With family travel, oftentimes the biggest challenge is getting there. Family vacations should be an upbeat time everyone can enjoy, give or take a few rounds of Wheels on the Bus or a stroller that refuses to fold. Though the packing list might be longer than when you’re traveling solo, nothing beats making memories to share or seeing the excitement in your child’s eyes when discovering something new. While we still haven’t found a remedy to the question, “Are we there yet?”, we’ve gathered up a few tips for traveling with kids, from what distractions to have on hand for long haul flights and road trips, to what you should consider when making your itinerary.
When planning out what you’ll do during your vacation, give your kids a few options of activities to pick from. While there’s no doubt you have a few must-see spots, giving your children the option of what they want to prioritize helps them feel involved in the joy of travel. For inspiration, look up the area you’re visiting for kids' discovery museums, amusement parks, or aquariums nearby.
You know to bring diapers, wipes, and a favorite teddy bear, but here’s a quick list of items that make traveling with kids a little easier:
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Get an early start to things—both to give yourself plenty of time for hiccups in travel (international flight delays or mishaps with car seats in TSA), but also, if possible, to schedule early-hour flights. Kids will manage much easier after a good night’s sleep as opposed to heading out later in the day, and might even snooze a bit if you leave really early. If you’re packed up for a road trip, a head start in hitting the road pays off when you beat traffic and the backseat is fast asleep.
After a long day of sightseeing or adventure, you might be tired, but your kids may still have energy to burn. Find a home base with enough fun built in so they can get their wiggles out at the swimming pool or nearby beach. With more to do outside, they’ll cut down on screen time and you can relax.
Any parent can tell you that a handful of good distractions is key to traveling with kids. Rather than having to pack up the entire art closet, bring washable coloring books or magnetic games for on-the-go. After the thrill of the first few sing-a-longs wear off, queue up a kid-friendly audiobook that your family can enjoy together. There are also plenty of podcasts that mix storytelling, educational lessons, and humor to keep them engaged. If you’re preparing for a road trip or a long flight, save a few tried-and-true episodes they love. While it might not be the perfect fix for fussing with their seatbelts or the travel question “How much longer?”, it comes close.
Nobody wants a meltdown during a travel day. Keeping a good supply of snacks and making sure your child is hydrated can be the difference between a peaceful drive or dreading every mile. If you’re flying with a toddler, keep in mind the TSA liquid restrictions, and opt for crackers or fruit puffs when possible. A pocket of snacks might also come in handy if your travel destination includes a food scene your child isn’t used to.
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A new vacation home base means a new layout and rules. Once you arrive, it’s important to take a walk around the house and property with your kids to make sure they’re familiar with the space, to mark any off-limits spots, and to make sure the locks work to any pool area. If you’re vacationing in the mountains, near the ocean, or by a lake, set limits to how far your kids can go and for how long. Older kids might be happy with more room to wander, but it’s still important they know how to get back.
Whether at home or overseas, nap time waits for no one. The journey over might leave your kids a little sleepy or jet-lagged, so it’s best to plan some time to recover before jetting off for the day’s activities. Schedule in some downtime between outings so that you and your kids can enjoy all the hikes, museum tours, or boat cruises the day has to offer with plenty of rest.
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Plan a special treat you know your kids will love so they will have something to look forward to and will stay on their best behavior. Whether a surprise or unique family tradition, a night of fun together will be a nice way to feel connected while you’re out visiting somewhere new. Pack s’mores supplies, cook up breakfast for dinner, or get a better feel for your home-away-from-home with a dance party in the kitchen. (Don’t forget the hairbrush microphone.)