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Do you like the idea of traveling with your kids? Dream of showing them the world and creating memories they will cherish for a lifetime? But are you completely overwhelmed by the thought of actually taking them on a trip? It is possible to enjoy traveling with your kids. You just need to know the secrets to making it great. This comprehensive guide to happy travel with kids will give you all the tips and tricks you need!
Why You Should Travel With Kids
Before we dive into the tips for amazing vacations with kids, let’s talk about why you should travel with your children. I’m a firm believer that you should travel with your kids early and often. The earlier you start, the easier it is to have happy travel with kids.
My husband and I took our first trip with our son when he was only two weeks old. We’ve been traveling with him ever since. Now, as a tween, he’s a pro at traveling. And the lessons he’s learn through our trips are invaluable.
There are a lot of reasons why you should travel with your kids. But, here are the most important ones:
Foster a love of adventure.
There is nothing that can get your kids excited about exploring the world and having adventures like travel. This sense of adventure will last them a lifetime.
Encourage them to try new things.
Traveling with kids exposes them to new things while having fun. This takes away the fear of the unknown. And this in turn will encourage them to continue trying new things, at home and on vacation.
Learn about the world in a hands-on way.
There is no better way to learn about the world than to go out and experience it first hand. Travel allows your kids to do just that. And these lessons will mean so much more to them than anything they learn in a classroom.
Teach social and life skills.
Develop flexibility and problem solving skills.
Things don’t always go smoothly when you are on vacation. Your flight could get delayed or it might rain while you are camping. When your kids see you respond to the things that go wrong on your trip, they will learn how to solve problems and become more flexible in the process. The more flexible your family is, the more likely you will have happy travel with kids.
Learn to appreciate people and things that are different.
We all want our kids to grow up to be inclusive and open minded to everyone, regardless of how they look. Because travel can expose your kids to people, cultures, and ways of doing things that are very different from what they see at home, it will naturally help them to learn to appreciate the differences they see in others.
Have the best quality family time ever!
Taking trips with your kids is an excellent way to get your family out of the daily grind. This will allow you all to recharge and reconnect with each other, resulting in amazing family bonding time. Having fun and creating memories with your kids while traveling is the best way to enjoy quality time with them that you will both remember forever!
Trip Planning With Kids
The first step in having an awesome family vacation is to spend some time researching and planning your trip. Likewise, the first step in happy travel with kids is to include them in your trip planning.
Involving your kids in trip planning can not only get them excited about your trip, but it is also a great way to foster their interests. And you can learn a lot about your kids by letting them plan certain aspects of your trip. Plus, it will save you some time by having them do some of the work for you. Here’s some ways to include them in the trip planning:
Let them pick the destination.
I know it sounds scary, but give your kids the freedom to pick where you will actually go on vacation. You may be surprised by where they choose. If you go somewhere they picked, they will be much more inclined to enjoy the trip and not be grumpy while there.
If you have more than one child, either have them agree on the destination or give them each a turn to decide. Alternatively, you can let each person in the family nominate a location and then vote on the winner.
Give them a guide book and a map.
It’s difficult for anyone to plan a trip if you don’t know anything about where you’re going. So, encourage your kids to educate themselves on your next destination by giving them a guide book and a map. Have them do some research on what they would like to do.
This will not only help you with planning the trip, but it will also get them to practice their reading without them even realizing they are doing so!
Let them plan your activities.
Probably the most fun way for kids to get involved with trip planning is to let them plan out what activities your family will do during your vacation. They will need to consult their guide book or do some research on the internet in order to see what their options are.
An easy way to have happy travel with kids is to go do the things your kids want to do on your vacations.
Depending on the ages of your kids, you can either give them full rein with this or you may need to help them a little. Also, it may be smart to give them some guidelines, such as price limits or a requirement that they pick something for everyone in the family.
Ask them where they want to eat.
I believe that researching restaurants before your trip is always a good idea. So, include your kids by asking them where they would like to eat on your vacation. You can either have them research possible restaurants or give them a list of options to choose from.
Be sure that you (or your kids) check out the menus online to make sure the places they choose will have something that everyone in the family will eat.
If you don’t want to completely give them control of where you eat on your trip, you can have each child pick out a special treat or dessert that they want to try while at your destination.
Let them plan a day.
My favorite way to include kids in trip planning is to give them a specific day of the trip and put them in charge of planning that day.
I do this with my son on every trip. I designate a day towards the end of the trip and put him in charge. He is responsible for planning activities, restaurants, transportation, and all logistics for that day. I give him a budget that he must stay within. He must plan everything about the day and make all decisions.
When kids know they get to be in charge for a day, they are super motivated to do the trip planning. This is also a great way to teach those life skills to your kids in a fun way.
Packing for a trip is always a pain. But, it can be especially challenging when you are packing for kids. So, to help you have smoother travels with your kids, here are some packing tips to make this aspect of traveling easier.
No valuables in your child’s luggage.
Some families pack a separate bag for each person. If you do this, please do not put any valuables in your kids’ luggage. This includes tablets or other electronic devices. Kids are much more likely to lose their things. They also make easy targets for thieves.
You don’t want your vacation ruined because your child loses an expensive tablet by forgetting their bag in the airport. So, keep the valuables in your luggage for safekeeping.
Include some unexpected entertainment options.
Include a notebook and pen or crayons in your child’s bag. Also, throw in a deck of cards and some trivia or flash cards. All of these things pack a punch when it comes to traveling.
They can provide hours of entertainment for your kids if you find that they are getting bored with the electronics or other toys you have packed for them. They are also nice to have if you find yourselves unexpectedly delayed somewhere.
Plus, none of them take up a lot of space in the suitcase, so they are perfect for travel!
Pack more outfits than you think you will need.
When packing a suitcase for your kids, be sure to pack more outfits than you think you will need. This is especially true if you have little ones.
You never know when your child will need a clean shirt or an entirely new outfit due to a spill or other unfortunate incident. The last thing you want to do on vacation is to have to take time to do laundry or spend money buying clothes because you didn’t plan ahead.
Additionally, if you have more outfits for your kids, then they can choose what to wear on those days that they wake up cranky and refuse to wear what you picked out.
Pack versatile items.
Another good rule of thumb to remember when packing for kids is to pack versatile items of clothing that can be mixed or matched with several other pieces. This will give your child choices on what to wear. Plus, it means that if you do have a spill, you can just change a shirt or pants instead of an entire outfit.
Use packing cubes.
In my opinion, packing cubes are the greatest thing ever invented! It makes packing for a family so much easier! Basically, they are small cubes that you put clothes in before packing them in the suitcase. They keep your suitcases organized and makes finding what you’re looking for much easier.
They make it very easy to keep each person’s clothes separate if you tend to pack family suitcases instead of one for each person.
I use my packing cubes on every trip. Each person in my family has a set of cubes in a different color. I pack my son’s socks and underwear in one cube. I put his shirts in another and his pants or shorts in a third.
Then, when we are getting ready in the hotel, I can hand him his cubes and he can get himself ready without digging through everything in the suitcase.
I use Veken packing cubes from Amazon and love them!
Pack each outfit in a separate bag.
If you have little ones, pack each of their outfits in a separate Ziploc bag, along with socks and accessories. These bags can then be put into your packing cubes.
This will allow them to get ready on their own in the mornings if you are pressed for time or have an independent child who doesn’t like to have help. If you have a baby, this can make it easy for your husband to help get the baby ready while you get yourself ready.
Take a nightlight.
Consider packing a small nightlight to use in your hotel room. This will help your child not be scared due to being in a strange environment at bedtime. It will also help everyone in the family see if they need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Guard the lovey.
My last packing tip for happy travel with kids is to guard your child’s lovey like it is the most valuable thing in the world.
Every parent knows that you can’t easily replace a lovey, whether it is a pacifier, blanket, or favorite stuffed animal. But leaving this precious item at home is not an option. So, be sure to guard it with your life so you don’t lose it while traveling.
I recommend putting it in your purse or bag while you are in transit. Then you can give it to your child once you are at the hotel.
Tips for Flying With Kids
If you will be flying with kids on your next family vacation, these tips can make it easier on you.
Dress for comfort.
Your kids will be much more cooperative and comfortable on the airplane if you dress them for comfort for the flight. Skip clothes that are scratchy, tight, or that your kids hate. Save the cutesy outfits for after you arrive. On your actual travel day, put them in pajamas or other super comfortable clothes they enjoy wearing.
Burn energy before boarding.
To help your kids sit still during your flight, give them some time to burn off their energy before you board. If they get their wiggles out before the flight, they will be more likely to settle in and relax during it.
You can let them burn off their energy in a variety of ways without ever leaving the airport. The easiest thing you can do is to go for a walk.
Some airports now have small play areas for little ones. If you find one, let them spend 10 minutes or so playing before your flight.
Alternatively, you can find a quiet corner away from other people and let them jump, spin, and wiggle around.
And maybe, you’ll get lucky enough that they will burn enough energy before the trip to actually fall asleep on the plane!
Don’t forget the pillow and blanket.
For happy travel with kids, make your flight extra comfortable for your kids by bringing along their travel pillow and blanket. Even if they don’t sleep during the flight, having a pillow will help them to relax.
It’s always a good idea to have a small blanket on a plane because you never know what the temperature will be. There is nothing more miserable than being cold and not being able to get warm.
Take plenty of snacks.
Kids always seem to be hungry. And snacks can go a long way to curb the crankiness that pops up now and then. So, be sure to take plenty of snacks with you in your carryon.
Pack more snacks than you think you will need in case of a delay. Also, take a variety of snacks in the event your toddler decides that yesterday’s favorite is no longer acceptable.
Check out our list of the best airplane snacks for kids to find out exactly what snacks to pack.
Bring some entertainment.
Of course, you want to have some entertainment to keep your kids occupied while on the plane. I would recommend taking both screen and non-screen based entertainment. This will allow your kids to have something to do in the event the electronics don’t work or if they get bored quicker than you thought.
And don’t forget to pack extra batteries and chargers for those devices!
Make it fun.
Take advantage of your kids’ sense of adventure on your travel days by making a game out of it. Make the whole experience fun for your kids by thinking of it as an adventure. Having a fun attitude towards travel can go a long way to having happy travel with kids.
Make up stories about the people you see along the way. See who can spot the most red suitcases in the airport. Play some old school games, such as I Spy or 20 Questions. Get creative and have fun!
Road Trip Tips
If you prefer road trips to flying, we have some tips that will allow you to have successful road trips with your kids.
Give everyone their own space.
Everyone is happier with their own space. So, for happy travel with kids on your next road trip, give everyone in the family a little bit of space to call their own. This will prevent lots of fighting and will make things more comfortable and peaceful for the whole family.
If your car isn’t big enough for everyone to have a little space, consider renting a bigger one for your trip. Not only will this extra expense make it a more pleasant trip, but it will also save you wear and tear on your own vehicle.
Plan around your family’s personalities.
To have a truly happy road trip, plan your vacation around the quirks of your family. If you have a child that hates the car seat, consider leaving in the middle of the night so you can do most of the driving while they sleep. If your husband gets cranky if he doesn’t get to have a big dinner, plan to stop for a sit down dinner during your drive.
Working with your family’s tendencies will make them happier and will help you all to enjoy the trip that much more.
Have some surprises.
Kids tend to lose interest after a while. To keep them from getting too antsy while in the car, have some surprises for them. They don’t have to be expensive. A small new toy from the dollar store or a snack they weren’t expecting can be enough.
Either hand them out when they begin to get cranky or at predetermined locations, such as when you cross state lines or each hour.
Wrap the surprises for an added touch of fun. If your kids come to expect surprises while traveling, it will ensure you always have happy travel with kids!
Pack snacks and entertainment.
Of course, just like when flying, you can’t have smooth travel with kids without snacks and entertainment. So, be sure that you pack lots of snacks and things to do for your kids for the car ride.
Pack a variety of snacks. If your kids tend to fight, consider packing each person their own snack bag to minimize arguing over who gets the last cookie. Check out our list of the best road trip snacks for kids for ideas of what to pack.
Road trips are a great time to allow your kids to have a little extra screen time than you normally would. Screens can help you put many miles and hours behind you without the kids getting restless. Just be sure to pack a good quality pair of headphones, so you won’t have to listen to their movies or games the whole time.
See our list of the best screen free activities for road trips for some ideas of low tech entertainment options.
Strategically pack the car.
One of the most frustrating things about road trips is when you have to constantly stop to get things that you need out of the back. So, to prevent these stops and lower your frustration level, strategically pack your car so you will have everything you need when you need it.
This means thinking through what you may need while on the road and then putting them in a place where they can be reach. So, instead of packing a few big bags that all go in the trunk, pack several smaller bags that have things you will need in the car and put them close by you.
Pack snacks in one bag. Put toys in another. Make sure your husband has his sunglasses, cell phone, and ipod within reach. See our tips for packing the car like a pro for more on how to best pack your car.
Prepare for road blocks.
Sometimes, delays are inevitable. But, there are some things you can do to anticipate and avoid road blocks while driving. Before you leave home, check the weather for your route for any bad weather.
Also, check the road conditions for any construction zones or road closures that you need to navigate around.
Taking a few minutes before leaving to check these things can save you hours of time and frustration on your trip.
Tips for Travel With Babies and Toddlers
Now, you may be thinking that traveling with kids is doable, but it is impossible to travel with babies and toddlers. This, however, is not the case. The earlier you start traveling with your kids, the easier it is. So, I would encourage you to start traveling with your kids, regardless of how young they are.
Here are some tips specifically for travel with babies and toddlers. For more on traveling with little ones, see our tips for road trips with babies and toddlers and common mistakes to avoid when flying with toddlers.
Plan stops around baby’s schedule.
Just like you should work with your family’s personalities on road trips, work with your baby’s schedule when on road trips to have happy travel with kids.
Whenever your baby needs to eat, stop. Then use that time to change their diaper, top off your gas tank, and let everyone else in the family go to the bathroom. And if it’s close to time for everyone else to eat, go ahead and do that at the same time. Then you can drive for a while before stopping again.
Drive while sleeping.
The younger your children are, the more vital it is to do as much driving as possible while they are sleeping. So, if you are traveling with babies and toddlers, try to leave during the night so you can get several hours behind you before they wake up.
Make this even easier by putting your little ones in the car in their pajamas. You can then change them into clothes later in the day after they are awake.
Likewise, take advantage of nap time by driving as much as you can.
Stretch little legs.
Even if your little ones aren’t able to walk yet, they still need to stretch their legs after being in the car for a while. So, whenever you stop, don’t forget to give your little ones a chance to stretch and move.
For babies, this is as simple as holding them up to let them stretch their muscles. If you can, let them lay down for a few minutes and move around a bit. For toddlers, this can be accomplished by letting them walk next to you as you go in the store or in a patch of grass away from cars.
Make your stops count.
It’s important for happy travel with kids of any age, but even more important when you are traveling with little ones, to make your road trip stops count.
If you have to stop for a bathroom break, go ahead and fill up your gas tank and get food while you’re at it. This way, you won’t have to stop again in an hour. It will help you to save time on your journey. It will also help your kids to settle in for a while.
Discover the reason behind the meltdown.
Every parent knows that toddlers are sometimes prone to meltdowns. But, usually there is a reason for them. So, if you toddler has a meltdown while traveling, take the time to find out why. It may be something that you can easily solve before they get completely out of hand.
When my son was little, he would scream in his car seat at night. Turns out, he was scared of the dark. By adding a reading light to his car seat, we solved the problem and eliminated the meltdowns.
My niece hates wearing her shoes in the car. So, by taking her shoes off before starting the trip, we can prevent the meltdown before it starts.
Don’t mess with nap time.
The worst thing you can do when traveling with little ones is to mess with nap time. If your child can sleep anywhere, then plan your flights or driving during nap time. This will make the journey smoother for you. If, however, your munchkin needs to be in their bed to sleep, plan your flights for after nap time.
Don’t bring the wrong toys.
When flying with toddlers, please don’t bring the wrong toys for the flight. The wrong toys will make the flight miserable for you and all the passengers around you. Plus, they are more likely to cause your child to have a meltdown on the plane.
The wrong toys include things that make a lot of noise, cars and balls that can roll away from you, and anything that can be used as drumsticks. Instead, bring books, stuffed animals, and other things you toddler can easily play with in their plane seat without disturbing others.
Let them burn off their energy.
Toddlers have a seemingly unlimited amount of energy. So, it is crucial that you give them time to burn off some of that energy before boarding an airplane. Do your best to tire them out before your flight, so they are more likely to sit still and maybe sleep on the plane.
Ask for help.
When traveling with little ones, don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is especially true if you are traveling without any other adults.
Flight attendants are happy to warm bottles or get your bag down from the overhead bin if you need them to. if you need to go to the bathroom on the plane, ask another mom or grandma sitting around you to hold your sleeping baby while you go.
While it is scary to ask strangers for help, I think you will find that most people you encounter on planes are quite understanding of your situation and are more than willing to help you if you need it.
Don’t stress out.
The most important thing to remember when traveling with babies and toddlers is to not stress out. If you get stressed, they will get stressed. Then everything will be harder. So, stay calm. Take a deep breath. Roll with the punches. You will be fine.
Keeping Everyone Happy
Many times, the key to happy travel with kids is to keep everyone happy during your trip. This doesn’t mean you must cater to your kids. But there are some things you can do to prevent their meltdowns, anticipate their crankiness, and keep them happy.
Make waiting in line fun.
Waiting in line can be hard for kids. But, unfortunately, sometimes it is inevitable when you are on vacation. So, keep your kids happy by making waiting time fun. You can do this in a variety of ways. Tell your kids a story. Sing a song with them. Play a game while you wait. Or simply talk to them about your trip and things still to come.
If you can make it fun, they won’t realize how long they are waiting.
Reduce your child’s fear of flying.
If your child is scared of flying, like my son is, try to reduce that fear during your travels. I find that talking about what to expect from the flight can help a lot to reduce the fear and anxiety. Holding hands during the scary part can also help. Lastly, distract your child during the parts of the flight that make them the most nervous.
Eliminate meltdowns by staying one step ahead.
The best way to eliminate meltdowns while traveling is to stay one step ahead of your kids. Anticipate what is going to cause them to have a fit and prevent that situation from happening.
For instance, my son tends to get grumpy when he’s hungry. So, if I can make sure we stop to eat right before he gets hungry, I can eliminate his meltdown.
If your child spirals out of control when they’re tired, make sure you are in a position for them to take a nap when they start to get to that point.
Fight crankiness with excitement.
You can’t fight fire with fire, but you can fight it with water. Use this same principle with your kids.
Find something that excites your child about the trip. It may be riding on the plane or seeing dolphins, or even going swimming at the hotel. When they start to grumble, remind them about this exciting thing. Talk about it. Ask them about it.
Do whatever you need to do to focus their attention on this excitement instead of on whatever it is that is causing the grumbles.
Keep them engaged.
Kids that are engaged are less likely to become uncooperative along the way. So, even though it is sometimes hard, do your best to keep your kids engaged during your travels.
This may mean playing a game with them or reading them a book. It could be by talking to them about the upcoming trip activities. Maybe you engage them by giving them a surprise, a snack, or a screen. Whatever it takes to engage them, dig into your bag of tricks until you find something to keep their attention.
Time Saving Tips
To help you make your trip a little more productive, here are some tips to save time when you are traveling with kids.
Book things in advance whenever possible.
I mentioned above that you need to keep your kids engaged when waiting in lines. Make this easier on yourself and increase your chances of happy travel with kids by minimizing the amount of time you have to spend waiting. A simple way to do this is to book tickets and make reservations in advance whenever possible.
Buying tickets to your tours and experiences online can help you skip the lines all together. Making dinner reservations can shorten the time you wait for a table at that restaurant you really want to try.
Be productive while waiting.
Unfortunately, you can’t eliminate all waiting when traveling. So, when you do have to wait, be productive. Use that time to do things you will have to stop and do anyways.
While waiting for public transportation or a cab, break down your stroller. Browse the menu while waiting on your table. Use the time on the train to look at the map or dig out your tickets. While waiting for your tour to start, make sure your camera is ready.
Divide and conquer.
My favorite time saving tip for happy travel with kids is to divide and conquer with your spouse. Split up tasks that need to get done so you can make the most of your time.
While you take the kids to the bathroom, have your husband wait in line to buy tickets. You go grab snacks while your husband watches the kids burn off some energy.
While it may seem daunting, it is possible to have happy travel with kids. This comprehensive guide gives you most of the tips you need to do just that. I hope this article gets you past your feelings of overwhelm and helps you have the courage to start traveling with your family. I know you will enjoy it!
And for more tips, check out my best tips for parents traveling with kids!