If you’re a parent, then you know that prepping for new experiences makes kids much more comfortable with changes and transitions. The same is true with travel. Travel with children requires planning ahead and having a couple of contingency plans up your sleeve.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for being open to spontaneous adventures, but some basic planning, from what to bring to your mode of transportation, will have a positive ripple effect throughout your entire trip. So, why not start out on the best foot possible through smart family travel tips?
Get Your Kids Excited About Your Destination
A big part of the fun of a family trip is all the time you spend looking forward to it. There’s no reason this can’t apply to your kids as well! Start ramping up enthusiasm in your kids about the destination you’ll be visiting with culturally enriching activities such as:
- Reading age-appropriate books or watching movies or documentaries about your destination.
- Trying your hand at traditional crafts or games popular in your destination. Kid World Citizen has a wonderful collection of activities from destinations all around the world.
- Cooking meals made from traditional ingredients or using recipes from the region you’ll be visiting.
Another key when it comes to getting kids excited for a family vacation? Let them in on the planning and preparation. For the littlest kids, this may prove as simple as letting them pack a backpack of essentials for plane flights. For tweens and teens, take this process a step further by letting them pour over guidebooks with you. Then, ask them for a list of the activities they most want to do or the places they most want to see.
Set Expectations Before You Go
Besides ramping up the pre-vacation excitement, it’s also crucial that you prepare kids for the challenges associated with travel. After all, even though vacations can (and should) be fun, traveling is just plain for kids. You can minimize this by preparing your kids for some of the more challenging elements of travel before you embark on your trip. Try these ideas:
- Prepare your kids for any unusual or unpleasant experiences they may encounter. Talk them through what to expect when they go through security at the airport, which can feel overwhelming for travelers of any age!
- Have a discussion with your kids about why you’re traveling. From encouraging family bonding to making the world a better place, your kids will travel better when they understand the “why.”
- Set the expectation with your kids that they won’t be on their tablets or phones for the whole trip.
- If your trip includes giving back to the community — either monetarily or through service projects — discuss with your kids the importance of traveling with a purpose.
By getting your kids excited for a trip and helping them manage expectations, you put them in the right mental place to deal with the toils of travel.
Packing Hacks to Make Your Next Vacation Stress-Free
Few families look forward to packing for a trip. But it doesn’t have to be a hassle. Use these simple tips to make packing for you and your kids a breeze — and repacking during your trip just as easy!
- Take a picture on your phone of what you pack for you and your kids, so you know if anything’s missing as you’re packing up again before going home.
- Use compression packing cubes — one for each kid — to fit everything you need easily in any suitcase. Just hand each kid a cube, and they can pack and unpack on their own! I especially like Eagle’s Creek cubes because they’re lightweight.
- It’s an oldie but a goodie — making up a packing list can keep packing for your family from getting out of hand — and help ensure you don’t forget any travel essentials.
Besides age-appropriate necessities and gear, it’s also important to anticipate your family’s potential medical needs.
Over-the-Counter Remedies to Bring
If you’re going to remote places or overseas destinations where you’re not comfortable with the language, remember these all-important over-the-counter meds, and stock up on them:
- Tylenol or Ibuprofen
- A thermometer
- Calamine lotion
- Bug spray
- Benadryl cream
For kids prone to motion sickness, chewable Dramamine for kids can help. Of course, you should always consult with your pediatrician before giving your children any medications.
Keep up on your regular multiple vitamins and bring extra vitamin C to ward off the sniffles, too. Some parents swear by Emergen-C and Airborne Kids Vitamin Gummies. Bring along wipes and hand sanitizer to ward off germs.
If you’re traveling internationally, check in with your pediatrician well in advance to make sure your kids have the right immunizations. Also, find out which ailments prove most common and learn about preventative precautions and medicines that you should have on hand for your trip such as anti-diarrheal medication and mosquito and tick repellant.
Traveling with Kids on Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and Boats
Conquering transportation with kids comes with unique challenges. But planning ahead can set the right mood for family fun. For all modes of transportation, encourage your toddlers and school-aged kids to carry age-appropriate backpacks filled with a favorite book and toy for unplugged travel. These items will keep them entertained and comforted during travel.
For little ones, consider throwing in a few inexpensive surprises (e.g. playdough, Wikki Stix, Magna doodles, sticker books) to sustain them when their patience runs thin. Consider wrapping these little presents to take up more of your kid’s time and attention while ramping up the wow factor.
Flying with Kids
While tips for flying with kids abound, traveling with another adult definitely makes it easier. Have them board the plane early during family pre-boarding. That way, they can get your seats ready, install infant/toddler car seats, and secure carry-on items while you and the kids stay behind. Then, board as late as you can with the children to avoid feeling cramped before take-off.
On the plane, sit near the back where it tends to be noisier. You’ll also be closer to the bathroom and flight attendants. Keep infants, toddlers, and kids away from aisle seats. That way, you can protect them from being pinched by a passing cart as well as keep them corralled.
Pack separate Ziploc bags with snacks, toys, books, and diaper change necessities. Don’t forget items like bottles and sippy cups for little ones or beverages and gum for older kids to help ward off inner ear pain during take-offs and landings. Breastfeeding also wards off this pain, so keep that in mind if you’re breastfeeding.
Use layovers to your advantage, too. They offer just enough respite from flying to let you stretch your legs, move around, have a potty break, and grab a bite to eat. There’s no question that an overnight non-stop flight is better with little ones, but when those are not an option, keep in mind that tickets with layovers can cost significantly less money than their non-stop counterparts, so you’ll save money in the process.
Travel by Train with Kids
Train rides offer a fun, family-friendly alternative to plane and car travel. Companies like Amtrak offer steep discounts for kids, which also make them well worth considering. Another advantage of train travel that parents can appreciate? You can board while leaving your child strapped into their stroller. And if the wheelchair accessible area is not occupied, you and your stroller-riding kid can park there. No more waking up napping kids!
Many trains let you bring up to two carry-on bags that can weigh up to 50 pounds each, and if your child is under age two, you can bring a diaper bag along without it counting as carry-on luggage. Train travel doesn’t demand that you arrive two hours or more in advance at the airport. You don’t have to worry about ear pain with infants, toddlers, and children due to changes in cabin pressure.
Road Trips with Kids
For road trips with kids, think safety first. Make sure that your children’s car and booster seats are properly installed. That said, safety seat instructions can prove notoriously confusing and difficult to understand. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help from the experts. Check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) listing to find a child passenger safety seat inspection location near you.
Besides bringing loads of snacks and fun games and activities like those you’d pack for a plane or train ride, make sure you drive prepared. Pack plenty of food, water, and the right types of clothing for your trip. Don’t forget a first-aid kit, a flashlight, jumper cables, extra oil, chains, and other basic car safety equipment for your vehicle.
Set up roadside assistance and put the number on speed dial along with the numbers of local authorities. Charge your phone and bring an extra phone car charger and battery. Download an app such as Roadtrippers or Roadside America, which lists all of the best places to stop along the highway. Consider getting iExit, too, as it will help you find services such as rest areas, restrooms, and gas stations when you need them most. And always keep a backup paper road atlas handy. Mistakes happen, even when it comes to GPS and Siri.
Travel by Ship or Boat with Kids
Travel by water can prove cheaper than flying. Your kids will enjoy the extra space to explore and run around, and you don’t have to suffer through airplane meals. But the advantages of travel by boat don’t end there. You can bring as much luggage as you’d like, which can prove invaluable when traveling with kids. Finally, you don’t have to deal with airport security.
Family Travel Tips
From packing the right gear to taking full advantage of your mode of transportation, these family travel tips make traveling with kids a success rather than a stress. Sure, unexpected challenges will still show up along the way. But armed with the tips above, you’ll also have plenty of aces in the hole.
And while you’re at it, be sure to grab our free guide to traveling internationally with kids:
At Our Whole Village, we create transformational trips for curious families who want to create lasting memories while making a difference. We’re here to help you and your family experience the world, its people, and its cultures. Contact us today to learn more about the unforgettable experiences that we handcraft for adventure-seeking families just like yours.
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Enjoying a family vacation to the max starts with planning for both the expected and unexpected as well as making space for the delightful moments. These tips will help you conquer travel challenges, savor each moment, and then relive the magic well after you’ve returned from your destination.