Bruce Kirkby: Tips for Family Travel

Bruce Kirkby is a writer and photographer whose travels have spanned over 80 countries and over 2000 days. His family adventures have been documented in the Travel Channels ‘Big Crazy Family Adventure’. Bruce, his wife and two young boys travelled around the world, from British Columbia to the Ganges river in India and monastery’s in Tibet, without using aeroplanes. These are Bruce’s top tips for travelling with young children.  

Traveling with your children offers a treasure trove of wonders; a chance to bond and explore beyond the bustle of home.  Sure, things can go pear-shaped, and they often do, but things also go pear-shaped at home, and this is no reason not to hit the road with our young ones.  In foreign countries, their presence will open doors into the local culture that solo travellers never experience, for one thing that’s shared across the globe is a love of children.  Closer to home, kids come alive in the wild, and quickly soak up a love for nature.




I believe so deeply in the value of travelling with young ones that I wrote a love letter to the experience but more importantly, here are a few simple tips to make the intimidating first hours and days a bit easier:

Bruce’s tips for international travel with young children

    1. Immunizations.  Visit a Travel Clinic three months in advance to ensure you have time for all vaccinations.  My advice: get both required and recommended vaccinations. 
    2. Passports.  Ensure your children’s passports are valid for six months beyond your travel dates.
    3. Long Flights. Bring a small collection of new toys and books, stickers, & pencil crayons.  Kids have relentless energy and short attention spans, so you’ll need to keep them engaged from takeoff to landing.  And bring a few healthy snacks too, to fill the void between in-flight meals.
    4. Hello, Goodbye! Teach your kids how to say hello, goodbye and thank you in the local language. They’ll take pride in know the new words (and will soak up other vocabulary far faster than you!)   
    5. Keep as Many Home Routines as Possible.  Breakfast, familiar snacks, bed time.  Foreign cultures often operate on wildly different schedules.  Maintaining a schedule similar to home can be difficult, but is the key to avoiding tantrums and exhaustion
    6. All Kids Need is Sleep, Food and Love. Keep your kids well-fed and well-rested, and everything else will fall into place. Build your agenda around your children.  Don’t be over ambitious or pack the days full.  Leave spaces for quiet time.  Start thinking about dinner early; foreign cultures often eat late.  Pick and choose ‘late nights’ carefully.  And always have snacks on hand, you never know when the next meal may be. Carrots, fruit, nuts and juice packs can help stave off the low-blood-sugar blues
    7. Options and Choices.  Let the kids know your plans for the next day, and even give them some options.  Having them responsible for the itinerary can drastically reduce whining.
    8. Be Open to Serendipity.  Traveling with kids will open new worlds and new possibilities you could never imagine, so when opportunity knocks – a local invites you for dinner, a fisherman offers to show you his boat – go with it.  These often can be the most rewarding moments of any journey.
    9. Patience.  Traveling with kids takes patience.  So pack yours.  It’s worth it.  Because nothing is so rewarding either.

Outdoor Travel for Young Kids

  1. Sunscreen, Sunglasses and Sunhats. Kid’s skin is very sensitive to the sun, and keeping them covered constantly is the best plan. 
  2. Bring a Winter Hat. For chilly mornings and evenings.
  3. Headlamps. Useful on any trip, and kids love to have their own.
  4. Snacks. Children get hungry quickly outdoors; they’ll need more than breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Pack plenty of healthy snacks each day.  We create a daily ‘snack bag’ for both our boys, and allow them to choose something from it every hour.
  5. Wind and Rain Layers. No matter what the forecast.
  6. Pedometer.  A pedometer is a great way to encourage walking.  Both our boys recorded the steps they took on our multiday treks.  Just make sure to attach a tiny string as a tether from the pedometer to their belt, as they slip off young kids easily.
  7. Alter plans when Needed.  Don’t become tied to the schedule set at home.  If things are going well, press on.  If not, stop.
  8. Work in ‘down time’ Every Day.  Adults can hike from breakfast to dinner, but not kids.  They need big chunks of time to explore beaches, play with pine needles, and watch ants crawling across blades of grass.  Throwing rocks in water is also a crucial part of everyday.  Plan that time in to each day.  Avoid turning the journey into a sufferfest!

What to Pack with Kids

  1. Travel Light. Be ruthless as you go through your luggage.  Only bring what you absolutely need.  You can pick up almost anything you need on the road, so if you are not sure, leave it at home.
  2. Three Sets of Clothing. Ice cream spills and spaghetti stains accumulate quickly.
  3. Lots of Underwear. Its light, and you’ll appreciate extras.
  4. Limit the Toys. A great strategy for bringing toys from home is to buy a small nylon sack (we use and leave your kids free to bring any toys they want from home… as long as they fit in the sack. 
  5. Books. Bring two or three favorite bedtime books, even on a camping trip.  Reading should be a bedtime routine anywhere in the world.
  6. A favorite stuffy, blanket or water bottle. Anything that will remind your children of home, even on the other side of the world.
  7. A.P.W.  Always. Pack. Wipes.  (And hand sanitizer.)