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Family Travel Guide: How to Travel Better with Kids

Let's keep it real, traveling with kids can just be plain overwhelming.  There is no right or wrong way to travel with kids, but there is always a better way.  Traveling with kids can be one of the most enriching and wonderful experiences or it can be a complete nightmare.  

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 learning from experience.


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 have 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 any change in their schedule.

While I try to provide a general list of 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 having to adjust to 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 with our now 5 and 9 years olds.

If you have young children and plan on traveling with them in 2022, 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 for bigger trips make detailed itinerary  spreadsheets with all of the information we would ever need before, during and after our trip.  These detailed itineraries may include a list daily activities, packing lists, food stops, and other information we'll need on the road.

While I thought making detailed itineraries was a great way to ensure nothing could ever 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, and the best plans will need to be changed as you go.   

I've learned that it's good to have plan when you travel, but always be open to changes and be flexible.

Tip #2: Pack the Essentials

Traveling with kids can be frustrating at times, but a little pre-planning and ensuring you have the essentials can help ensure your next family vacation goes smoothly.    

You may not realize you'll need a particular item until the moment comes and the next thing you know your toddler is having a major meltdown and you wish you had brought along that exact item you forgot.

I've learned from personal experience on what items can help make or break a trip and can help prevent that next meltdown.

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 and essential 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.  
  • External battery pack
  • Kids size 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.
At the end of the day, you can review all kinds of different packing lists, but only you know your child and what items they may need for their trip, but the above items may help capture some items that you may have overlooked or missed.

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.  Some examples include clearing security checkpoints faster to free breakfast to special kids amenities/programs when traveling.

This thought process of trying to "Find the Extra Value" can apply to all things related to traveling with kids and some ways I use this to our advantage when traveling can include:

  • Save Time when Flying
    • Examples include having TSA Precheck, CLEAR, Global Entry and/or Mobile Passport to save time at security checkpoints when flying.
    • Try to book nonstop flights when you can to avoid stops and further disruption to everyone's schedule.  This can also help avoid potential missed flight connections and lost luggage.
  • Sign up for Hotel, Airline and Car Rental Loyalty Programs 
    • By just signing up for these loyalty programs, you can gain access to benefits, accrue points/miles, bypass car rental lines and many other benefits.
For example, having hotel status through accumulating enough nights or through a credit card, can unlock many value added benefits such as room/suite upgrades, free breakfast, late checkout and many other perks that wouldn't be available to a regular guest.  


When traveling as a family these hotel status perks can help save on costs tremendously.  Free breakfast helps save on travel costs and it is very convenient when traveling with kids.  Depending on the hotel, this could range anywhere from credits to amazing buffets depending on the particular hotel brand.  Getting a room upgrade equals more space for everyone and for kids to run around in. 
  • Use the Best Travel Credit Card for your family
    • 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)
    • Certain airline credit cards can also help save on checked baggage fees and provide other benefits when flying like being able to utilize companion passes or airline miles to help save on travel costs

  • 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
    • Find hotels that are kid-friendly and offer great family amenities

Tip #4: Set Realistic Expectations

Always be sure to set realistic expectations and plan kid-centric activities.  It's exciting traveling to new destinations and being able to experience it with your kids.  While you may want to show them everything possible during your trip, but be sure to sit down and talk through everything with them to set realistic expectations.

This ties into my first tip, "Have a Plan, but Be Flexible" 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 how we wanted it to for some reason or another. Setting realistic expectations with your kids can help avoid arguments, disagreements and tantrums.

SeaWorld was not on the list, but the kids decided they wanted  to visit given a list of options

I make it a point to discuss with my now 5 and 9 year old kids what we plan on doing for the day, when/where we plan on eating and how everything is laid out 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: Don’t Forget to Make Memories

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.  Time flies by and the little baby who always cried on an airplane is now in middle school and time has flown by so fast. 

Whether it's a local National Park, museum or a far-flung exotic destination, make sure you 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 you made along the way with your kids and as a family.

Summary

If you're a regular reader of the blog, you'll know that I am a strong proponent of traveling with kids and love seeing the world from their point of view.

There are many reason why you should travel more with kids, but here are some of my top takeaways

  • Helps them become independent
  • Stretches their minds to the new things they see and experience
  • Helps make kids more well-rounded 
  • They learn to go with the flow and adapt as things change or don't go their way 
  • Learn that things can go wrong
  • Learn patience
  • Appreciate the world around them
  • Learn and discover new people and cultures.
There are some things that cannot be taught in a classroom, in a book or by watching a show.  As kids 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.

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!

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