I recently returned from a trip to Mexico City that had all the makings of a disaster. My husband started feeling sick on the way and didn’t recover until we got home. He spent the entire vacation in our hotel room, as I navigated the massive city with two kids and a pitiful knowledge of Spanish. Between forays to the pool and museums, we ventured to far less exotic grocery stores and pharmacies, looking for stomach-soothing foods and remedies.
It should have been a nightmare, but it wasn’t. My kids, now 5 and 8, seem to have entered magical ages for travel. They delighted in packing — and pulling! — their own bags (no doubt brand-new suitcases helped), gazing out the plane window even when the movies I thought I’d downloaded failed to play, and practicing their Spanish nonstop. They’re normally quite shy, so hearing them pipe up to strangers with “gracias” and “por favor” was a treat.
Of course, my gratitude was enhanced by my intimate familiarity with how harrowing family travel can be. Overstuffed luggage, bulky strollers and car seats, and embarrassing meltdowns (theirs and mine) aren’t far in my past.
Perhaps the stars aligned for me this time by virtue of my children’s growing maturity. But Jessica Gee, the globetrotting mom behind The Bucket List Family, says there’s another secret to family travel bliss. Back in 2015, Jessica and her husband Garrett set out to travel the world with their children, Dorothy and Manilla (they now have a third, baby Calihan). On any given day, you can find them relaxing on the beach in Bali, cruising the waters around the Galapagos or celebrating a classic New York holiday, so I couldn’t wait to hear how they do it.
But when I ask Jessica for her No. 1 tip, she surprises me. Rather than sharing a list of diaper bag essentials (which she rightly notes you can buy in your destination), she says, “Kids feed off your energy. Be positive and happy instead of stressed out. I tell myself this multiple times during a travel day, and it makes a big difference.” That upbeat feeling is evident in the Gees’ travel photos, but it’s worth noting that it’s a conscious effort on behalf of the parents to set the mood.
Rebecca Karamehmedovic, a New York-based photo/video director and creative consultant whose daughters are 12 and 14, says cultivating a positive attitude is key for older kids, too. “We always incorporate an activity that fits with what they’re currently into,” she says. “My older daughter is a huge sports fan, so we’ll try to see a local soccer or hockey team when we travel.” She also makes sure the kids are part of the research and itinerary planning — and once there, she’s comfortable with a little device time. “I like to find a café with Wi-Fi so they can check in with their friends on social media, and we can enjoy a glass of local wine.”
For your next family adventure, go off the beaten path and discover one of these unexpected family destinations perfect for kids of all ages.