilet flushing, wth are you torturing the kid taking him on a trip? To “broaden his mind”? Or because YOU are incredibly selfish and want to travel?

  6. Ah, MisterM, be careful – someone might think you are having an online meltdown. Adults who can’t converse well with other adults online, some might say they should just stay off line.

  7. I’m surprised by the lack of negative comments here. I live the hard truth though, we do it to ourselves too often when it comes to making too much out of a simple trip.

    That said, I will point out that it appears your “traveling with children” is relatively limited to one “child” at a time. I’d be interested in your perspective after traveling with three under age 5. 😉

    • Sigh. I guess 13 years of our lives, 60+ countries and several years of actual on the road travel with kids means I don’t know anything. I have traveled with my kids. With others kids. The truth is the same. I’m confident in my experience and knowledge. Show me someone else who has the depth of family travel experience I do who can dispute what I say. Do more kids make it harder? Yes. But that doesn’t change the fundamental point.

      Thanks for sharing your opinion. I promise you it isn’t the first time I have been told that. To each their own, but maybe there aren’t as many negative comments because I have been doing this and sharing about it since 2007.

      Every family is different. Every child is different. I could also say I am sure that some troubled single children could be worse than having 3. Doesn’t matter. Again the point is the same.

  8. Thanks for sharing. I discovered travel hacking about a year before we had our first child and visited to New Zealand, various cities in Japan, and Barcelona all on points in a year. It’s so addicting I told my wife we can’t let a kid slow us down. I’ve done a lot of research and read a lot of horror stories but it seems to boil down to this, the more you travel, the more your kid (family) will be accustomed to the traveling life.
    So by faith, we booked a trip to Hawaii when our son will be 6 month old and back to Japan on ANA F when he will be 9 month old. I say by faith because right now he is only 3 month old and we can barely make it to our local Target… Thanks for the encouragement and can’t wait to listen to more of your podcast.


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