Traveling with your whole family can be overwhelming. Even though it gets easier the more you do it, you’ll run into challenges any time you travel with kids.
Being prepared is one of the best things you can do to make family travel go smoothly. But there are lots of little things you can do to save you some time, money, or stress on your next trip.
Here are the tips we think are the most useful and easiest to implement when traveling with kids.
General Family Travel Tips
1. Take It Slow
Planning for extra time is the opposite of what many solo travelers do. But it’s exactly what you need to do if you are traveling with kids.
When traveling with your family, everything will take longer than you expect, including:
Be sure to get to the airport early and leave plenty of time for things to go wrong. You don’t want to miss your flight because it took an extra 10 minutes to get your stroller and bottles through security. Then you are stuck at the airport waiting to be rescheduled with unhappy children — not fun!
And leaving extra time applies to all parts of your trip.
When you’re traveling with kids, you may not be able to squeeze 4 museums, 3 restaurants, a walking tour, and a bike ride all in the same day. It’s ok to slow down and do less.
Bottom Line: Keep your schedule loose and leave plenty of room for adjustment. A flexible schedule will create less stress for you and your family and lead to a happier trip overall.
2. Don’t Overpack
Parents have a tendency to pack everything kids use at home. You might think bringing familiar items will keep your routines consistent and you’ll be sure to have everything you need. At the end of a long day, though, there is a good chance you will end up carrying at least 1 kid. And you don’t want to be carrying 100 pounds of luggage, too.
Instead, pack as little as possible. The act of traveling itself will mess with your home routines, so trying to preserve all of them isn’t going to work anyway. It will just lead to frustration and a sore neck.
If you find you’re missing something you need, you can always buy it at your destination. It may be a bit more difficult in less-developed countries, but most places you would take your kids will probably have the essentials you need to care for them.
Bottom Line: The less you bring, the easier it is to pack, the less you have to carry, and the more room you have for souvenirs.
3. Prebook Everything You Can
You might be used to showing up at a destination, getting a feel for the town, and picking a place to stay. This doesn’t work with kids.
When you arrive in a new place, you’ll want to go straight to your lodging, drop off bags, and give the kids a chance to rest. This is especially true if it’s been a long travel day. So prebooking your accommodations is important.
If you want a bit of flexibility in location, book the first night or 2 ahead of time and decide where to stay for the rest of the trip once you’re settled.
Anything you can book ahead of time is 1 less thing you have to worry about while trying to keep your whole family fed, amused, and happy on your trip.
And don’t forget to use the right credit card for your prebooked flights, hotels, and activities. To help you out, we created this great list of the best credit cards to use to help you maximize your family travels.
Hot Tip: In addition to lodging and flights, items you can book ahead of time include private and public transportation, sightseeing tours, private guides, and tickets for museums, theme parks, and other attractions. Prebooking gives you more time to relax and enjoy your destination when you get there.
4. Outline the Trip for Your Kids
Introducing kids to the trip plan ahead of time is especially important for first-time travelers.
When kids are uncomfortable, they aren’t happy, which can happen if there are too many new things going on.
In reviewing the trip plans, your kids will know what to expect, and as a result, will be more comfortable with what’s going on around them. This can include telling them what they can expect at the airport, on the plane, and once they arrive at the destination. You can even go over your expectations for their behavior throughout the trip.
Bottom Line: Once your children understand what’s going on, they are less likely to ask questions while you’re trying to take care of travel logistics. They will be happier, more comfortable, and excited about what’s coming next.
5. Snacks, Snacks, Snacks
Hangry kids can take a fun family trip to miserable in a matter of minutes. Always have snacks available for your kids!
You never know how long you might have to wait between meals. There could be a delayed flight, unexpected traffic getting to your hotel, or a tour that takes a bit longer than you thought it would.
In addition, the food at your destination may be different than what your kids usually eat. They may happily order lunch and only eat 2 bites because it wasn’t what they were expecting … and then be ravenous an hour or so later.
And don’t forget adult snacks, too! Adults can get just as hangry as kids.
Bottom Line: Having a stash of snacks with you at all times can keep everyone happy until you can refuel.
Investing in good gear doesn’t mean you need to have Tumi bags for your whole family. You don’t need to have the best and most expensive version of everything.
Buying quality gear means investing a little bit more for a great travel stroller that’s lightweight, folds up, and will hold up while pushing your child all over the city. The same goes for a travel car seat. If you can spend a few dollars extra for a seat that weighs 2 pounds instead of 5, you should.
Look at the items you’ll be purchasing for your trip and figure out which features will make your life easier while you’re traveling. Also, take into account how many times you’ll be using that item.
If it will make things easier and you’ll use it a lot, it’s worth a greater investment. You’ll be thankful for quality gear when you aren’t fighting to get a super-heavy bag in and out of a taxi at the end of a long day.
Hot Tip: Looking for great gear recommendations? Check out the Family Friendly section of our travel product reviews page.
7. Ask for Discounts
Asking for child discounts can really save you a lot of money every time you travel.
You’ll be shocked when you realize how many places offer discounts for children.
Ask for discounts on:
- Transportation, including buses and trains
- Private guides
- Attraction entrance fees
- Restaurants (some have kids eat free promotions)
Sometimes, you can find child pricing on the company’s website, but just as often, there is no mention of a discount. Even when there’s nothing written, be sure to ask. A quick email ahead of time or a simple question when you’re buying tickets can save you as much as half of the cost when traveling.
Bottom Line: You never know unless you ask. We’ve found that businesses are often willing to give discounts to kids.
8. Accept That Things Will Go Wrong
This point can’t be overstated, so we’ll address it again.
When you travel with kids, THINGS. WILL. GO. WRONG.
Maybe your little one has to go to the bathroom and you end up missing a bus. Maybe your teenager will leave his iPhone in a taxi in Barcelona with no way to get it back. Maybe you find a great restaurant for kids at your destination, only to arrive and find it closed for renovations.
There’s really nothing you can do to avoid these situations. The sooner you accept the inevitable, the less stressed you’ll be when it happens.
Bottom Line: Remember, travel is an adventure. Even if it has a few speed bumps, the experience you’re giving your kids is irreplaceable.
Safety and Security
Hot Tip: We’ve created a fun infographic of 30+ ways to stay safe while traveling. You’re bound to pick up a tip or 2 from it!
9. Keep Track of Your Child
Keeping track of your child seems obvious, but it’s important enough to mention. No matter what you’re doing, whether things are going smoothly or you’re having a logistical nightmare, kids will be kids.
You may be surprised how easy it is to get wrapped up in something and next thing you know, your child has wandered to the shop in the train station to check out candy bars.
If you’re traveling with another parent or adult, share duties. One person buys the tickets and the other watches the kids. If you’re traveling alone with the kids, hold their hands or have them sit in your line of sight while you take care of business.
Even the most vigilant parent can lose track of children. If your children are prone to wandering off, consider using a small GPS tracker that you can attach to their shoes or belt. The tracker will alert you if your child gets too far away and will let you track them to see exactly where they went. And it will give you peace of mind.
10. Give Kids Your Contact Information
If a child gets lost despite your best efforts, you’ll want them to have your contact information.
Your contact information should include the following items:
- Phone number
- Email address
- Local address
For young children, the best way to share contact information is with a note in one of their pockets. If they don’t have pockets, tie a little card to their belt loop or stick it in their shoe. Don’t be afraid to get creative, but make sure your child knows where to find it.
Help older kids memorize your phone number and email address. If they need the local address where you are staying, write it down for them or have them put the information on their phones. We all know a teenager isn’t going to go very far without their phone.
11. Travel With Basic Medicines
One of the easiest ways to ruin a day of travel (or possibly an entire trip) is to have a sick family member. It can be even worse if the whole family gets sick.
Whether your child has an upset stomach from the bumpy bus ride or you discover you’re allergic to a certain type of tree pollen, you want to be prepared.
It’s always a good idea to take a few over-the-counter medications with you. Consider things like:
- Headache medicines
- Allergy medicines
- Medicine for upset stomachs
- Motion sickness prevention medication
If anyone in your family takes prescription medication, be sure to bring that along, too.
Whenever possible, take your medications in their original packaging, especially prescription medications. If you can’t take the original package, take a copy of the prescription so you can show exactly what your prescription is and why you have it. This can come in handy at border crossings and if your luggage is searched.
Before your trip, check regulations for your destination and confirm you’re allowed to enter the country with your medications without filling out additional paperwork or getting special permission.
12. Special Needs in Local Languages
Special needs might be straightforward for you to talk about and explain at home, but can be tricky if you’re traveling to another country and don’t speak the local language.
If anyone in your family has special needs, be prepared to talk about them while you’re traveling. Things you should be able to explain include allergies, special diets (such as vegan, vegetarian, soy-free, or gluten-free), and special physical or mental needs.
Aside from learning the local language, the best thing you can do is use an online translation tool to print out explanations of your family’s needs in your destination’s local language.
You can make cards in both English and the local language. These cards will be easy for you to hand to hotel staff, your waiter at a restaurant, or anyone else who needs to understand your special situation. This way, you can ensure your family gets the treatment you need and no one has to experience the discomfort of trying to explain a problem with hand motions or funny faces.
Hot Tip: If you are traveling to several countries with different languages, you may need a few sets of cards. Make a set for each language.
13. Identification Documentation
Always check the countries you are traveling to so you know if there’s any additional paperwork you need to cross borders with children.
Often, but not always, passports are all you need to travel with kids. However, some countries require you to carry each child’s original birth certificate to prove that you are the child’s parents and have the right to leave or enter the country with them.
Hot Tip: Don’t have your little one’s passport yet? Check out our detailed piece: How to Get a U.S. Passport for Your Baby [Step-By-Step].
Having the proper paperwork is especially crucial if you’re traveling without your child’s other parent or if you’re traveling with children who are not your own. In either of these cases, some countries may require that you have documentation, like copies of birth certificates or notes from the child’s non-present parents, to prove you have permission to travel with the child.
Sometimes the documents will need to be notarized and available in both English and the language of your destination.
That said, there’s a good chance you’ll never need to show additional documentation, even if it’s listed as required.
Bottom Line: It’s always best to be prepared. If you have any issues during your trip and need an identification form, you certainly want to have it ready to hand over. Before you go, be sure to check out our post about what ID and documentation your child needs to fly.
14. Bring a Car Seat
It’s no safer for your child to ride in a car without a car seat when you’re away from home than it is when you’re at home.
If you plan to rent a car and don’t know that you can get a car seat there, take a car seat with you. Most car rental companies have car seats, but you should confirm before your trip that there’s one available for your use.
If you can’t rent a car seat at your destination, buy a car seat that’s made for travel — one that’s light and easy to transport. It’s best if it can be used on the airplane, too.
Entertainment for Family Travel
15. Bring Electronic Devices
When traveling with kids, keeping them entertained can make the difference between a great trip and a miserable one. And one way to keep kids entertained is to let them use personal electronics during downtimes.
Appropriate times to use electronics could be on flights, car rides, in long lines, or while waiting for performances. Whether you use a tablet, a phone, or a video game system, your kids are sure to be amused.
Even if your home is typically electronics-free or you limit electronics, traveling is a time when you may want to let those rules slide for the kids. Having a personal electronic device can keep kids quiet and happy for long periods of time, especially if they are a novelty.
Hot Tip: Before you travel, make sure that you have plenty of apps, movies, or TV shows downloaded and ready to use. You never know when you’ll be without Wi-Fi and it’s almost guaranteed your kids will desperately need a new app or episode when that happens.
16. Bring New Toys and Books
Brand new toys they haven’t seen before or books that they haven’t read can captivate a kid’s attention. A vacation doesn’t have to be like Christmas, but a few small items can make a difference.
If you’re on an extended trip, think about buying small souvenirs at each stop. Your kids will get new toys and other items that they will love and be excited about for the rest of the trip.
To avoid lugging heavy books around, load some on electronic devices so if your kids have had enough game or movie time, they can read for a bit instead.
17. Pack a Special Toy
As cool as it is to get a new toy when traveling, too much new all at once can be overwhelming for some kids.
If your child is a bit of an anxious traveler, be sure to bring along something comforting from home to help them relax. A comfort item can be a favorite stuffed animal, small blanket, or favorite storybook.
If your child has an item they take everywhere with them when they’re at home, you don’t want to forget to pack it for your trip.
Bottom Line: You don’t want to spend your whole vacation answering questions and dealing with complaints about why Tommy the stuffed turtle didn’t come along for the trip. Bring their absolute favorite with you!
18. Give Kids a Camera
As soon as your kids are responsible enough, get them a small camera to use on trips.
Your kid’s camera doesn’t have to be fancy. You can get them a durable point-and-shoot camera, or even let them use the camera on an old phone of yours. If they’re too young for their own camera, you can still let them take pictures with your help using your phone or a bigger camera that you hold while they snap photos.
Having a camera can help your kids see the beauty in the landscape, the amazing features in the architecture, or the details of the crowds and bustle of the city.
They’ll enjoy showing friends and family the photos they took and photos help them remember the trip for years to come.
19. Bring a Travel Journal
A great way to get older kids to think more deeply about their trips is to get them a travel journal. Give them a journal and time each night to reflect on the day. Have them write down what they did that day, what they liked, and what they didn’t enjoy along with any general thoughts about the trip.
Keeping a journal will help them remember the trip in more detail and will also help them start to get a better idea of what types of things they like to do when traveling. This knowledge can help with planning future trips.
The journal itself can be anything. It can be a small notebook or a binder. If your child prefers, it can be electronic, recorded on a phone or laptop that they brought along. If you can find a cool journal early in your trip, it’ll also be a neat souvenir.
Traveling With Babies and Toddlers
20. Bring Plenty of Diapers and Wipes
When traveling with kids who aren’t yet potty trained, you should always bring more diapers, Pull-Ups, and wipes than you think you’ll need. Because if you only bring 1 diaper, you will need 2. And if you bring 2, you will need 3.
We suggest you bring 2 or 3 times more than what you think you will need and a full pack of wipes. It doesn’t hurt to have a few extra diapers at the end of the flight home, but it is awful to have too few.
The same thing goes for extra outfits. It’s wise to have an extra outfit for your child and a plastic bag (Ziploc preferably, to contain smells) to put the first outfit in until you can find a place to wash it.
21. Bring a Spare Outfit (For You!)
When you’re traveling with babies, always make sure you have an extra outfit packed and accessible, not just for your baby, but for yourself. There are plenty of opportunities for a baby to ruin your outfit.
It’s great if you can get your child into a clean diaper and new outfit. But the rest of that flight will be unpleasant for you if you have a wet or dirty shirt.
22. Pop Ears With Gum or Bottles
Babies and toddlers can have a hard time equalizing their ears on their own. Popping your ears can be necessary when taking off or landing on a plane, or even when changing elevation quickly on the ground.
Feeding your baby during these times can help relieve the pressure. The sucking motion will help their ears equalize naturally. Feeding will also distract them from mild discomfort if their ears take a little extra time to equalize.
Gum can be a big help as soon as your kids are old enough to chew it without swallowing. The chewing motion can help their ears pop naturally as you change altitude.
Hot Tip: Ear pain due to elevation change is one of the main reasons babies cry on planes, so try out a bottle on your next flight to minimize the issue.
23. Bring a Stroller and/or Sling
The debate between traveling with a stroller or a sling depends on your personal preferences and those of your baby, but here are a couple of guidelines to help you decide.
Think about the weather. If you’re going to a cold destination, keeping your baby close in a sling may help keep both you and your child warm. But if you’re traveling to a warm location, having your baby pressed up against you may lead to a sweaty, uncomfortable mess.
Consider the ground surfaces at your destination. A weekend tour in an old, historic town might be lovely, but pushing a stroller over cobbled streets won’t be. So a sling or backpack might be a better choice. If you plan to stay in a major city where the streets and sidewalks are in good shape, a stroller can be a great way to move your baby around as you explore.
In reality, there is no perfect answer to this question. Take a look at your plans and your destination and pick what you think will work best.
Bottom Line: Have the best of both worlds available by bringing a sling and a stroller on your next trip. Slings can be slipped in with your clothes and add almost no weight, and a travel stroller can fold down and be super light.
Flying With Kids
24. Strategically Plan Flight Times
For most destinations, there are several flight times throughout the day. Even if you need to make a connection, you probably still have a couple of options to choose from.
The pricing differences on those flights could dictate which flight you choose, but if prices are close, you should look at the flight times and compare them to your kids’ sleep schedules — including naps.
Young kids may have a set bedtime, for example. How do you think it will go if you keep them up 3 hours later? On the other hand, if you take an overnight flight right around their bedtime, they might sleep for the whole flight.
Letting your children sleep when their bodies want to relax will make them cheerier when it’s time to fly and will make it easier for you to get them on and off the plane.
Hot Tip: If you can’t pick times that work with your kids’ sleep schedules, don’t fret. Just try to get them as much rest before or after the flights or try to adjust their schedules as you get closer to the trip.
25. Schedule Longer Layovers
When you’re traveling with children, you don’t want to cut your connections too close. Leaving plenty of time for your layovers means you can take care of everything your family needs and still have enough time to casually walk to the gate for your next flight.
If somebody is hungry, you have time to sit down and eat. If the kids need to use the bathroom 3 different times, you have time for that too.
Bottom Line: Long layovers mean a little bit more waiting, but they can also mean a lot less stress. Nobody is rushing, nothing gets left behind, and everyone in your family is ready to settle in for the ride to your next destination.
26. Fly in a Premium Class if Possible
Nobody likes lines, especially when they are long and slow-moving.
Long airport lines are typically at check-in/baggage drop, security, boarding, and border control. But flying in first, business, or even premium economy can help minimize your wait times.
Premium passengers get their own line at check-in and baggage drop. Depending on the airport you’re flying out of, you may have an expedited security line as well. When it comes time to board, you’ll get to board first, giving you plenty of time to get settled and comfortable in your premium seats.
Flying in premium classes with your family is a great way to use your miles to make sure your travel is more comfortable, and you have a better chance of sleeping on long overnight flights than you would flying economy.
Hot Tip: Even better than reducing the check-in/baggage drop line is skipping it altogether. You can do this by taking care of your check-in online the day before. Travel with only carry-on bags, especially for short trips.
27. Enroll in a Trusted Traveler Program
To speed through security, get everyone 13 and up signed up for TSA PreCheck. TSA PreCheck will usually save you time, as you won’t need to remove laptops, liquids, shoes, or light jackets.
Children 12 and under can use TSA PreCheck lanes with registered adults, so they don’t need registration for family travel.
If you travel internationally often, enroll your family in Global Entry for border control when you return to the U.S. You can skip the long lines, use a kiosk, and quickly be on your way home. Global Entry membership covers TSA PreCheck, too.
Kids including infants need their own registration to use Global Entry.
No PreCheck or Global Entry? Review our guide to getting through security a bit easier and quicker — it’s got lots of helpful tips!
Hot Tip: Many premium credit cards offer a statement credit for the Global Entry application fee. When approved, Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck. If you’re a family of 4 and you and your spouse each have 2 of these cards, you can get your whole family signed up for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck for no out-of-pocket cost.
27. Have Your Kids Carry Their Bags
If you’re traveling with a baby or a very young child, they won’t be much help in hauling your family’s bags. But once your kids are walking well and a little bit older, they should be able to pull a rolling bag or carry a small backpack.
Travel with your family gets a lot easier as soon as you can get your kids carrying their luggage.
Don’t let your kids get used to you being their luggage service. Get them carrying what they can as soon as possible. Your kids will gain a bit of responsibility for your trip, and your back will thank you.
Hot Tip: Traveling only with carry-on luggage makes it easy to get through the airport, quick to get out at your destination, and keeps everyone in the family from overpacking.
28. Pack Comfortable Headphones
Some airlines provide passengers with cheap headphones to enjoy the personal entertainment offered onboard. They’re usually free on mainline carriers and typically cost a few dollars on low-cost airlines.
It’s likely, though, that they won’t work for your child. They will be uncomfortable, too loud, too quiet, or won’t stay in their ears.
Finding a pair of headphones that’s comfortable and fit well is important. Whether they’re watching inflight movies, playing games on their electronics, or listening to music as they try to fall asleep, a comfortable set of headphones will make your kids (and other passengers!) happier.
And they’ll come in handy after you’re off the plane. Bus rides, train rides, or even quiet time at your hotel are great times for your child to listen to music with their headphones.
At Your Destination
29. Schedule Downtime
Infants and young toddlers probably need daily naps. Older kids may be able to power through a long day, but may not be able to do that for several days in a row.
If your days are packed with activities, even the adults can get tired. Scheduling downtime helps keep your family refreshed and ready to explore, and it keeps everyone happier throughout the trip.
Downtime doesn’t have to be a nap. It doesn’t even have to be back at your hotel or apartment. Your family’s downtime could be:
- A few minutes of laying in the grass at a park
- A slow stroll along the river that runs through the city
- A movie at the local theater
- An hour reading books at the library
30. Take Public Transit
Public transit is fun for kids. Trains, subways, buses, trams, monorails, funiculars, tuk-tuks, rideshares, and public bikes can be thrilling. Every type of public transit provides a whole new type of travel.
It’s a great experience for your kids, especially when trying out a new type of transportation that they haven’t been on before. From what they see out of the windows to the people they see riding along with them, your kids will be able to experience the town just like the locals do.
Bottom Line: Using public transit in major cities is often quicker and cheaper than taking taxis or private cars from place to place. You save some money and a bit of time, and your kids get to experience something new.
31. Let Kids Pick Activities
As your kids get older, they will probably want to have more of a say in what you do when you are on vacation. Let them!
Remember, this trip isn’t just for you. This trip is for your kids, too, and if there are things they’re interested in, you should make an extra effort to include them in your plans. Consider giving your kids a list of 5 or 6 possibilities and tell them a bit about each one. If you give them some choices of places to see, they will often be happy to pick.
That way, everyone in the family gets a little bit of what’s perfect for them.
Your children will be more invested in the trip and excited about what you’re doing. Plus, it’s a great way to get them involved in planning at an early age.
32. Don’t Hotel Hop
For those of us who maximize loyalty programs, there are many reasons for switching hotels, like limited award availability, a promotion, or even just exploring the different hotels a city has to offer.
But when you’re traveling with your family, it’s best not to switch your lodging any more than you have to. If you’re staying in the same general area for your whole trip, you will be much happier if you stay at the same place for the entire time.
There’s a whole lot more to pack and unpack every time you move with kids. And you don’t want to have to bring your family back to the hotel every day to switch to a different place.
Your time with your family is much better spent exploring your destination.
Finally, there is a certain level of comfort that your kids will develop with each place they stay. The longer they are there, the easier it will be to relax, fall asleep, or be content lounging in their favorite spot.
33. Be Flexible
Lastly, but maybe most importantly, no matter how much time you’ve invested planning your trip, always remember to be flexible!
Things will go wrong, people will get cranky, places will be closed, and things will take more time than expected. If you spend your trip stressed out, that stress will work its way into every member of the family.
Instead, relax. Be flexible in your schedule. Keeping your family happy is the most essential part of any trip.
Bottom Line: Be flexible, go with the flow, and have a great trip with your family.
The biggest tip we can give for traveling with kids is to not put it off. Get out there and travel. Everything might not go according to plan, but your family will love seeing the world, and you’ll be planning your next trip before you know it.
Nothing opens children’s minds like new experiences, and you’ll get plenty of those through travel. From food to transportation, architecture, and landscape, everything you do will be exciting and new for your little ones.
Happy Family Travels!
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