Traveling is one of the most exciting and rewarding adventures you can experience. There’s nothing more satisfying than discovering a new location or visiting a familiar one. It’s no wonder that families want to travel with their children and expose them to the people and places they love most. Not to mention, it’s a great chance to reconnect and spend some quality time together. However, traveling with young children can be extremely stressful. From planning and packing to finding kid-friendly activities, there’s an overwhelming amount to think about. Have no fear, we’ll provide some of the most useful tips to make family travel less of a headache and more of a memorable adventure.
Having a successful family trip starts with the planning process. Hold a family brainstorming session and have everyone list out their interests. Once you determine what everyone enjoys doing as a group (i.e. hiking, swimming, or in my family’s case: eating) you can narrow down the type of trip you are looking to take. This will also make the children feel more involved with the vacation and more likely to cooperate throughout the trip. You can get everyone excited for the trip by setting the mood in advance. For example, if you’re planning a trip to The Caribbean, play some tropical music and cook a traditional jerk chicken dish to get everyone psyched for the big vacation!
If traveling by plane, you can also use this time to discuss what your children can expect at the airport. The crowds and security can be overwhelming and confusing, so make sure you stress the importance of staying close and behaving (fingers crossed on that one!). Some parents have been known to invent little games to encourage good behavior. For example, you can create the “airplane police” to motivate your children to be on their best behavior but there are definitely some details to be worked out. When buying plane tickets, it’s important to note that children under two years old can fly for free, but you will have to hold them in your lap for the duration of the flight. If you have the extra money to spare, it may be worthwhile to buy a seat so you are able to use a car seat (assuming it’s deemed safe for flying). Your baby will be more used to their surroundings and more likely to sleep.
Packing for your family vacation can be stressful but remain calm! The key here is efficiency. You only have a limited amount of space and you can’t afford to be excessive. Make sure you pack clothing colors that are easy to match and shoes that are more practical than stylish. If you’re really looking to step up your game, you can pack your children’s individual outfits in gallon Ziploc bags. This technique saves space for packing and saves time when you are already on the trip by having a complete outfit picked out in advance. When you are done with the day, you can place the outfit back in the Ziploc and label it dirty. Once you get home, you can throw right into the washer and call it a day. Don’t forget the important items like medicine, snack bags, sunscreen, hats, and any stuffed animals that if forgotten would cause an apocalyptic temper tantrum. You’ll also want to make sure you print all boarding passes in advance – the less time at the airport, the better off you are. Another airport tip is to have one parent board the plane first with the luggage and bags and have the second parent board the flight (with children) when it’s closer to take off. Why sit on the plane for an extra 30 minutes if it’s not necessary? The entire plane will thank you.
Entertainment is another key factor to make your family vacation successful. When traveling, you won’t have access to all the bells and whistles you would at home. You’ll want to make sure you strategically pack enough toys, games, and movies to ensure your child is amused. The most obvious and effective device is a tablet or portable DVD player. Don’t forget to download enough movies, cartoons and games to last throughout the trip. Make sure you don’t forget headphones! If you’re trying to keep it “old school,” coloring books are another great tool to keep your children occupied. When in doubt, iSPY is a fun game that’s free and always available. Another tip is to bring a few small “presents” that you can reward your children with throughout the trip to encourage good behavior. This may seem unnecessary but they could go a long way if you’re desperate (those car rental lines can take longer than expected).
Once you’ve made it to your destination (whoo hoo!), there are some extra tips that may take your trip from good to great. Check in with the hotel concierge to see if they have any complimentary family-friendly activities: shows, sports tournaments or scavenger hunts. Also remember that not every moment of the trip needs to be carefully planned out or extravagant. Some of the most memorable nights might be spent having pizza by the pool or s’mores on the beach. On that note, it doesn’t hurt to work in some downtime to allow for a more balanced vacation.
Traveling with your children doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. With thoughtful planning and prep, you can avoid the headache and hassle. There’s no way to prepare for every scenario but it’s important to remain calm and remember that no child is going to respond perfectly in every situation. Traveling with your children gives you the opportunity to teach them important life lessons as it relates to history, culture, and perspective. Family vacations are some of the most memorable and special times and they are absolutely worth the extra effort!