In this episode of Streets and Eats podcast, we chat with Kirsten Maxwell, a well-known expert in the field of kids travel. We learn some things to do and tips to keep the kids happy.
Disclaimer: Some of our articles may contain affiliate links; when you click on these links you’ll have the option to purchase or register for a service at no extra cost to you, but doing so helps us run this blog. That’s awesome!
If you are a traveler, you’ll probably travel with kids at some point. I’ve not only traveled with my own children as they grew up, but with the Girl Scouts I took a group to Japan. When you love traveling as much as I do, you want to share that joy with everyone.
This week our guest is Kirsten Maxwell, and she has spent the last 19 years traveling with her kids all over the world. We share stories, talk about what to bring, and what we feel that does for the kids as they grow up.
0:45 – Traveling with kids is worth it!
2:23 – Kirsten’s first trip with a kid was when her son was 9 months old.
3:40 – Don’t forget the stroller
4:52 – Travel confidence in teenagers
6:30 – Involving kids in trip planning
7:50 – From planned downtime to organized tours
12:42 – Adventure – Dominican Republic 27 Waterfalls
15:33 – Teenagers navigating a foreign city by themselves
16:57 – All inclusive resorts with Kids Clubs
19:10 – Dude ranch
20:29 – What will the kids eat? And allergies.
23:06 – First aid kit, medicines, and water.
28:48 – Travel with your kids, you won’t regret it.
Join our Community
We’d love for you to join our private podcast community group on Facebook, where we discuss and share all things travel and food.
Full Transcript of Show
Welcome to Streets and Eats the podcast where we want to inspire your next trip by telling you about some fantastic destinations and the best food to eat while you’re there. Now remember until the world opens completely back up and you feel safe to travel again, use this time to research and plan. That’s what we’re here for. In this episode we’ve got Kirsten with us from Kids are a Trip. She’s an expert on traveling with children, and we’re just going to pick her brains and help everybody make that transition to traveling with kids.
We know it’s easy to get out there with your significant other and hit the road and plan a spontaneous weekend. And how easy it isn’t once you start having those little ones to tow around. What do you think Kirsten?
Well, first of all, thank you both for having me here. This is super fun. It actually is quite a challenge for most people from just being us to having the plus one slash third wheel slash child, you know, so it throws a whole bunch of different things into the mix. What I try to encourage people to travel with their kids, because it is hard in the beginning, like there’s no way around that. But the more they get used to it, the better travelers, they’ll be in the long run.
I agree, Jim, and I traveled with our children from pretty much day one till today, and now we’ve got grandchildren to add to that to the nest. So, you know,
Our first trip with children was when our youngest, our oldest daughter, and Devon was born, about five months old. And we were living in Germany at the time, I was in the military and I got a month of leave. So we threw a bunch of stuff in the car, threw her in the car, and a tent. And we just took off, headed south down to the French Riviera and into Spain, the Costa del Sol, camping along the way.
Wow! That’s impressive. I would not tackle that.
I don’t know that a lot of people would want to but, you know, travel is in our blood. So that’s what we did. Well, that does bring us to the first kind of thing, because it’s always been interesting to me. When people do travel with children, what did you find was a good age to start traveling with kids? And, and kind of how did you prepare yourself for that?
Yeah, I think you know, we’re both obviously kind of made the same stock. I was like, Okay, throw the kid in the car, you know, the plane, we’re going, we’re going to go travel. So we actually was more, my husband and I had always traveled together before we had kids. And we were kind of like, well, kids aren’t going to stop us. So at nine months, we wanted to go see Scotland when we do Scotland, England and Wales. And so we carried him around in his little day pack and he went everywhere and probably didn’t love it so much and remembers none of it. So, but it was a great trip for us. That’s kind of how ot started.
I do you think that’s one of the arguments, right, is that the kids aren’t really going to remember it when they’re babies. But I don’t know what you found. One of the things that we found that was so enriching about traveling with babies specifically, was that people come out of the woodwork to come meet you. And in our case, they would take the baby and, you know, we were trying to eat dinner in a restaurant. So they would take the baby and go off into the back room, which I was okay with, because I didn’t worry about it. So then there was always this moment, like about, I don’t know, 10 minutes, And I’m like, “Oh, I hope they’re bringing my baby back.”
Yeah, you know, yeah, that’s a good thing. So, yeah, I think having a stroller was very helpful. Because I mean, it was if you went to the busy spots, you just put them down, they’d sleep. So I mean, it’s just kind of one of those things where you just kind of go with what you know, and that’s just how it’s going to be for everybody. And you’ll just enjoy what you can. And if he gets fussy, you go back to the room and put him in a bed and then go back out again. So learning along the way.
Yeah. And, you know, while they’re, while they’re that young, of course, they’re not really going to remember it. But what’s happening is they’re building up that that capacity, and whether they know it or not, the desire to travel. It’s going to be easy. And so this, you know that the nervousness or the scare factor is not really going to be there for them.
There’s a confidence that you gain. Even think adults gain a confidence from traveling. So to grow up with that, I just think it’s so much more of a gift.
It is and I hope my kids realize that one day.
Well, yours are teenagers now is that right?
Yeah, yeah. They’re 19, 17 and 14. So, they, they know they need to have some reality checks, especially the oldest one who’s now off at college, you know, he thinks that he can go travel and have all this money in the world to travel like we do. Like you don’t, you need to figure that out. I mean, you’ll be sleeping on floors for a while, and, you know, eating ramen, but I think it’s definitely instilled a love to travel in all the kids.
Really, I can remember when my girls were teenagers a couple of times, they were like, well, we’re just, we just don’t want to go this weekend or on this trip. And so I remember one specific incident that my older daughter and I were like, “Okay, well, we’re going,” and we left the younger one at home. And now today, she says, “You should have made me go.” I said, “You have to learn at some point that your choices make a differene. You lost out on that trip.” So, I didn’t do that very much. Only kind of on that one trip. It was the way the circumstances went down. So I thought, well, lesson learned. And they’re more fun as teenagers. The other thing that Erika did, she is our youngest, is she was in love with Paris. So we lived a couple of hours from Paris. And so every single three day weekend, I turn to them and say where do you want to go? And she would always say,
It was always Paris.
So that year we saw a lot of Paris.
There you go.
Which brings me to the next point. I think that I’ve seen on your blog that you talked about having the kids involved in the planning and deciding where to go. How do you work that? Or how did you start that even?
Yeah, so when they were younger, I actually happen to be a former teacher as well, so my whole thing was, you know, travel is in education. And so I started with teaching them about different cultures, and it was more directed by where we wanted to go. So like they would take French classes before we went to France, they took Italian before we went to Italy. So we’d read books, we’d cook recipes. So it was like more of a cultural immersion at home, before we even went to the destination to begin with.
And so at one point, I just got way too busy for that. I mean, as three kids get older, and you have less time as they get involved with activities, there’s a little bit less of that. So it’s kind of been evolving, if you will, to where now I kind of, I still pick out the destinies where we want to go, but then I present it to the kids as Okay, of these destinations, where would you want to go? And then we kind of narrowed down from there.
And then do they get to pick an activity that’s only like their choice?
You would think. I’m still a little too much type A to let them have much input.You know, I’ve learned with my kids. You know, when they’ were little I always built time into the schedule for them to have downtime, whether it’s going to the local park or playground or just relaxing in a room. And now I found that as teenagers, they would rather stay in the room and just be on their phones. And so now I plan organized tours. So there’s no excuse for staying, you can’t stay in the room because I’ve made it a busy enough schedule, that you will have downtime, but for the most part of it, you’re going to be on a schedule. And they haven’t complained yet. So I think we’re going to go with that route.
So what kind of tours do you schedule? Do you schedule sort of active tours? Or do you schedule more history tours a combination?
We’ve done both. And it’s funny because my husband and I were never people to take a tour on our own. Like, that was just, “No, no, we can figure it out on our own.” We’d use the Rick Steve’s guidebooks, you know, find all the information we needed, do the audio tours. But now as they’re older, and we’ve been able to do more guided tours, we’d like to find ones that are historical, that tell you a little bit about the place, and then have a mixture of fun worked into it.
With three boys, as you can imagine, we’re pretty active adventure seekers, so they like daredevil kind of stuff, which I just kind of have to suck it up and go along with. We went to Greece this past summer, we did a mythology tour, because I knew they would all like that. And they all have you know, were actively involved in interacting with the guide and seeing the sights that they knew from their history books, but it kind of put it all together for them. And you just have to kind of find the right tours that are fit for kids. So I tend to look for family tour guides, if you will, you know those who are familiar with working with families, with kids like we’ve done a Context Travel tour in Paris before. The Athens was called Alternatives Athens, you know, they do guided tours with kids. So they’re there and they’re out there. So it’s just a matter of looking a little harder to find them.
So do they specifically say, family oriented?
They will. Yeah. So they have tours that they recommend for families. So, and usually those are a little slower paced. They’re a smaller group, because I mean, you can’t have 20 kids in a group, because then you’d be like corralling chickens kind of thing. And, yeah, I mean, it’s just kind of keeping an eye out for what… And I ask in different Facebook groups, you know, “Has anybody found a tour that they love?” So, I mean, I think other people sometimes are the best source of information, because if they’ve done it, and it worked for their family, usually I feel pretty confident that it could work for us.
I agree. I agree. Are there things that they’ve done, that were more adult oriented, that they griped about later, or were they just malleable enough just to sort of handle it?
Well, I think it all comes back to the whole traveling from a young age kind of thing, where they just, you know, know what the right way to handle it is and to be respectful while you’re there, and then you can complain about it later. So, you know, we haven’t had too many of those, thankfully. But, you know, there will be parts where they’re, like grumbling under their breath, like, Oh, my God, this is so boring. But, you know, at the end of the day, like, they will say they learned something, or they enjoyed a certain part of the activity. So yeah, I mean, they’re pretty good about it.
We all get there at some point, even I’ve mumbled under my breath occasionally, “oh, this is getting old.” We had one tour guide in India, that really wanted to show us every little detail in this palace. And finally, we had to say, “We do want to see the palace and we are interested in the details. But maybe not every single one.” Because it would take like half an hour to get out of one room.
He would look at a panel over the door of a Ganesha or something and we’d spend 20 minutes on it. I don’t have the patience for that.
Yeah, no, no.
And you know, guides are usually really, really open to hearing what you are really interested in, and they’ll modify it. And he did. And we ended up having a great time with him. He ended up inviting us back to his house to meet his family and have some snacks. And it was really good. So I’m curious, because you have boys especially, what is the most adventurous thing that you’ve had to do that maybe was out of your comfort zone?
That’s a good question.
There’s so many, so I’m like, I’m gonna say the two biggest ones. So I took them on a trip to the Dominican Republic a couple years ago. And it was just my older two boys and myself. And I had a recommendation from somebody for a driver and the driver took us to these waterfalls. They’re called like the 27 Waterfalls. You’re basically hiking through the forest through waterfalls, you’re swimming, you’re jumping, you’re swimming, jumping.
And at one point in the trip, I got to the point where I’m like, this was a really bad, you know, it’s fun for them. And they loved it. But I was thinking I’m going to injure myself at some point here. And you know, but we made it through thankfully, like the last waterfall was probably a 25 foot jump, and I just kept inching a little bit down to the next level, to the next level, so it was maybe only a 10 foot jump for me. And they’re like,” Oh, come on!” So I get suckered into a lot of that, like, “You can do it, Mom, you can do it.” And I’m like, I learned the last time we went a couple years ago to do this at the Cenote tour outside of Cancun, and there was one like that, and I jumped in, I hurt my tailbone pretty badly, because I didn’t land it properly. And I probably won’t be jumping off any cliffs anytime soon.
But they were pretty supportive the whole time?
Oh, yeah. I mean, they love the adventure. If I would let them jump out of a plane they would. And so kind of now the policy is, especially if my oldest one is: I don’t want to know it until after you’ve done it. Like, don’t tell me you’re thinking about going to do it. Just tell me when it’s over.
Yeah, that’s a good policy.
They’re at that age now where they can go do those things that yeah, are out of our comfort zones on their own.
Okay, so when you’re traveling, do you do everything together? Or is there times when you’ve split up and done separate things now that the kids have gotten older?
Yeah. You know, due to the nature of my job. I have done a lot of one on one traveling with the kids. So I think that kind of lends itself to when we are all as a group of five we do split off because inevitably there’ll be activities that some kids want to do and the other ones are like yeah, I mean, our youngest is still in that age of where he wants to spend time with us. He wants to go out and he wants to see everything he wants to do everything, where the older two might be like, “No.”
And so we do find ourselves sometime, you know, pairing off with him, and then the older two go and do their own thing. And, you know, vice versa mix it up with mom and dad. So, yeah, that’s a really good question. Because it is kind of a dynamics of our family. I mean, it’s hard to get five people to agree on anything. Sometimes it’s hard for two people to agree. So yeah, I mean, we just kind of go with the flow and do what works for everybody and make everyone happy.
I think that that’s a natural progression anyway. But if they’re used to being out, and they know how to get around, why not? There was a few times when the girls were teenagers that we said, okay, you can do it. One time we were in Tokyo, they even took the train all the way to Tokyo Disney by themselves. I didn’t want to go to Tokyo Disney, I’ve already been there. And I don’t know if you know, Tokyo in the summer, it’s just dripping hot. No, thank you. But they went. They had their directions. And they new to ask they weren’t afraid to ask. And they did the whole day. I was, towards the end of the evening by the time they got home, to be completely honest, my heart was a little bit palpitating. But they came back and they’d had the day of their lives. And you know, what an experience.
Yeah, that’s awesome.
I just think it’s part of the travel journey.
Yeah, growth. Exactly. Yes, figuring it out.
So I see that you’ve done a lot of the Caribbean and sort of Central American stuff. We haven’t done that. But have you found some places that you think are much more kid oriented? Say someone was going out for the first time, and they hadn’t traveled with their kids before, what are some places that you would suggest to them?
It’s funny, because I feel like we almost learned this whole thing backwards. Because we used to be the family that would go to Disney World, and we’re like, “Oh, we don’t need to stay on property, blah, blah, blah, you know, we’ll save money, we’ll stay off property.” No, when your kids are little, that’s when you need to stay on property. Like we learned that the hard way. So that I mean, and that’s not even a destination I recommend for everybody, but some people love it. And so great, you know, go do your Disney World.
But for me, I actually went to Mexico, because they have all the all inclusive resorts and a lot of them have the kids clubs, and kids love the kids clubs. I mean, I don’t know why I didn’t know more about this when my kids were little, but then mom and dad get to drop off the kids and go enjoy their time by the pool or at the beach or taking salsa classes, whatever the case may be. And I think that’s just, from an ease of travel situation, it’s pretty easy to get to many locales in Mexico. All inclusives aren’t going to necessarily be your best food. So if you’re a foodie, it might not be for you. Some will be. some resorts have really good food, but you know, there’s just not a lot of properties in the Caribbean. There are some that offer all inclusive and that offer, you know, kids clubs, but, you know, I think Puerto Rico comes to mind. I mean, they don’t have all inclusive resorts there. That’s just not a thing. So, you know, if you want some simplicity, granted, you have to have a passport, but Mexico is kind of my go to for an easy family vacation.
I think that that’s exactly spot on. Something that makes it easy for you to begin with to do some venturing out, but some staying in and sort of getting used to the flow of things.
Yeah. Especially with the young kids. That Kids Club is a really good idea.
Yeah, yeah. You know, and it’s funny. The only other place I know of that has something like that in the US is like, I don’t know if you guys have been to any dude ranches, but the one we went to, one of the families had kids that were like six months old. They were twins and they had child care for them. So the parents could go out and enjoy the dude ranch. So you know, there there aren’t that many options out there. But they are out there. If you look for him. It’s gonna look a little hard. Harder than normal.
Where was the dude ranch at? That’s something we want to do but haven’t done yet.
Oh, yeah. So we went to Tumbling River Ranch just outside of Denver about an hour maybe like Southwest,. But what I loved about it, it was more than a dude ranch. Like I had a day where I had a massage and then I had a day we did yoga classes. They had a swimming pool they had… The kids did, oh my gosh like rock climbing, they went whitewater rafting one day. I mean, so it was so much more than the horses. So I think that it was all ages like that. I loved it. It was the perfect multi-gen vacation because everybody could find an activity that worked for them and a comfort level that they wanted. They had a rodeo on the last day I mean, we just had a blast.
That’s actually on our list, we want to do that. And now that have a grandson we will wait a few years, so he can really enjoy it. But that’s definitely something we want to do.
Yeah, super fun.
So you brought up food. I think that’s always a contentious area of traveling with anybody, right? I mean, I’ve traveled with groups trying to even make the decision where should we go for dinner. It can take half an hour. I think maybe with your own family it’s a little bit easier than that, than with other people. But how did you deal with food the whole time?
Okay. It’s funny, because I am that person where the kids are like, “Dude, pick a place!” So I’m very picky, they hate it. I’m known in the family as being the picky one. But it’s not about the food, per se. It’s about the quality and the experience kind of thing. Like I don’t want to, and I’m probably missing out by not going to some great hole in the walls. But I mean, I want something where everybody can eat.
We also have…, our youngest has a food allergy, so he’s allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, so that’s always played into, obviously, where we go destination wise. And so I mean, we’ve traveled with our own food before because of him. So yeah, I mean, I’m going around your whole question, because I don’t have an easy answer for it. I took one of my kids to Morocco, and realized while I was there my youngest kid, he could never go there. I mean, there are nuts in everything in Morocco. I mean, you’d have to be on the All American Morocco plan to even step foot there because he just–there would be a guaranteed allergic reaction. So yeah, so food is an interesting one. I try to do some research ahead of time, but they hate it that it takes me forever to make a decision. I’m trying to be better.
But I think that you bring up a very good point. Allergies are something to really pay attention to. And like you said, even doing research sometimes doesn’t make it easier. And then when we were traveling in Turkey, we lived in Turkey for four years. And we` would ask, if we were with somebody who was vegetarian, we weren’t but we always had people visit us that was, so we were like, “Do you have any vegetarian options?” And they were like, “You don’t eat meat?” Like, first of all, this is a foreign concept to them. And they’re like, “Yeah, chicken and fish, right?” Well, no, because that’s still meat in our definition. That’s how foreign it was to them. But, we did find plenty, they have plenty of vegetarian options. It’s just interesting to have to step into those shoes. We’ve always been lucky. No one has allergies. So that does make a difference.
Well, we definitely have, I get to that point where probably more like your kids were It’s like no, come on people. Let’s just go find someplace to eat. Let’s just go eat. But you do have to be sensitive to that. And yeah, especially with allergies. So when it comes to medications and stuff like that, traveling with kids, I’m sure you probably have maybe you’re own little pharmacy that you carry along, or is that something people should be aware of?
Yeah, you know, I do. So obviously with him, I have to bring an EpiPen and Benadryl to manage his food allergies. And then it’s always BandAids, because inevitably everybody needs a BandAid on a trip at one time or another. Like, you know, some aspirin. I don’t have too big of a medicine kit, because I’ve found that it’s actually pretty inexpensive to buy medicine in most places compared to the United States. So I have had some interesting pharmacy conversations. Just you know, different places because trying to explain what you want is not always easy. I mean, it’s easier now with like Google Translate, but it didn’t always used to be that way, as you both know. Yeah. I mean, so just the basics. I mean, I think that’s always good to have on hand.
We’ve gone from, like I said, traveling with our own food, because we never knew what our allergy or food allergy kid would be able to eat at any restaurant. And we traveled with our formula. When they were little, we’d bring our own formula, and you’d have to walk into a coffee shop and let them fill it up with hot water. And you got to wait for the water to cool down. So I mean, yeah, I mean, when they’re younger, it’s a lot more steps to go through. But I think that’s the good story here, for everybody listening, is that by the end of the day, when they’re older, it’s so much easier. So if you can make it through the hard parts in the beginning, like it’s icing on the cake at the end, because it’s just it’s fine. And you know, not as many things to bring or planning the needs to go into it.
Well, one thing we did before, from the very beginning, we knew we would be traveling with a baby because that’s what our life was. And so we didn’t ever really heat up her water too much. We just used bottled water, which may not be the most ecologically best thing to do. But you know, 35 years ago, hey, we weren’t thinking about that. But what it did was, we didn’t have to wait for them to heat it up. We just poured it in there, shook it up, she was good to go. That worked for us.
Right because they don’t care. They don’t know better. You’re right, that probably would have been easier.
Well, that’s what we did.
And then we had some control over the quality of the water, because some places you just don’t know. Well, it sounds like you do a lot of travel. So aside from the pandemic, of course, how much do you travel per year? And are there times where you don’t go with the kids? Or did you always take kids with you?
So pre pandemic, I probably traveled at least once a month, and that’s not with the kids sorry, let me get back on that. When the kids were younger, we could travel a lot with them. I had, I did not hesitate to take them out of school, we lived in a very understanding School District, if you will, where there was no limit on the number of vacation days. They always thought that traveling with your kids was an education, like I said earlier, so we appreciate having a district that supported that. So when they’re little, they would probably go on four or five trips a year. And now that they’re older, and we’re in high school, it’s more only the holidays, which I hate. So we use their spring break, Christmas, Summer, that’s all they get. And they’re lucky if they get a one off from that, because I’d have to pull them from school. Our new school district is not so flexible on vacation days.
It’s harder in high school, those credits count.
That’s right. That’s true. That’s true. So yeah, so I mean, it’s, it’s good. It’s picking back up. I definitely say that from you know, I’ve had pretty much since June. A trip a month.
Wow, that’s pretty good.
That’s the way I like it.
Yeah, I’m not complaining.
So how about now that hopefully we’re kind of hitting into the post pandemic phase? Have you been able to start traveling again yet?
She just said she’s gonna. a month, one a month.
Oh, even now.
Yeah. Are you guys in the Pacific Northwest? Are you guys in Washington? Yeah. Okay, so yeah, so I live in Texas. So completely different pandemic experience, I’m sure. I’ve pretty much been traveling since last June. Because that was just never really anything that stopped here. Like it was more local for sure. Probably since March, April of this year, it’s been more. I went on a trip with a supplier last to Portugal. So I mean, it’s definitely picking up and you know, it’s interesting, though, as a traveler, and we’ll see it, the more you get out, just to see how everybody kind of has dealt with it differently. So we’re all going to have completely different, different experiences. So just kind of pack your patience. And, you know, I mean, it just, it is what it is. Everybody just kind of doing it a little bit different. So yeah.
I would agree with that. We entered the pandemic living in Japan still. So it was completely different than living in the States. And then when we moved here that, yeah, so and we’re going to Canada, which has been very strict. We’re going at the end of the month, so should be good to see how that goes. But, yeah, any any other big tips that you want to tell us? Before we sign off? We really appreciate all your knowledge.
I laugh because I used to always tell people, you know, travel with your kids. Because, you know, even when they don’t remember it. And you might remember the bad parts, like crying babies on the plane, you know, the people that are around you that you’re worried about, they’re going to be bothered by your kids. But you’re probably never going to see them again in your life. So let that part of it go. Like stop stressing about what other people think and how other people feel about it. Because it’s really about for you and what you’re doing for yourself, your family, your kids, and how you’re all going to grow from the experience at the end of the day. Go out and travel!
1,000% Well, yeah, it was great talking to you. And yeah, thanks for coming on Streets and Eats with us.
Yeah, thanks for joining us!
Thank you so much. Thank you for having me. This has been fun.
All right. Well, that wraps up another episode. Thanks for joining us here at Streets and Eats where we want to encourage you to savor the adventure. We’d love for you to come to our website, Roving Vales, or our sister site, Reflections Enroute and sign up for our newsletters. That way you’ll never miss a podcast or a blog post. And join us on Facebook in our private Facebook, group Streets and Eats, where we talk all things travel, get advice from fellow travelers, answer questions, and just have a great conversation. Thanks for listening. And
Ciao for now.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai