Tips for Traveling to Central America with Children
The following list is my random tips for traveling internationally with children. I learned this during our Panama & Costa Rica trips with our three children.
- Consider Renting a Home Through Vrbo.com: You could rent a beautiful, clean and well recommended home right on the beach instead of being stuffed in an “ok” hotel room for the same exact price. Even better, maybe even cheaper! Lots of the properties have many reviews, videos showing off the property and many pictures. Wouldn’t you prefer a private home, a security company over the property, private pool, etc. where you can completely relax? Check it out.
- On Your First Day, do Nada: If you are traveling with children, just let go of the idea that on your first full day in the area that you will be able to finally go ziplining! Or go visit a new city! Just relax. Go to the local grocery store to get some essentials, take a slow stroll around the city to get a feel for it, heck — watch a movie. But if you try to hurry and get straight to sightseeing… you are going to have some grumpy, overwhelmed kids.
- Ask Locals About Food: With our personal tastes we have no desire to sit in a stuffy bistro, hotel restaurant or Americanized restaurant when traveling abroad. Ask the locals where to eat… and make sure you’re asking normal, day-to-day locals! Like the man helping you with your baggage, the manager at the grocery store or the surfer walking down the street.
- You Don’t Need the Tourism Companies: We had great success searching online for things to do in the area and booking them ourselves. The tourism companies charge at least double for the same ziplining, crocodile tours, etc. that you can easily set up yourself. Then when you do one fun thing, ask the employees of that company where you should go for other things! They will give you good recommendations.
- Figure Out Cell Phones Before: We learned this the hard way while in Costa Rica. Try to figure out ahead of time if you will have service on your cell phones, if just having them on will create tons of roaming fees for you, etc.
- List of Phone Numbers & Addresses: Find the American embassy, if your church is in the area and their bishop’s phone number and meetinghouse information. Make a list of anyone you might know in the country, emergency contacts back home, where you will be staying, renting a car from, etc. If something bad were to happen, you would at least have a starting point of people who can help you.
- Cook at Home & Find Local Markets: If you rent a home, chances are you will have a well stocked kitchen and maybe even a great barbecue outside. Go to the local market and ask around if there is a fisherman in the area who sells his latest catch. And cook at home!
- Souvenir Shops Suck: If you want to bring something home for close family, friends or yourself, don’t think you can just find a souvenir shop! They have some of the ugliest, cheapest, inauthentic items in the whole country. It looks like an American Dollar Tree. If you pass by a woman selling something on the street or a farmers market… pick something up there! Don’t pass it by — that is where you will find good souvenirs.
- Take a Break from Your Camera: I learned to only take my camera on half or less of our excursions. It is another thing to worry about, another thing that gets on the kids’ nerves and one more thing to bang around when you should be having fun. Don’t get me wrong — documenting your family’s trip and experiences is great, and I do it! But I also give myself (and the rest of my family) a break half the time from it.
- Make a Flexible Plan AFTER You Get a Feel for Things: Sure! You can go to Costa Rica knowing there are things you would LOVE to do. But take the first day to get a feel for the area, ask around a bit and THEN make a flexible plan on what you would like to do. You might find out the city you are staying in has world-famous surfers, so you might want to skip seeing the volcano that is 4 hours away and just spend an extra day surfing from the masters. Get a feel for things, and then make a flexible plan.
- Downtime: We travel with small children (three girls, ages 5 and under), and they get overwhelmed quickly when off their schedule. They are eating different food, in a different place, sleeping in a new room — it’s overwhelming! So we would only plan something new/fun/adventurous for half the day. And then the other half of the day would be downtime: cooking, eating, swimming, sitting in the sand, watching a movie, taking a slow walk nearby. It is ok to have downtime while traveling. You don’t always have to be going, going, going!
- Don’t Be Lazy with Your “Mom Bag”: Your “diaper bag” or “mom bag” needs to be stocked well because things are going to happen that you don’t expect. Take time to prepare, for example: a bag to put dirty clothes in, a change of clothes for everyone (even the older ones), snacks, water, children’s medicine, sun tan lotion, special treats, etc.
- DRESS DOWN: Do not put on (or even bring) any nice accessories. Just wear some plain shoes and comfortable clothes. Don’t wear anything that makes you stand out. Just focus on spending time with your family and don’t worry that you aren’t “dressed to your nines.” People are less likely to sell to you, bug you for money, put you on a bad radar or bring attention to you if you are dressed down.
- Be fair with money: Tip well. Don’t be cheap. People are living on a lot less. Be fair with money and tips to others.
- Kid’s Electronics: Are great for the travel part, our Leap Frog tag readers, explorers and pads along with the DVD player are HEAVEN SENT. But take those suckers away once you get to your destination. Let the kids learn to relax and look around while you travel through a new country!
Hopefully these Tips for Traveling to Central America with Children help you out some! You can also check out some of our travel adventures as a family below in these links: