A trip is a great way to promote family togetherness, but it can also be a challenge – especially with children of different ages and interests. The following tips will help make family travel more enjoyable for kids and parents alike.
Before You Go
Hold a family meeting to find out what everyone would like to see and do.
If you have young children it's best to stay at a central location from which you can take side trips.
Go to the library for books about the history and geography of the places where you will be going.
Look for lodging that is kid-friendly and child-safe.
Ask about special discounts or family rates.
Prepare a list of tasks to be completed before you leave.
Arrange for pet care, house sitting, newspaper and mail pick-up, etc.
Make a list of things to bring and check off each item as it is packed.
Remove items from your wallet that won't be needed where you're going, such as library cards and department-store charge cards.
Take a recent close-up photo of each child with their vital statistics written on back to keep on hand just in case.
Choose wisely, and pack less so you won’t have too much stuff to cart around.
If traveling by airplane, check the baggage policy to find out the number of pieces you can bring, size and weight limitations.
Give each child his or her own duffel bag, wheeled suitcase, or backpack.
Stock up on travel-size shampoos, sunscreen, and other items.
Place toiletries, first aid supplies, and other small articles in clear plastic bags for easy identification.
If you have babies or toddlers, bring a childproofing kit for hotel rooms including doorknob covers, plastic outlet covers, and twist ties for drapery and electrical cords.
Don't forget emergency supplies such as a first aid kit, flashlight, extra batteries, stain removal stick, and sewing kit with safety pins, buttons, scissors, needle and thread.
Bring an extra collapsible bag along, or leave enough space in your suitcases for souvenirs that you will undoubtedly want to bring home.
Attach a colorful name tag, key chain, twist tie, stickers, or bright reflective tape to your luggage so you can quickly tell it apart from others.
Start packing far enough ahead of your departure date so that you will avoid frantically rushing at the last minute.
Traveling with Children
Pack a portable cooler with healthy snacks like raisins, pretzels, graham crackers, string cheese, Cheerios, cookies, popcorn, nuts, Goldfish crackers, and granola bars. For a special treat, you may also want to include chewing gum, candy bars, or lollipops.
Bring a small plastic ball, Frisbee, jump rope, foldable nylon pocket kite, or a bottle of bubble solution for rest stops at community parks or playgrounds that you find along the way.
On long drives, pack a homemade lunch or order some fast food take-out, and have a picnic at a nearby park or playground. Then the kids won't have to go from being cooped up in the car to having to sit still in a restaurant.
Bring one of your child's favorite toys or a familiar comfort item like a blankie, stuffed animal, doll, or night light.
Equip babies and toddlers with a developmental toy, plastic mirror, busy box, board book, or any small toy with different textures or movable parts.
Schedule travel times to coincide with children's sleep times if possible.
Children who get motion sick usually do better in the front seat, looking at distant scenery, and not reading or writing. Eating saltine crackers, pretzels, ginger cookies, or peppermint may also help.
Make a list of all the different states you see represented on license plates.
Have an on-the-road scavenger hunt. Look for VW's, semi trucks, red cars, blue cars, old cars, new cars.
Pack a goody bag filled with items to keep kids busy: pencils; coloring or activity books; Mad Libs; comic or joke books; field guides; lap-top writing board or clipboard; Magic Slate, Magna-Doodle, or Etch-a-Sketch; travel Bingo; Silly Putty; card games; hand or finger puppets; portable cassette or CD player (with headphones); favorite music, sing-along songs, or books on tape; hand-held electronic games or learning toys (with the sound turned off).
When You Get There
Try to arrive at your vacation destination by late afternoon. Children will be anxious to get out, run around, go to the beach, play on a playground, or swim in the hotel pool.
Stick to regular eating and sleeping schedules so the kids won’t get cranky.
Plan activities based on your youngest child's abilities, keeping in mind that he or she has a shorter attention span and gets tired more easily.
Alternate museum visits and sightseeing tours with amusement parks and playgrounds.
Stock a bag with diapers, baby wipes, plastic bags for trash and soiled diapers, antibacterial wipes or hand sanitizer, blanket, toy, water bottles, camera, and any other items that you want to take wherever you go.
On beach vacations, use a mesh bag for storing towels, swimsuits, sandals, beach toys and sunscreen.
Leave some unstructured time each day to allow leeway for spur-of-the-moment side trips and unexpected discoveries.
Have traveler's checks or cash on hand for buying souvenirs and snacks.
Plan on ending each day with a visit to a beach or park to give the kids something to look forward to.
Remember that flexibility is essential when traveling with children.
Carschooling, by Diane Flynn Keith. Everything Kids' Travel Activity Book, by Erik and Jeanne Hanson. Miles of Smiles, by Carole Terwilliger Meyers. Penny Whistle Traveling With Kids Book, by Meredith Brokaw and Annie Gilbar. Travel Wise with Children, by Mary Rodgers Bundren.