How to Travel with Kids
Traveling with young kids in tow (especially during the holidays) is a stressful experience. As a parent, you worry if they will get lost or if you packed everything they need. While there is no “one size fits all approach” to family travel, we wanted to share some practical tips to help you and your family have the most memorable and enjoyable vacations together.
Prebook as much as possible - It goes without saying, but you should always book your plane tickets, rental cars, and lodging accommodations in advance. Sometimes, the earlier you book, the more likely you can take advantage of savings or early bird specials. Keep your eyes out for a kid-friendly hotel or Vrbo with a bathtub in the restroom. A place with an onsite laundry facility would be a definite plus, especially if your trip is longer than a week. If you plan to stay with family during your trip, get all the logistics worked out with them long before you leave for the trip.
You could also check to see if any nearby attractions have timed ticketing, then pay for and download all those tickets directly to your phone. Even though it may not seem like a big deal to buy tickets in person, purchasing some of them in advance saves you precious time during the trip.
Schedule flights with extended layovers - Book flights with longer layover times. Having a sufficient buffer of time gives you peace of mind knowing you can reach your next gate without sprinting through the terminal. Plus, you could take a short nap and do all your bathroom breaks before boarding the next flight.
Mentally prepare your kids for the trip - Give them an idea of what to expect by explaining procedural things such as checking in at the airport and picking up a rental car. Traveling is completely different from their usual routine, so explaining things to them makes it less likely for them to throw a fit because "they've been waiting forever." When they start to get impatient, reassure them that this part will be over soon enough.
Keep your kids entertained - Bring their favorite toy and/or tablet (with apps and pre-downloaded movies) with you. You could also give them inexpensive sticker books or magic marker coloring books to help them pass the time when they inevitably get bored. If there is space to explore, take them on a walk to help keep their mind off of things.
Bring basic medicines and lots of snacks - Consider bringing medicines such as Tylenol in your checked baggage. The last thing you need is a sick child, so having meds easily accessible to you means they can feel better sooner. This isn't a necessity, but it may come in handy. Make time to prepare some healthy snacks to bring inside your carry on bag. Goldfish crackers and cheerios are always a big hit, but you could also consider getting baby carrots, fruit snacks, trail mix, or gogo squeeze bottles too. Packing a resealable cup or water bottle for everyone in the family is also a must when traveling with kids.
Take it slow - Set realistic expectations for the trip. There is no hard and fast rule that says you have to do and see anything and everything when you arrive at your destination. Consider your family’s interests and customize your travel itinerary with activities that everyone would enjoy. A wildlife refuge is perfect for nature lovers, parks give your kids plenty of space to play, and history buffs could explore the local museums. Other family members may want to spend half a day at a theme park, zipline, or ropes course to get their energy out. You know what your kids enjoy, so plan some fun activities for them to look forward to, no matter their age.
Constantly rushing from one thing to the next every day will get tiresome very quickly. If you’ve never traveled with kids before, having a general outline of what you can do is good, but you have to be okay with changing your original plans if they need a nap.
Let your kids make some decisions - If they are old enough, let your kids choose between some of the day’s activities (such as going to a playground or children’s museum), so they can feel like they played a part in the family trip. These days, many parents are used to planning out schedules for their kids, but if the opportunity presents itself, give them options of what to do next on the trip.
Plan to have downtime - Intentionally set apart a couple of hours of the day to be your designated downtime. Young kids need their naps (even if they don’t want them), so it is in everyone’s best interest to give them the time to rest. The last thing you need is a cranky toddler, so gauge their energy level and be okay with skipping out on a particular activity if necessary.
Be flexible - Accept that things may end up going wrong at some point. No family trip is perfect, so when things start to fall apart, breathe and tell yourself it is alright. Take a short walk and briefly remove yourself from the stressful situation if you need to. No one is immune to having a meltdown every once in a while, and it is even more likely to happen during times of stress. Don’t get so caught up in a few bad experiences that it makes you feel as if the whole trip is ruined. You've got this!
Lastly, the most important thing to keep in mind while traveling with children is the less is more rule. Stick to a shorter packing list, especially if your trip is less than five days long. Remember that you don’t have to experience everything at your destination, and try to go with the flow and savor each moment. If you ever ask yourself why you’re on the family trip, remember the reason you decided to take a family vacation in the first place.
Experiencing something new together is always worth it, even if your kids have a meltdown or two. These things happen sometimes, and as a parent, it is up to you to help them work through their emotions and calm down. Temper tantrums always pass, and it’s not the end of the world if your child gets upset during your trip. If possible, plan at least one full day at home after the trip to decompress and transition back into normal life.
Wherever you choose to travel, we hope you enjoy spending quality time together as you go wandering to your heart’s content. Tell us about your favorite family vacation in the comments!