Here’s my top tips for making your family’s journey not only fun and memorable, but also how to take full advantage of all of the valuable teaching moments.

Air Travel: It’s all about them

For more than 15 years, I flew at least once a year from our home abroad in Singapore to the US West Coast. This was a trip of more than 18 hours flight time, not including the transit stop. Many of these flights had no seat back entertainment systems, as they were not widely available until about 2003. How did I keep my two very young children comfortable and happy, for those many hours? Here’s how that all went down:

A few weeks prior to the flights, I’d take the kids to the mall to have them pick their own little kiddie backpack, specifically for the trip. Later, I’d fill their packs with all sorts of kid stuff…small toys, little books, colouring materials, kid snacks, etc etc.

Most importantly, my kids were NOT ALLOWED to see any of the packing, it was all to be a surprise.

Flight day, it was almost like Christmas opening those backpacks, once they were seated and buckled in for the flight. Kept them happy, and most importantly quiet, for hours, better than any electronic device can.

What you’ve taught them: How to wait patiently, how to have respect for (your) authority, and how to behave properly on board.

Get em’ Packing.

Family packing together

You may already be making the mistake of doing all of the family packing. I’d have to agree that just going to your kid’s cupboards and getting everything they’ll need does save time and avoids squabbles over appropriate clothing. However, you’re missing a huge opportunity to teach your future travelers how to prepare for a trip.

As soon as my kids were old enough, they were responsible for getting their own clothes and footwear together for the pack. About a week prior to leaving, I’d hand them a list…“5 t-shirts…3 pairs of shorts…swimsuit…”, and so on.

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At first, (before they could even read), these were short lists with tiny, simple drawings of shirts, pants, etc. Later, the lists became more detailed. I’d just ask for their stuff, and then I’d handle packing it all into the luggage, giving me final say on what actually went into the bags…”Mom! Where’s my favourite blue T-shirt?” (Hmmmm, you mean the one that’s too small now and exposes your belly?…hehehe)

What you’ve taught them: How to consider what clothing and footwear are needed in different environments, seasons, situations, and cultures.

“In The Air…Don’t Care”

Baby on tablet traveling

Not to come off as a gripey old bag here, but it seems to me that more and more often, parents are not disciplining their children on board…whether that be train, plane, or automobile. As with teaching all sense of discipline in kids, this too must start from young.

It’s not OK for you to let your kids run up and down the aisles for hours on end. Yes, a few times round the seat section is fine, (and cute for us to watch, too!), but kids need to know when to sit and chill. Have a look back at tip number one…it should do the trick.

Starting from the smallest of child, it is YOUR responsibility as parents to keep those kids comfortable and content. Dress them in warm and comfy layers, just like you do for yourself. Bring along their favourite soft toy, and/or blanket. (I can’t tell you how many trips involved Pooh Bear and Piglet, but thank goodness those two beloveds were there.) It might mean that you miss the wine cart, or miss some sleep, but you…and only YOU can handle this one.

What you’ve taught them: This is fairly obvious…self discipline and self control.

Don’t Do What You Can’t Afford.

At the risk of being dragged over the luggage belt, I’m going to step out here and give my opinion regarding travelling via panhandling or begging.

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In a word, DON’T.

Increasingly, on the streets of Hong Kong and other major Asian cities, (note this article, from the South China Morning Post,, you’ll find young backpackers looking for cash. Some might play an instrument, busker-style, some try to sell a few trinkets, but most just hold signs reading, “Please Help, Out of Travel Funds”

Sure, you might argue that generations of young people have strapped on their rucksacks to hit the open road. The difference here is that, unlike those nomads, these kids EXPECT others to fund their travels. They’re actually intentionally going abroad knowing full well that they can’t afford it.

So, my advice here is to involve your kids in aspects of travel planning and budgets, even from young. The smallest of children are able to look over photos of destinations, while you explain in simple terms the local culture and the people that live there. Let them help decide what sights they want to see, and discuss how to choose at least some of your activities based upon cost.

As your kids get older, further incorporate the actual costs of travel, how you determine a budget for the trip. Let them have a say about accommodation, transportation, and so on. My own two helped with flight searches and bookings from their mid-teen years.

Over time, your future world travelers will come to understand that travel is a privilege, not a right, and that you have to work hard sometimes to make travel dreams a reality.

What you’ve taught them: How to plan trips, and how to travel within their means.

Lead By Example.

Couple at airport counter

Ok, I’m going to be the first to admit that I’m not the most chilled out of travellers. I’d like to say that I took all of this in stride everytime we ventured out, that I was calm, relaxed, zen-like.

My family will tell you otherwise…there of course was some yelling, “We’re gonna miss our taxi to the airport!!”, or, “Stop that whining, you just forgot to give me that blue shirt! Honestly!”

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I’m not talking about that here. Moms and Dads, you already know travel is a stressful business. What I mean when I say lead by example is to not let it all get to you.

There will be flight delays. There will be cancellations. There might even be catastrophic f**k-ups in far flung destinations. Through these, you must, (MUST!), remember that little eyes are watching, little ears listening. Wouldn’t you rather they see you handle it all like a hero, calm and strong in the face of adversity? No yelling at gate agents. No threatening the concierge. Well, at least not in front of the kids.

If and when trouble strikes out of nowhere during your blissful, well planned vaycay, handle the dirty details away from the kids. To them, explain that things can and often do go wrong when traveling. Focus on teaching them how to correct issues without a panic, or worse, a meltdown. Our future travelers need this above all else…it can be a big and often scary world out there nowadays, so prepare them well with skills on how to handle unforseen travel problems.

What You’ve Taught Them: How to think on their feet, how to remain calm, basically how to survive without you when they’re travelling later on down the road.

I’ll wind this up by saying something you’ve heard many times before. Kids grow up fast, waaaaaay faster than you can imagine. It was only yesterday I was tucking my two into their airplane seats with their pre-ordered kiddie meals. Take time now, while you’ve got this awesome opportunity, to make them into great future travelers.

Sheri Marr is an American expat, living abroad for more than 30 years in Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, & New Zealand. You can learn more about her travels and experiences at

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