8 Tips for Hassle-Free Family Travel
By Tanni Haas
A family vacation is a wonderful opportunity to take a break from our busy, daily lives and do fun and exciting things together. But how do you ensure the vacation ends up being as relaxing as you’d hoped? Based on my own experiences as well as conversations with other parents, I’ve pulled together a list of ten keys to a stress-free family vacation.
Take it slowly. If you want to have a stress-free vacation, take it slowly and leave plenty of time for everything. If you’re flying somewhere and need to be at the airport two hours before departure, give yourself an extra hour. If you’d originally planned to visit two or three local attractions a day, spread them out over two or three days. Schedule some downtime every day. A good rule of thumb is that the pace of the trip should be set by what your youngest kid can handle.
Pack only the absolute essentials. Don’t do what our family used to do, which was to lug around heavy suitcases. Even in the smallest of towns, chances are you can buy most things that you need. It’s always a good idea, however, to pack emergency essentials like a first aid kit as well as over-the-counter-medication for colds, headaches, motion sickness, and upset stomach.
Bring plenty of snacks. One exception to this “rule” is to pack lots of nutritious snacks. Kids get cranky or “hangry” when they need something to eat and they need it ASAP! Snacks will keep the kids satisfied at all times, and the truth is that you never really know when you’ll be able to feed them their next proper meal. Whether you’re waiting in line at the airport or you’re stuck in traffic on the highway, snacks always come in handy. Sometimes, you may arrive at your destination only to discover that the kids don’t like, or won’t even try, any of the local food.
Bring entertainment, lots of it. In an ideal world, the kids will spend hours quietly looking out the car window, mesmerized by what they see, or be so excited to be on a plane that they won’t need any other entertainment. That’s rarely the case, though. Kids often get bored by things adults find fascinating, and vice-versa. So, pack lots of distractions, such as tablets loaded with their favorite movies and games.
Make reservations in advance. Most people like to be spontaneous. There’s nothing more satisfying than doing what you want to do whenever you feel like it. But, when it comes to vacationing with kids, uncertainty can also be stressful. Consider pre-booking not just your transportation and hotel, but also the local attractions you want to see and restaurants where you want to eat. When things are booked in advance, you can just relax and enjoy each other’s company.
Let the kids own the trip. Kids can get restless and needy when they’re taken out of their usual routines, constantly asking what they’ll be doing next and why. One way to avoid this from happening is to include them in planning the trip, from choosing the destination to discussing how best to get there and what to do when you arrive. When kids take joint ownership of the vacation, everything becomes so much more fun and exciting to them.
Split your duties. One of the best things you can do for yourself and your partner is to divide the labor. Instead of trying to do everything yourself, which can be stressful, take on different responsibilities or rotate them during the trip. For example, one of you can be responsible for making restaurant reservations, and the other for figuring out how to get to and from the hotel and local attractions.
Keep everyone safe. It can be hard to keep track of the whole family. If the kids have their own smartphones, make them download tracking apps so you always know where they are. For younger kids, write down your contact information and secure it in a safe, concealed place on their body, like sewn into a pant pocket. When you’re boarding a local bus or train, decide who’s going on first and who’s going on last to ensure that no one gets left behind.
Tanni Haas, PhD, is a college communications professor.