Some people say you should do all your adventrous travel before you settle down and have kids. Well, now you have kids. Does that mean you can't have any more adventures? Absolutely not.

Adventure travel can mean different things to different families. For some, it's a short hike at a nearby park or a weeklong camping trip. For others, it can mean trekking or boating halfway across the world.

This article gives you tips on how to make travel personally challenging, rewarding and fun for both kids and parents.

Why You Shouldn't Stay Home

Children make good travel companions because they are so adaptable. They quickly learn to fit into different cultures and pick up languages faster than adults. Other reasons why you should travel with your kids:

  • Children are natural ambassadors. Children bring out more hospitality and warmth from people than you will see on your own. In cultures where you may have little in common with others, children can help bridge the gap.
  • A better education. Travel is an excellent educator. Your children will learn firsthand about things they'd otherwise only experience in books or online.
  • Family bonding. A cohesive family that respects each other plays an important part in, and is the result of, a successful adventure.

Getting Started

Deciding to take a trip is the first step. No matter how long you plan to be gone for, the following tips will help you prepare.

  • Do your homework. Research your destination online or by reading guidebooks or magazines. The more your kids are involved in the planning, the more excited they'll be about the trip. Make sure the whole family has the skills needed for the adventure you have in mind. If this is your family's first such trip, start small and work up to bigger adventures.
  • Choose your adventure. Camping, hiking, backpacking, biking, bike touring, sailing and canoeing are all suitable for children. As constant participants in travel, rather than observers from a vehicle, they're much less likely to be bored or irritable. For some easy-to-manage trips, see REI Family Adventures.
  • Pack light. Travel reduces your worldly needs down to what you can pull or carry on your back. Traveling light keeps you mobile and means fewer clothes to wash and fewer toys to keep track of. Kids should each have their own daypack with a few toys, books, special blanket or "friend" to sleep with at night. For babies, keep it simple—keys, utensils and other everyday items can be good sources of entertainment.

On the Road

Children are typically comfortable and happy to explore a new environment as long as the parents are comfortable and happy. Here are some tips for making travel easier with children:

  • Make it fun. No matter what your activity, make-believe, imaginative play and telling stories can all make travel more fun for younger children. When doing an outdoor activity, choose an interesting route. Most kids are interested in what they can see along the route, rather than what's at the end of the road or trail.
  • Create a special place to sleep. Whether you're spending the night in a tent, on a train or in a hotel, create a special place for young children to sleep with a favorite blanket, pillow and toy. This can give them a sense of security like a familiar bed.
  • Find playmates. When traveling, the only guaranteed playmates children have are siblings and parents. Teach your children to play with each other, even if they are very different ages. However, you should still expect some friction. The few toys your children packed will work as excellent icebreakers with other children you meet during your travels. Children can find playmates in foreign countries, too, since language isn't much of a barrier for play.
  • Keep your privacy. Even when camping with your children, it's possible to maintain some privacy. Set some rules early on. Designate first thing in the morning and the time before bed as "quiet time." Provide your children with snacks and a few toys or books, and enjoy a little bit of time to yourself.
  • Bring school work. If you're traveling with your children during the school year, bring along assignments from their school or consider homeschooling them. As long as a few hours each day are devoted to school work, your children won't fall behind. And remember, they get the added benefit of learning from travel.

Calming Those Travel Fears

At first, children can be afraid of a new environment or strangers. Let your children stay close to you if they want. Given some time, they'll likely lose their inhibitions and gain confidence to explore and interact with people.

Strange food can be another instant turnoff for children. Don't force them to try something they are dead-set against. Once they see adults enjoying foreign food, they'll likely want to try it, too.

Being in a new environment can cause some parents to worry more about their children. When doing outdoor activities, pick a safe route, teach your children some basic rules and let them go. Most of the time, travel in a foreign environment is no more dangerous than being at home. Sometimes, it's safer.

Travel Tips

The most important thing when traveling with children is to avoid overdoing it. You can still cover a lot of miles — it's just going to take longer. Avoid long travel times for short activities. Children are much happier with shorter drives and more time for activities. Here are some other travel tips:

  • Start early. Children quickly get tired in the afternoon. Take advantage of their energy in the morning and start your activity early.
  • With babies, start late. Plan your travel time for when your baby's energy is the lowest — afternoon nap time. If your baby is most active first thing in the morning, it's best to stay in one place and let him or her play.
  • Take breaks. Plan on taking a lot of short breaks. Also allow time for play, especially during a long outdoor activity.
  • Bring snacks. A well-timed snack can offset a squabble or sour temper. Kids tend to misbehave more when they're tired, hungry or thirsty.