How to Travel With Your Kids (Mostly) Stress-Free
Entrepreneur in Residence, parenting pro and mother of four, Rosie Pope shares her advice.
There are people who travel the world with their kids by plane, train and automobile, exposing them to culture and diversity, raising world citizens and seemingly having fun in the process. Then there are parents who say a vacation with kids is no vacation at all. I think there’s a happy medium in between. With a little forethought and planning, you can take the vacation your whole family wants (and probably needs!). Follow my guide to planning a relaxing, fun trip with your family this summer!
1. Consider your child’s age
Newborns are surprisingly easy
Contrary to popular belief, if you have confidence, travelling with a newborn, especially a breastfed one, can be very easy. They require relatively little gear, and what they do need is small anyway. That said, if you’re an anxious parent, it may not be for you.
Toddlers, not so much
Nine months to three years are the toughest ages to travel with, because it’s hard to get them to sit still and find activities that will engage them for long periods of time. Still, as long as you’re fully equipped with entertainment, you’ll do just fine. If you have screen time rules, travel is a good time to ease up on them. It's a vacation, after all!
Kids over four are little travel pros
Children at this age, especially those used to travelling, do remarkably well and can even start to help you on the trip. Plus, it’s adorable how they enjoy the journey as much as the vacation itself!
2. Pick your destination
Seek out destinations that offer options
You never know exactly how your children will react to things or what they’ll find engaging, so a vacation that offers variety is a safe bet. Small cities with kid-friendly attractions, consistently good weather and nearby activities (a beach, golf, sporting events) are good ideas. Both the east and west coasts have some amazing destinations that fit the bill—from Charleston to San Diego.
Think about what your child will absorb
There are so many important places to visit within the US and in the world, but if your kids aren’t old enough to remember the experience or really take it in, you may want to stick with less culturally significant trips for now. I, apparently, went to Rome, among many other European cities, as a child—sadly I remember nothing of them!
Don’t overdo it
Kids love routine; they love home. Vacations can be lots of fun, but if they’re too long, they can become hard for little kids—and for you. I always think it’s better to leave a trip wishing you could stay a few extra days than dying to get home. Seven to 14 days is a good amount of time; it’s long enough to justify the travel, get into the new routine and relax, but not so long that it throws the kids off and leaves you searching for things to do.
3. Choose the right accommodations
It’s often more economical and allows you to cook your own food. It’s also the easiest way to get some couple time during your vacation, because it gives you the ability to put the kids to bed and then spend time together without waking them up or tip-toeing around them. They also tend to have a washer/dryer, which saves suitcase space because you can pack half the amount of clothes and do laundry mid-trip. Hotels are fantastic for their amenities, but privacy is hard to come by unless you squeeze onto the balcony or eat room service in the bathroom (both of which my husband and I have done!). The ideal rental accommodations have access to amenities similar to a hotel or a resort—think, beautiful grounds, a great balcony, a pool or a hot tub.
4. Figure out travel logistics
Avoid the waiting game
Choose modes of transportation that are the least likely to experience delays or be unreliable. Think carefully about how early you arrive at airports, train stations and so on—you don’t want to be rushing to your gate, but you don’t want to spend hours just waiting, either.
Pack healthy snacks
Keep any food you bring on your travels as similar as possible to what your kids eat at home to avoid queasy stomachs or sugar-induced hyperactivity. It’s tempting to give your children treats and candy on a trip, but try to limit it to those moments when you really need to distract them.
Bring your own entertainment (and lots of it!)
You know your child—and the length of time they can focus on one thing—best. Use those guidelines to plan your trip like a school day with activities, down time, eating time, stories and so on. Moving them from one thing to the next will keep them better occupied. Having said that, as a parent of four, sometimes there is nothing better than putting on a movie. Ration certain types of entertainment, like movies, the week or two before your trip so that it’s extra special and captivating when you put one on. (If you’re lucky, they’ll want to watch it over and over before you get to your destination!)
Help them avoid jet lag
Kids often adapt much better than adults do to changes in time zones. During your travel day, make sure their bedtimes and wake-up times are as close to the new timing as possible. Exposure to a safe amount of sunlight is also important to help your little one’s internal clock adjust. Surprisingly, babies are similar. Don’t over think it—tell your kids the new time and stick to it without bringing up “back home time.”
5. Arrive prepared
Find out what will be provided
Ask your rental host or hotel what kid stuff will be provided at your destination (i.e. cribs, sheets, toys). Get specifics like brand names and models to make sure you’re comfortable with what they’ve got. Also, look into renting things like car seats, especially if you’re travelling with multiple children whose car seats are no longer part of their strollers. Just keep in mind that you may not get to choose the brand and you will almost certainly be the one who has to install them with no instruction manual.
Speak up at security
The TSA can be kinder than you’d expect to parents traveling with kids, but you must speak up. They may allow you to bring liquids, foods and other goods through security with you. They’ll be subject to additional testing (so plan your time accordingly), but you most likely won’t be required to throw them away and purchase new ones on the other side.
Have the essentials delivered
When you travel within the US, you can order supplies like diapers and wipes on Amazon and have them delivered to your hotel room or rental. That way, you don’t have to carry them on your travel days or worry about finding a place to buy them at your destination.
Depending on your destination, there are local companies that deliver toy bundles for rent, so you won’t have to travel with them and the kids get to play with something new for a week. Make sure to read as many reviews as possible to ensure that the cleanliness and quality of the toys is up to par.
Bring sound machines and a monitor
They’re worth bringing if your child uses them at home; the sound machines help create a sleeping environment similar to what they're used to, and the monitor will allow you to relax.
6. Fit in alone time
Get separate-but-together accomodations
Plan for a date night in at your rental. If you're staying in a hotel, get adjacent rooms with a connecting door in between; you can put the kids down in one room and hang out alone in the other (just leave the door between the two rooms open and don’t go any further away from them than that). Book a room with a balcony and enjoy grown-ups-only room service and wine al fresco.
Squeeze in me time
Talk to your partner about the possibility of splitting up to give each other time alone. Take the kids out alone for an afternoon while your partner gets a massage or reads by the pool, and vice versa.
Above all, surrender to the adventure. Your kids won’t be this young forever—underpants on heads won’t amuse them forever, falling asleep at 8 p.m. with your kids to the sound of the ocean won’t happen forever—so enjoy it while you can.