As anyone who has been here for a while knows, I’m a huge sucker for family travel. So I’m here today to talk about how to make family travel work.

Let’s start out with a public service announcement to check the expiration dates of your passports often.

Because when we booked our flights for spring break to visit my brother, we realized Lucy’s had expired.


Thank heavens we have a national passport agency within driving distance, and that we could get an appointment!

So Lu and I spent the day driving and waiting in that office while all the other kids were at home.

Of course we missed being with them, but we were also overwhelmed with gratitude that we could be there (even if it took all day…which it did!) and come out with new passports!

(Mine was going to expire in 8 months so we decided to go ahead and get it renewed as well.)

The family was waiting for us with home-made dinner all prepared, and even a celebration tunnel when we got home:

(Lu joined in after she went through…and even Carson was there on FaceTime on Elle’s phone at the end.)

Totally made that trip worth it.


Sure love these guys.

If you’re traveling internationally some time soon…go check those passports!

But what we’re really here for today is to talk about how to make family travel work.

How to make travel happen with your family

So many moms have asked me through the years about travel.

Some thinking we are a little bit nutty to do it as much as we do, ha!

But mostly people have asked HOW can they make it happen.

A podcast with some answers

Well, the podcast we posted last week on In the Arena is for you! (both the ones wondering why we’re so gaga about traveling and also those wishing they could make it happen).

My sister’s and I go through all kinds of tips and tricks we have learned over the years, including:

  • How to pack
  • How to keep kids entertained while traveling
  • How to budget for traveling
  • How to use credit card points for travel
  • What kinds of accommodations we like to stay in

So go listen to that podcast if that interests you!

I think it’s also so important to mention that there are different “seasons” when traveling works, and when it doesn’t.

And that’s ok!

If you’re not traveling any time soon, but dying to do so, this may help:

Being patient with family travel.

I got this question a few years ago on the blog:

I am a mother of 3 girls, ages 6 1/2, 2 1/2, and 8 months. They bring me joy daily as well as challenging my patience. I am sure most mothers would make the same statement.
I am not trying to get too personal with you…after all, I have never actually met you, and you don’t know me from Eve, but I’ve noticed that you and your family are able to travel quite a bit and I am sure in the process create many memories doing so. Have you and your family always been able to do this, even when you had little ones?
It will be a while before our young family can afford to travel, even little trips, because of financial goals (which I am logically happy about, but emotionally annoyed with ) we have made. It is difficult to travel with little ones, as well as not financially feasible, but I am wondering what we do in the meantime to help create memories as a family and what I can do to not go stir crazy while spending 98% of my time at home.

My answer:

Back in the early years, I pined away to travel. I had grown up traveling and became hopelessly addicted to how the world opened up to me as we soaked in the cultures of different countries. I figured that is what every family should do.

And then I got married.

And Dave and I got real jobs we couldn’t leave to travel the world on a whim.

Plus, those jobs didn’t pay us much money.

And then I got pregnant.

It was around then that my family decided to go on a service “expedition” to Africa.

And then they went to Bolivia.

They saw and hiked Machu Picchu.

They built water-wells for small African villages.

They went on an African safari.

They hiked Mount Kilimanjaro.

My sister packed up and headed to India to do service which had always been my dream.

And then I think everyone took off for Africa again.

It was about this time that I was confined to a small apartment with these two toddlers only fourteen months apart hanging on my legs and making messes.

Traveling to a foreign country with my family was about as far from my world as going to the moon.

I was in the midst of trying to get my babies to actually sleep at night without waking each other up let alone help fight world hunger.

That’s when this became Elle’s first bedroom:

As I slid that pack-n-play in and out of Elle’s “closet” to do laundry and cleaned up small disasters everywhere I went, I daydreamed about service expeditions and hiking far-away hilltops, my mind engrossed in a new culture. It was around then that my sweet mother started reminding me of something she’d remind me of forever after: “life is long.”

And you know what? She was right.

I hunkered down and did what I knew deep-down was much more grand (although not nearly as glamorous) as travel.

I was a Mother. And that was a new culture all on it’s own.

Dave and I stuck to our 10-20-70 deal. We always scrimped by so I could siphon out some spending money here and there to build up a travel fund. When I did photography every cent of the money I made went directly toward that.

You see, everyone has their “thing.” Not everyone goes hog-wild over traveling. I know you can live never leaving “home” and have a wonderful life.

But Dave understood (and still does) that traveling is my “thing”…my “love language” if you want to call it that. He knows that I’d take a donation to the “travel fund” over pretty much anything else.

I don’t want to make it sound like we never traveled in those early years. My family still took us under their wing and we got to do some fun things. We got to go home and see family at Christmas and we lived in D.C. so there was really no lack of culture there.

Plus we were driving distance from New York and Boston so we made trips there when we could.

Money is not as tight as it used to be for us.

But I remember worrying so much about even paying a babysitter so Dave and I could go out on a date, let alone going on a trip.

Now here we are, all these years later and we did get to go to several countries in Africa. We went to Machu Picchu too.

What my mom told me all those years ago was right:

Life Is Long.

I have never once regretted “being there” for those kids of mine.

So if you are reading this rocking a baby and a toddler is close-by spilling juice on the floor, never fear.

Life just keeps changing and morphing and meandering.

If you REALLY want to travel, there are ways you can make it happen! (listen to the podcast for tips on that!)

This mom who asked this question above was right:

You can create wonderful family memories without any travel at all.

You just have to get creative. I’m all about family traditions, even if it’s just taking walks every Sunday together or FaceTiming with family every Thursday or having “late nights” every once in a while with just one child at a time.

(See “7 Motherhood Ideas I love” for more ideas on soaking up those smaller kids while you can!)

The little things become the big things when kids get older.

Plus, it wouldn’t hurt to plaster a big map on your wall and make a plan about future travel so that you can be ready when the day comes. Ha!

Since we couldn’t travel to all those exotic countries I pined away to visit, at least we could talk about them over dinner:)

Sending love and encouragement to all you travel-hungry moms out there!

And extra love to everyone “in the trenches.”

They are beautiful, especially when you are looking back at them from my vantage point!


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  1. Shawni, you come across as a thoughtful, curious, and open person – so I wanted to flag that it’s not great form to refer to “Africa” in the same category as Bolivia and India. Africa isn’t a country! It’s a gigantic and incredibly diverse continent with 50+ countries, all of which are distinct from each other. You wouldn’t talk about having gone to “Europe” after just going to France, or about your trip to “Asia” after you’d been in India – you would say you’d gone to France and India!

    1. Thank you for the clarification, Anna! You’re exactly right, we’ve just been lucky enough to visit a few countries in Africa and I was trying to simplify!

  2. A PSA addendum to your PSA ~ you also can’t travel on a passport within six months of its expiration date!

  3. What about your husband? How do you budget for his interests? Your travel to see your brother makes sense. The adult married kids going seems odd.

    1. Great question about Dave. His main interests are pickleball and skiing so we make sure to make those a big priority as well. He also loves his work, which is very helpful with the budgeting! As far as married kids, we try to take them as often as we can because we prioritize that time to be together while we can get it. That is our inheritance to our kids and there’s nothing like being together, but it doesn’t always work that way. We just took Lucy for spring break and it was pretty special to have that one-on-one time with her.

  4. You travel a lot with your married kids and college kids. Do you pay for their vacations too? No judgement here, I would in a heartbeat too if I could. I just curious!

    1. We do pay for the flights for our kids when we can get them. Like I mentioned above, Dave and I have thought this over and have decided we don’t plan to leave any inheritance for our kids. The inheritance is spending as much time as we can together while we can. We have pushed to be able to make this happen, always saved in travel funds, and made it a priority because it is what works for us. Other families may have different ideas about this which is so great and I’d love to learn from others as to how they do this as well. We realize we are incredibly lucky to be able to have these opportunities.

  5. I love this post. Just came across your blog from the come follow me app message today. We love taking our kids around the world and allowing them to experience many different cultures. I really want to take them to Africa but don’t know where to go or what is safe. Where did u guys go or what would u recommend? Thank you so much for any tips.

    1. Hi Brooke! We went to Uganda with a company called Family Humanitarian. They are so awesome! You can find out more about them here:
      They do incredible work all over the world and I love them because they have native people running any service they are helping with.

      Here’s a post about more of the whys:

      And here’s a post that links to the rest of that service trip:

      Following our service there we went on a safari in two different areas in Kenya:

      In all these areas we felt completely safe. Hope this helps!

  6. To me it is strange to read about family travels. Especially travels like the ones you talk about here. Our earth isn`t doing well. We all know that by now. We need to cut back a lot in order to leave a still working planet and eco systems to the next generation (our kids!). And traveling without the need to do so is just not ok anymore. Deep down we all know that too. Our family went on our last bigger vacation over 15 years ago. We try to keep it simple since then. Only trips with short travel distances. No flights. And we only travel if absolutely neccessary. We don’t want our kids and grandkids to suffer because of our mindless behavior. We are not perfect. Not at all. But we do what we can. And I wished others would too. Especially moms who often set the tone about how things work in families.
    Trips to see special doctors are inevitable and sure need to happen. But flights just to spend a few days here and there are kind of crazy to me. I think we all can do better than that. I certainly don’t want to be mean. I want to understand why other families act differently. And I just wished you and your large family would be more mindful about your choices. For someone who has kids and seems to love nature you do an awful lot to actively distroy the earth. Maybe because you don`t think about it this way? Or you don’t ‘believe’ in climate change? I would love to hear what you think about this.
    I know many readers will jump to your ‘defense’ and will criticize me for asking these questions. It’s what always happens on this blog. And it’s the reason I never asked a question or commented before. But I think this topic is too important to just let it go. Because you influence the way people think about travels with a post like this. And because you make it sound ok to not care about the environment. Even if that probably isn`t your intension.

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