Traveling with family is never quite as idyllic as the pictures make it look. The reality of family travel can be pretty overwhelming and can convince even the most travel-loving parents to stay at home for the next decade of their lives.
However, you can enjoy a trip with your entire family with meticulous planning and organization.
Traveling with kids can be stressful. These expert parenting travel tips will guide you throughout your trip and ensure you have a smooth family travel experience.
The Best Tips for Smooth Family Travel
#1 – Pack Light and Smart
Although kids need a lot of stuff, the more items you bring, the more things you have to lug around. This means the more items you can potentially leave scattered around during your travels. Prepare for your trip by writing down precisely what you need and what items can do double duty so you aren’t packing extraneously.
For example, instead of packing extra clothes for the kids pack easy-care items like leggings and t-shirts that they can wear in multiple situations.
You may want to invest in some good travel products you don’t already own simply to cut down on the gear you need to bring. For example, a Doona Car Seat doubles as a car seat and a stroller, eliminating the need for two items. Baby gear like that may cost you money but will help you pack lighter and smarter.
#2 – The Basics: Bathroom, Meals, and So on
When traveling with kids, you’ll want to pay extra attention to basic needs.
Make sure that your children have bathrooms and meals wherever you go. Consider bringing easy snacks and kid-friendly food as a backup whether you’re on a road trip or traveling through airports.
Bring changes of clothing and plenty of diapers and wipes with you if you have young kids. Finding a bathroom when you first arrive at a new place and pointing it out to your children is a good idea.
#3 – Be Prepared
Over-prepared is the way to go.
While smooth family travel is still an option with young kids, spontaneous family travel is less of an option. Be prepared for all situations.
Pack extra clothes, diapers, wipes, and food. Know where you are going ad what you are doing. Be ready for the inevitable delays and lost baggage, which is part of travel today.
Make sure to pack a carry-on bag with absolute necessities, so they don’t get lost with your luggage. Reserve as many things as possible in advance so you are more assured of your travel situation. Prepay for any items and services you can, such as airplane seats together, a car seat for a rental car, etc.
#4 – Arrive Early
If you are traveling by plane, give yourself plenty of time to arrive at the airport before your flight leaves.
Check-in and security lines are longer than ever, and kids often move slowly and need to make bathroom stops at inopportune times. Arriving early will avoid a stressful airport experience by allowing yourself plenty of time for the unexpected.
#5 – Pick The Right Attractions
If you want a positive trip with your children, you must pick the right attractions. Even if an art museum is on your absolute must-see list, your children may not enjoy the same things as you. Plan your attractions around your children’s needs.
That doesn’t mean you need to only pick kid-centric activities, but you should choose kid-friendly attractions and activities to keep all members of the family happy. Choose places to go that are kid-friendly with plenty of bathrooms and eating areas, and places where kids can play.
If you must go to a non-child-friendly attraction, schedule it between kid-friendly activities and bring along entertainment, such as a tablet and headphones or a book, for antsy kids.
#6 – Read The Ratings
Always do your research and read ratings before you plan a trip. Look out for reviews that specifically mention family travel or children. Remember that a 5-star rating from a childless traveler does not mean this is a good place for you to go with children.
#7 – Check Ahead
Always check what the current situation is ahead of time, preferably by calling all destinations.
Many attractions and tourist areas’ websites are not up-to-date and may not have the current Covid protocols or rules listed. Make sure the places you want to visit are operating at the times you want to go.
#8 – Use Travel Planning Apps
Apps are your friend! Use travel planning apps to keep your itineraries and information in one place.
Download parking, airline, and rental car apps to make check-in easier. Use attraction apps to ensure you get the most out of your experience. The more work you can do on your phone, the less work you need to do while standing in line (and we all know how kids are when they have to stand in line)!
#9 – Stick To Your Regular Routine
Vacation and travel are a time to relax and enjoy. However, it is crucial to stick to your routine as much as possible when traveling with kids.
That means trying to schedule meal times for when you usually eat at home and bedtime for around the same time you sleep at home. For example, if your child always eats lunch at noon, they will not be a happy camper when they have to wait until 2:00pm.
However, if you absolutely cannot avoid it, be prepared for off-meal times with snacks. The same idea applies to bedtime. Although an early bedtime may not be the best way to spend an evening, it is better than the alternative!
#10 – Avoiding Jet Lag
If traveling to a different time zone, be prepared for terrible jet lag. Jet lag with children is the worst, but there are things you can do to prepare for it.
First, drink lots of water and spend lots of time outdoors. This will allow your body to naturally adjust to the current time zone. Do your best to wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night, on the clock of the time zone you’re visiting.
Finally, be prepared for little children to wake up in the middle of the night to play, with practical activities and ideas to pass the time quietly or help get them back to sleep.
#11 – Accommodations
The big hotel or Airbnb debate intensifies when you travel with children.
Hotels offer a lot of amenities and are usually safer. However, a good Airbnb can be great when traveling with a whole family for more space. If you can find a child-friendly Airbnb with good ratings, that may be your best bet.
Usually, Airbnbs have more room to run around and play, but they also have kitchens (great for preparing kid-friendly meals) and can be a better option for parents who put their kids to sleep early.
As always, do your research before you choose your accommodations.
#12 – Safety and Security
We all want to keep our children safe. Prep your children by going over basic safety information for traveling. All children should know their parents’ names and phone numbers by heart. Review with your children what to do if they get lost, where they should go, and whom they should approach.
Be prepared with a basic first aid kit and information about your destination’s emergency services (especially if you travel out of the country). Always bring medications along with you and have your doctors’ phone numbers in your phone or written down.
Of course, you should follow all travel safety rules as well. Keep your purse, ID, and money securely on your person. Never take an unmarked car or follow an unknown person anywhere. Be careful where you drink and with whom. Know the name of your hotel and the address of your Airbnb in case of emergency.
Smooth Family Travel
Traveling with kids is not for the faint of heart! But with good preparation and planning, you can have a great trip that everyone will fondly remember.
This post originally appeared on Savoteur.
Robyn is a millennial mom with a passion for personal finance. She has her MBA and has been studying Personal Finance on her own for as long as she can remember. She has always been “into” personal finance but got inspired to start her blog after a period of extended unemployment. She says that experience really changed the way she viewed her relationship with money and the importance of accessible personal finance education. Read more at A Dime Saved.