Making the decision to go on a family vacation can be kind of terrifying, especially if it’s your first time. Everything we’re told about raising children revolves around the importance of routine and stability — two things you’re likely to lose on a travel day.
It can be challenging just trying to get the kids off to school in the morning, let alone taking them to a new country on a one-week vacation. Travel days will likely be your biggest challenge because once you arrive at your hotel or resort, you can mostly relax and enjoy. But you can mitigate most of the stress and chaos of long travel days by packing the right items and following a few simple rules. (See also: How to Wisely Choose Your Next Travel Destination)
1. Choose the right destinations
The right destinations for you and your family will depend on a lot of factors, as there’s no one-size-fits-all destination. While you don’t need to rule out certain countries because you’re traveling with kids, you do need to take your children’s ages into consideration to find locations that will be the most suitable for kids.
Daily adventures like long hikes may be more difficult with younger children, whereas many teenagers will need things to keep them stimulated. A good way to ensure everyone is happy is to get them involved in the decision-making. Older kids can do their own research on the internet, while younger children can be given a number of options to choose from after explaining what each has to offer. (See also: 5 Affordable Vacations to Please Every Age Group)
2. Book family-friendly accommodations
Booking the right accommodation is vital to making traveling the world with your family a success. Those with kids, particularly younger ones, will attest that a good night’s sleep can mean the difference between a fun day and a nightmare. Your options are obviously more limited than when you’re solo traveling or with friends, with many hostels, guesthouses, and even some hotels operating a no-children policy.
Your best options are to stay in hotel suites, or to rent full apartments through sites like Airbnb. Privacy is a must, and it’s great to have your own space to relax in, and for the kids to have room to play and run around. You can narrow the hotel options on search engines by using the sort function to filter by family-friendly properties. Airbnb also enables you to find entire houses or apartments that are family-friendly. (See also: How Hotel Booking Websites Can Save You Money)
3. Pack light
What to pack is often at the forefront of parents’ minds when they make the decision to travel with their family. Just the thought of trying to condense all of the gear — particularly associated with younger children — down to a manageable amount can be daunting. Things like strollers, car seats, and carriers all take up huge amounts of space, and that’s before toys, clothes, and everything else they might need. (See also: 7 Ways Families Can Travel Like Minimalists)
Packing as light as possible will make moving around far easier, and will potentially save your family lots of money in excess baggage fees. As soon as your kids are old enough to carry a backpack or wheel a suitcase, it’s a good idea to get them involved in the packing stage as well. They’ll soon come to appreciate the importance of packing light, and will enjoy being involved in the process.
Generally, anything that’s an absolute necessity for children will be available pretty much anywhere you go, but here are a few things that you can pack to ensure that your travel day will run as smoothly as possible.
There are a lot of germs on travel days and your little ones are going to be more susceptible to catching something on the road. Bring a few sanitizer or baby wipes and wipe down airplane seats, seat belts, handles and any surfaces your children may touch during the trip.
Most children have some kind of toy, blanket, or pacifier that calms them down. Bring it! These simple items can be life savers.
Load it up with all of your kid’s favorite music, movies, and TV shows and let them play and watch to their heart’s content. Keep in mind that while on buses and in cars, you may want to limit exposure as it can lead to motion sickness.
Kids like to feel like adults from time to time, and by having their own carry-on luggage or backpack, not only will they feel like Mom and Dad, but they’ll be able to carry some of their own things and access them when they feel like it.
Even if you don’t have a tablet or smartphone for your kids, you can usually plug in the headphones and let them watch the entertainment provided on planes and buses.
Lots of water
This is something you don’t want to run out of. Bring plenty of water and have your kids carry their own bottle, either clipped to their person or onto their luggage.
With wet wipes, snacks, water bottles, and tissue, you’re likely to have a lot of trash on travel days. Bring bags to easily store it all until you can ditch it in a proper trash bin.
Loading your kids up on sugar on travel days is just asking for trouble. Instead, pack low-sugar, healthy snacks like crackers, nuts, cheese sticks, Cheerios, and pretzels.
Even if you’re planning to be in the airport for most of your travel day, you never know if you’ll be by the bus window on the tarmac or waiting in line to board the plane. Bring lots of sunscreen and keep everyone from getting burned. (See also: The 5 Best Sunscreens)
Keep your camera somewhere that you can easily grab it at a moment’s notice. Funny things happen on travel days and it’s always adorable to take a photograph of your kid boarding a plane or looking out the plane window.
4. Slow it down
Though it’s completely possible to move from place to place relatively quickly with a family, if you have the luxury of an extended vacation, it’s a much better idea to take it slowly and spend a good amount of time in each destination. This is important for practical reasons, like not having the hassle of unpacking and repacking every few days, but it will also allow you to create routines and provide a level of stability in each place.
Slow travel will allow you the option of booking longer-term accommodation, which is likely to bring the cost down. Rather than staying in hotel suites, you’ll be able to book houses or apartments via sites like Airbnb, where hosts regularly offer long-stay discounts, or directly with local landlords.
Moving quickly can begin to feel like a whirlwind of activity and leave no time for your children to build attachments to places. In contrast, spending a few weeks or months in one spot will allow your kids to get familiar with the people and places at the location and give them a deeper connection. (See also: Savor Your Trip and Save Big With These 5 Slow Travel Tips)
5. Plan ahead when flying with babies
Generally, you won’t pay for airline tickets for children under two years of age who sit in your lap, at least on domestic flights. However, you do still have to inform the airline when booking that you’re traveling with a small child. You may also want to reserve a baby cot or bassinet with the airline in advance, or arrive early for those that operate on a first come, first served basis. It’s generally free, but check with each airline for their individual policies.
6. Sign the kids up for frequent flyer miles
On many airlines, frequent flyer programs have no age minimum, meaning kids can earn points, as well as adults. They will have to have their own frequent flyer account in order to start accumulating the points, but that’s just a matter of filling out a simple form. Pooling family members’ points can be a quick way to multiply your earnings. (See also: Everything You Need to Know About Frequent Flyer Miles)
7. Get a travel-friendly stroller
Nothing is more annoying than fumbling around with a bulky stroller while trying to check into a flight. You may want to consider an fold-up umbrella-style stroller or a lightweight, portable travel stroller. There are plenty on Amazon to choose from, and most stores that carry strollers will also carry umbrella strollers and other lighter-weight options.
8. Make sure kids sit middle or window
The aisle seat is a surprisingly dangerous place for little ones. With heavy metal carts and people whizzing by, I’ve seen many a tiny finger squished by an unsuspecting passenger, who feels awful afterward.
To avoid a lot of tears and potentially a broken finger, always try to seat your little ones in away from the aisle.
9. Have a “what if I get lost?” plan
This one seems obvious, but in the rush and chaos of getting everyone to the airport on time, many parents forget to form an emergency plan with their children on travel days. Whenever you arrive in a new place, let your child know which people are security or police and who to go to in the event of splitting up.
Also, choose a safe and secure meeting point that you can all head to if for some reason you can’t find one another. If your kids are a little older, make sure everyone has their phone volume on loud and set to vibrate so that you can call each other if anyone gets lost.