Traveling with kids might seem a little overwhelming at times, it’s also a magical experience. Getting to see different things in the world through your child’s eyes is great. While the planning might be a little hectic, the memories made on family vacations are perfect. In an effort to help you plan the best family vacation, we’ve put a list together of the must-know tips for traveling with kids.
We are covering the important benefits of taking vacations with the whole family first. Then, we’ll cover things to consider while planning your trip, tricks for the plane or car, and some destination ideas to help inspire you. There might be some meltdowns from your little ones, but the positive moments will be the ones you remember for years to come. Plan the trip and start making those memories.
Treat Yourself to an Adventure
Whether you’re traveling with the kids or sticking around your home base, Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition can help you find ways to have tons of fun! Scratch off any of the 50+ challenges, or use the other interactive elements included in this awesome adventure book! Every page is a new surprise!
Why It’s Important to Take Family Vacations
Before we dive into the tips, it’s important to take about the importance of taking family vacations. It might not be the easiest vacation to plan, but the struggle will be worth it in the end.
They Make Learning Fun
Learning in the classroom is important, but there is something special about getting kids to new places to learn something. There are incredible museums that have exhibits designed for families. Depending on where you go, you might be able to expose your kids to new animals, plants, and natural wonders.
Not only are your children getting to learn new things on these family trips, but the adults are able to enjoy new experiences and experience things through their children’s eyes. There will be activities on your trip that you wouldn’t have participated in if you weren’t traveling with kids, so lean in and enjoy those moments.
Vacations Help with Development
Visiting new places and experiencing travel can help inspire your children to do more as they grow up. The habits you form as a young child remain with you as you grow up. By introducing children to travel and exploring new places, you’re helping to plant the seed.
Young children who travel are exposed to various sounds, accents, and languages which can really boost their linguistic development. We lose the ability to distinguish many sounds as we grow older, so even though they might not remember that vacation, it has a positive impact on their brain and development.
Trips Can Increase Social and Cultural Awareness
Traveling with kids can help them be more open to trying new things and meeting new people. It helps remove bias and make them better global citizens. Seeing new people, tasting new foods, and exploring new surroundings will help teach your child that it’s all part of the human experience.
Family Time Helps Strengthen Family Bonds
Family vacations are a time to reconnect with one another. Life can get hectic with everyone running in different directions. Vacation time should be about spending time together and doing fun activities. It’s important to unplug a bit during this time and enjoy each other’s company. Learn something new about your children. Play games, laugh together, and really try to connect with each other.
Travel Teaches Kids to Value Time and Experiences
Children learn a lot about money and time from their parents. Taking vacations, no matter how big or small, can help kids see that experiences and time are important. There are so many messages about consumerism. Cost is the number one reason that families say they do not take vacations. It’s important to realize that the money spent on vacations and family time should be a higher priority because it will have a longer and more positive overall impact on more people.
Vacation Planning Offers the Opportunity to Talk About Saving Money
For older children, this can be a great way to teach them about saving for bigger things like vacations. Encourage them to practice saving for something important to them. Maybe there is something special that your kids want to do on vacation that they can save for themselves and get to feel the reward of paying for it with their own money.
A Little Rest and Relaxation Reduces Stress for Everyone
Vacations are important for working adults because you need a break from the grind of the daily routine. Many Americans don’t even take all the vacation time they are given (which is minimal compared to other developed nations). It’s important to unplug and escape for a bit.
Kids also feel that stress from their parents. One study shows that, on an average day, only 19% of kids in the survey reported being in a good mood, but that number jumped to 60% when parents took time off to spend with the kids. Any dedicated time kids get with their parents will make everyone feel a little more relaxed and less stressed.
Considerations for Packing
Packing is a chore and it gets even more complicated when you multiply the number of people you’re packing for. Obviously, you’ll want to make sure you have enough clothes to get everyone through the trip, but there are a few other things to consider when packing for children.
Hotels and vacation rentals don’t normally come with a selection of toys and things to do, so it’s a good idea to bring a few little things along. Puzzles, books, games, and one favorite toy are all easy to fit into suitcases and can help give the kids something to play with during their downtime.
Make sure to pack something in your carry-on as well so they have something to keep them entertained on the plane. Tablets work great for long-haul flights because you can download a few movies and apps for kids to play with and watch to help the time pass and keep them entertained and in their chairs.
Being away from home can be a little stressful for little kids who like their routines and schedules. Don’t forget to pack your child’s favorite stuffed animal or blanket to bring them a little piece of home. If they don’t have a favorite, you can ask them to pick something out to bring along.
Travel Car Seat and Stroller
If you are flying and will need a car seat when you land, you’ll have to bring one with you. Checking the car seat will make your trip through the airport easier. You can purchase a car seat bag that will help protect it during transit. Another good suggestion is to clip the car seat to your luggage with a heavy-duty carabiner so you can wheel it along with you for ease.
Strollers are another packable item that comes in handy when you’re out exploring new places. Small umbrella strollers pack down easy, or you can take the stroller with you through the airport and do a gate check.
Whether you’re flying or driving, make sure you have plenty of snacks packed and ready for the trip. You’ll want to plan for enough snacks to get through the entire trip. Bring pouches, applesauce, crackers, cookies, and any other favorites. This can help entertain the kids and make sure that they have something to eat.
One easy way to transport the snacks is a tacklebox or similar container with small compartments. This will allow you to prep a good variety of options and entertain the kids while traveling. It will give them choices without you needing to pull out tons of options from a backpack.
Fun Children’s Bag
Consider getting your kids their own carry-on bag to bring along on the plane. There are some options that allow them to pull it or ride on it through the airport. This could really help if your hands are full already. Having another small bag can help you stay organized while traveling as well. You can pack it with all their items so they are in one spot.
Prep Work to Do Ahead of Time to Make Things Easier
In addition to packing well, there are a few other things you can do before your vacation begins to help things go a little smoother.
Consider Time Zone Changes
If you are traveling somewhere that is more than one time zone away, there’s a good chance that your schedules will be impacted. You have three options to deal with this. You can stick with your routine and just act as though you’re in the same time zone as home. For example, if your child normally goes to bed at 8:00 and you are visiting somewhere that is two hours behind, you would put your child to sleep at 6:00 instead. That isn’t always easy to do if you have plans, but it’s an option.
You can also start to help your family alter their schedules ahead of time. This is good to fight off jet lag if you are traveling a longer distance. There are apps that will help you come up with a plan.
The final option is to just roll with it. Sometimes you have to just see how things go and adjust in real-time. If it’s a big time difference, just leave a little wiggle room on your first day in case everyone is in need of nap time. Remember that you’ll also deal with the adjustment when you head home, so it’s always good to give yourself a rest day after a family trip before diving back into work or school if possible.
Have a Cheat Sheet for Important Information
Make sure to gather all the important information ahead of time and share it with anyone that needs it. If you run into any stressful situations during your family vacation, you’ll be happy that you organized things ahead of time. Include any contact information for petsitters or housesitters, the contact information for your pediatrician, emergency contacts, and insurance information. You can share this with your partner and anyone else that may need it.
It’s also important to make copies of passports and other important documents in case something gets lost while traveling. And always make sure to write down your parking location if you drove your car to the airport. Nothing is worse than wandering through a parking garage after a long day of travel with all your belongings because you can’t remember where you parked.
Plan Your Travel Times and Stay to Try Flexible
There are multiple strategies for the best time to fly with young children. Some people try and time their flights to coincide with nap time while others like to fly early in the morning to minimize delays. No matter what you decide, go in with an open mind. You may luck out and have a child that sleeps perfectly through the flight or you may be dealing with some tantrums from tired children. Delays, cancellations, and missed connections can happen, so it’s best to stay flexible.
Read Some Parent Blogs for Local Suggestions
Bloggers that write about children often have some incredible tips about the most kid-friendly and family-friendly places that you can check out. Read reviews whenever you can, because you’ll find some great information about restaurants and hotels. Travel blogs cover tons of important logistical info, plus you can read firsthand accounts of trips. Some places are definitely more kid-friendly than others, so it’s good to plan out activities ahead of time that have already been parent-approved.
Purchase Trip Insurance
Consider getting trip insurance before you travel to help cover you for anything that might come up. Travel insurance is pretty inexpensive but covers quite a bit to give you some peace of mind. It covers things like lost luggage, flight cancellations, and some healthcare-related things if you are heading out of the country.
Travel Tips for Getting There (and Home) on the Airplane
Airplane travel can be fun and exciting for kids, especially if it is their first time, but it can also be a lot of work. These are a few tips every parent should know when traveling with kids.
Bring a Travel Car Seat
If you have a rowdy toddler that will have a hard time sitting still, consider bringing a travel car seat on the plane with you. It will feel more comfortable to them than an airplane seat and they will be strapped in with their usual seatbelts. Even packing a booster seat can help them stay still.
Children ages 2 and under fly for free, but if you take advantage of that cost savings, they will not have their own seats. If you have a long flight and don’t want to hold young kids on your lap the entire flight, it might be worth getting the extra seat and bringing the travel seat with you.
Check Your Bags
Many backpackers and solo travelers brag about never checking a bag and fitting everything they need for a two-week trip into one small bag, but traveling with kids is different. Checking your luggage will give you more freedom while waiting in the airport, boarding the plane, and getting off the plane. Only take what you need for the flight and important documents and medications (in case something does get lost).
Carry On a Backpack
Backpacks allow you to utilize your hands without having to pull a suitcase. This comes in handy if you’re chasing a toddler or trying to manage multiple children in a busy airport. Backpacks are comfortable to carry for longer periods of time and you can find them in many styles and colors.
If you have a baby with you, bring a baby carrier that is easy to wear and comfortable. Being hands-free while going through TSA and all the other checkpoints at the airport can really make the experience smoother and easier.
Use a Stroller for Younger Kids
If you are traveling with kids under the age of four, consider bringing a stroller. You are able to check your stroller at the gate when you board the plane and it will give you a way to transport your child through the airport and to your gate without much stress and headache. Some strollers have some great storage options so you can throw your carry-on items and anything else you have with you on the stroller with your kids. If you are traveling with more than one young child, a stroller will be a huge help.
Make Bathroom Trips Easier
Small children require a lot of items for a diaper change. Make things easier for yourself by prepping a few “diaper change packets” ahead of time. Include a diaper, 5-7 wipes, a change of clothes, plastic bags for any dirty items, and anything else you need in a large ziplock bag. That way, you only need to grab one of those and your changing pad. It will save you from needing to rummage around in your carry-on to find everything while holding a baby. Plus, the bathrooms are small enough, so it’s best when you don’t have to bring a diaper bag in there with you as well.
Plan to Board at the End
Most airlines offer early boarding for parents traveling with small children, but you don’t necessarily need to board the plane early. If you have small children, you can let them continue to run around and burn off energy until the last minute. The less time that toddlers and young children have to be still in their seats, the better.
For anyone traveling with kids and more than one adult, you can have one person board the place with the car seat and bags and get set up. The other person can stay with the kids and let them play and move around until the end of boarding. This way you get the best of both worlds. If you’re traveling alone for the plane ride, let the gate agents know after you check-in and see if you can sit somewhere near the front of the plane so you can be one of the first people off at your destination.
Bring Some Candies to Suck On
Anyone who has flown before knows that there can be a little discomfort in your ears during take-off and landing. It’s hard to explain that to kids so that they don’t get scared. Sucking on a small piece of candy or drinking from a bottle can help them swallow more and release the pressure in their ears.
It’s also a good idea to have a few small pieces of candy that can be used as a last resort for bribery. It’s not the ideal method, but it is effective to get kids’ attention and distract them for a few minutes.
Window Clings, Tablets, and Activity Books
Entertainment, especially on long-haul flights, is the biggest challenge. Once you’re settled into your seats, dive into the fun activities. Reusable sticker books and coloring books are great to keep kids busy. Tablets are another popular choice. Many kids will sit and watch a movie and it helps pass the time. Avoid any kind of small toys or activities that don’t involve tons of little pieces that can get dropped off the table. You’ll want enough to keep the kids occupied for the majority of the flight in case they do not sleep.
Older kids are usually content watching something on the TVs or reading books and magazines, so just check with them to make sure they brought something along for the flight.
Give Some Love to Your Flight Attendants
Let your flight attendants know if this is your first time flying with kids. They are professionals and will have some good tips to help you get through it with minimal problems. The kids might even get a special pin or button to celebrate their first flight. Some parents pack little gift bags for the flight attendants and people are them with earplugs and a snack with a note letting them know that it’s the child’s first time flying. People are usually very understanding if you have a baby crying or a three-year-old that is having a tough time getting comfortable. Just try and show some gratitude and appreciation for your flight attendants and your seat neighbors.
Road Trip Tips
If you’re taking a road trip instead of a flight, many of the tips above apply. Pack a stroller for any outings so you don’t have to worry about carrying a heavy child. Make sure you have easy access to quick diaper change items, snacks, and entertainment for the kids.
Take Active Breaks
Being cooped up in the cars for long periods can be hard for everyone, but especially kids. When you stop for gas or the bathroom, have everyone run around a little and stretch. You can make it a fun game or have everyone do some yoga poses. Getting some of the energy out will help make the car ride more enjoyable.
There are apps available, like Roadtrippers, that will help you plot out your route and flag playgrounds and rest areas along the route along with restaurants, attractions, and facilities. Give yourself a fun stop every couple of hours to make sure that everyone can stretch, get a snack, and use the restroom as needed.
Use Lap Activity Tables
For younger children in car seats and boosters, you can find tables that attach to their chairs that will make the ride more enjoyable for them. It’s the perfect place to set down a tablet, play a game, and enjoy some snacks. These are also much easier to clean and wipe down than a cloth chair, so it’s the best option for those meals you’re enjoying in the car. Having these tables will help save you from having to constantly turn around and grab things dropped on the floor.
Enjoy the Adventure
Road trips are great adventures and you have the flexibility to stop anywhere you want. Make sure to enjoy the ride. Take the backroads for part of the trip to see new places. Stop at the historical sites and fun roadside attractions.
There are also tons of road trip games that you can play as a family. Look for license plates from various states and see if you can find more than 25. Play the alphabet game where you have to find each letter of the alphabet or a word that starts with each letter. You can even find bingo games for road trips!
Advice for a Successful Trip
Getting to and from your vacation destination is where most of the stress comes in around vacations, but there are other general must-know tips for traveling with kids.
Buy the Necessities When You Arrive
Pack enough necessities for your trip to your destination and then make a quick stop at a store or schedule an Amazon delivery with the essentials so you have one less thing to fit in your suitcase. Diapers, wipes, formula, and other items you use every day can be purchased at your destination so you don’t have to lug it all with you. Just purchase the amount you need for the time you’re traveling for and to get back home.
Plan for Quiet Evenings
When traveling with kids, you’ll likely have some time at the end of the day after they go to sleep for yourself. You likely won’t have a babysitter, so you should plan for some quiet evenings. Grab a bottle of wine or some dessert and a book and you can enjoy those peaceful moments of vacation that won’t be common with children.
If you have a single hotel room, try and get a balcony. If you have a vacation rental, you’ll probably have plenty of space to spread out a little bit. If you are lucky enough to have someone that can watch your kids in the evenings, make sure to take advantage of it for at least one night.
Don’t Pack Your Itinerary
Vacations don’t happen too often, so it can be tempting to add a hundred things to your itinerary so you don’t miss anything. The issue is that you have to manage the emotions and needs of other humans and a jam-packed agenda can be taxing. Leave room for an afternoon at the hotel pool or to spontaneously try a restaurant that caught your eye. Make sure you have time for naps and snacks and unplanned moments.
Many parents suggest putting one thing on the schedule for each day and having a few other ideas that could be included if there’s time and energy to do more. You want to be able to enjoy the vacation and not need a week off once you return to catch up on sleep.
Have Back-Up Options
You never know what kind of weather you’ll be faced with. If you have a lot of outdoor activities planned, have a few backup ideas too in case you get rained out. Every location has a whole list of fun things to explore, so just keep a few in your back pocket in case plans change and you need something new to do.
It’s also good to know what your reschedule options are if there are weather-related issues. Will you get a refund or a credit to take advantage on another day? Don’t let surprises ruin your trip. Be open to options if something comes up.
Take Lots of Photos
Capture the memories of the family vacation. Bring a camera (or just use your phone) and take the opportunity to take a million photos. Use the self-timer and make sure you get in the photos as well.
If you have older children, consider giving them an Instax polaroid camera or digital camera to capture their own photos of the trip. Sometimes it’s fun to see the trip through their eyes. When the trip is over, you’ll have great souvenirs that can transport you right back to vacation.
Destination Ideas for Family Travel
If you’re still in the brainstorming phase, we’ve got a few ideas for you on places to visit. These are popular family destinations and will have all kinds of kid-friendly accommodations.
Disney World or Disneyland
These theme parks were made for family vacations. There’s a reason they call it the most magical place on earth. With one theme park in California and another in Florida, you can visit these destinations any time of year because the weather is sunny and beautiful all year.
Walt Disney World in Florida has four theme parks and more than a dozen resorts with gorgeous pools and themed rooms. In addition to the Disney parks, you’re close to other theme parks and major attractions in Central Florida.
Disneyland is right outside of Los Angeles and has two theme parks to enjoy and plenty of resorts and hotels to stay at. You’re close enough to the beach to spend a day or two in the Pacific Ocean as well.
Another great perk about planning a Disney vacation is that there are lots of travel agents that specialize in Disney trips. They will help put together every detail including restaurant reservations, organizing fast passes to help you skip the lines, and more. Disney is one of the most family-friendly places and would be the perfect place to travel with kids, especially if they are fans of Disney movies and television shows.
Camp at One of the National Parks
There are over 60 national parks in the United States. Plan a camping trip to one of these beautiful spots. You can find options in the mountains, the desert, in the forest, or on the coast. Each park has natural features and plenty of ways to explore and enjoy the park.
Some parks have cabins you can rent and others have only campgrounds. Either way, you can enjoy some time in nature. It’s the perfect way to bond with the kids and have a way to get away from the electronics. You can sign up for ranger walks, go on hikes, see wildlife, and enjoy the natural beauty of some of the country’s most unique landscapes.
Glacier, Rocky Mountain, and Yosemite are all beautiful mountainous parks. Carlsbad Caverns is a cave that you can spend time exploring. If you want something near the water, try the Everglades or Channel Islands National Park. You can kayak or snorkel around to explore the water.
There are so many options! Plan a road trip to visit a few that are close to each other or visit a new one each year on your family vacation. There is something for every family in the park systems.
Take a Road Trip to Somewhere New
Many people think of far-off places when they think of vacations, but there are plenty of incredible destinations that are easily within road-tripping distance. Is there a small town you could explore for a weekend? Are you near any national forests where you could rent a cabin and spend some time unplugged in nature? Are there any fun attractions to check out with the family?
You can take the family car or rent something a little more fun for the trip. Many services and companies rent out campervans, RV’s, and other fun vehicles that can elevate your road trip experience.
Stock up on snacks and good playlists and hit the road with the family. Follow your favorite sports team to an out-of-town game, check something off the bucket list, or just visit a new town or city. Road trips are fun and easy to organize.
Spend a Week at the Beach
Beach vacations can be a mixture of relaxation and active fun. Spend a week at a beach resort or vacation rental. Especially for families that don’t live near a beach normally, this can be a perfect getaway.
Hawaii is a great island escape with tons of beaches, volcanoes, and lush green forests to explore. Florida is home to some beautiful beaches and world-class attractions and theme parks (like we mentioned above). Any state along the coast has some incredible beach options from the foggy Oregon coast to the rocky Maine coastline. You’ll be able to relax, enjoy the sound of crashing waves, and the family can try out water sports like kayaking, surfing, and fishing.
This is an especially popular option for families who live in cold weather climates so they can escape the snow and cold temperatures each year.
Visit Family or Friends in a Different City
Vacation is a great time to visit any friends and family you have out of town. You might be able to stay with the people you know or you can rent a place, but the best thing about visiting loved ones is having a built-in tour guide. They will know about the best spots to explore and foods that you have to try while in town, even with little ones in tow.
Each city has its own set of unique attractions, museums, and natural wonders to explore. It’s made even more fun getting to spend time with loved ones. Plus, you might visit somewhere you never would have considered if you didn’t have someone you knew to visit.
Time to Get Planning
Now that we’ve covered the must-know tips for traveling with kids, you’re ready to start planning! Please use the comment section to let us know which of these tips you found useful.
If you’re considering taking your pet with you, check out this guide to traveling with animals.
To make your family travel memories last a lifetime, try these tricks for collecting and preserving travel souvenirs.
We hope you have a wonderful trip!
Frequently Asked Questions
There is no bad age to travel with a child. There are many tips for traveling with kids that will help you make a game plan for even the youngest family members. Enjoy the adventure!
The most important tips for traveling with kids center around being prepared. Pack snacks, small toys, and devices to keep them entertained. Check your bags so you have your hands through the airport.