Planning a family vacation isn’t always easy. From choosing the perfect destination to budgeting, packing and more; it’s often a stressful time for parents but always worth it in the end!
We’ve teamed up with 26 parents and travel experts to share their tops tips for planning a family vacation, with ideas and advice on everything from road tripping across the country with kids to saving money on attraction tickets and so much more.
- Carrie Bradley
- Dave Pedley
- Candice Criscione
- Amanda Andrews
- Jaimie Michaels
- Stephanie Rytting
- Byron Thomas
- David Kosofsky
- JJ Haglund
- Zander Buteux
- Majid Alaily
- Mike Miller
- Besa Sumovic
- Leslie Stroud
- Angela Rice
- Paul Miller
- Keri Baugh
- Justin Carmona
- Lanie van der Horst
- Oliver Froese
- Alexandra Fung
- Amelia Morgan
- Phil Dengler
- Hoang Anh “Christine” Le,
- Jonathan Kinas
- Nicole Hunter
Carrie Bradley, an Ex-Flight Attendant and travel blogger at Flying with a Baby, on flying with children:
If flying with younger children, pack a change of clothes for you and them in your cabin luggage as accidents happen.
If you have a choice of airlines, research their facilities and charges before booking. That cheap flight once extras like baggage etc are added on, may end up more expensive. Some airlines (international) offer free seating choice if flying with a baby or excellent inflight bonuses like a sky nanny, fun activity pack, or even balloon decorating on Asiana Airlines!
When flying with a lap baby, check the airlines bassinet requirements before booking as all have different requirements. For example, only Virgin Atlantic and Qantas allow babies to stay strapped in to their bassinet during turbulence.
If you purchase an additional seat for an infant to use your airline approved car seat, check the airlines seat dimensions and requirements first. On USA airlines, the FAA state a suitable seat must be found when a seat is bought for an infant.
However, this is not the case with other international airlines where some may not permit rear facing car seats or limit their use for under 2’s only.
Dave Pedley, Founder and Editor of YourCub.com, on why you need to consider ditching the resort and hiring an RV:
My Top Tip for a family vacation – especially with kids at toddler age and above – is to go by camper van!
Forgoing the hotel resort type of holiday makes sense financially. Whilst many hotels do offer free kid’s places, it usually extends to only one, and adult prices are expensive, not forgetting that extras often end up costing a lot more in a resort than you anticipated.
A fully equipped camper van offers you massive flexibility – and a ready-made apartment that is actually not going to be much smaller than the family room you’ve taken a loan out to pay for! Equipped with a kitchen, savings on food and drinks, and snacks will be considerable, leaving more money left over for attractions and amusements for the family.
And of course, by parking at more out-of-the-way RV or camping sites means that overall holiday costs will be reduced too.
There are two other big benefits of RV vacations, too:
Firstly, greater access to the Great Outdoors. Getting closer to nature is a proven benefit to adults and kids improving both physical and mental health. All that fresh air and outdoor adventure!
And secondly – in the not-quite-over age of Covid – an insulated, totally private mobile holiday pod is the perfect way to minimize excessive contact with strangers. No communal eating areas, crowded swimming pools, play areas, and elevators. With kids not yet vaccinated, and some lingering confusion over the risk of virus spread, taking a few precautions seems the sensible course to take.”
Candice Criscione, Founder of TheTuscanMom.com, on choosing a family-friendly destination & heading on a road trip with kids:
Get your entire family involved in deciding where you go and in planning the trip.
“f you can give your family 2-3 destinations to choose from, they’ll have fun researching and planning and they’ll be much more engaged during the trip. My 7 year old loves helping make the decisions and he likes to find books to read about the area before and during the vacation. “
If you’re going on a road trip, plan a lot of stops. As adults, it’s easy to drive quickly from point A to point B, but kids need to get out of the car and move around. Plan stops at quirky monuments, National Parks, and homes of family or friends. You’ll find it’s nice to slow down and enjoy the journey with them.”
Amanda Andrews, Family Travel Expert at Travel Happy with The Andrews, on choosing the perfect destination for the whole family:
What’s your goal for the vacation?
To relax? To sightsee? To be immersed in a new culture? The answer to this question will dramatically narrow choices for potential destinations. Is sitting on a beach with the sand on your toes the perfect day? Is going on an off-path hike to a waterfall more your style? Is hitting a row of roller coasters your dream day?
What is each member of the family looking forward to the most for summer vacation? This is a much better question to ask your family than “Where do you want to go on vacation?” I always ask my family what each person is looking forward to above everything else and the answers have surprised me! These answers can help you build a vacation where each member of the family has something special to enjoy.
What’s your budget? I can’t count the number of times I thought I had found the perfect vacation spot only to later realize flights were astronomical and put the vacation destination way out of my budget. Do a quick check of flight prices on some of the potential destinations to ensure they are within reach.
What research can you do? Research the potential destinations. Not just marketing materials and hotel websites. Read blogs. Look at Google images. Watch YouTube videos. Find recent reviews <12 months old. Check the average weather conditions and temperatures for the timeframe you would be visiting.
How do you know that it’s the right vacation spot? The right destination will have several good options for you to choose from each day. You don’t need to over-plan the vacation when you select the perfect destination for your family. The right destination will plan itself in that it doesn’t require extensive planning. I’m a fan of vacations that are well designed and not over-planned.
Jaimie Michaels, Editor of MagicGuides.com, on planning the perfect Disney vacation:
Buy Now – Save Later (and have a guaranteed reservation)
With inflation on the rise, don’t expect Disney ticket prices and room rates to fall anytime soon. Plus, there’s a lot of pend-up demand to travel right now and things will sell out this summer.
Book your trip as far in advance as possible so that you will lock-in today’s rates and also guarantee that you’ll have a reservation in the first place. Just make sure to check the cancellation policy before you commit to anything.
Look for Budget Hotels
You hotel stay can bust your budget, especially at Disney World.
If you are watching every penny and want to stay at an in-park hotel, your best bet is one of the Disney All-Star resorts: All-Star Movies, All-Star Music, and All-Star Sports. Disney’s All Star Sports’ least expensive nightly “rack rate” for 2021 was $118 but a standard room averages around $170 range. Not bad! Most Disney hotels rates are well over $200 – some in the $300, $400, $500+ per night range – so you can save a lot if you’re willing to stay at one of the 5 Disney Value Resorts.
Otherwise, check out this guide to the best hotels near Disney World for offsite options.
Check to see if your destination offers a layaway plan.
For example, Walt Disney World Resort allows its guests to set up a payment plan whereby the guest sets the terms, so long as the trip is completely paid off 30 days before the departure date. They do not charge interest or a fee for this option. Layaway plans won’t really save you money per-se but they will give you more time to pay off your balance.
Save on Food
Walt Disney World Resort allows its guests to bring their own food and non-alcoholic beverages into the theme parks and Disney resort hotels also permit guests to have groceries delivered to guest services. Popular food delivery services include Garden Grocer, Amazon Prime Now, Instacart, and WeGoShop.
Considering how expensive food is at Disney World, you could potentially save a lot of money using these hacks!
Stephanie Rytting, travel blogger at The Unknown Enthusiast, on headache-free road tripping with kids:
I do quite a bit of adult-only travel outside the US, but I also have 4 girls (ages 10, 8, 6, 4) and we do a ton of travel within the US together as a family.
95% of our family travel is done by road trip! We road trip to destinations anywhere from 6 hours to 20 hours away, and we do this anywhere from 4-7 times a year.
My top tips for road tripping with kids are:
Start early! If you start road tripping when kids are very young, they will get used to it and become accustomed to the situation. We’ve road tripped with kids as young as 2 months old, and now, they are all used to long days in the car.
When we had little babies, I always fed them in the car. If they were drinking formula, it’s easy enough to make up a bottle and feed them in their carseat. When they were nursing, I would pump in the front seat and then feed them the bottle I pumped. This worked really well to help us minimize the number of stops we needed to take.
Don’t try to be super Mom and Dad. Our main source of entertainment in the car are portable DVD players, and we let them watch movies basically nonstop. This may be controversial, but I don’t believe that one day of non-stop TV is going to rot their brains!
They are more than content to watch movies and munch on snacks all day and yes, it’s not the healthiest habit if they were doing it everyday. However, for long road trip days, it helps everyone’s mental sanity to have something that will keep people quiet and entertained.
When kids are young (less than 2-1/2 to 3 years old) they aren’t interested in movies, so we took a little bag of toys for them to play with. Once kids are older, we take books or coloring books as an option for them as well, if they start to look for more variety in activity. Sometimes they take advantage of this, sometimes they don’t!
Get headphones for everyone to use. We’ve used kid-friendly headphones where the volume can’t go too high. You can get cheap ones for $15 at Walmart or Target, and then the car stays quiet.
Everyone gets a small pillow or stuffed animal and their favorite blanket. This helps them tremendously if it starts getting late and they need to rest.
We have found that if we have a really long day ahead of us, it is easier for kids to fall asleep in the car at night than it is to fall back asleep in the car when we start first thing in the morning. Thus, even on long days, we choose to start at a relatively normal wakeup time and have them fall asleep in the car late in the evening.
Byron Thomas, Founder of Niarra Travel, on packing for a family vacation:
Pack light, even if you can just get away with just a backpack per family member, aim for just bringing carry ons, and avoid checking in bags.
Most hotel and travel accommodations offer laundry services so items needed for even a 2-3 week timespan can easily be packed in a backpack and laundered throughout the trip.
No checked in luggage makes getting through the airport quicker, and is less stressful with fewer bags to weigh the family down and also keep track of.
Packing light and only traveling with carry ons is also better for environment as cargo and baggage contribute to the weight of an aircraft, which adds to carbon emissions.
David Kosofsky, Founder of Go RV Rentals, on smart ways to save money on a road trip:
If you opt for an RV road trip, every penny you save counts. You could use the extra money to pay for additional activities, extend your vacation, or save it for a future trip. Here’re a few ways to save money on the road.
Drive a Smaller and Less Luxurious RV to Save on Gas.
Bigger, newer, and feature-rich RVs are more expensive to rent and drive. If you’re a small family, drive a smaller motorhome or consider towing a travel trailer. A campervan will consume less fuel than a bus-style RV and allow you to explore places that larger rigs can’t access due to size limitations.
Shop Closer to Home.
When buying food items, look for the best deals at the stores around your home. It’s hard to predict the cost or availability of food at the destination, especially popular mountain, beach and resort areas. Also, buy groceries that will last only a week to avoid wastage and create a meal plan to ensure you use up every food item before anything goes bad.
Reserve a Campground that’s Close to the Action You Yearn for.
Instead of hopping from one campground to another, book one that’s positioned in the middle of all the sites you plan to visit, and plan to stay there. You’ll save fuel and also benefit from lower campground rates when you stay at your basecamp longer.
Consider Whether Fly and Drive RVing Makes More Sense .
If you’re planning a cross-country road trip, assess whether it’s better to catch a flight to the destination you want to explore, rent an RV there, and then drive it to your preferred attraction spots. It’s a cheaper option if you take advantage of flight deals. Also, if the rental prices of RVs in your state are sky high and those of the state you are planning to travel to are cheaper, fly and drive can save you lots of money. You’ll also save a lot of travel days that could otherwise be spent on the road.
JJ Haglund, travel blogger at The Minivan Bucket List, on choosing the perfect family vacation destination that’s close to home:
Look for unique experiences in your own home state.
You don’t have to travel far or spend a ton of money to have bucket list-worthy adventures. Try using Airbnb’s “unique stays” filter and look for things like treehouses, tiny houses, or glamping options.
We recently discovered a glampsite near a national park in Utah that offers stays in pioneer-style conestoga covered wagons. They’re surprisingly spacious and fit a queen size bed and two sets of bunk beds – room enough for the whole family.
Our kids love hotel stays too but this was much more memorable!
Zander Buteux of VacationRenter on tried-and-true tips to help parents prepare for their trip:
We recently conducted a survey for VacationRenter’s travel blog asking over 1,000 parents to share tips for traveling with kids. These tried-and-true tips will help parents prepare for their trip so that they can create lifelong memories with their kids.
Tip #1: One of the worst scenarios is that your children get bored while traveling, which often leads to temper tantrums or whining.
In our survey, we found that 73.7% of parents allowed their children to use a phone or tablet while traveling to keep them entertained. This was followed closely in percentage to playing with toys (70.5%), travel games (66.8%), coloring or craft supplies (58%), and books (49.9%).
If reading a book or looking at a device make sure it’s at eye level so they are not looking down. Audiobooks or podcasts also made the list, with only 21% of parents using this tactic.
As a photographer in my personal time, I also feel that giving your child their own kid-friendly camera keeps them entertained. Plus it gives you a view of what they find interesting about the trip!
Tip #2: Traveling — especially long road trips — can make your kids experience motion sickness. The most common form is car sickness followed by sea and air.
To help prevent this, stop often on long car rides to let your child stretch their legs and get some fresh air. Make sure that the snacks you pack are light and don’t have a strong scent to avoid anyone getting nauseous along the way.
Tip #3: Traveling with kids can be expensive, but one way to save is to take advantage of the lower prices by traveling off-season. The best times are late September, October, early December, and January. These are especially good times to travel to major attractions like Disney World. There will be fewer crowds and better temperatures.
Another way to save money is to eat breakfast where you are staying.
Kids, and most adults, wake up hungry and want to eat right away. And eating in your room or somewhere with a free breakfast will save valuable vacation time. It’s optimal to stay somewhere with free breakfast so that you have a variety of options. Yet, you could also opt to stop by the grocery store and stock up on foods like bagels, fruit, nut butter, and protein bars.
Tip #4: Before buying tickets for an attraction make sure to check online first for discount codes and specials. You may even save when booking online as opposed to purchasing them at the in-person ticket booth, this is especially true with Disney Parks if you give them a call well ahead of the planned trip. You could also complete an internet search for discounts or check sites like Groupon and Rakuten.
Tip #5: Find free activities!
Thanks to bloggers, you can find guides for free things to do in practically any city. These are often just as fun as the paid attractions while saving money. Also, make sure to check out the area local visitors guide to find free or low-cost attractions.
Majid Alaily, Founder of Arabic travel blog shantitsafar.com, on keeping children happy, safe and involved whilst traveling:
Take the time to explain the trip itinerary to your kids.
Kids act out on trips because their environment changes dramatically, so explain to them what will happen, what to expect on the plane, at the destination, and make sure to highlight what will be fun for them as this will ease them into this unfamiliar experience.
Bring familiar items your kids are attached to; a favorite blanket, book or toy, to make sure they have anchors during this period.
Prepare small rewards during the trip to give out. Every few hours on the plane, every day or so on the trip. And these could be really simple things you can get for cheap, but are small milestones kids can look forward to throughout your trip that get them engaged and excited.
Give your kids a camera, be it a disposable one, a used phone or an old digital one, and ask them to document what they find enjoyable on the trip. This will get them to be more engaged and excited about the experience, and helps them take in the sights better and sharpen their observation skills.
Put a paper with your full hotel address and contact info with your kids. In the unlikely event your child gets lost, especially if they are young, they will have an emergency contact to use to help others find you. They can keep it in their pockets, their belts, or even their shoes for really young children.
Mike Miller, Editor-in-Chief at Wilderness Times, on his top tips for traveling with younglings:
Traveling with kids is quite a task, as they can’t sit still for more than two hours at a time.
My boys are 6 and 2, and sitting still is not in their vocabulary.
That’s why I like to do some physical activities prior to hitting the road, and that way they spend the most part of the journey sound asleep. For instance, on our last trip to Cali, we went to Six Flags before continuing our road trip, and our boys slept through the entire car drive.
Keeping them still and occupied while traveling requires creativity. At some point, no toys or books are able to hold their attention.
In such cases, I need to improvise, and word games turn out to be the best. We also once spent 3 hours planning an alternative ending to Harry Potter, and it turned out to be a blast…
Besa Sumovic, travel addict and family travel blogger at Beaches and Babies, on budgeting for and saving money on your vacation:
Sign up for flight/hotel deal newsletters. TravelZoo, Airfare Watchdog, Secret Flying—they regularly send out deals for flights, hotels, and activities all over the world (gotta be quick but will save a lot).
Stay away from the action. If you stay at a hotel or rental a block or two away from the tourist areas you can save tons.
Check the tourism sites for the area you want to stay at. Many feature hotel and activity deals that aren’t advertised on the search engines (and come with extra perks!).
Be flexible with your dates. Fly during low/shoulder seasons, stay during the week instead of the weekend, look over the fare calendars for airlines/hotels and stay the dates that are least expensive, travel during the fall rather than the summer.
Leslie Stroud, travel blogger at 7 Wayfinders, on top tips for flying with children:
My husband and I have traveled full-time with our five children (ages 4-13) since May of 2018.
We just visited our 35th country as a family and have taken hundreds of flights across the world in that time.
When flying with children, especially young ones, it is important to stay calm and plan ahead. Children can sense stress and often match the parents’ energy, so projecting calm confidence is crucial.
Give yourself time!
When flying with children, you do not want to be late and rushing to your gate. Plan to arrive at the airport 3-4 hours before your flight. This will ensure you have ample time to get through security, use the restroom, gather your belongings, and ease that anxiety. Bring books, homework, or toys to entertain the kids while you wait.
If traveling with an infant, wear them into the airport in a carrier. While you will want to bring your carseat with you to the plane, it’s much more simple to wear your baby on your chest.
In the USA, TSA will (usually) not make you remove the carrier. This way you can simply walk right through the x-ray without having to wake baby up and maneuver them out of a car seat in a long line.
Airport security can be a stressful experience for anyone, but as a parent with young children, this is only amplified. You’ll have extra gear and extra bodies to manage.
Here’s a short security checklist:
- Detach your car seat from your stroller, if needed, and place it face-down on the belt.
- Collapse your stroller and get it on the belt, going straight into the machine.
- Put your diaper bag in a bin. Take out baby bottles, sippy cups, baby food packets, etc. and place them in a separate bin with all additional liquids and gels you might have (think diaper cream, lotion, etc).
Liquids for baby and airport security:
- While you traditionally cannot bring any drinks through airport security, you ARE allowed to bring them for a baby. This can include breastmilk, frozen breastmilk, water to mix with formula, formula, juice, cow’s milk, etc.
- Your liquids will be x-rayed, but you can request to skip this if you’d like. They are also tested with a paper strip in my experience.
It may be tempting to skip nap times before your flight in hopes that children will sleep through the flight. However, this often backfires and has the opposite effect.
Overly exhausted kids can become agitated and sleep LESS than rested kids.
When waiting at your gate, be sure to speak with an agent to get your car seat and stroller tagged to be loaded upon boarding. You don’t want to be fumbling to do this at the last second. This is also a great time to ask about family boarding and the airline’s boarding process. Most airlines allow families to board the plane first; take advantage of this!
Right before boarding begins, be sure to use the restroom one last time. Make sure your baby gets a fresh diaper, toddlers empty their bladder, and everyone washes their hands to remove airport germs.
Put important items and snacks at the top of your diaper bag for easy access. I often bring a large ziplock baggie full of snacks and small toys to store in the seatback pocket so I don’t need to stand up when it’s needed. I also always pack tylenol in an easily accessible location in case it’s needed. Sometimes I even give a dose prior to boarding just to play it safe.
For international flights, many airlines offer bassinets that hook onto the wall for infants and this is a great option if you don’t want to hold them for the entire flight.
This is, however, something you need to request when booking your ticket, so plan ahead! You also have the option of purchasing an extra seat and bringing your car seat. Children cannot be in the car seat during takeoff or landing and personally, I don’t find it worth the extra ticket cost!
Bring a bottle, pacifier, or nurse infants during takeoff and landing. Little ears can be very sensitive to the pressure change and the sucking motion helps alleviate that. Similarly, you can bring a sippy cup, sucker, or small snack for toddlers and older children.
Nothing gives parents more stress than the thought of their child crying during the flight.
Don’t let this deter you!
Believe it or not, most people don’t mind a bit and as mentioned above, losing your calmness will only make the situation worse.
We’ve occasionally brought small gift bags to offer our immediate seat neighbors.
This can be as simple as a few treats, earplugs, and a quick note thanking them in advance for their patience. The small gesture goes a long way in boosting others’ patience and calming your guilt!
Ultimately, don’t stress and overcompensate if your child does start fussing. You are the expert with them, so use your typical soothing methods and stay calm! The crying or the flight will end eventually!
Angela Rice, Co-Founder at Boutique Travel Advisors, on budgeting for your family vacation:
Evaluate which activities are best with a guide and which can be done self-guided. This is a great way to maximize your experiences while saving money.
Do not assume that taxis/Ubers will save you money. Not only do pre-arranged transfers provide a higher level of service, but they typically lock in the price. Traffic and delays can easily run up the cost of a taxi. Additionally, you are at risk of not being able to find a driver and/or vehicle that can accommodate your family right on the spot. Working with a trusted transfer company also provides an element of safety especially when traveling in a foreign country,
When choosing a hotel or resort, look for properties that offer accommodations designed for families. For example, in Europe, rooms that occupy three and four persons, as well as adjoining rooms, are scarce. However, there are properties who are catching to the type of room configurations desired by families, including two bedroom configurations.
Travel outside of peak season. This can be challenging when you have school aged children, but if your children are under the age of five and not quite in school yet or in college, you will save and avoid crowds if you travel outside of peak season.
Tip upfront. This doesn’t sound like a way to save money, but trust me, you will be rewarded if you take good care of those servicing you. I have found that when I am traveling with my family if we tip well, we have a much better experience. People will show gratitude in return for your generosity. Trust me, the tipping is worth it.
Travel with other families. This is a great way to take advantage of economies of scale. One guide shared by two families is less expensive than two guides needed for two separate trips. With another family, you may be able to justify renting a private villa where you can share in the expense. You might also find that a private villa offers greater privacy and an overall better way for the family to connect through travel.
Plan well in advance. Prices tend to go up as supply goes down. If you wait to book your rooms, you may find your desired property is sold out. Do not compromise your experience by having to choose your second or third choice due to price increases or no vacancy.
Paul Miller, Editor at FamilySkier, on traveling to colder destinations with kids:
Generally speaking, most families with kids err on the side of trying to do too much and be overbooked when they travel. Take it easy, and build-in plenty of downtime. Some of the best memories occur when you are just together, not necessarily doing a planned activity.
If traveling to a colder destination — like a ski trip — overpack on the clothing. You never know which clothes you will need to reach for, and 35 degrees and sunny feels a whole lot different than 20 degrees and windy. The two call for different clothing and base layer plans. Kids tend to quickly fizzle if they are too hot or too cold.
Keri Baugh, travel blogger at Bon Voyage With Kids, on budgeting and why you should let your kids help with the packing:
My favorite travel tip is getting kids involved in the packing.
I give my kids my “kids-carry on packing list” that I have for FREE on my blog, and they pack their own carry-ons with my recommended top items kids need in their carry-ons list.
Not only does this teach them responsibility, but it helps us out a lot! My kids also help pack their own suitcases and carry their own bags. It helps them become savvy travelers, contributes to the family, and teaches them responsibility.
When it comes to saving money, we recommend staying in Airbnb’s or hotels with kitchens/kitchenettes (like at Marriott Residence Inns), so that you can at least have breakfast in the room.
You can also have other meals in the room as well, especially if you bring some of your own road trip food.
Or have groceries delivered through Instacart.
Some hotels also have grills, so that keeps food costs down. This helps cut down on costs from eating out, although that is part of the fun of traveling too!
When we travel to Maui each year, we get a card from the hotel that gets us free desserts, two for one meals, and other discounts. I recommend reading through these if you get one and be sure to use it!
We also try to get an attraction discount card so that if we are seeing main attractions in a major city, we can save on entrance tickets.
For our kids, we have them bring their own allowance money or their Greenlight cards so that they can learn money management and it saves us money by splurging on souvenirs for them.
Justin Carmona, travel blogger at Go The Adventure Way, on staying local and exploring the state parks:
When we started traveling we started local. We have a pretty great state park system in North Carolina and we began to plan day, weekend, and week-long trips around the various state parks. We learned a ton about traveling and about our state by doing this. When we completed the 41 parks in North Carolina we decided to move on to the National Parks.
Now, we plan our family vacations around visiting National Park units across the country.
Sometimes we fly to different places and rent a car. Other times we just get in the car and head off for a massive road trip.
By doing this, we are able to see parts of the country we never would have been to before, get a really great sense of different communities and culture within the U.S., and see some pretty special places.
The life lessons our kid has learned is better than anything he could learn in school. He has been to the places that shaped America, the Civil Rights movement, battlefields, and presidential houses. He loves it. One more thing to check off of our National Parks Passport Book and get a Junior Ranger badge from.
So, for us, the way we pick our family vacation destinations is by seeing what is next on the National Park list. With 424 units, there is always another one to see and explore!
Lanie van der Horst, travel blogger at Make More Adventures, on top packing tips when traveling with kids:
I prefer to pack light and only bring what the adults can carry.
My kids are 5 and 7 and it is not worth all of the whining. If I travel alone with the children, we pack in one bag (carryon or check in depending on our destination, length of visit, and time of year as winter clothes take up more space). If my husband comes with, we can pack more.
We are currently in Australia where we moved in October 2020. The move isn’t permanent, but we expect to be here a year-ish. We brought 3 check in suitcases and 1 carryon suitcase so that we did not need help.
I have a large duffle bag on wheels that turns into a backpack which is perfect for traveling with kids. I purchased it pre kids when I was traveling through Europe and Asia, after I got tired of backpacking, but sometimes needed to carry my bag over cobblestones or up many flights of stairs. Now, I can easily put it on my back if I need to hold my children’s hands.
Packing cubes are mandatory. I love them for organization, and space saving. You just need to be careful that you do not put in so many things that you need to pay for a heavy bag. Each person gets their own packing cube so that it is easy to hand out clothes. You can also pack by day/event by putting everyone’s clothes for that day in the same packing cube.
Oliver Froese, travel blogger at Ačiū, on whether or not you should take a stroller and car seat with you on a flight:
Should You Bring a Stroller?
If you are going to bring a stroller, get a cheap umbrella-type stroller. Airlines will allow you to pack all kinds of extra kids’ stuff. Your beautiful double stroller with all the bells and whistles will get abused by the baggage handlers. It’s also just another cumbersome item to deal with while you travel.
Are you travelling to Europe? A stroller is not fun on cobblestone, and your kid will not sleep well getting shaken like a paint can. At least with a cheap umbrella stroller, if the cobblestone wrecks it, you can leave it behind.
When we travelled to Europe with our 2.5-year-old, we brought an umbrella stroller and a baby carrier. After a couple of days, we only used a baby carrier. The cobblestone, crowds, and subways just made the stroller awkward. We found it easier to pack the baby carrier, or even just wear it.
What about bigger kids that can’t be carried? Again, opt for the umbrella stroller. Try and get your kids to walk as much as possible and plan your day with breaks. Kids are tougher than you think. Get them accustomed to walking at home.
Should You Bring a Car Seat?
Taking your trusted car seat might be something you are considering. Here’s what you need to know.
If your car seat is bulky, it is difficult to fit in the airplane seat. If you are seated in a window row, the car seat must be against the window. This rule is an airline safety rule. They don’t want that the car seat blocks your exit in the event of an emergency.
It is not easy to get the seatbelt through the car seat bottom and difficult to tighten it with the car seat against the window. Ask for a seatbelt extension. All planes should have these. They make the seat belt longer so that you can pull it through the car seat and tighten the belt.
If the plane has three seats as a middle row, the car seat has to go in the middle seat. These middle rows are one of the best locations for a car seat on a plane. It’s easier to set up, and parents can sit on either side.
You can get attachments that strap or clip to the car seat, which gives the car seat a handle like a suitcase. This attachment makes it easy to transport the car seat, with your child in it, through airports.
Car companies all rent car seats for kids. If you decide not to bring one, you can always rent one. Now you have one less thing to carry.
Alexandra Fung, Co-Founder of Upparent, on the importance of proper preparation before your trip:
As with many things in life, and especially when kids are involved, preparation is key to making family travel go as smoothly as possible!
Whether you are flying or taking a road trip, it will help if you plan ahead for snacks, entertainment and unexpected surprises along the way.
Be sure you have several snack options on hand that you can easily pass back and forth as kids get hungry, balancing as makes sense for your family between sweet and salty “treats” that are part of the fun of travel, and healthier, more substantial options to nourish and fill their bellies.
For entertainment, there are plenty of great travel toys for kids, with Mad Libs and writing tablets being perennial favorites among parents.
It’s also a good idea to have some audiobooks handy for the whole family to listen to in the car, or which kids can listen to on a plane, as well as car games to play together (think, the alphabet or license plate games), and conversation starters. A good list of kid jokes never hurts, either!
Pack an extra set of clothes for each child in a readily accessible travel bag for unexpected spills and accidents, and no parent has ever regretted having an extra plastic bag or two handy, just in case!
Amelia Morgan, travel blogger at TravelingSam.com, on traveling internationally with children:
I’m a single mom who travels full time with my toddler. We are currently slow traveling through South America. Both of my tips are for Americans traveling internationally.
My top tip is to make color photocopies of your passport and your kid’s passports when traveling. Having photocopies allows you to carry the information with you everywhere without risking damage to your actual passport book. Leave that in your hotel or Airbnb.
The reason you want to carry your kid’s passport is because you want to have documentation if you are ever separated. Especially if the resemblance isn’t obvious. You always want to show a security guard or any official proof that they are your kids.
My second tip is to have a photocopy of your kid’s birth certificate. Parental abduction, child abduction and child trafficking is real and taken very seriously. In some international airports you will have *everyone* along the way asking to prove you are the parents or have permission if there is only one of you.
Phil Dengler, Co-Owner of The Vacationer, on budgeting and saving money when planning a family vacation:
Make Saving Money a Game
The absolute best way to save money on family vacations is to turn it into a game for your kids.
Give them a set dollar amount before the trip begins ($5 or $10) and then another dollar or two per day.
Tell them the money is theirs and they have to figure out the best use for it every single day, whether it be snacks, drinks, or souvenirs.
Instead of them asking you to buy things for them at every stop, they will decide if it is worth the money or not.
The amount of money given depends on the trip, so an initial $5 or $10 may not be enough. Adjust based on the location.
Pick the Destination First and Be Flexible on Dates
This is very important if you are flying somewhere. Instead of picking the dates and then booking a flight, pick the destination and then find the cheapest flights.
While it may require you to be flexible on dates, it is the best way to save money on airplane tickets. For those with kids, the savings add up even more since you may be buying three or more tickets. Use Google Flights to search.
Use Undercover Tourist for Disney Tickets and Other Popular Children’s Theme Parks
The best place to buy discount Disney tickets is at Undercover Tourist. I always use it to buy my tickets when visiting Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, and it has saved me a ton of money.
For example, the official Disney World website charges $927.14 for 1 Adult and 1 Child 5-Day Ticket with Admission to 1 Park Per Day Valid any 5 days from Sun, Aug 22, 2021 – Sun, Aug 29, 2021. Undercover Tourist charges $895.69 for the same tickets for the same days.
Depending on the ticket and days, savings may be higher or lower, but prices are always cheaper on Undercover Tourist than the official Disney World website.
There are also always additional offers for more savings, such as adding more tickets or booking a hotel.
In addition to Disney World in Florida, Undercover Tourist also has discounted tickets for Universal Orlando, Seaworld (Orlando and San Diego), LEGOLAND (Florida and California), Disneyland, and Universal Studios Hollywood.
Pack Your Own Lunches and Snacks if Possible
While some places may not allow outside food, I recommend packing lunch for the entire family when traveling if possible.
Food and restaurant prices are marked up considerably at tourist destinations, so it is in you and your wallet’s best interest to pack PB&J sandwiches and chips for the entire family.
If you have a hotel or house with a kitchen, take it a step further and cook breakfast and dinner for even more savings.
Hoang Anh “Christine” Le, travel blogger at Luxury Under Budget, on using free kids clubs at hotels:
Look for hotels with FREE kids clubs and babysitters.
There are a lot of affordable hotels and resorts in Asia (Vietnam, Indonesia,…) and in Cancun, Mexico with free kids clubs. Some of them even include babysitters for free!
Depending on the hotel’s policies, the babysitters can watch kids as young as two years old. They are life savers for parents who want to have a romantic dinner by the beach or simply a kid-free day.
Jonathan Kinas, Co-Founder of AquaVault, on keeping your valuables safe when going for a swim:
You may remember us from SHARK TANK as the guys who had their valuables stolen while going for a swim…because of that nightmare, we invented the portable travel safe to lock up your valuables to your lounge chair when going for a swim.
With travel steadily increasing, more people are going to need a place to hide their cell phone and valuables when enjoying the outdoors (especially at the beaches and pools around the world).
Just lock our FlexSafe to your lounge chair or umbrella and secure it with our built-in 3-digit combination lock. This slash-resistant portable safe is the best way to protect your stuff from thieves and enjoy the peace of mind that has always been missing.
No more looking over your shoulder or having someone stay back to watch everyones stuff!
Nicole Hunter, travel blogger at Go Far Grow Close, on checking back on your reservation to save money:
My advice has to do with saving money. I always recommend that you book accommodation and a rental car as early as possible. In addition, make sure that you can cancel and you never pay in advance for either.
Hotel and rental car costs are based upon current and historical demand.
When you book early, you get to choose what you want at the price you are most comfortable paying rather than choosing from what is left over at a higher cost. In addition, since there is more supply available the earlier you book, you will likely pay less for your accommodation.
In the case of a hotel, for example, they are keen to start filling their rooms for the dates that you have selected and will more likely have better deals earlier than later.
The same argument rings true for rental cars.
After that, it is important to check back on your reservation every month or so. The reason is that if hotels and rental car companies are not seeing the historical demand that they normally expect for the dates in which you are interested, they will likely reduce their prices.
You want to be able to take advantage of those lower costs by modifying your reservation.
If you prepay or are not able to cancel your reservation, you lose the ability to take advantage of the lower costs.
On the other hand, if the cost of the rooms or the rental car increases because the hotels and rental car companies are seeing higher demand and increased bookings, you are protected from those increases with your early reservation.
More about our TFVG Author
A seasoned traveller, Dad, and avid sports tourist, James foundered The Family Vacation Guide to share his expert vacation experiences- especially when it comes to being a travelling family man.
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