15 Family Travel Tips for a Stress-Free Journey

Updated February 13, 2022
family at hotel beach vacation

Traveling with your brood doesn't have to be a stressful undertaking. Sure, you will encounter moments where you start to question why you ever leave the house in the first place, but overall you should enjoy the memory-making experience along with your children. Smart and useful family travel tips can make all the difference between a grueling and exhaustive excursion and a wonderful, relaxing getaway.

For Expert Family Travel Advice: Go Straight to the Source

For medical advice, you seek out a doctor. For educational advice, you turn to teachers. For family travel advice, head straight for the moms. They are the experts who know what works and what doesn't when it comes to setting out on adventures with kids in tow. They have tried it all, discovered the best family travel hacks, and have zero qualms about sharing their experiences with other moms ready to embark on trips with kiddos.

Debbie Dubrow is one of those "traveling moms" who has spent much of her children's lives packing up suitcases, loading up kids, and setting out to see the world. The Seattle-based mother of three shares her personal travel stories and best family travel tips with other parents ready to hit the road on her blog, Delicious Baby.

Best Family Travel Tips for Fun and Sanity

family vacation eating meal at restaurant

To ensure your next family vacation goes off without a hitch (or realistically, without a million hitches), know the tips and tricks that will give you the confidence to travel anywhere with kids and help ensure smooth sailing for your entire gang.

Beginner Traveler? Start Small

If you are new to the idea of traveling with children, Dubrow suggests you start small. Take your family on a smaller, local day trip and test drive your tips and hacks while being close enough to home to pull the trigger and abort the mission if necessary. Don't become discouraged if your first few local expeditions are a flop. Reflect on what worked and what didn't, make adjustments and try it again! A few trips to nearby locales will help build your confidence so you can easily transition into bigger getaways soon enough. Dubrow offers, "Most parents are pleasantly surprised to find that their worst-case-scenarios don't come true, and that they even enjoy the experience."

Pay Extra Attention to Planning

Once upon a time, you packed a bag, bought a plane ticket on the fly, and ventured out to see the world. Now that you have kids, and kids have needs, and spontaneity is as distant a memory as sleep is, you'll want to spend extra time in the planning stages of the trip. The more work you put in on the front end, the less thinking you will have to do once vacation begins.

Work Within a Budget

Vacationing with kids can get pricey, so work within a previously agreed-upon budget when planning your next getaway. Letting expenses get away from you will instantly create stress, so staying in the anticipated price range will help keep stress levels more manageable. Vacation will get very stressful very quickly if you end up blowing the kids' college fund on lavish digs and expensive airfare.

Spend Time Scoring the Right Accommodations

There are plenty of ways to cut corners and save a dollar during travel, but if you are vacationing with several children or young children, your lodging accommodations should not be one of them. Your days will be long and action-packed, so your home base needs to be a space of reprieve, your little temporary sanctuary.

Find a family-friendly hotel or rented home that fits most of your family's needs. If you are traveling somewhere hot, be sure there is air conditioning or working fans in your accommodation. If you will need to do laundry, check and see if those facilities are on property or nearby. Look into whether the room or rental is baby-proofed and whether it has a mini-fridge and microwave for all of those snacking needs.

It is a good idea to make a room "wish list" and then scour the net and read reviews to see which accommodation best suits you (and your budget!) There will undoubtedly be a few accommodation must-haves when traveling with children that you don't want to compromise on. Know what they are and make sure they are available to you before booking.

Adjust Your Travel Pace

Another tip Dubrow emphasizes to parents taking the travel plunge is to adjust the travel pace to best suit their children. Kids find joy in the most minor of details, so allow them to experience these travel days at their leisure. You might be used to packing in eight to ten hours or sights in a big city, but should you try to apply the vacationing pace of yesteryear to travel with kids, you are likely going to fizzle out fast. Dubrow elaborates, "Avoid trying to go at the same pace you did before you had children. Slow down and give your baby or toddler time to enjoy things at their level. They might be looking at the marble floors in the Vatican instead of the arches and artwork, and that is OK."

Decide beforehand what you really want to do with the kids. Think about if it will be of interest to them and if they will be able to make it through whatever it is you are hoping to do on vacation. Build in plenty of snack breaks or a mid-day siesta or rest period, so children don't become overly tired, cranky, and downright miserable. Pack your patience-pants, as this new, slower pace of seeing the world might be a bit of an adjustment for you.

Load Up on Water and Snacks

fruit cheese crackers travel snack

Throughout her journeys, Dubrow discovered the power of snacks. Snacks can pretty much fix anything at a moment's notice, and you don't want to be without them. Pack items that are easy to eat while on the go and make sure they aren't loaded with sugar. Choose grain or protein-based items to give kids energy without the dreaded sugar crash looming ahead. She also reminds parents that airplanes no longer provide the delectables of days past. Small snacks and beverages are typically offered, but if you have picky eaters or children with specific dietary needs, pack plenty of your own nibbles for a lengthy flight.

Get Travel Paperwork in Order

If you are flying or planning to leave your home country, be sure that all pertinent travel documents are ready and in order. Large families mean lots of passports, boarding passes and more. Sort and organize what you can. Place a small sticky note with family members' initials on the back of all passports and slip boarding passes into them. Place a rubber band around each travel packet, so when a name is called upon, you can quickly grab the documents you need at the moment.

For families needing to get passports, be sure that you do so plenty ahead of time to receive them before you leave for your trip. Obtaining passports can be tedious, and nothing will ruin a family vacation faster than one family member being left without proper travel documentation.

Make Emergency Plans

When it comes to vacation, you want to think about lounging around a pool or hiking through breathtaking forests... not about losing track of your kid! Not being able to locate your child is every parent's worst nightmare, and while it is something you don't even want to contemplate, it is best to have a plan in place for this type of emergency. Sit your kids down and discuss the plan for if someone becomes lost or strays from the group during travel. Older kids should have the means to contact parents, or at the very least know their parents' phone numbers. Write parents' names, kids' names, and contact numbers inside a shoe for little children. Be sure everyone understands how to get help in the event that they find themselves alone in a foreign space.

Be Prepared for Every Eventuality When Flying With Kids

family vacation travel airport

Imagine being stuffed in a small airplane with a crying child who is bored to tears or covered head to toe in apple juice (or worse) and still having several hours of air travel to go. That's the stuff nightmares are made of, and a bit of thought and preparation in this department can make all the difference. Aside from packing drinks and snacks on a flight, be sure to pack several entertainment options for kids. Great ideas are:

  • Coloring books and crayons
  • Electronic devices
  • Books
  • Games galore - both word games and paper games
  • Downloaded movies and shows
  • Comfort toys

Aside from entertainment options, you will want to pack a change of clothes in your carry-on. The only thing worse than having a kid get sick or have an accident while flying the friendly skies is having nothing to change them into. Toss the following into your carry-on so you are never left high and dry (or rather high and soaking wet).

  • Extra undies, pants, and shirt
  • Lots of disinfectant wipes and a small towel
  • Pajamas if you are traveling long distances through the night
  • A plastic, sealable bag for soiled clothing
  • Remember to pack a first aid kit and a car seat for plane and car travel

Be a Perfect Packer

Packing for a fun family trip comes with a bit of a learning curve unless you know how to do it properly right out of the gate! Parents tend to pack in one of two ways: overpacking and underpacking. They either take along everything they can think of and then curse themselves throughout the entire trip for spending more time acting as a family pack mule than enjoying a well-deserved vacation, or they bring next to nothing and spend more time scouring the earth for those forgotten necessities than they do relaxing.

You want to strike a packing balance. Try making a list of things you need several weeks before you depart. Next, revisit your list and remove items you think you can live without. Add a few new items that you skipped over the first time around. Consider what items your accommodations might have readily available. Many rental spaces have cribs, cots, and even high chairs for families to borrow, meaning you don't have to lug that stuff with you. If your accommodations have easily accessible laundry facilities, then pack half the clothes you originally planned on taking and spend a few hours mid-vacation doing laundry (maybe while the tots take an afternoon nap).

Know When to Schedule Flight Times

If you are flying with little ones, you might want to schedule your flight during nap time or during the evening hours. This is particularly important if you have a long journey ahead of you. A few hours of snooze time can make all the difference to a family stuck in the air for the majority of the day. Furthermore, pay attention to your layover times. It is much harder to rush through a busy airport to catch a connecting flight with three kids, two strollers, and several carry-on bags in hand.

Be Flexible and Realistic

Planning is a beautiful thing, but so is flexibility. Again, balance is the key to travel happiness, especially when kids are involved. Yes, you want the major details hammered out before you take off for fun and adventure, but you also need to remember that things happen, plans unravel, and you need to be able to pivot, recover and carry on. Expect some bumps in the road, know when to make alterations in vacation plans to suit everyone's needs, and let go of any preconceived notions that every minute of the trip will be downright magical.

Don't Forego Routine

Sure, this is vacation, and routines will vary simply due to the nature of the beast, but travel doesn't have to mean nixing all routines and structure. Kids thrive on the routines you have created for them. They help keep them safe and healthy. While plenty of routine aspects will shift during travel, keep the ones you can in place. Try to eat and sleep near the times you would typically eat and sleep at home. If you do a daily rest or nap time, see if you can swing that same routine while vacationing. If you throw the kids completely out of whack, you will soon learn that a no-rules vacation is a no-fun vacation for parents.

Establish Spending Rules Pre-Vacation

Rules. Kids don't love them, but they are necessary on so many levels. Traveling with kids means taking the littles past countless souvenir and trinket stations and stores. Get ready for your children to beg you for every little, shiny piece of whatever catches their eye. They will cry and whine for everything they see; you will stress and maybe cry a little too as you attempt to stay calm while explaining that no, they cannot have another Beanie Boo.

Set rules for souvenirs ahead of time. Maybe they get one small thing at the airport and one thing at your vacation destination. Maybe you give each kid an allotted amount of spending money and how and where they spend it is up to them. Make rules that work for your children and your budget, and be sure everyone understands those rules ahead of vacation to minimize the stress that comes along with kids begging for everything.

Don't Put Off Travel Plans

Lastly, don't put off your travel plans because you are afraid of failure. Yes, everyone will be older and wiser in a few years, but life happens, circumstances constantly change, and you never know if this travel opportunity will circle back around. Take those vacations with the little kids or the angsty teens. Make the memories, spend the money, and know that the kids won't be kids forever. Remember, parts of your vacation may flop, but other parts will be amazing. In the end, you will likely be so glad you went for it and traveled with your kids.

Family Vacation Memories to Cherish

Travel is all about the adventure of life and being together in a wonderful new time and space. Use tips to reduce stress, but know that the greatest advice you can receive is to be in the moment and try to enjoy your family vacation no matter what. Kids won't remember every detail of every vacation they took during their childhood, but they'll treasure the memories of how they felt spending time together as a family in a fun-filled environment.

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15 Family Travel Tips for a Stress-Free Journey