Tested Tips for Kid-Friendly Travel
Have you noticed that family vacations are not actually very relaxing? Travel time, different foods and accommodations, and disruptions to your finely-tuned family sleep schedule can make vacations downright exhausting. Should you scrap your vacation plans? Of course not! Family vacations offer the opportunity to bond together, learn about each other, learn about the world around you, have fun, and make memories that will last a lifetime.
At KidsOutAndAbout, we LOVE going on vacation. We do our best to make things as fun and stress-free as possible for our families, so we thought we'd offer up our suggestions for making family vacations better.
Hands down, our most common shared advice is to create some variation on the "busy bag" to keep kids occupied during long rides. Leslie wraps up little surprise gifts from the dollar store, Meg gets crafty by adding magnets to puzzles so kids can puzzle on a pan or adding Velcro to popsicle sticks to turn them into building tools, Chelle's bags include art supplies, dot-to-dot books, mazes, and crossword puzzles. Read on for more tips shared by our staff.
- Bring grandparents (or other adult family or friends) along to help with the kids and also give Mom and Dad a chance to go out by themselves once in a while.
- An idea for down time at the end of the day: Sit down as a family with sketchpads and colored pencils and take a few minutes for each person to draw one scene from what they did that day. It's especially easy if you look at one of your camera photos as you draw. This solidifies the trip in each person's memory much better than just taking photos, and the drawings become treasures later on.
- Tailor your vacation to experiences that your kids like, not necessarily what you like.
- Vary the rhythm so that after each activity, there's some relaxed down time.
- Give the kids the camera to document the trip.
- Always travel with easy snacks and water bottles on hand. A hangry, dehydrated kid is the worst!
- Have the kids bring their own doodle book or journal to write or color in. If they get bored with it, give them a drawing challenge or fun topic to write about.
- Thumb wars is a great game to play while waiting in line.
- Older kids should pack their own backpack with things to bring so that the parent doesn't become a pack horse.
- When you're traveling by car from location to location, instead of packing by the person, pack by the day, with everyone's clothes in the same bag for that day. That way, only one bag of clothes is open each day (you might even be able to leave the rest in the car), and there's always a place to put dirty clothes without mixing them up with clean clothes.
- Provide kids with a map and an itinerary of your travels. That way, kids will know what to expect, and they can learn about your destinations and improve their map skills along the way.
- Use the vacation to redefine your roles with your partner, at least temporarily: Determine what chores and tasks will be necessary to accomplish during the trip, and divide them equally, not necessarily in the same way that you do them normally. That way no undue burden falls on a single partner.
- Choose an all-inclusive destination whenever possible, especially when traveling with teens. Trust me, it is worth it in the long run. Especially for food with teenage boys.
- Prepare a packing list and let kids pack for themselves starting from preschool age (you can check them, of course).
- A small container of peppermint essential oil fits in a pocket, and it's great for quickly relieving nausea from motion sickness.
- When you can, spring for guided excursions geared toward kids. These folks have honed their activities for optimal fun, and sometimes kids respond better to adults who aren't, you know, you.
- Ask each of your kids for a couple of ideas that they definitely want to do and try to make sure you do at least one favorite. When they're smaller, you can offer choices, and as they age, you can tell them to do the research to come up with their own ideas.
- At a big amusement park or crowded place, try to dress everyone in the same color so that if they get lost it's easy to remember what they're wearing. If you're somewhere with a ticket with an assigned seat, put the ticket stub in your child's pocket so that if they get lost, someone can help them get where they are supposed to be.
- Distribute "busy packs" or pre-packaged snacks at a set time, like the top and bottom of each hour of travel. It gives kids something to look forward to and cuts down on asking for more in-between the special times.
- Podcasts and audiobooks are great options to keep kids occupied, and there are some super options available.
- If you have a child with special needs, stick to a predictable schedule, and just plan two to three "must do's" each day. Anything beyond that is a bonus that you can decide on together as a family. Otherwise everyone gets too tired and it's no fun.
- Keep a few practical things in a stroller, pop-up wagon, a backpack to take with you. Aside from food items, some musts are: sunscreen, bandages, chapstick, hand sanitizer, and wet wipes. We use wet wipes everywhere. They're perfect for wiping down any kid messes, especially faces and hands, or for wiping that messy table top in a crowded place.
- Have a sense of humor. Things are going to go wrong. Snap a picture, laugh, and move on. Some of the most hideous things that happen on vacation later turn out to be some of your favorite "remember when" family memories.
Your family vacations will be some of your most special family time together. Childhood is fleeting, and it's likely that you'll have many wonderful and relaxing vacations in your future. Alas, that time isn't now. For now, pack up that "busy bag," set your course for family adventure, and enjoy the journey.