So you’re planning a family vacation? There’s nothing like travel to teach your child about diversity, tolerance, and patience. Then there’s all that quality family bonding time and those shared memories you’ll make together. Traveling with kids can be a lot of fun, but it’s definitely not for the faint of heart! Here are some helpful tips for some smooth-sailing travels.
Skyscanner is a great new resource for finding the best deals on airfare, hotels, and car rentals. They also designate if hotels are best for romantic getaways or if they’re more for families. Staying at kid-friendly hotels is the way to go!
Check the weather forecast ahead of time, and start packing early. This travel checklist for kids of all ages helps you cover all the bases. Wherever you go, always bring an emergency change of clothes for your child. Have this extra set of clothes in a designated backpack or, in the case of a baby, in your diaper bag. You never know when they might have an accident.
A great organizational tip is to pack complete outfits into individual Ziploc bags. It makes it so much easier for kids to get dressed when they don’t have to dig through their suitcases for different articles of clothing. Have an extra bag for pajamas and a designated bag for swimwear too. Keep all these bags in your suitcase so you can use them over and over. You’ll also want to bring along a big bag (a garbage bag works great) for all the clothes that have been worn.
Download a few of your child’s favorite shows to your iPad or tablet ahead of time. Also, pack a bag of tricks and treats, literally. Include their favorite treats, some fun novelties from the Dollar Store, and perhaps a few games. Stagger handing them out over the course of your trip.
Before you step outside your home, let your children know the “ground rules” for your fun adventure; you know, stuff like, “Never leave our sight!” “Keep the noise levels down and be considerate to the other people traveling.” You’ll also want to communicate any budgetary constraints you may want to enforce. Now is a good time to let them know that you won’t be buying souvenirs every day (unless you want to!).
Plan on sticking to your children’s usual routines as much as possible when it comes to meal times, naps, and bedtime. On vacation, it can be tempting to be on the go every minute, but this leads to exhausted kiddos, which often leads to meltdowns. Pace yourself!
While traveling makes it a bit harder to eat healthfully, it’s still possible! More and more fast-food restaurants are offering healthier fare, but what’s best is to pack travel-friendly snacks. Give each family member their own insulated container and fill it with healthful yet yummy foods. Stop at local parks for picnics, and make every effort to replenish your containers with food you buy from local grocery stores vs. fast-food drive-thrus.
Tips for Traveling by Car
Keep an organizer in the car with wipes, paper towels, and plastic grocery bags for trash. Every time you stop, throw away trash and reorganize. Also, stop at least every two hours when the kids are awake for potty breaks and to let your kids run around and burn off some energy.
Place sun shades on the kids’ windows, and bring along their favorite stuffed animal or anything else that helps them feel comfortable. Play travel games, bring sing-along CDs, and listen to audio recordings. You can’t go wrong with any audio recording by the award-winning storyteller Jim Weiss. He is known for holding the attention of children (and adults!) of all ages. Plan road trip scavenger hunts where you make a list of things for your children to find along the way, like a goat, a red truck, a boat on a trailer, or whatever makes sense for where you’re traveling.
To completely eliminate the “Are we there yet?” question, you can put sticky notes on the ceiling of the car before you leave and take one down every 15 to 30 minutes. They’ll always be able to see how many sticky notes are left until you get to your designation. This countdown to arrival activity is another great way for your kids to see how far they’ve gone and how much farther you have to go. For extra fun, after each hour in the car, they get a new treat and activity with this particular countdown idea.
And if you must eat in your car from time to time, use individual shower caddies to hold fast-food meals. This goes a long way in preventing your car from looking like a hamster cage by the time you get to your destination. Be sure to throw all wrappers in your trash bag after you’re finished.
A Few Tips for Air Travel
When traveling by plane, make sure you check out the TSA website for the scoop on baby food, liquids, etc. Remember that you have priority boarding when flying with your children. As soon as they start calling zones, go right up front!
It’s not easy keeping children entertained while trapped thousands of feet in the air. Check out these great airplane activities for children over 2. For toddlers and up, pack a pair of headphones in your carry-on, so they can enjoy their favorite shows on your tablet or iPad. Many savvy travelers always pack a pashmina shawl in their carry-on. It multi-tasks as a light blanket, pillow, and even tablecloth.
Tips for Staying Well
Nothing can ruin a vacation like someone getting sick. When you consider the close proximity you’ll be to so many people and all the germs lurking on escalators, airplane trays, rental cars, etc. - it’s wise to take extra precautions to protect you and your children while traveling. Avoid touching surfaces in heavily populated areas like airports and tourist attractions. Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, and do your best to keep your hands away from your face. Always have a small bottle of hand sanitizer handy so you can disinfect as needed. Mark Orwell, former International Editor at Travel & Leisure for 29 years, always travels with antibacterial wipes so he can wipe down surfaces in hotel rooms.
You can read about five ways to avoid germs while traveling, but the bottom line is hand hygiene. Some viruses can also remain on toys long enough to place children at risk for getting infectious diseases, according to researchers at Georgia State University. The best way to disinfect toys is to clean them with soap and warm water and then wipe them with a diluted bleach solution.
Avoid the sun between 12pm and 4pm. This is when UV rays are the strongest and when your kids are in the most danger of getting heat stroke.
Make sure you have a first aid kit. Nothing gives you better peace of mind than knowing you’re prepared for everything from diarrhea at 2am to a cut toe at the beach. It’s also a good idea to carry a written copy of your child's medical history with you, including your child’s blood type, immunization records, doctor’s name, and phone number.
Wherever your travels take you, don’t forget about yourself. Make sure you get enough rest and pack some treats for yourself too. Download that book you’ve been dying to read and enjoy it while your child naps. Keep a travel journal with your family, and have each family member write or draw something in it every day. Remind yourself that traveling with children is to accept that not everything is going to go as planned. Make the unexpected parts part of the adventure. Give yourself a pat on the back for giving your children memories that will last a lifetime.