9 Things You Must Do If You're Traveling With Kids
When we're planning family vacations, we envision leisurely days spent at the beach or exploring new cities with our angelic children at our sides. We often overlook the realities of prospective trips: long car rides, delayed planes, missed connections, and cranky children. Fortunately, there are simple steps to take your vacation from stressful to stress-free. Here are nine things to do before your next family vacation.
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1. Buy Travel Insurance
I was skeptical about travel insurance the first time I looked into it, but I'm fairly risk-averse, and I quickly realized it was a good investment for my family. Travel insurance can cover cancelled trips, medical emergencies, evacuation, and even lost luggage. I'd recommend it for any trip of a week or more that involves flying (especially international trips) as when you have kids, you never know if one will get so ill you can't travel. My favorite site is SquareMouth for travel insurance quote comparisons from various companies. Before you buy though, check to see if any of your travel credit cards include coverage. (See also: Frugal Family Vacations)
2. Schedule Flights Around Naptime
If your kids still nap, be sure to keep naptime in mind when booking any airline tickets. If I'm taking a flight that's at least two hours, I look for one that overlaps with my son's naptime. That way he sleeps on the plane and is well-rested when we arrive. Even if the naptime tickets are a bit more expensive, it may be worth spending a little more to keep your kid from screaming on the plane. Consider it an investment in your sanity (and that of your fellow travelers).
3. Allow Adequate Time for Layovers
When I'm traveling with kids, I would much rather have a two-hour layover than a 45-minute layover. Especially if your first plane is late, rushing through the airport with kids in tow is stressful and sometimes impossible. Opt for a longer layover around a meal time so you're not rushed and everyone is well-fed when you board flight number two. (See also: How to Get Through the Airport Faster)
4. Call the Hotel Before You Leave
Do you need a portable crib or extra bed in your room? Call the hotel a week or so before your trip and tell them what you need. It might even be worth following up the day before you leave to confirm your room will be ready. I once had to wait until well past my son's bedtime for a crib to arrive, even though I'd reserved one when I booked the room. Remember, if you wait until check-in to make requests, they may not have any cribs available.
5. Bring Food. Lots of Food.
Whether you're traveling by plane, train, or automobile, pack plenty of snacks for everyone on the trip. There's nothing worse than searching for a restaurant at a road stop or in a crowded airport with hungry, irritable kids. (Don't forget snacks for mom and dad — cranky parents aren't fun, either.) Also, remember your water bottle to wash down the salty pretzels. (See also: 15 Cheap and Easy Travel Snacks)
6. Pack a Comfort Object
Whether your child is 12 months or 12 years old, be sure to throw your kid's lovey, favorite book, or video game into the suitcase, even if your destination will have plenty of activities. A reminder of home can help little ones feel comfortable in a new place.
7. Plan for Entertainment
Regardless of your kids' ages, you'll need to think creatively about how to keep them entertained, especially on longer trips. For younger kids, new toys and games can do the trick.
In addition to watching movies or playing with their phones, older kids on trips might be persuaded to put down their devices for a book like National Geographic Kids Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas. Or find some other creative ways to keep kids entertained on the road.
8. Be Realistic on Road Trips
A road trip that took seven hours back in your kid-free days may take nine or ten hours with little ones in tow. Remember you'll need to stop for diaper changes, bathroom breaks, meals, and time for running around to get energy out. Be realistic when you plan your trip so you don't get stressed out when you fall behind schedule. (See also: Frugal Road Trips)
9. Book the Right Kind of Accommodation
Consider all of your accommodation options when you're planning your trip. Websites like Airbnb can help you find apartments for short-term rentals around the world. If you're an adventurous family, camping is an economical and fun option. Many hotels also have suites with kitchenettes, which might be a better fit for your family. Think about what's important to you — a place to cook, free breakfast, a pool, proximity to entertainment — before you book. The right kind of accommodation can make or break a trip.
Traveling with kids is always an adventure and, odds are, not everything will go according to plan. But there are plenty of steps you can take before your next family vacation to make it less stressful and more fun for everyone.
What do you do to make traveling with kids fun for the whole family?