How to Travel with Kids and Keep Them Happy – Our 5 Discoveries

by Michael Gimm Holdensen

About a year ago, we left Denmark with numerous dreams and thoughts about what life as digital nomads would be like. We had an idea of what it was like to travel with kids but had only tried it on our holidays.

A year later, we have become a lot wiser about many things. What it means to travel with kids, three of them and what it means to live as we have done. For better or for worse.

If our adventures could be grouped like chapters in a book, I’d probably describe the first year as the first chapter. Hopefully, there are many more, but time will tell. One thing is certain, though, that the adventure does not end here. But our VW California is sold, and we will try to live and travel in a new way.

If you are curious about what it has been like to travel with kids aged 3 to 12 and to be together as much as we have been, read on. There’s also a short introduction to Chapter 2 below.

 

Initial Plans for the First Year

In the time leading up to our departure from Denmark, we had many thoughts about where we would go and how we would go about things the first year. There was a lot of travel preparation, but we hadn’t planned much of the route. Still, we thought we would make it from Poland through Eastern Europe, Greece, Spain and up to Flensburg, where the car would be sold.

The plan was also that we would continue as backpackers from Flensburg out into the big world. Asia was, back then, the top destination on our bucket list.

We didn’t experience much more than Eastern Europe and a large portion of Greece in the beautiful Peloponnese. The places we stayed longest were probably where the family functioned the best.

In other words, we work best with SLOW TRAVEL instead of moving in and out of new apartments 2-3 times a week. I think that others who have also tried to travel with kids are experiencing the same thing. It helps with some stability along the way.

Slow Travel works the best for families

Everything runs a little more smoothly when the family is on top. Slow Travel has been the best form of travel for us.

Fewer plans equal more freedom

There were many places on our route that we didn’t get to see but had to drive right past. Some of them we added to our wish list from home, but many of them were recommended to us along the way. As a result, our stay in the various locations was extended quite a bit.

You can’t do much in a year unless it’s just to take pictures and say you’ve been there. Another learning is that our Bucket List has not shrunk but has grown bigger. There are so many cool places in Europe and too little time to experience them. Hopefully, we can see and experience some of them another time.

In the first part of the trip in the autumn of 2021, we saw the 7 most exciting cities in Poland. It was probably when we were most keen on travelling around with many stops.

We had originally chosen a few cities, but along the way, more were added. This resulted in quite a few shifts, but it was ok as we didn’t book accommodation far ahead. Typically only the next 1-2 places.

The spontaneity of booking accommodation in hotels, Airbnb and campsites at the last minute worked very well for most of the trip. Only in the summer of 2022, when we arrived in Bled, Slovenia, did we have trouble finding accommodation. It was never a problem a few weeks before in Albania and generally outside the peak season.

Of course, it would be difficult not to make plans for the annual family vacation. Especially when the entire family is going. But with our travel style, it made sense and added a huge sense of freedom. Freedom to choose where we wanted to go next. That way, we could just stay somewhere for as long as we felt comfortable.

Sledge Adventure in Bansko

The last week in Bansko, where we had a visit from “uncle Kasper”. Getting ready for the ultimate sledging adventure.

The only fixed plan and a quick decision

A ski holiday in Bansko, Bulgaria, was our only real booking from home. This was where we would stay over the winter to ski. Probably the best decision for the trip! It was so lovely with snow, frost and sun, unlike the never-ending grey weather in Denmark during the winter. We had a lot of wonderful experiences here.

Lots of skiing as a family and many new acquaintances through Liva and Emma’s two months at World School, where we met lovely people from some 20 different countries.

We loved Bansko so much that we quickly decided to buy an apartment close to the slopes. We will go back in January to ski again and hopefully meet some of the people who were here last time.

Is it hard to travel with kids full-time

Sometimes, to travel with kids is more difficult than others. But there are definitely more good moments than bad ones!

Is it difficult to travel with kids?

We’ve met several people travelling as couples, but most of the people we’ve spent time with during our travels have had kids. Even babies and toddlers.

Before we left, we listened to two different podcasts to discover if travelling with kids for such a long time was even possible. One with Maja & Stefan and their podcast “The Good Life“, where they, as a young couple, spend a lot of time in Bali.

The other one is a podcast about how to travel with kids and as a family. It is with Mille and her podcast The Digital Nomad.

The former we have done a podcast episode with.

As a couple, you can work more easily while travelling. If you travel with kids, it gets a bit more complicated. With three kids of different ages like ours (4, 9 and 12), it would have been an almost impossible task to work while travelling, homeschooling and entertaining Carla.

homeschooling while travelling with kids

To travel with kids full-time is not all fun and entertainment. There are many tasks to be solved all the time.

Mandatory tasks when you travel with kids

As we left home, we probably both had an idea that the kids were the most significant “task” for us on the trip. Truth be told, there have been many tasks and those who think that a life like ours is just about lazing by the beach with chilled drinks and seeing incredible places are a bit mistaken.

Granted, we’ve done that, but a lot of time is spent keeping the kids occupied with something more meaningful than Minecraft, Toca Boca, or ” mindless” teen shows on Netflix.

Some of the things we’ve spent the most time on are:

  • Homeschooling and activating Carla.
  • Finding the next destination, we should live.
  • Planning what we wanted to experience.
  • Make meal plans and grocery shopping (Jup! is still a task).
  • Pack and unpack the car.
  • Writing blog and Instagram.
  • Socialise with other people.
  • Transportation.

So I certainly wouldn’t say that travelling with kids and how we’ve been living is a life without challenges. It’s just a life with different challenges. But we have a choice now, compared to our life in Denmark. That is the most significant and crucial difference.

Grown-ups time

Grown-up time is one of the least frequent occurrences when you travel with kids. In this photo, Rie and I are hiking alone without kids. However, in Denmark, when we were visiting for 5 weeks during the summer.

Grown-up time and time to yourself – is this possible with kids, toddlers or babies?

Rie and I have probably never been very good at getting a babysitter and going on dates. The way we’ve travelled hasn’t made it any easier, of course, but we’ve still managed to get some grown-up time in on a few occasions.

We’ve agreed to find time to do something together and separately on this trip. Both the adults but also the kids. Being together 24 hours a day, conflicts will arise, and there will be an urgent need for some time alone.

Time to yourself has, therefore, often been a walk or simply zoning out with audiobooks and noise-cancelling headphones.

An occasional date night has also occurred. When we stayed in places we were completely comfortable, our big girl (Liva) took care of Emma and Carla while we went to a nearby restaurant. The girls call it “sister night”, and they love it! Because sister night includes delicious food, as well as sweets and movies.

I was the only one getting three days all by myself. After three years of waiting (Covid-19), I could finally attend the Metal festival “Hellfest” in France in June 2022. It was awesome!

Rie had a one-day trip with some friends in Denmark, which she also needed.

While visiting Denmark during the summer of 2022, Rie and I had a few more opportunities to get out. These included a Queen concert at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen and three days around Zealand in our “bus” while the kids stayed with grandma and grandpa.

Especially our bus trip without kids gave us an understanding of the difference between travelling with kids and travelling as a couple. It was SO much easier!

Our kids are at an age where the big girls go to bed at the same time as us. Especially when we sleep in the car. So grown-up time can quickly become a rarity.

The perfect Age to travel with kids

When we were younger, we talked about the best time to have kids. But just like having kids, there is also no particular age that is perfect for travelling with them.

The perfect age to travel with kids

….doesn’t exist! Sorry! There are pros and cons to all ages, just as staying home and living a regular life with 9-5 jobs and responsibilities.

We are lucky that Liva is mature enough to help out, and this has given us the opportunity for a bit of grown-up time once in a while. On the other hand, she is at an age where we have spent much more time homeschooling than with Emma.

Carla, who turned four in the first year of our trip, has all the funny and challenging facets kids have at that age. That’s why sometimes it’s possible to hike nine miles in a national park, and other times it’s not possible to walk from the car in the Parking lot to the grocery store because her legs don’t work…

We have seen and heard from others that with very young kids, you are limited in what you can do, and I dare not even think about what happens with a bunch of teenagers…

In other words, you can travel with kids of any age, or you can’t travel with any kids of any age. There are different challenges, which ultimately depend on the adults’ tolerance and energy level. Likewise, it depends on how you travel, whether you travel for a shorter or longer period and whether it is by car, plane, backpack etc.

However, one thing is 100% certain. You can ALWAYS find an excuse why you and your family CAN NOT go. So it’s probably mostly about how much you want it.

What you gain when travelling full-time

We have gained SO much from the first year we have travelled. Great experiences and a strengthened family bond!

What have we achieved in our first year as a family?

Overall, we have gained the following from travelling with kids and as a family in our first year.
Time, freedom, and better being able to tolerate each other before getting angry. In addition, humility.

First and foremost, we have had the opportunity to be together as a family on our terms. We were free to choose where we wanted to go, what we wanted to experience and how long we wanted to stay in each place.

Along the way, we closely followed the girls’ development and became more aware of what matters most to them.

I have often read that all is well if your kids have their siblings and parents. This is true most of the time, but there are also times when the girls miss socialising with their peers. This is also the main reason why Chapter 2 is set in Spain.

If the grown-ups have more time for the kids, it equals better experiences

Anyone who has travelled with kids knows that the mood and motivation on any given day can be unpredictable. This is true when travelling for long periods or going on holiday with kids, and in everyday situations at home.

That’s why it’s been so lovely to have enough time to make decisions at a pace that (for the most part) suits each child. It’s no different to the annual family holiday. The correct setting makes for a much more relaxing holiday, with fun days rather than days of grumpy kids.

Can you learn to make do with less?

We have learned a lot about ourselves and each other. In particular, that we can do with much less. Less space, fewer toys and fewer things in general. More items and more space don’t necessarily make us happier.

We’re not all quite on the same level in terms of what we can make do with, but we’ve all come a long way. In Denmark, we had a house and storage space of 250 m2 and a garden of 1400 m2.

While travelling, we have been accommodated in much less space, and we don’t carry any more belongings than we can carry ourselves. So I wonder if our future needs for space and stuff have significantly changed? I think so.

Homeschooling the kids

Home-schooling the kids on the journey requires commitment from both kids and adults.

Homeschooling on the go

Travelling with school-age kids demands a lot from us parents. We have met other parents from other countries who have dealt with the school part very differently, but so far, Rie and I are probably a bit “old school”. We want peace of mind not to deprive the girls of any opportunities later on in life. But we will certainly try to challenge the status quo – here as well.

Education at Copernicus Science center

We have been focused on teaching the kids Danish and Math at the level of the Danish primary school. But also other subjects. Here we are at the Copernicus Science Center in Warsaw.

What subjects have the kids been taught?

In the first year of school, the kids were taught Danish from Danes.dk and Mathematics from the official Danish mathematics books. The latter with me as the teacher. Rie has supported the Danish teaching.

Alongside Danish and Maths, the kids have spent 2-3 hours a week learning English with the Mondly app. As we left Bansko, we all began Spanish via Duolingo, equivalent to 2-3 hours a week. Both of which we will try to keep up. The goal is for us all to speak English and Spanish.

In the beginning, we tried to include history and culture in the places we visited. But this quickly became very time-consuming, especially in the areas we didn’t spend much time. Instead, we took it in small chunks where hopefully, the girls remembered something and probably forgot something else.

Some history learnings are included in our blog, so hopefully, that will help them remember when they reread it.

Otherwise, we’ve been talking about the geography of each country. The girls have been reading books on their e-Reader, knitting, drawing and doing different creative activities.

We have also tried some sports in different forms. But it’s not the easiest thing to travel around with kids in a car and combine it with regular sports routines. And it hasn’t worked out to the extent we would have liked.

sports when travelling

Sup board is cool! The girls have occasionally enjoyed going out on it, but we probably didn’t use it as much as we should have.

Do we grown-ups want to home-school the kids again at some point?

Nah… Probably not. At least not by ourselves.

One of the things Rie and I have become more aware of is that we are not patient enough when it comes to teaching our kids. We try, but things sometimes get a bit uphill when the kids don’t want to learn.

However, I think we have grown, but we also agree that we will not do it again full-time. At least not without help.

How that will be, we have no idea. But we are aware that there are numerous different options for online learning.

In a future setup, our task will probably be more about supporting them with their homework than actually teaching them.

daily rutines

Routines are not always easy when you travel with kids in a car. But you still need them.

What routines are needed when you travel with kids?

In Denmark, your everyday life is characterised by routines and structure. A family with kids has more than most. Without routines and structure, daily life doesn’t fit together (not in Denmark, at least), and you can’t be as efficient as your surroundings (and yourself) demand.

To travel with kids full-time is a bit different. We have been able to decide our routines. In the beginning, we tried fixing bedtimes and getting up at 07-07.30 to complete our daily chores, including some morning exercise, a healthy breakfast and then school. It all became more fluid as time passed, for better or worse.

Especially during the times we slept in the car, the structure part was tricky. When there are only a few square feet to live, it’s not easy to put Carla to sleep at 8 pm, the big girls at 9 pm, and then have some grown-up time after that. It is just not possible.

In Denmark, we always woke the kids up at 6.15 am. Now they wake up on their own around 8 am or later. Even Carla, at the age of 4, sleeps quite late. After school starts in Spain, everything will change, I suppose!

Next Destination Benalmádena in Spain

On our way to the airport in Copenhagen with everything we own on our backs and in a suitcase. Next stop is Benalmádena in Spain.

Chapter 2 – Destination Benalmádena in Spain

The first year we spent travelling around Eastern Europe in our VW California. We had many great experiences and found out what worked well and what didn’t.

Our 2nd chapter starts in Benalmádena, a little south of Malaga, where we will no longer move around with the kids from place to place but have a permanent base for a while. For how long, we don’t know. We plan to explore Spain during weekends, holidays and bank holidays.

The kids are enrolled at Bifrostskolen in Benalmádena, a small Danish school. Liva and Emma will be in class together, even though they are 4th and 6th graders. The school curriculum is very similar to the Danish one but also focuses on learning Spanish and English. Their day is 9-15, without Siesta!

Carla starts in a Nordic kindergarten called Minibierne (the small bees). They speak Danish, Norwegian and Swedish and sing songs in Spanish. I’m excited to see how much her language skills develop in the first year.

I’ve got a job with an English company called Codurance, with branches in Spain. I will be working on software development in a Business Analyst position, similar to my job in Denmark for Bankdata. I look forward to working with different industries, gaining new skills and learning Spanish!

At the time of writing, Rie doesn’t have a job. Besides housework, some of her time will be spent picking up and dropping off the kids at school and Kindergarten in our newly purchased 2007 Ford Mondeo. It’s done 240,000 km, but hopefully, it can do another 100,000!

One thing is for sure. Our first impressions of Benalmádena are good! It’s lovely, and there are so many options. So we won’t be short of experiences here either.

Meeting other people from around the world

Slow Travel and Open Mindedness resulted in many wonderful moments with lovely people from the World School.

Our 5 best pieces of advice for Families who travel with kids

SLOW TRAVEL
Take the extra time to be in the different places. It’s hard to travel fast and especially with kids when it’s for a long time. We have plenty of time the way we travel and the entire trip just gets better if we spent the extra time moving from place to place.

Accept the situation
When you live a typical family life there is one set of challenges and when you have chosen to travel with kids, there is another. But the challenges don’t go away! My best advice is to accept them and not think you can make them go away by going back to your regular life again.

Be open minded
We met lovely people from Denmark on our journey the first year, but it’s in meeting people from other parts of the world that we were really challenged and experienced something new. It can be difficult for the kids at first with another language, but eventually they will get the hang of it!

Things take time
It has taken a long time for our kids to adjust to our new way of life. But gradually they have accepted it to some extent. Rie and I were frustrated at first, but things are much better now than it was after the first 6 months.

Just Do it!
Our life style is not for most people – we know. But if you dream of traveling with your kids and family, make a plan and make it happen! There are many ways to do it and it doesn’t have to be all-in.
Some travel for 3 months and others a year. Some choose to sublet their home instead of selling.
Whatever the format, it’s an experience of a lifetime that no one can take away from you and it’s an investment in your family that is well spent. And what’s the worst that can happen?

Thanks for reading along. I hope the above has given you a good insight into what it’s like to travel with kids. If you’re still left with questions, please drop a comment below. I’ll answer as best I can.

6 comments

Moster 4 September 2022 - 14:01

Dejlig læsning

Reply
Michael Gimm Holdensen 4 September 2022 - 14:30

☺️

Reply
John Lyngholm Arentoft 4 September 2022 - 20:10

Spændende læsning og også rart at se alting kan lade sig gøre hvis bare man har hjertet med

Reply
Michael Gimm Holdensen 4 September 2022 - 20:15

Tak John, ja bestemt

Reply
Johanne Andersen 31 January 2023 - 16:59

Spændende læsning og dejlig endelig at finde lidt om at rejse med mellemstore børn og tips til undervisning under vejes.
Vi er ved at planlægge et års rejse med to børn 12 og 14 år. I den forbindelse har jeg et spørgsmål. Når i skriver Slow travel hvad er jeres erfaring så? Hvad er jeres erfaringer?

Reply
Michael Gimm Holdensen 31 January 2023 - 18:29

Hej Johanne
Enig, de fleste der rejser ud (som vi kender til), gør det med mindre børn. Så er der heller ikke så meget modstand og indsigelser mod de voksnes beslutninger

For os er der mange gøremål med 3 børn på forskellige aldre, men med 2 jævnaldrende som dine, så tror jeg mange ting bliver lidt nemmere.
Hvad angår slow travel, så oplevede vi at vi i perioder sagtens kunne rykke hurtigt fra sted til sted. Men når vi havde gjort det i et par måneder, trængte vi til at være lidt længere det samme sted. For at føle at vi havde en base.
Det var også i de perioder hvor vi kunne nå at møde andre mennesker.

Noget af det vi vil prioritere når vi rejser rundt igen er, at gøre lidt mere brug af “Homestays” for rigtigt at møde andre mennesker og kulturer. Det har vi ikke gjort nok.

Rigtig god tur – det bliver fedt!

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