Five Tips for Successful Long-Term Family Travel

June 8, 2017 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Tips and Resources

By Janet LoSole

As an adventuring family, we’ve spent large swaths of time in foreign destinations. We’ve managed to survive months of intense periods of time together by adhering to a few simple rules.

1. Go Screen-free.
Start spending large periods of screen-free time together weeks, even months before you depart. If you’re going on a two-week vacation, chances are you’re staying in a hotel with a TV, or you are bringing the iPad. Not so for long-term travellers. We tend to stay at hostels, pensions or campgrounds, where there may be no TV or internet access. At home, TV was restricted to Saturday night videos only. The rule was broken only during illness or if my husband and I needed a few hours of uninterrupted time, like planning our yearly budget. So, on a two-year trip to Central America, our girls knew what to do with their down-time, usually busying themselves creating imaginary kingdoms from coconut husks and clam shells.

…but no dog and pony show!

When you go screen-free, don’t give in to the parent-as-entertainer trap. Let kids find ways to occupy their time without suggestions or involvement from you. It may take weeks for children to de-program from television and computers; don’t make the mistake of waiting until you’re on your trip before you announce, “Find something to do.”

2. Practice trips.

If you can afford it, take small excursions that provide the training needed for a bigger trip. We travelled twice before our biggest adventure—backpacking through Central America. First, we drove ten hours to go whale-watching in eastern Quebec. We stayed at hostels to familiarize the girls with communal living and functioning in a second language. The following year we spent Christmas in Costa Rica to assess its safety and cleanliness. This may be preparedness overkill, considering the financial implications, but I was a worrier, and it was the only way I could ease my mind about spending a much longer period in the region.


Here’s what we learned:

      • Pack economically (to weed out toys kids can live without).
      • Break long journeys into stints of no more than three hours; children need to stretch their legs and run off some energy occasionally.
      • How to kill time on long bus trips: load iPods with music. Classical Kids series was a favorite (Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Mozart’s Magic Fantasy), and when that was exhausted, I handed over, every hour, little trinkets squirrelled in paper bags.

3. Cook and eat each evening meal together seven nights a week before you leave.

On the road, a family limited by finances will likely eat every meal together. Establishing a system where everybody helps will ease tension and prevent burnout. Children on a long-term trip will also need to understand that their hunger cannot be assuaged immediately. The never-empty cupboard of snacks back home is simply not part of life on the road.

4. Research

A travelling family’s primary considerations are health and safety. Sites like and are a good starting point, but there is nothing like finding out on the ground what is really going on. When we travelled to Costa Rica, we were shocked to find dengue was front page news. We’d read about Zika advisories but had dismissed concerns about dengue because the government travel alerts were a year old. In fact, we discovered that Costa Rica had suffered serious dengue outbreaks since 2000, with sufferers numbering in the tens of thousands annually. Based on local reports, we were able to take the necessary precautions.

Joining a Facebook group for expats prepared us for practical matters. For example, we solved the problem of travelling on a one-way ticket when a member advised us to purchase four onward bus tickets out of Costa Rica into Panama, saving us hundreds of dollars from possibly being turned away at the gate by the airline for having no onward passage.

5. Take a break from each other (if you can).

The intensity of travelling long-term with your family can be mitigated by taking advantage of opportunities as they arise like we did while visiting a coffee shop in Granada, Nicaragua. When the owner, a Canadian expat with three children learned that we were having difficulty with travel plans, she not only gave us advice, but she offered to watch our girls while we ran all over the city altering our itinerary. And when we followed the “gringo trail” from Panama City to Cancun, we met the same travellers on the hostel circuit time and again. Eventually, we entrusted a few to watch the girls while we went for provisions.

The intensity of family togetherness can pose a very real threat to enjoying your adventure. Preparation may take months, but worth it in the long run. Once you ensure the family’s health and safety, look at preparing the gang for emotional ups and downs, too.

Janet LoSole is a freelance writer living in Ontario, Canada. World travel is the primary curriculum resource for her two homeschooled daughters. Janet has taught ESL internationally since 1994. She writes about homeschooling and travelling. Her work has appeared in Natural Child