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Five Tips from Five Years of Traveling with Young Kids

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Five Tips from the Last Five Years of Traveling with Our Young Kids
When you think of vacations I'm sure you're picturing yourself with a pina colada at hand on the beach or poolside soaking up that good ole' vitamin D.  Well, when you have kids, that "dream" vacation can be a little more exhausting than you'd like.  Don't get me wrong, I love vacationing with my kids and seeing the excitement and twinkle in their eyes as they're exploring new things and new surroundings. It makes my heart happy seeing my kids have the time of their lives!  But let's keep it real - traveling with kids can just be plain overwhelming.

We travel quite frequently with our kids and one of the questions I get asked often is whether it's difficult traveling with small children and if I have any tips on making the travel process easier.  I've gotten comments on how we make it look so easy and it may look easy, but trust me, it takes a lot of planning and experience - and that's where this travel blog and our travel agency can help!

The Why of Traveling with Kids
Traveling with kids can be one of the most enriching and wonderful experiences or it can be a complete nightmare.

There is a lot of advice for traveling with kids ranging from "why would you think of that and travel with kids" to "we travel full-time with kids".  The amount of information can be overwhelming and confusing for someone just looking for general tips that can help them make traveling with kids a little easier.

You could of hit the kids travel jackpot and have good little travelers through a lucky mix of their nature and nurture or be on the opposite end of the spectrum with young travelers who hate the change in schedule.

While I try to provide a general list if tips, note that some kids will always be more flexible, some may crave a routine more, and some may be completely thrown off traveling in long plane rides or car rides and a drastic change in their daily schedule.  I know from first hand experience because at different points in time we've experienced all of them through our travel adventures over the years.

If you have young children and plan on traveling with them in 2020, here are some of my top travel tips to help make everything go more smooth for everyone!

Tip #1: Have a Plan, but Be Flexible
I am the planner in our family, down to all of the small details and in the past even made detailed spreadsheets with all of the information we would ever need before, during and after our trip.

While I thought that was a great way to ensure nothing would go wrong, over time I've learned that while it is always good to be detailed and prepared - plans will change, things will go wrong, kids will get sick, etc; so I've learned that it's good to have plan when you travel, but always be open to changes and be flexible.

This thought process can apply to all things related to traveling with kids, i.e.,
  • Try to book nonstop flights when you can to avoid stops and further disruption to everyone's schedule.  This also avoids potential missed flight connections.
  • Have status (airline, hotel, rental car)
    • Have an airline credit card that you travel frequently on for savings on checked baggage and other benefits
    • Hotel status can help get better room upgrades, breakfast and other perks
  • Use TSA Precheck, CLEAR, Global Entry and/or Mobile Passport to save time at security checkpoints when flying
Tip #2: Pack the Essentials
Traveling with kids can be frustrating at times, but a little pre-planning can help ensure your next family vacation goes smoothly.  You won't realize you'll need a particular item until the moment comes and the next thing you know your toddler is having a major meltdown.

I've learned from personal experience on what items can help make or break a trip and can help prevent that next meltdown, whether it's your kid (or significant other!)

Based on my experience, here are some items I recommend when traveling with a toddler, ages ranging from ~18 months to 3 years old, broken down into a few categories shown below.  Outside of packing all of the necessary items you and your family will need for your trip, the following items can help tremendously:
  • Kid-friendly Entertainment
    • It is always a good idea to have kid-friendly entertainment options ready whether you are traveling by plane, car or when lounging around in a hotel room.  I recommend having a tablet loaded with kids movies, games and other educational apps to keep them busy (I personally use a Nexus 7 and Amazon Kids Fire Tablets)
    • External battery pack
    • Headphones (Kidz Gear Wired Headphones)
    • Small Toys
    • Books
    • Stickers
    • Crayons and a coloring book

And if you're traveling with little ones under 2, it's good to have some of the following items, especially when on a plane:
  • Baby's Comfort item
    • If it's a pacifier, be sure to bring more than one, in case it gets flung down the aisle or falls down on the floor.
  • Sanitizer, wipes, Pull-ups, and diapers. One diaper per hour of travel is recommended.
  • Smartphones and tablets loaded with your kids' favorite movies or shows. Let them share a device with a headphone splitter.
  • Kid-size headphones
  • Art supplies: Crayons (small box) and blank paper
  • Plastic bags for trash
  • Water for sipping on when ear-pressure/pain becomes an issue
  • Low-sugar snacks: Cheerios, pretzels, crackers, nuts, string cheese, and granola bars are good options.
  • Surprise Toy, gift or something new for an unexpected meltdown
    • A wrapped new plaything has two advantages: Kids love to unwrap stuff, and a new toy has more attention-grabbing pull.

Tip #3: Find the Extra Value Out There
I'm a big proponent of "Do Your Homework...Price is what you pay, Value is what you get"!

There are so many time-saving and value-added benefits out there that a lot of people may not be aware of or want to take the time to find it.  Examples can include anything from clearing security checkpoints faster to free breakfast to special kids amenities/programs when traveling.

Some ways I use this to our advantage when traveling is:
  • Have the right Airline Credit Cards
    • Help save on baggage fees
    • Utilize Companion passes or airline miles to help save on travel costs
  • Hotel Status has its Benefits (I currently have Marriott Platinum Status, 50+ nights)
    • Free breakfast helps save on travel costs and it is very convenient when traveling with kids (At Marriott brands this could range anywhere from credits to amazing buffets depending on the particular hotel brand)

    • Room upgrades = More space for everyone and for kids to run around in

  • Use a Travel Advisor 
    • Get access to Virtuoso Amenities (or similar) which may include free breakfast, hotel credits, room upgrades, welcome amenities and more
    • Potential savings when bundling flights, hotels, cars and more
    • Insight into locations that the advisor has been to and more recommendations

  • Use the Best Travel Credit Card
    • Earn points/miles to help save on travel costs
    • Earn your way fast-track hotel, airlines or similar status
    • Take advantage of card benefits when needed (travel delays, trip insurance, etc)
  • Find hotels that are kid-friendly and offer great family amenities

  • Save Time when Flying
    • Examples include: TSA Precheck, CLEAR, Global Entry and/or Mobile Passport to save time at security checkpoints when flying

Tip #4: Set Realistic Expectations (And Plan Kid-Centric Activities)
It's exciting traveling to new destinations and especially with little ones in tow, as you want to show them everything possible during your trip, but be sure to sit down and talk through everything to set realistic expectations.

This ties into my first tip and I can't tell you how many times I have made our plans a little too ambitious, only to realize everything is not going to happen.  Setting realistic expectations with all of your travel companions help avoid arguments, disagreements and tantrums.

I make it a point to discuss with my now 2 and 6 year old kids what we plan on doing for the day and how everything is planned for the day and why.  We talk about what to expect and I ask them if there is anything they want to include or maybe skip so we are all the same page.  I let them suggest things to do or things they want to experience and it helps make them feel more involved in the trip.

Tip #5: Lastly, Don’t Forget to Make Memories - You only get “18 Summers”
When you stop to think about it, you only get "18 Summers" until your kids are more independent and may consider themselves too cool to travel with you anymore.

Whether it's a local National Park, museum or a far-flung exotic destination - plan more, explore more and travel more!  You'll be glad you did and be able to look back on all of the great memories along the way.

 I am a strong proponent of traveling with kids for the following reasons:
  • There are some things that cannot be taught in a classroom, in a book or by watching a show
    • As they get older, they’ll have real-world life experiences and be able to apply it to their school learning when they discuss those topics.
  • Helps them become independent

  • Stretches their minds to the things they see and experience
    • Example: Our daughter still talks about visiting New York City as a 3-year old and describes it to her younger brother - he refers to it now as “the buildings one” and asks when we are going there next
  • Helps make kids more well-rounded 
    • They learn to go with the flow 
    • Learn that things can go wrong
    • Learn patience
    • Appreciate the world around them
    • Learn and discover new people and cultures.

I hope by sharing my top travel tips you'll see we are no different than any other family and hope to spark you to travel more and take your kids everywhere!  Some of life’s most memorable moments are experienced while exploring and connecting with your family on a vacation

At the end of the day there is no right or wrong way to travel with kids, but I hope my travel tips can help you in some way for a future trip close to home or abroad - so get out there and explore more!