The 4 rules of family travel: adult version… and kid version?

Family travel rules: Do you have what it takes to enter the Kid Travel Society?

From the years Anthony lived abroad and traveled internationally, the travels he and Jodie had as a couple, and from our experiences as parents traveling with our two kids, we have developed our own essential rules of family travel. What we didn’t realize though, is that the kids have apparently come up with their own rules too…

No matter how long the trip, you only have but so much time. No matter how special the place or how varied the activities available, you can only do so much.

The 4 rules of family travel: Adult version

1. Stay open.

From our family travel experience

One evening during our California camping adventures, Aster and Anthony were out for a walk (well, he walked, she scootered). Next to one of the campsites was a tall, broad rock, with two humps like a camel. It was the sort of big rock that is an instant magnet for any climbing kid.

Not only did Aster start clambering up the rock, it turned out there were two other girls up there too. They started chatting. Then they starting playing. Next thing Anthony, the two girls were showing Aster all the other great climbing spots nearby. For the rest of the trip, the three of them were inseparable, and Aster came home with, sure, a few scars and scratches from their exploring, but also fond memories of new friends.

Why it’s important

You never know when something new will serendipitously come along. From newfound friends to unexpected features of a drive or destination, we try to always stay open to the potential of a new experience or encounter. We don’t say yes to every opportunity, so to speak, but we do keep an open mind.

Many wonderful memories and experiences have come from what we had planned—but plenty of others have come from the opportunities that came our way on the day.

2. Be flexible.

From our family travel experience

We constantly have to make changes during a trip. Sometimes that’s as little as picking a different restaurant for lunch. But there have been times we’ve had to scrap entire sections of our plans, such as our 2022 California trip. Due to weather, we had to completely reconfigure 10 days of travel, while pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

We’d planned to travel to Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley National Park, then gradually make our way across southern Nevada and into Kanab, Utah. But Mojave and Death Valley fell apart. Winds and bad wintry weather in the forecast also made our Nevada and Utah plans pretty unlikely. The lows were lower than we felt okay camping in—plus we might have to haul the camper over snowy roads and possibly blizzard conditions.

So we changed plans. Instead of the desert, we headed west, and filled those 10 days with camping in a beautiful canyon campground west of Los Angeles, in a forested national forest outside of Santa Barbara, and just one dune away from the beach between LA and San Diego.

Why it’s important

Instead of seeing changes as something that could derail a trip, we try to navigate these challenges as constructively as possible. Have no doubt though, we also have our times of frustration, stress, exhaustion, and/or despair!

Being flexible, though, has not only helped us navigate challenges, delays, weather problems, sick kids, or four people’s sometimes disparate preferences or visions for the day. It’s also helped us find our way to what have become some of the best moments from our trips.

3. Don’t over-schedule.

From our family travel experience

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are full of so many amazing attractions. We wanted to see and do everything. And it turns out, we pretty much did—yet we also didn’t exhaust ourselves in the process (and given how introverted Anthony is, that’s saying a lot!).

During one day in Disneyland and then a day at Disney California Adventure, we were at the parks from open to close. The next day? We stayed at our motel, hung out by the pool, and relaxed and recharged. The following day, our last day at Disneyland, we got in for rope drop and had a finale day that kept us enjoying the Disney magic until the park closed.

Why it’s important

Not over-scheduling can be so, so hard! No matter how long the trip, you only have but so much time. No matter how special the place or how varied the activities available, you can only do so much.

For us, right-scheduling has been key in giving us fulfilling days. Instead of “needing a vacation from our vacation,” we face each day with excitement and energy. We also block in downtime, from a bit in the afternoon, to an entire day. Those are times where we might catch up on work and school, or also just enjoy some quiet hours reading, playing board games together, or relaxing in our room or the camper.

4. Never pass up a chance to eat, hydrate, or use the toilet.

From our family travel experience

An experienced—you might even say grizzled—globetrotting backpacker gave Anthony this advice long ago. And he’s seen it play out in his owns travels, such as a 10-hour bus ride in China that had one stop for a toilet.

We’ve also seen it play out as parents. On a long driving day, if we make a stop, we all see what we need for hydration. We carry a big bag of various snacks in the car. And we make sure everyone does a “toilet checkin.” Because, ahem, we know what happens if we don’t… 💦🚰🚰🚰🚰😂

Why it’s important

As it is with life, so it is with travel. If you don’t take care of your basic needs, it’s hard to get much out of the day. It’s hard to have good spirits or feel well. But if you are snacking, hydrating, and heading to the loo when you can (and when you need), you’re not only taking care of yourself, you’re setting yourself up for a better day on the road.

To put it simply, no one wants an empty belly, a dry throat, or a full bladder or bowels with no relief on the horizon.

The 3 rules of family travel: Kid version

No one expects the munchkin inquisition.

So, sure, we’ve gone over the boring ole grownup versions of the rules of the family travel.

As we said, it turns out the children came up with their own kid versions of the rules of family travel. During a stay in Bandon, Oregon, in October 2021, Connor and Aster revealed to us what they called the rules to enter the “Kid Travel Society.” And in true kid style, they even trimmed the rules from four, to three.

You can see Aster and Connor’s exchange with Anthony here in this family travel video. It starts at their chat, and goes through Anthony’s, ahem, considered responses to when they quizzed him on the rules:

Do you want to enter the Kid Travel Society? Here are Connor and Aster’s kid rules of family travel:

1. Never be in an elevator in an emergency.

When we travel, we talk about safety protocols with the kids, from how to be careful about people they don’t know, to what to do in a tricky situation. We’ve talked at various times about using the stairs and not the elevator in an emergency.

Clearly, they took that to heart. (Now if they could just take to heart putting their dirty clothes in the laundry.)

2. Always bring goggles.

Oh. Apparently we’ve messed this one up before. Little did we know.

When you travel, yup, you need the things that make activities easier or more doable. Both kids generally prefer to wear their swim goggles when they’re in a pool. Fair enough.

It’s also a good reminder to account for the little things. Even a small thing, like a pair of swim goggles, can make a big difference in your options on the road.

3. Always pack food, clothes, and swimsuits.

Turns out the kids redid grownup rule number four: Never pass up a chance to eat, hydrate… or take a dip.

But they nailed an important part of getting the most out of trip: Don’t forget the fun things that you want to do! And, when it comes to traveling with kids, just a quick dip in a pool, lake, river, or ocean can fulfill their dreams for the entire day.

Whether the grownup or kid version, the rules of family travel can guide you to better, more fun trips together

We don’t have these rules with us on a trip. There’s no image on our phone backgrounds, or stone tablets we lug in a backpack, or family meeting where we go over a powerpoint. These rules are simple waypoints, guidelines, that help us have a better time on the road, day by day. We keep them in our hearts so we can practice them in our days.

However you and your family travel, these rules of family travel can help you smooth out your days on the road too.

Just remember—always, always, always, pack those goggles.

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.