Travel tips for spending time as a family, as a couple, and alone while traveling the world
Our globetrotting family of four spends more time together than ever. That’s why we also balance time together and apart with kids when traveling.
Overall, we love the time we spend together. We bond a lot, and we enjoy each other’s company. It also can be difficult: Sometimes we get on each other’s nerves or one of us needs some time alone. We value quality family connections.
How do we deal with so much time together? And what are some tips for your traveling family for your next family vacation? Here are some road-tested tips from our own experience in family travel.
1. Practice being together more often as a family BEFORE traveling
It helps not to come to it cold. If you are planning a family trip or full-time travel, it’s important to get used to being together before you are also doing so in unfamiliar places.
Whether in an RV hitting the open road or checking into a hotel in another country, the stress and novelty of travel can make it harder to get used to sharing more time and space with one another. Families travel better together when they balance quality family time, couple time, and alone time. Discussing everyone’s needs ahead of time can help you understand each other better, have strategies in place, and be better positioned to deal with changes or surprises during unpredictable circumstances on the road.
What we do
Prior to traveling full time as a family, we had lots of practice to draw on. Our family has worked and schooled from home for a long time, prior to the pandemic. Plus, our various road trips, camping trips, and other travels gave us opportunities to see how we did together, and to learn each other’s signals for when someone needed space. Traveling the world, we now are more able to identify, discuss, and get what we need.
2. Rent a condo or other multi-room unit
Kids and adults need their own space too. Common areas for activities and separate bedrooms can be a big boost to family harmony. Depending on the trip, though, that might not be a possibility. It helps to talk beforehand about what your space will mean. Will you all be sharing one room? Will you have multiple rooms? When everyone understands the space they’ll be sharing, that can help everyone have clear expectations about activities and limitations.
What we do
The four of us have traveled together in campers, condos, townhouses, homes, tents, and hotel rooms. We prefer having a place that has at least one bedroom for the adults, and preferably a second bedroom for the kids. When that’s not been workable, we make the most out of family life in a one-room space—then balance it out. For example, during about 5 weeks of travels in Cambodia and Vietnam, we’ve been in one-room accommodation. With multi-week stays in some other countries coming up, we’ve booked apartments and condos that have more rooms.
3. Use common or public spaces in your accommodation to get some space
It’s so easy to stay in the room. If your place has a lobby, balcony, rooftop terrace, common room, fitness center, meeting room, or whatever else, use it! A change of scene resets moods, fulfills alone time needs, or gives fresh space for better days.
What we do
In Chiang Rai, Thailand, the hotel we were staying in had a spacious lobby full of comfy chairs and couches. Anthony would sometimes go down there to work, and we business-running parents also would head to the lobby when we needed to have a meeting.
When we arrive somewhere new, part of our settling-in process is that Anthony, sometimes with the kids, explores the property. It’s a great chance to get familiar with the space and figure out opportune spaces we can use for family time or alone time later.
4. Trade off who’s watching the kids and who has some independent time
Everyone needs time to recharge sometime. Take a walk, read a book, make time for yourself. Parents can swap who is the primary parent and who is taking care of their solo needs.
What we do
Anthony is writing this in our hotel room in Da Nang, Vietnam, while Jodie is getting a massage down the street. To his left, the kids are working on an art project for the day. In a little while, he’ll take a break and read some Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with them. After lunch, a limbered up Jodie will hang out with the kids while Anthony gets a haircut and shops for a new shirt.
5. Leave the kids in the room alone… or boot them out so you can be alone
Responsible kids can understand ground rules and know how to reach you. If you trust your children are mature enough and old enough, let them hang in the hotel room on their own while the adults grab a beverage nearby. Or, if your kids are mature enough, kick them out of the room to go somewhere on their own, even to the hotel lobby, so you parents can have the room to yourselves for a while.
What we do
Connor and Aster have shown us they are pretty responsible kids who look out for each other. Leaving them on their own is still new territory for us, but we are definitely liking the additional options it gives our family. We talk with the kids about not answering the door unless they know it’s us. If our accommodation has a house phone, they know how to dial the front desk. The kids also have a way to text us.
So far we’ve mostly just left the kids in the room so we can go down to the hotel lobby for some couple time. One day we’ll be ready to experiment with leaving the building and going somewhere nearby, though. When the time is right, we’ll also see about the children going somewhere—and we parents take over the room.
6. Switch up who sits next to who on planes, trains, and such.
When traveling, it can become easy to have the same seating arrangement every time. Switching it up can be a welcome change of pace for the whole family, though. Siblings might want to sit next to each other (Connor and Aster sometimes do so they can do an activity together). Or if someone needs a break, maybe you can arrange the seating so they can have more space, or at least an understanding that they need some social downtime. Even on a long flight or train ride, being accommodating to each other can give a respite that pays off in better time together later.
What we do
On travel days, we trade off Aster and Connor sitting next to each other, a parent sitting between them, or an adult sitting alone. Sometimes our seating arrangements make this decision for us.
Flying to Vietnam from Cambodia, for example, we wound up with three seats together and one on the other side of the aisle. The last time we had a setup like this, the kids sat next to each other, Jodie sat with them, and Anthony sat in the aisle seat. This time, we adults swapped, so Jodie could have some time to herself.
7. Have a daily quiet time.
Families can be bustling, energetic, and loud. Our family is no exception. Every day, we engage in activities, experiences, and discussions. But every family has needs for some quiet time too. That can be everyone in the same room doing a quiet activity, or each person can be off doing their own thing, such as napping, listening to a podcast, making art, or reading a book. The key is that there is some overall downtime, so everyone can rest and recharge.
What we do
We have found that a daily quiet time helps us balance time together and apart with kids when traveling. The children’s daily task lists even have a “quiet time” task, which we typically do after lunch. Books and Minecraft commonly feature in quiet time. We find that when each day has some quiet time, we have an opportunity to recenter ourselves. That time to feel recharged also gets us ready for whatever is next in the day.
8. Use earbuds and headphones.
Maybe someone wants to watch a video. Another person wants to fire up some music. Yet another would like to catch up on their favorite podcast. Overlapping media in shared spaces can get overwhelming fast. Encouraging everyone to use earbuds and headphones respects each other’s space and prevents your room from becoming a pure cacophony.
What we do
Sometimes we bust out a portable Bluetooth speaker and listen to music together. Other times, we each do something that has its own audio. Especially when we share a room, we encourage each other to use headphones and earbuds. (In fact, while Anthony writes this, he is playing Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 through his earbuds.)
Families can make and use strategies to get the together and alone time they need
Figuring out how to balance time together and apart with kids when traveling isn’t always easy. We sometimes bicker or need space, too. When full-time traveling, our family keeps a good balance of time together and time apart, adults and kids. These tips help us get back into balance so we can enjoy how we spend time together.