Tips for Traveling with Children

Vacation. You’ve been looking forward to it all year, and the day is finally here. You load the last of the suitcases in the car, make sure the kids are buckled in, and head off on the blissful road to paradise. All goes well for a while. But then you hear an awful noise from the seat behind you and smell something wretched. Sure enough, one of the kids got carsick.

I’d like to say that’s a scene from a bad movie, but it’s a true story, and it happened to us on our last vacation. Traveling with kids is an adventure for sure! You never know what will happen, and you have to be prepared for anything and everything. Here are some tips to help you get ready for your next vacation with the kids.

Preparing to Travel

Pack extra clothes. Now is not the time to pack light. I tried that once, and the first night of our vacation, my son poured a glass of water down the front of his pajamas. I didn’t have another set. I haven’t packed light since.

Kids are notorious for getting wet, dirty, and sick. It’s important to be prepared with an extra set of clothes. If you’re staying somewhere with a washing machine, that’s a bonus, too! I don’t know how many hotel washing machines I’ve used since we’ve had kids, but it’s been quite a few.

Pack any medicine you think you’ll need. Make sure you have something for colds, headaches, fevers, upset tummies, motion sickness, allergies….anything your kids might come down with. Also make sure you have your insurance card and know your insurance provider’s rules for getting out-of-area care. The last thing you want to worry about if you have a medical emergency is whether you need pre-approval from your insurance company.

Pack lots of snacks. For some reason, kids like to eat a lot on the road. Pick some car-friendly snacks and drinks, so you have something to give the kids when they say, “Mooooom! I’m huuuuungrry!”

Pack a “car bag” for each of your kids to keep next to their seat in the car. Fill each bag with car-friendly toys to keep the kids occupied on the trip. I like Crayola Color Wonder markers for traveling. I look for them on clearance throughout the year, so I have them when vacation season comes. Handheld video games also work well, and if carsickness isn’t a problem, books are a good choice, too.

Make sure you have plastic bags, Febreze, and baby wipes easily available in the car. In the previously mentioned carsickness episode, I had all three on hand, and it made a side of the road cleanup a little easier. And the plastic bags are a MUST if you drive an SUV or minivan, where you can’t just throw the stinky clothes in the trunk of the car.

Getting to Your Destination

Make frequent stops. Kids don’t have the patience for long car trips. Rather than getting annoyed when they want to stop, make the most of it. Stop every couple of hours to walk around and take a potty break. You’ll all feel refreshed when you get back in the car.

Travel when the kids sleep. If you have the ability to stay awake at night, consider leaving for your destination at the kids’ bedtime. You’ll be driving while they sleep, so it will be quiet. An additional bonus is there’s typically less traffic on the road at night.

Play car games. Kids love games. My favorite is the ABC game, because it takes a while to finish. A great site for finding more travel games is MomsMinivan.com.

Give your child a map. Having a child follow the map as you travel will give them something to do, and it might stop the “Are we there yet?” questions.

At Your Hotel or Vacation Rental

Us your own pack-n-play, rather than the hotel’s porta-crib for your baby’s bed. I’ve seen some pretty shaky looking hotel porta-cribs. Some may not be safe.

Do a quick childproofing of the room when you arrive. Place outlet covers in the outlets, and make sure there aren’t any cords in reach for your child to pull.

Consider booking a suite or renting a vacation home. Our family gets stressed in a regular hotel room, because our kids need to go to sleep before Jim and I do, yet they can’t fall asleep when we have the lights or TV on. Having separate rooms makes a world of difference.

If you get a hotel, make sure your room has a mini-fridge and microwave. If your kids are like mine, they’re always hungry, and it’s important to have quick snacks and small meals on hand. Having the refrigerator and microwave gives you more flexibility with what snacks you have available.

Activities

Don’t plan too much. When kids are tired and over-stimulated, they fall apart. Planning activities is great, but make sure you have plenty of downtime, so the kids can rest, too. If your kids still take naps, try to keep to their regular schedule.

Let your children plan some of the activities. If you let each child plan at least one activity, they’ll be less likely to complain when you’re doing something they don’t enjoy a lot. They will know their activity is coming soon and will look forward to it.

When it comes to traveling with children, the bottom line is to be flexible. Plan enough so the kids know what to expect, but be ready to change your plans if something unexpected happens.

Do you have any additional tips for traveling with children? Any funny stories? Please share!



Author

By , on Jun 5, 2008
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.

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{13 Comments}

  1. Thank you. We’ll be road-tripping this weekend and this will make things go smoother.

  2. Lynnae:

    @Stephanie – Thanks for the tip on Better Bidding. I’ve never heard of them before, but I love Priceline prices!

    @Lee – We do have a vacation coming up in about a month. I plan on writing more about that later, but I just booked our vacation rental yesterday. For all the amenities we have access to, it’s definitely a bargain on a standard hotel room!

  3. Lee:

    You’ve got a vacation coming up, don’t you? Will you be renting a cabin or something similar? We haven’t tried this on a vacation…usually we’ve stayed in a hotel room with the kids. The last vacation was a bit crowded in the room with all 5 of us. My teenage son just brought a sleeping bag for the floor, and the girls slept in one bed, while my husband and I slept in the other. Sometimes, the little one, who was 4 then, would climb in the bed with Mommy and Daddy. Not a very relaxing evening! Anyway, we’ll have to check into a rental of some kind, for more space for all of us, assuming we go anywhere for vacation this summer. So far, looks like I’m paying for car repairs and such, instead:/

  4. S.B.:

    Thanks for the tips. We are planning on taking our daughter, an almost 10 month old on a 7 hour drive for vacation and we be using some of your tips!

  5. Stacy:

    For our car-sick son we have an ice-cream bucket lined with a plastic grocery bag. When he gets sick (pretty much a when, not an “if”) he knows to use the bucket. We can then easily remove the dirty bag, discard, and replace it with a fresh one. This has proved to be a very tidy technique! We also keep a roll of paper towels handy when we travel.

  6. Stephanie:

    Thanks! For hotels, I use Better Bidding to get great Priceline hotel rates. I pray for favor before check-in, then ask for a room with a microwave and fridge. In response, God provided a hospitality suite (flat screen TV in the bathroom!) for regular price. Another time we received a newly-remodeled 3*-quality room in a 2* hotel.

  7. Caveman:

    Perfect timing! We will be taking another trip at the end of this month with our daughter.

    Traveling with an 18 month-old is difficult since most of the normal diversions don’t work on them. We found the best thing we could do was to make sure the snacks and drinks were always available if she was awake. It caused us to have to make a few extra stops for diaper changes, but it kept her happy when she grew bored of staring at the scenery.

  8. I really agree on separate bedrooms. If we can’t afford a suite or a vacation rental, we think carefully about everyone sharing a room for more than one night. Otherwise, it won’t be much of a vacation for the adults!

  9. great post! we have a 1000-mile trip coming up and i’ll refer back to this.

    two more ideas:
    get some brown paper bags and some cheap toys/snacks from the dollar store. put a toy inside and staple shut. hand out these grab bags when the natives get restless.

    we always try to get a hotel suite (we love country inn and suites) and we also bought small indoor pop-up tents (one for each kid). when they are inside the tent they don’t see all the new and interesting stuff in the hotel room and they go to sleep. my husband and i get to watch a little tv before we go to sleep. this has been our biggest lifesaver when we stay in a hotel.

  10. Wish I had this list a week ago! We took a five hour road trip to see a family member graduate and visit family we haven’t seen in a couple years. It was a lot of fun, but it was a L-O-N-G drive with two kids! Killing time in the hotel room was even more of a challenge.

  11. Great article! I’ll be referring to it as we get ready for our 1500 mile drive with 2 kids under 4 next week. Whee!!!

  12. Oh my! The things I have to look forward to!
    I got a little tired just reading through them all! :)
    These are great tips, and I hope to keep them in mind if I should need them in the years ahead.

  13. I posted a list of frugal kids travel tips that we use a few days ago–http://untraditionalhome.com/?p=709. Your suggestion of taking extra clothes is true )the messy part) though I always try to pack in outfits and only have a few extras, otherwise my kids end up losing them before we get home.

    And not planning too much is absolutely key.

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