Image this family travel scenario: You’re enjoying the gorgeous sunset at The Baths in the British Virgin Islands. The soothing crash of the waves could lull you to sleep…. Then, disaster strikes. Your two-year-old has a meltdown. Your postcard-worthy evening will have to wait.
Almost every parent who has traveled with their kids has a similar story. A missed nap or long flight can turn a pleasant afternoon, into a not-so-fun experience for everyone.
Fortunately, though, a little planning goes a long way. A few flight planning, packing, and entertainment ideas can help you avoid (most of) the tantrums, and make your family vacation run more smoothly.
Looking for a few family vacation planning ideas?
These 15 tips for traveling with kids will ensure your vacation is fun for everyone and truly stress-free:
Tip # 1: Make Kid-Friendly Flight Plans for Pain-free Flying
There’s nothing more dread-inducing for parents than long flights. (That’s especially true when traveling with infants and toddlers!) The cancellations, delays, and lost luggage can start or end your vacation on the wrong foot. These kid-friendly tips will alleviate the stress of flying with kids:
- Schedule Long Layovers & Check-In Early – A happy, stress-free flight starts with your travel plans. Long layovers provide an opportunity for kids to stretch their legs and let out some bottled-up energy.
- Check-In Early – Early check-ins prevent the worry of running late. Plus, your kids will have a chance to prepare and relax before the flight.
- Fly Early in the Morning – Early-morning flights tend to be less crowded and they experience fewer delays. Most kiddos will still be tired in the morning and wanting to take a nap, too.
- Keep the Essentials Handy – A backpack filled with the essentials keeps your hands free and ensures everything you need is close-by. Headphones, games, snacks, toys, and a charged iPad preloaded with movies will help keep your kids entertained on long-haul flights.
- Bring Layers, Slip-on Shoes & a Change of Clothes – Be sure to carry easy-to-put-on layers. Slip-ons are great for kids too, especially when passing through security. Finally, keep changes handy in your essentials bag for the inevitable spills and accidents.
- Help Younger Kiddos Depressurize Their Ears – Bring some remedies to alleviate ear discomfort. Feeding during take-off and landing can help, as can pacifiers. If you’re traveling with older kids, gum is a great solution; the chewing helps them pop their ears!
- Check on Prices for Children Under 2 – On domestic flights, most carriers do not charge a fee for children flying in your lap. On international flights, though, that’s not always true. For example, American Airlines charges 10% of the adult ticket price on international flights.
How This Helps: A fitful flight isn’t the way to start a vacation. Packing the essentials, planning for delays/missed connections, and bringing the right supplies to keep your kids comfortable makes flying with your kids a bit more stress-free!
Tip #2: Practice Travel Safety for Peace of Mind
It’s any parent’s nightmare: Their child has turned up missing in a crowded market or busy amusement park. And it’s not surprising that the anxiety of losing a child put any parent on edge during vacation. That’ll never go away, to be sure. But there are definitely things parents can do to ensure their kiddos stay safe on vacation.
- Consider A GPS Bracelet – Investing in a GPS bracelet information is a great solution. Not to mention, many are disguised as watches, so your kids will want to wear them!
- Provide Them with Your Contact Information – Make sure your kids have a card with your name, phone number, and local address.
- Practice Scenarios – You can tell your kids to do something a thousand times, but that doesn’t always work. Rehearsing with them on what to do in scary situations will make these ideas “stick.”
- Set Up a Meeting Point If Anyone Gets Lost – In crowded locations, find a landmark where anyone should go if they become lost. One adult can stay at the landmark, while the other goes looking.
How This Helps: Travel safety is one of the most significant sources of stress for any parent. Having plans in place and using safety gear will give you more confidence as you travel.
Tip #3: Pack Light to Save Yourself from Schlepping
Parents feel obligated to bring everything when they travel. Strollers, car seats, the noise machine. They want to pack it all. Overpacking, though, adds stress to your vacation. It makes essential items difficult to find. Not to mention, schlepping around extra baggage is no fun. Here’s how to pack lighter when traveling with kids:
- See If an App Can Do It – Bulky electronics take up valuable space. Often times, though, there’s a handy app that can replace it. There are apps for noise machines, baby monitor apps, and much more.
- Pack an Essentials Bag – Pack a bag that will go with you each day with all the essentials. Your essentials bag might have changes of clothes, prescription medicines, snacks, chargers, etc. And be sure it goes with the family everywhere.
- Pack a Bag for Easy Access – Keep a bag stocked with all those items you’ll need access to every day like toothbrushes, toiletries, baby supplies, etc.
- Focus on Versatile Clothes/Layers – Plan to pack plenty of layers and clothes that can be worn in a few different situations. For the kids, a few pairs of shoes work; you won’t need an outfit for every occasion. If need be, you can do a load or two of laundry.
- See If Renting Is an Option – For bulky baby supplies, you might consider renting. If you’re traveling domestically, you’ll find companies that rent strollers, car seats, bassinets, and other bulky baby necessities.
How This Helps: Packing can be a source of stress for any family. Just remember: You can’t bring everything. And oftentimes, it’s much less stressful to carry the essentials and plenty of layers; everything else you can pick up on your trip.
Tip #4: Have a Stash of Snacks to Fend Off Meltdowns
A hungry child is a lot of times, not the most pleasant child. Meltdowns happen when kids are hungry (or tired or uncomfortable). So, during your flight and on day-trips, make sure you’ve got a stash of healthy snacks in your essentials backpack.
- Plan for the Unexpected – A delayed flight or heavy traffic en route to the hotel can prevent you from getting to the restaurant on time. Keep snacks available for these unexpected delays.
- Bring Snacks to Restaurants – When you’re traveling, you never know when a restaurant operates on “island time” or your order will get misplaced. Have a few snacks handy for more pleasant mealtimes.
- Skip the Sugar – Occasional sugary treats are OK. But try packing filling, healthy snacks. You’ll prevent crashes and keep the hunger crankiness at bay for longer.
- Pack a Water Bottle for Each Child – A reusable travel bottle is a must for family travel. It’ll help keep your kids hydrated, and during excursions and day-trips, you can fill it up with some juice for a needed calorie-boost throughout the day.
How This Helps: Let’s face it, everyone gets a little cranky when they’re hungry. Unfortunately, with kids, hungriness can turn into irritability, sluggishness, or a full-blown meltdown really quick. Avoid this by packing a few healthy snacks. And there’s no need to carry a huge week-long supply with you. You can pick up what you need at your destination.
Tip #5: Bring Books, Games & Toys for Entertainment During Lulls
During your travels, you and your family will likely have to do some waiting. Late buses, cabs, delayed flights and long lines can turn happy children into impatient ones. That’s why it’s a great idea to have some games and other entertainment aids handy.
- Don’t Forget Those “Everywhere Items” – A favorite blanket or toy that your child brings everywhere is a must-pack essential. Leaving home without it can cause a lot of undue stress.
- Have Some Easy Games Ready – Games that don’t require any materials – like I Spy or 25 Questions – are perfect for long waits. Have a few in mind before a long travel day.
- Movies Are Perfect for Long Flights – An iPad preloaded with your kids’ favorite movies can take the stress out of a long overseas flight. Just remember to charge up before you leave for the airport!
- Add Some Entertainment Aids to Your Essentials Bag – Along with snacks, paperwork and a change of clothes, make sure you have books, toys, and games stowed in your go-everywhere bag.
How This Helps: Long travel days can be difficult for kids of all ages. Having some handy entertainment aids will help prevent crankiness and fend off boredom while you wait.
Tip #6: Help Them Create Memories with Travel Journals
It’s always great to revisit fun family vacations together and share memorable anecdotes from your favorite trips. That’s why travel journals and can help them document the trip through their own eyes. This is especially helpful for older kids.
- Provide a Travel Notebook – A travel journal will help older kids think more deeply out about their travel experiences. A simple, pocket notebook works great. Just be sure to encourage your kids to write a few thoughts at bedtime.
- Collect Tidbits for a Trip Scrapbook – Encourage your kids to save tickets, postcards, hotel welcome messages and other mementos to help them remember the trip. Then, when you get home, you can create a scrapbook together.
How This Helps: Encouraging your kids to document their trips will keep them engaged in the adventure and on the hunt for interesting/fun/inspiring things around them every day.
Tip #7: Let Them Capture the Vacation with a Camera
It’s always great to revisit fun family vacations together and share memorable anecdotes from your favorite trips. That’s why travel journals and cameras can help them document the trip through their own eyes. This is especially helpful for older kids.
- Provide a Your Child a Camera – Give your child some time with the family camera to take photos. This will help your kids look for inspiration during the trip. One idea: If you’re only bringing one camera, pack a few memory cards, so you can tell who took each photo.
- Let Them Direct a Vacation Video – Let your kiddo play director. If you have a GoPro or small camcorder, take little interviews during your trip, videos of fun excursions, and capture those unexpected moments.
How This Helps: Giving your kids a camera to visually document their trips will keep them invested in the adventure and they will be more willing to participate in activities.
Tip #8: Plan and Reserve Activities Before You Leave
Imagine you’re in Italy, on the Amalfi Coast, and you’ve planned an afternoon cooking lesson with kids. Unfortunately, though, the cooking center is booked for the day, and now you have to scramble to find something else to fill the day. Booking ahead of time prevents this, and will take one less thing off your plate.
- Almost Any Excursion Can Be Reserved Online – The Internet makes traveling with kids so much easier. You can make reservations for just about anything: Sightseeing tours, private guided tours, museum trips, water parks and transfers to your destination. Try to make plans for as much as possible before you leave.
- Call or Email Even If Reservations Aren’t Required – Even if a company doesn’t take walkup reservations or advanced bookings, it’s helpful to give them a call or send an email. Some businesses may not be open, closed for the season or closed permanently, but haven’t yet updated their website.
- Request Refunds Promptly – If something comes up and you can’t make it, it’s best to cancel and request a refund as soon as possible.
How This Helps: During peak season, most destinations have little availability. So, don’t wait until the last minute to book! Getting the family’s hopes up about a dolphin experience only to find out they’re closed can put a damper on the fun.
Tip #9: Avoid Overloading Your Itinerary to Prevent Vacation Fatigue
When you’re on vacation, you want to see it all. In the Bahamas, you might want to get in a round of golf in the morning, a sea-kayaking trip after lunch, and a sunset cruise before dinner. That’s an action-packed day, and might be a little too much for the kids. For family vacations, it’s best to take things slow.
- Everything Will Take Longer Than Planned – A late tour bus, taxi or slow-moving tour can throw your “perfect day” off course. Give yourself plenty of time in between activities.
- Schedule in Bathroom Breaks and Tantrums – Every trip should reserve some time for bathroom breaks and cool-downs.
- Factor in Kids’ Sleep Schedules – Plan a schedule around your kids’ internal clocks. If there’s a significant time adjustment, take it easy the first few days to reduce jetlag.
How This Helps: Vacation fatigue is real! Sticking to your routines, though, can be a huge help. Also, take things slow. You came on vacation to relax; create a schedule that won’t require the family to rush from Point A to Point B.
Tip #10: Plan a Free Day
Have a free day without a schedule in place and see where it takes you. This will give everyone a break. Or you would come up with some spontaneous activities that everyone is willing to participate in.
Tip #11: Let the Kids Plan Excursions to Make the Trip More Engaging
You might want to take a yacht charter in the BVI. But is that what your kids want to do? Be sure you ask your kids for their input. Of course, you won’t want to spend the whole week at the waterpark. But adding in day-trips and excursions your kids are excited about will get them more engaged in the adventure.
- Provide Them with Options – Give your children a list of pre-approved excursions, and let them choose a few of their favorites.
- Give Them Input on the Daily Itinerary – At the start of the day, offer a few ideas and ask which they’re most excited about. Let them guide your days.
- Choose Activities that Play into Their Interests – Have a kiddo obsessed with dinosaurs? You might want to spend a day at the nearby natural history museum! Your kids will be that much happier on vacation if they’re doing things they’ve shown interest in.
- But Don’t Forget About Your Own Must-Dos – Plan some time each day for things that you’re interested, too. A balanced itinerary with activities for you and the kids will keep everyone happy.
How This Helps: Planning fun and exciting trips isn’t easy. But by asking for your kids input and not forgetting about those must-see places on your list, you’ll help keep everyone engaged and enjoying themselves.
Tip #12: Bring a Basic First Aid Kit, But Not the Whole Pharmacy
Upset stomachs, allergies and fevers can strike at any time. Being prepared with some essentials can help you keep your kids comfortable. But remember: You can’t bring along a remedy for everything. A few medical tips for traveling with kids:
- Pack Essential Medicines – Bring any prescriptions with you, as well as some Pepto-Bismol (the tablets take up less room), a fever/pain reliever like ibuprofen, and allergy medications. A pack of bandages is also helpful.
- Bring Hand Sanitizer or Wipes – These can be lifesavers when you’re traveling with kids!
- Research Healthcare Facilities Before You Go – Look into hospitals, urgent care facilities and pharmacies near your hotel and resort, just in case. Many resorts have on-site health facilities, as well.
- Get Medical Insurance for International Trips – Your own insurance provider may not offer coverage abroad. A simple medical insurance plan can provide you peace of mind and will protect against costly hospital bills abroad.
How This Helps: Illnesses happen. And any parent will tell you, they seem to strike at the most inopportune times like vacation. Keeping a few essentials around will give you options when your kiddo has a tummy ache or is suffering from allergies.
Tip #13: Get Travel Insurance to Protect Against Last-Minute Cancellations
When traveling with kids, there are so many unforeseeable events that can throw your travel plans off-course. Illnesses, family emergencies, etc. Travel insurance protects you from financial losses you might incur. For example, most plans provide coverage for things like cancellations, lost luggage, and last-minute flight or reservation changes.
- Compare Quotes – Every major travel insurance provider generates an easy quote on their website. Compare a few providers to find the best rates.
- Don’t Wait Too Long – If you wait until a hurricane is barreling toward your destination, it’s probably too late. Many insurers won’t provide full coverage. It’s best to seek coverage right around the time you initially book your trip.
- Learn What’s Included In Your Plan – Most plans include coverage for cancellations and changes due to “unforeseeable events.” Just make sure you have the same definition of an unforeseeable event. A cold, for example, probably isn’t covered under your plan.
- Keep Your Receipts – If you’re required to file a claim, make sure you have any flight, lodging and activity receipts handy. This can save you valuable time when filing.
- Request Refunds As Soon As Possible – Many plans require guests to make refund requests with hotels, airlines and tour companies within 72 hours of learning they’ll need to cancel or change their trip.
How This Helps: Flight change fees, cancellation fees, and non-refundable deposits can be a source of significant stress, if you have to alter your trip last-minute. Travel insurance helps protect you and your family from any potential losses. This can be a huge stress saver.
Tip #14: It’s Vacation! It’s OK to Break Routines
Here’s a scenario: There’s an incredible show at the resort that your kids will absolutely love. But… it’s past their bedtime. Sticking to a routine is great (and you’ll certainly want to that to keep your kiddos comfortable). Yet, don’t be afraid to break from routine and give your kids a few extra-special moments.
- Let Them Stay Up Late – You might extend bedtime by 30 to 45 minutes each day, or have one late night.
- Let Them Make (Some of) Their Own Food Choices – Does your child want some ice cream with lunch? Breaking from their normal diets won’t hurt anyone.
- Give Them Some Spending Money – A bit of daily spending money is a great way to let your kids feel a bit of freedom and teach financial responsibility.
How This Helps: Giving your kids a break from routine will help them have an extra-special time and a more memorable vacation. Plus, it’s a great way to reward good behavior!
Tip #15: Always Use the Restroom Before You Leave a Place
Your kids will tell you they don’t have to go. Chances are, they do! That’s it. Whenever a bathroom is nearby, have your kids go.
When Traveling with Kids, Leave the Stress at Home!
A vacation with the kids is a magical experience, full of memories that will last a lifetime. But the key is planning ahead. A backpack full of the essentials, for example, can be your secret weapon against just about anything thrown your way – crankiness, illness, and boredom. And a kid-friendly itinerary will make sure every – you included – has a great trip.