Traveling with children is not for the faint of heart. There can be innumerable challenges when you load up the family and set off for an adventure. It may seem so daunting that it’s easier to skip vacation and just stay home — or schedule extra time to recover once you return from your “fun-filled” family getaway.
There is a way to travel with kids without losing your mind. With preparation and a few life hacks, you can master the art of a stress-free (okay, maybe stress-minimal) family vacation. Here’s a handful of ways to travel with children, like a pro.
Purchase Travel Insurance
This move might have seemed unnecessary before there were children in the picture, but it’s certainly better to be safe than sorry. Travel plans can get tossed out the window when a child gets a last-minute illness. Accidents and injuries can also happen while traveling. It’s best to prepare in advance with a policy that will fit your vacation needs.
Find Family-Friendly Accommodations
Hotels that offer family suites can allow a single parent or couple a little privacy on vacation. It can also help to look for family-friendly vacation rentals that offer kid-friendly amenities. An Airbnb with a big backyard could be an attractive option for a busy family. A vacation home-away-from-home near a park or playground can go a long way toward keeping youngsters happy. Resorts with childcare programs or child-friendly activities can be a welcome respite for caregivers.
Plan Smart, Pack Smart
It’s best to plan ahead when traveling with children. Packing games, activities, and tablets for traveling can keep them entertained on the go. Depending on the destination, there are also ways to pack smart so trips with young ones won’t be so hard.
For instance, make a beach trip easier by using a wagon with wide, sand-friendly wheels to haul all your accessories to the beach. A pop-up beach tent can also provide shade — just toss it in the wagon for easy carrying. You may even be able to rent these items at your destination, but it’s best to check in advance if the option is available.
To pack smarter, it’s not about including everything plus the kitchen sink. It’s about evaluating what will make the trip as painless as possible for all involved. Stocking up on snacks and drinks for road trips, bringing along comfort items for small children, and making a checklist, so no treasured toy is left behind can all help you go on vacation and come back with your sanity.
Know Your Kid’s Strengths and Limitations
An epicurean adventure might not be the right vacation for your little picky eater. Long lines and quiet art exhibits aren’t likely to factor well with the short attention span and high energy of another child. Know your kid’s strengths and limitations and plan accordingly.
Choosing family-friendly destinations with something for everyone to enjoy can help the entire family have a great time. Expecting children to behave like adults and enjoy activities geared for adults isn’t practical and likely won’t end well. Save yourself the headache by planning outings children will enjoy and having activities available to keep them occupied when you do what you enjoy.
This is NOT a bribe — even if it seems that way at first. Traveling can be tough on kids, and it can’t hurt to bring along a few rewards for good behavior. Treating your child to a little souvenir for being good can help encourage more of the behavior you want to see.
Bringing a few prizes on the trip can even be a great way to transition youngsters from one task to the next, especially if they have a hard time leaving a fun activity. Telling them a prize awaits them at the hotel will likely help to encourage transitions with excitement rather than dismay.
Prizes don’t have to be expensive, either. You can even gift them with road trip games or activities that will travel well. Items like this will be a win-win. They will reward good behavior and also provide kids with a little extra entertainment on the trip.
Don’t expect the trip to go perfectly, no matter how well you plan it because you’ll just set yourself up for disappointment. Something will likely go wrong. A child will have an accident. Something you really hoped to do just won’t go your way. The weather won’t cooperate. Expecting the unexpected is just plain good planning.
So, what are you supposed to do? Be prepared to pivot. Throw out the old plan and embrace a little spontaneity when something goes wrong.
Also, be sure to read the room. If family members wake up cranky one day, consider shelving the planned activity for something either more low-key or a surprise adventure that might get everyone excited.
Expect things to get a little zany sometimes but to work out in the end. Keep your sense of humor, and don’t worry if everything doesn’t go exactly the way you thought it would.
Savor the Experience
It can be tempting to rush around checking items off your travel itinerary. You might have even more fun if you slow down and allow yourself to savor the family time without worrying about hitting all the tourist traps. Enjoying simple ice cream cones in a scenic location can become a treasured memory. Playing at a park or doing some leisurely window-shopping can be a wonderful way to spend time together without the pressure of completing one activity after another.
Vacations are for relaxing and having fun, not rushing around with an agenda. Remember: your children’s expectations are likely much lower than yours. Their favorite memories might just be the ones involving quality time with you rather than any particular destination or event.
Traveling with children can be a lot of fun. Seriously! You might be skeptical now, but don’t rule it out. With a little advance planning and a whole lot of patience, you may just find that a family vacation can be a wonderful experience.