Tips for Travel Abroad with Kids

I’ve been going through pictures from our trip to England and Germany last summer and wishing SO much that we could do it all again this year. I’ve since had people ask me questions about travel in Europe with kids, so I thought I’d put all my tips in one place. Tips - Traveling to Europe with Kids

So here are 14 Tips for traveling in Europe (or anywhere!) with kids to hopefully help things go smoothly and save money too! (this post contains a few affiliate links but all recommendations are from my own personal experience.)


1 – Plan ahead. Do everything as early as you can: Get passports, book accommodations, tickets to big attractions, etc. Plan, plan, plan. Kids don’t work well with fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. The more planning ahead of time, the better.


2- Let the kids “help” plan the trip. If they feel more invested in where they are going, they’re more likely to be excited about it. I made a list ahead of time of the big attractions we’d be visiting and assigned a few to each kid to research ahead of time. Then when we visited that place they got to be the “expert” and teach everyone else about it.


I also read books and showed my kids movies beforehand the give them context of people, history, and places so they’d appreciate the places we’d be visiting. Some movies suggestions for England (a little something for everyone, depending on your audience) include: Miss Potter (The Lake District, London), Amazing Grace, Young Victoria, BBC Pride and Prejudice, Mary Poppins, Night at the Museum 3, and The Great Muppet Caper. Books I’d recommend for younger kids include This is London, Paddington Bear, and A Walk in London. If you have any other movies or books to recommend, leave them in the comments.

small cargo space travel europe

3- Travel light. So many reasons for this! First of all: practical. Houses, cars, everything is on a smaller scale in Europe. It was tricky even finding a car that would accommodate the 6 of us, let alone our luggage as well. We knew there wouldn’t be a lot of luggage space in the car and we’d be on the road a lot. I brought one small roller suitcase for things we needed protected. Everyone else had a simple duffle bag with a few pockets. Not fancy ones. They could condense smaller to all fit in the tight space in our car. And we ended up only taking carry-on items which made it easier for air travel too.

nuremberg germany with kids

It’s so nice now that electronic devices are so portable and can carry a lot of uploaded movies, music, books, games, etc for those inevitable periods of travel and waiting. I didn’t even bring my lap top – just a tablet and a portable bluetooth keyboard. I also invested in a smaller mirrorless SLR camera so that I didn’t have to lug around my big camera.

Later when we flew to Germany for a couple of days, we each only took a backpack. We left our luggage at a hotel at the London Stanstead airport and picked it up on our return. That was even more liberating to have as little stuff as possible.


4 – Pack non-cotton clothing. I promise you’ll thank me for this one. Doing laundry outside the US is a different experience. Even if you do have access to a washing machine, let alone a dryer, they will be much smaller than sizes in the US. Cotton clothing – especially denim – takes much longer to dry than polyester or poly blend clothing. We took mostly polyester ‘athletic’ type clothing. As an added bonus it’s light-weight to pack, doesn’t take up much space in luggage, doesn’t ever need to be ironed, and it’ll dry faster if you’re caught in wet weather too.

Think layers as well: one raincoat, one sweatshirt, a couple long-sleeve shirts and a couple of short-sleeve shirts plus pants and shorts for each person.

traveling in Europe with teenagers and kids

5 – Invest in good shoes for everyone and break them in before you go. Bring wool socks. They’re more comfortable and they’ll also dry faster if they get wet.


6 – Transportation: Rent a car off-site from the airport. Knowing we would have to rent a car that could seat six, we found that prices renting at the airport were significantly higher than renting off-site. So we made a reservation at a rental place about 10 miles away from the airport, my husband got a taxi to the rental office, picked up the car and came back for us. We had to wait about an hour (which wasn’t super fun with jet-lagged kids), but it was so worth it for the money that we saved.


More importantly, ditch the car when you can. Europe is so mass-transportation-friendly. We turned in our car when we got to London. For the kids the transportation was as exciting as the city itself. The Underground (Tube) is so handy, but be sure to take the bus when you can! You see so much more of the city itself. The last night in London we took a cab back to our flat just so we could have the London transportation trifecta experience. Most large cities in Europe have great transit systems.



7 – Accommodations: Avoid hotels (unless you’re saving money by using points). Rent an apartment (flat), vacation house, or stay in a hostel. We did some of each. For a stay of more than 2 nights, we rented a small flat. (Above is the handy flat we stayed at in Ladbroke Grove, London.) The rate was similar, but often cheaper for as many beds as we would have needed in a hotel, but the accommodations were much bigger, we had multiple bedrooms, and best (and most importantly) we had a kitchen. Being able to store food and prepare our own meals saved tons of money over restaurant food. In many cases we had laundry access too.


I suggest looking at Trip Advisor, Holiday Lettings, AirBnB, and VRBO for resources. There are SO many great places available with so much more personality and ‘real-life’ cultural atmosphere. Read the reviews and send questions to the owner so that you get the best picture of what you’re booking.

One more tip- search your prospective rental on Google Maps to get an idea of the location, surroundings, and neighborhood. We were deciding between two cottage rentals outside of Manchester. One was lovely but far out into the countryside. We knew we’d be doing a lot of day trips while we were there, so we picked the other cottage that was 5 minutes from the motorway and within easy walking distance to shops and mass-transit.

If we were staying only one night in a place we looked for Guest House/Bed’n’Breakfast-type places or hostels. Lots of hostels are family friendly now, offering a private room and bathroom for a family, usually with bunk-beds. It wouldn’t have been ideal for us to spend our whole trip in this setting, but was easily doable – and kind of fun – for a night here or there on the road.

My favorite resource for honest, great recommendations in a variety of reasonable price ranges – and full of local flavor – is Rick Steves. I’ve used his recommendations on multiple trips to Europe and he’s never failed me. Look for his books from Amazon, local book stores, or from your local library.

alps with kids

8 –Local budget airlines (RyanAir, EasyJet) are a great way to get from country to country quickly. For our trip to Germany we found cheap tickets on RyanAir and went for it. It was SO worth it! They best part of those local budget airlines (be prepared – they are budget for a reason= no frills) is that they fly into smaller, regional airports. Personally, I loved that they were much smaller, less crowded, and easier to navigate. Our favorite was the little Memmingen airport only an hour away from Neuschwanstein castle in Germany.


9 – Look for FREE attractions – especially in big cities. For example, London has multiple world-class museums that are free to the public: the British Museum, National Art Gallery, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert. Not to mention parks, departments stores, and beautiful squares and public places. Go!


Knowing we weren’t going to have time to see everything London had to offer, we took advantage of many of the free attractions and picked one big attraction that cost – for us it was the Tower of London and everyone LOVED it. We bought our tickets ahead of time and got there right when it opened, beating a lot of the summer crowds. We took the free Yeoman Warder tour and our guide was hysterical. We ended up spending a lot of time there.


Some big attractions that we missed were the London Eye (pretty costly for 6 people), a West End show, and the hop-on-and-off bus tours which I would normally highly recommend (especially if it’s your first time in London.) Because I’d lived there and felt pretty comfortable with the city, we took our own bus tours on the double decker buses on famous routes through the city and I’d point things out. Saved us a lot of money but we still got so see a lot of the city.

KID FRIENDLYTraveling with Kids

10 – Be flexible. Traveling with kids is a different ball game than traveling with adults – or on your own. When I travel I usually I love to go hard and cram as much as I can into one day. But that doesn’t work with kids.


They need a slower pace. I had to be pretty strategic about what we were going to focus on and what we would skip. Also, do stuff that is interesting at their level. I may not have stopped to watch the knight’s sword fight at Warwick Castle if I was by myself, but my boys thought it was the coolest thing ever.

everyday culture travel with kids

11- Schedule in down time. Let the kids just play at a park, throw rocks in the water, watch local TV – a cultural experience in itself – just relax. Evening doing “everyday” things with kids like going to the grocery store, or  a water park, will be new and different in another country.

10 – Let them interact with locals when possible. I think if you asked my kids to tell you their favorite times on our trip last year, they would each bring up times when we let them run around with other kids. We had an advantage for part of our trip in that we were visiting old friends from when my husband and I had each lived in England 20-22 years ago. So our children interacted with the children of some of these former acquaintances. They were shy at first, but warmed up and now look back on those families as their good friends.


But we also interacted with other kids who were new to us. During our 2-week stay in Manchester my husband took our boys to the nearby park and got up a game of “footie” with some local boys. Those boys were just as intrigued and excited to play with some Americans as mine were to play with some real British lads. They also gave us the best advice on where to pick up some great soccer/football gear for much cheaper prices at the local Sport Direct than the bigger tourist destinations.

ice cream traveling with teenagers

12 – I’m not above bribery. If there was something I really wanted to see, (and in the end, knew they’d be glad one day too) but knew it would be a push for the kids, ice cream and local treats became a great incentive.


13 – Don’t let the whining bug you – they really will thank you later. We had more than a few: “Why are we here?” “This place smells weird.” “I don’t want my picture here, no one has ever heard of this place.” moments. Now they talk fondly (and like experts) about those very places and post those very pictures they didn’t want to take as throwback pictures on their instagram feeds. 🙂


Make them journal. Here’s this poor child being forced to write in a journal. Truly a hard knock life right?  But, once again, they’ll be so grateful (*one day) and so will you.


14 – Make travel a priority. It’s one of the most enlightening and bonding experiences we’ve had as a family. Seeing my kids’ expand their world view just a little as well as appreciate what they have a little more was worth every effort. (Although my husband and I both agreed next time we need to take them some where even a little more foreign where they’ll REALLY appreciate simple things like running water and indoor plumbing.)

Travel isn’t cheap, but there are ways to make it more affordable. My husband and I both found and scheduled ways to work on the road as well, so that we could prolong our stay. Those work days for us also worked well as good ‘down time’ for the kids.

Everyone’s situation is different. For us it was totally worth it to keep driving a 10+year old mini van for a few more years and use that money to travel abroad instead. If you want to go, set a goal and make it happen. Let your kids be a part of that saving too. It will make the experience even more meaningful for them.

If you have other travel tips with kids, please feel free to share and leave them in the comments!

In the mean time, if world travel isn’t in the budget this year, but you’re looking to be inspired by some gorgeous travel photography, my brother just started a site sharing some of his gorgeous images!

Moda Passport Map Fabric

And now for those of you who come here for the fabric eye-candy, check out these map Passport prints from Moda Fabrics featuring maps in different shades of London, New York, and Tokyo. (I’ve seen them available from Lady Bell Fabrics, Fabricworm, and Fat Quarter Shop.) One of my goals this summer is to cut into all my British-themed fabrics and make a memorable quilt!

London Tokyo New York City Map Fabric

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  • Reply
    May 8, 2015 at 2:54 am

    Brings back memories of our travels around Europe with 3 and then 4 kids. We used booking.com a lot too to find apartments. The Zen Habits website also has some good posts that completely back up all you’ve put here – if you google Zen Habits travelling with children you’ll find them all (I’m too lazy to figure out how to put a link in the comments, sorry). He has a post and then he got his wife to do a post too when some people had obviously commented ‘yeah, try getting your wife to do that’ 🙂 They have four kids as well and travel very light.
    While it was always a pain to pack and get ready for our trips, it was just such a worthwhile thing to do. The things you see and the experiences are treasured for years to come and you all learn so much about each other (trials and tribulations tend to do that!)
    I hope you get to take another family trip soon! (and us too).

  • Reply
    Deb Chimes
    May 8, 2015 at 3:53 am

    Thanks for the great travel tips Amy! We first traveled overseas from Australia to LA for a family wedding with our 3 kids when they were all under 5 and it was very stressful! Now that they are older (9, 7 & 6 years) we hope to do some more overseas travelling with them soon. When we travel within Australia, we always travel light with only carry on luggage. I always pack a new toy or game to give them on the flight which tends to keep them happy. I also really agree with Tip #11 – down time is so important for everyone just to recharge the batteries!

  • Reply
    May 8, 2015 at 5:16 am

    What wonderful memories with the family. Great tips and so Fab photos, wish I could of done a trip like this with our children when they were younger. Hoping for a Europe trip when my Daughter becomes a senior in HS ( 2 years). Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Jen B
    May 8, 2015 at 5:27 am

    I had to laugh at your advice about cars, I found the opposite to be true. I’m British and on a trip to the US my dad reserved a car for us that would have been more then big enough here. When he went to collect it the man took one look at him, laughed, and said there was no way he would fit in the car. Bear in mind that Dad is not particularly tall at 6 foot. It’s been ten years since our last visit though, so I suppose things could have changed.
    I’d also keep in mind that the budget airlines do, as you say fly to smaller regional airports. The problem is that they say Barcelona, but they actually take you to an airport an hour away from Barcelona. You then have to find your way to a city you thought you were already in.

  • Reply
    Lisa Schofield
    May 8, 2015 at 6:19 am

    What a great blog article! I think you nailed it. You had me mentally planning a road trip through another European country ….

  • Reply
    May 8, 2015 at 8:23 am

    I love this post! Traveling is one of the most important family activities, in my opinion. Your tips are right on the mark! Every single one is perfect advice even when traveling in the US. I especially loved the picture of the ice cream cone with flake! So delicious and fun. I’ve been pining to return to Scotland and your post only adds to it!

  • Reply
    Cristina Tepsick
    May 8, 2015 at 2:05 pm


    I love this post! I wish I would’ve read this before I moved here, because it is such a different experience. I still have trouble remembering to plan our weekend activities ahead of time, and then I show up and there’s no entry unless you pre-booked! Thanks for sharing your lessons learned!

  • Reply
    May 8, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    Really good advice! Down time is so important for adults and kids. Rick Steves is a priceless resource!
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Katherines Corner
    May 8, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful memory making, Love the photos and great tips too. I invite you to share at my Thursday hop ( you can link up through Sat midnight) Hugs! P.S. don’t forget to enter my new giveaway.

  • Reply
    May 8, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your travel experiences and tips. We are planning a whole summer driving trip to Alaska from Florida. And we have already booked some excursions and all. My husband wanted to this and that but I had to pause him and tell him kids aren’t big enough to do all that. They need their own time too. He know I am right but still.. But I am totally glad to see you mentioning it so. I laughed when you had required your kids to keep a journal cuz I was wondering about doing that. Now I am happy to know it IS a such good idea!

    I admire you and I have your book, subscribe to your blog. Thank you for all that you do.

  • Reply
    Sara Jane
    May 8, 2015 at 10:52 pm

    Super article full of great tips and advice. Would you be willing to share your trip itenary as in what cities you visited?

    • Reply
      Amy Smart
      May 12, 2015 at 10:36 am

      Here’s our basic itinerary:
      We flew into Manchester. Spent a few days in the Lake District and then on the Isle of Man. After that we spent a few weeks in Manchester making daytrips to places in northern England including Leeds/York, Haworth, Liverpool, Lancashire, and northern Wales. We then headed south through Warwickshire, spent a night outside Bath, then headed east to London for a few days, stopping in Kent along the way. That was the gist of our time in England. From there we flew to Germany visiting Nuremberg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and Bavaria. All good places! I’m happy give more specifics of where we stayed, what we saw, etc. as well. Just let me know!

      • Reply
        SaRa jane
        May 12, 2015 at 10:18 pm

        Thank you very much!

  • Reply
    Sigi G
    May 9, 2015 at 5:57 am

    Loved all the pictures and Tips and Family Stories. I can relate to many of your stories. Happy Memories!! But at the time there were many ‘Arrgh’ moments :)! That was a special trip you had as a family. Thank you for sharing!!

  • Reply
    May 9, 2015 at 7:25 am

    Great tips. I’d love to do some travel with our grandchildren, and these are good reminders to keep it simple, hit the high points, be prepared, travel light. Good points for adult travel, too (I have to remember not to push my husband to do more and more on my list for
    each day!)

  • Reply
    May 9, 2015 at 7:30 am

    great! thanks for tips!

  • Reply
    May 9, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    Thanks for sharing greats tips and beautiful pictures. Even though my kids are grown, these are still great tips for me. You guys sure look like you had a wonderful time.

  • Reply
    May 9, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    I lived various places growing up but London was always a regular visit… My brother and I kept journals on long term visits when we stayed in a flat and to this day they are cherished family memories 🙂

  • Reply
    May 10, 2015 at 6:21 am

    Since I am planning to make a Roadtrip in the US, this was quiet helpfull for planning.I was smiling about your comment with doing laundry in Europe, I am German and I do not think our machines are smaller, at least in laundry salons they are bigger than our at home machines. Funny thing is, the size of the cars, while we do have now 4 kids, we really have to search for a car which holds all of us and the dog and some lagguage. My husband who lived in the Us twice always refers to the cars his family over there drove. But its hard to find those here. Least, it always makes me a bit sad, that people from the US mostly only visit the south of Germany. I am living in the north and we have so many beautyfull places here as well 🙂
    Have nice sunday!

    • Reply
      Amy Smart
      May 12, 2015 at 10:33 am

      My husband was born in Nuremberg and lived there again as a teenager when his father was stationed there with the US Army. So that is the reason we visited southern Germany this time. But my sister lived for a time in Hamburg and loved exploring northern Germany. Sounds like we need to make another trip there as well!

  • Reply
    May 10, 2015 at 6:22 am

    Could you please correct my blogs adress in sibylleblogt.wordpress.com. there was a typo in my first comment 🙂 thanks.

  • Reply
    Anna G
    May 27, 2015 at 11:44 pm

    I still remember our road trips and trips to Portugal and Hawaii when we were kids with fond memories. I really wish my dad had had more time off from work while we lived in Spain for a year and a half, because we really didn’t get to see much while we were there. I also know that they took us on lots of hikes and things when we were really little, but I only know that from pictures they took. I’m not sure I have anything to add to your tips, but I heartily agree that they will thank you later for the experiences and the time spent with mom and dad.

  • Reply
    Mary Ann Harpe
    June 7, 2015 at 6:30 am

    Will be traveling with my 25 year old daughter on a trip of a lifetime to England and Scotland that she bout for us both! Do you have any recommendations of quilt stores and places in London? Maybe you have heard of something in Edinburgh?

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