While exploring the world with your kids is an incredibly rewarding experience, traveling with a family presents some challenges. From staying organized to keeping everyone happy and entertained on the road, vacations with kids, particularly long-haul excursions, can be a headache. To help make your next family trip as stress-free as possible, check out our 10 tips for traveling with kids.
Plan, Plan, and Plan Some More
Freewheeling travelers will need to buckle down and organize activities well in advance when traveling with kids. Pre-plan as much as possible; figure out what to expect at the airport, if you'll need to bring a car seat for a rental car, what kind of shops will be at your destination, what supplies you'll need to bring from home, and which attractions will be age-appropriate for your kids. Start by researching your destination at Fodor's Travel. It also never hurts to check the U.S. Department of State's Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts before making plans.
Involve Your Kids in the Planning Process
Kids love being participants in family plans, so talk with them about your trip and, if they are old enough, ask them to do a bit of research, too. Provide a few websites they can visit or give them a Fodor's guidebook, and ask your child to draw up a list of attractions he or she is most interested in. If your children are still too small to help, get them involved in other ways. Talk about the trip and what it will be like. Show them pictures of some of the places you'll go. The important thing is to get your kids excited—and calm any nerves—before setting out.
Pack Your Emergency Bag
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When traveling, be sure to create an emergency kit packed with prescription medications, small toys, electronics (with backup batteries), snacks, a change of clothes (for little ones), and anything else you might need before you pick up your checked luggage at your destination. Be sure to purchase a bottle of water or two after you clear security; you never know if there will be a ground delay before takeoff and in those instances, stewardesses are often not allowed to serve beverages.
Have a Plan for Handling Delays and Cancelations
Part of smart planning involves making contingency plans. Think about what you'll do if you're delayed or have a long layover—it might pay to purchase lounge passes. These clubs—usually the domain of elite customers and business travelers—offer a quiet and comfortable place to relax in the terminal. Many lounges also offer kids rooms with a TV and games to keep them busy. Beverages and snacks (and sometimes complete meals) are also available. Before you leave home, check the benefits of all your credit cards. Some card—like American Express Platinum, Citi Executive AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard, United MileagePlus Club Card, and Chase Ink Bold and Ink Plus Business Cards—offer access to a variety of airport lounges around the world. If your credit card doesn't provided lounge access, look into Priority Pass, with paid access to over 700 airport lounges worldwide. If the lounge isn't the option, consider having a meal at a sit-down restaurant.
If your flight is cancelled, immediately get in line for rebooking and call the airline's 800 number at the same time (be sure to put these in your address book before leaving home). You can often get quicker service on the phone or even through Twitter. If you're in the airline's lounge at the time of the flight cancelation, the attendants there can also help you.
Prep Your Kids for the Airport Experience and the Flight
If your kids have never flown before, tell them what it's like in advance. Explain the process thoroughly, from check-in to security to boarding. Prepare them for the inevitable waiting in lines. Thankfully, children under 12 are no longer required to take off their shoes as part of the screening process. To brush up on TSA requirements, visit the Traveling with Children page. Before the plane takes off, give your kids earplugs, gum, or candy and explain that their ears might pop or become uncomfortable during takeoff and landing. The act of chewing or opening and closing the mouth can alleviate the discomfort.
Pull-ups or No Pull-ups?
Travel is a bit more complicated if your child is in the process of potty training. Yes, it's a sacred right of passage and consistency is the key. However, you can do more damage to the process by allowing the possibility of accidents on the road. Consider putting your child back in pull-ups for the trip—or at least while you're on the airplane.
Bring a Car Seat, Stroller, or Anything Else to Make the Trip Easier and Safer
If your child still uses a car seat or infant carrier, you probably want to bring that along. To lighten your load, consider bringing an air travel-approved infant car seat/carrier—one that doesn't necessarily need the base when used in a car—along with a stroller frame that it snaps to. Use the full combination as a stroller and gate check the frame whenever you board an airplane. Get more related tips from The Car Seat Lady. If you can't bring along the car seat, consider using an alternative safety measure like the CARES FAA-Approved Safety Harness.
Book the Right Accommodations
Where you stay is an integral part of a successful family vacation and you'll want to consider both the location and the spaciousness of the room. Many hotels offer family suites or adjoining rooms, and renting a home, villa, or condo can also be a terrific option. What family doesn't appreciate the extra space, plus kitchen and laundry facilities? Check VRBO, Homeaway, or Airbnb for options.
Ask Your Kids to Document the Trip
Give older kids cameras or smartphones to capture photos throughout the trip. Children with a literary flare may enjoy keeping a journal or making a scrapbook. Get some inspiration by visiting the Vacation & Travel Scrapbooking Pinterest board. The result will be a great memento for the whole family.
Be Willing to Deviate from Your Plans
As important as it is to plan all the details of your family vacation, it's also important to know when to deviate from that plan. Take your cues from your children and simply enjoy the things that are making them happy.
Andrea M. Rotondo is a writer based in New York City. She covers cruise and luxury travel trends for Fodors.com, Condé Nast Traveler, Cruise Critic, and other websites and magazines. She also teaches travelers how to leverage their frequent flyer miles at FrequentFlyerToolkits.com