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How to Travel with Your Kids: Making Family Adventures More Fun and Stress-Free

by Ashley
Published: Last Updated on 0 comment 263 views 32 minutes read

If you want to travel more with your kids, we can help!

Traveling with kids can be an incredible adventure, and with the right approach, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. By starting small and incorporating these practical tips, you can create amazing experiences and lasting memories for the whole family. 

Let’s explore how parents can confidently travel with their kids of any age, even if the idea may seem daunting at first. Traveling with children doesn’t have to be complicated; armed with the right tools and resources, you can create amazing experiences for the whole family. 

Let’s dive in so you can discover how to easily travel with your kids!

Start small and easy, the way you’re most comfortable.

When embarking on family travel, start with shorter trips or destinations closer to home. This allows you to gradually ease into the travel experience and build confidence. Once you and your kids feel more comfortable, you can gradually explore more adventurous destinations.

Travel with baby: Baby in hotel bed on first road trip

We did this with Skyler when he was around five months old. We took our first family vacation to Hilton Head, which is maybe a seven hour drive from Nashville. Because this was our first time road tripping with an infant, we didn’t want to add any stress to the trip. So we split it up into two days, stopping midway at a hotel outside of Atlanta. 

While we now would drive up to 10 hours in one go with Skyler, we did the exact right thing back then. I still remember his deafening cries during the last stretch of the trip when we sat in unexpected traffic for an hour as we arrived on the island. If that had been the end of a 7 hour trip, I think it would have shot my nerves. 

The rest of the trip was delightful! Skyler went to the beach for the first time, fell asleep floating in the pool, flirted with all of the waitresses, and made us laugh so much. We look back fondly on that trip. It gave us confidence in traveling as a trio. So give yourself some grace and take it easy in the beginning. 

Baby asleep in pool floatie while at hotel on vacation

Talk about the trip a lot on the front end to set expectations.

Travel with kids: mother shows young son a map on her phone
Skyler always wants to see where we are on the map. This is from our trip to Ek Balam, outside of Valladolid, Mexico.

Engage your kids in the trip planning process and discuss the upcoming adventure with them. By involving them from the beginning, you can build excitement and help them understand what to expect. Talk about the destination, activities, and new experiences they will encounter, which will make the journey more enjoyable for everyone.

We are just now getting to the age with Skyler to involve him in the planning of trips, but we have always talked about our plans extensively with him. Even when he was a little baby, unable to fully comprehend or respond, I would babble at him about what we were going to do that day, that weekend, that month. We rarely catch him off guard, wanting him to feel prepared and in the know for whatever new experiences may await him. As a result, Skyler is usually down for whatever we have planned and doesn’t get too stressed in unfamiliar situations.  

We also talk openly in front of him as we plan trips and tell him about all of the fun adventures we’ll have. We don’t plan day after day of high-excitement activities; that gets expensive and exhausting really fast. An “adventure” might simply be grocery shopping and a playground after dinner or going for a long walk with no particular destination in mind.

Meeting new people, visiting old friends, riding trains and boats and golf carts, seeing beautiful flowers or animals. We try to find the adventure in the ordinary, and as a result, Skyler gets a kick out of doing almost anything – as long as he’s with his favorite people! 

Plan activities for every member of the family to enjoy.

As expected, the types of activities we plan for our family have changed a bit from before parenthood. Our travel agendas include a lot more playgrounds (so. Many. playgrounds.) and a lot fewer cocktail bars. (If I’m being honest, I’m not even mad about it.) If we do too much that only the adults enjoy, it becomes evident very quickly; Skyler’s mood will shift, he’ll whine, demand more of our attention, and generally be kind of a bummer. That’s no fun for anyone. So we strive to balance our daily agendas with things that both parents and children will enjoy. 

Skyler wants to play and be pushed around looking at things. Justin wants to eat good food and drink good cocktails. I want to see new things and walk a lot. Nobody wants to get up early. Here are some example daily agendas from past trips where we accommodated each person’s needs or desires for the day. 

Actual agendas for traveling with a small child

TimeChattanoogaChicagoMichigan CityMontreal
MorningSleep in but wake up in time to snag some of the free hotel breakfast Sleep in, pick up coffee on the walk to the train stationSleep in and make coffee and enjoy a lazy breakfastsleep in (are you sensing a theme?) and make coffee
Mid-morningParents relax in hotel room while child plays with tabletWalk around Navy pier where husband buys a margarita to go and child wants to ride the escalator twenty timesroad trip to South Bend, IN and enjoy Howard Park’s amazing playgrounddont forget the stroller, take the train into the city and walk around Old Town and buy some art
Early afternoonLovely stroll around downtown where everyone acquires snacks and/or coffeeMaggie Daley playground and snackslunch at burger joint in Howard Park so child can play in splash padeat a tasty lunch at an overpriced tourist cafe
Late afternoonLovely stroll through the aquarium, where the child seems less impressed by the fish than parents wereRiver boat architecture tour where child sleeps the entire time and parents have snacks and drinkswander around Notre Dame’s campus where we forgot the stroller (whoops) and child complains about having to use his legs the entire timewalk around the city a bit, exploring at our pace, play at an awesome playground for a bit, walk to catch the bus to go up Mont Royal, eat ice cream at the lookout, take the bus back down, walk to the train station and head home
EveningNice dinner at local restaurant with craft cocktails where child constantly drops his blocks on the floor and the waiter is so kindDinner at family-owned Vietnamese restaurant where child eats nothing but white riceearly dinner at awesome local brewery where child sleeps the entire time; drive home during which child sleeps entire timeearly dinner at a neighborhood spot and a stroll home
NightFamily movie night sleepover in hotel bedSlightly later than usual bedtime, parents watch one of their showspre-bedtime golf cart joyridefamily movie chosen by the child

As Skyler gets older, his needs will change, his opinions will grow stronger, and we will have to allow more room for him in the planning process. He’ll get to help choose destinations and modes of transportation and how we spend our time. I can’t wait to see how our adventures evolve over time! 

Burn off as much energy before getting in a plane or car.

When traveling with kids, let them run around in the airport lounges, like this one.

Airplane rides and road trips can be challenging for kids. It’s not easy to be still and strapped in for long periods of time at that age. So it’s helpful to let them burn off excess energy before boarding a flight or getting in the car for several hours.

When we drive from Nashville to Sioux Falls, a trip we make every 12-18 months to visit family, we break up the drive. We also stop every couple hours to stretch and let Skyler get out his sillies. Many airports have children’s play areas. Some airport lounges also have kid zones. Escalators are a great way to pass the time. Take them for a walk up and down the terminal, allowing them to stretch their legs and tire themselves out. 

Do whatever you have to in order to let them expend some energy before being asked to sit in the same spot for a long period of time on the airplane or in the car. This will increase the likelihood of a smoother and more relaxed trip – for everyone! If you’re lucky, they’ll end up sleeping for a large chunk of it!

Pack less than you think you need.

As tempting as it may be to bring everything you think your kids might need, packing light is key to stress-free travel. Prioritize essential items and clothing, keeping in mind that you can purchase or borrow certain things at your destination if needed. Remember, less baggage means less stress and more flexibility during your travels.

If I’m being honest, I wrote this section for myself. I’ve always been an overpacker. Even though I *know* I can pack light; I have successfully packed for a 6 week trip in a carryon and a backpack! But kids, man. They require so much stuff. It can be easy to overdo it. So let me tell you (and Future Me!) that you do not need as much stuff as you think you do
On our first month-long trip to Mexico, when he was almost four, I was worried that Skyler would get bored at the apartment. So I brought along as many flat, lightweight, or small activities and books as I could fit within the luggage weight limits. When we got there, we went to the local Mega and Walmart to stock up on groceries, toiletries, and other necessities. At both stores, we bought some sort of toy or activity for him. And he played with some of it a few times. Some of the items he never touched. 

He entertained himself around the apartment and played in the pool in the courtyard. He played a lot of games on his tablet and watched a lot of Bob Esponja (one of the TV channels was 24/7 Spongebob Squarepants en espanol). When we went out to dinner, we took his little buddy backpack with his favorite quiet activities, including a miniature lite bright and the Melissa and Doug Water Wow booklets. 

When we spent two weeks in Montreal, doing a home exchange, we asked the family if they had any legos, figuring that would entertain Skyler. They did not, but asked around and sourced a big box from some friends who let us borrow them for the duration of our stay. He also entertained himself by going through the games he found in the house and chasing butterflies in the backyard. I bought a book of mazes at the local pharmacy, and allowed him to have more screen time than usual. I do not regret packing less entertainment for him because we were able to find plenty of options while on the trip. Plus, I had extra luggage space for my stuff 🙂 

Bring snacks and water.

Kids love snacks. All parents know to always have snacks on hand. But listen to me: bring more snacks than you think you need. YOU WILL ALWAYS RUN OUT OF SNACKS.  

Having snacks and water readily available is a lifesaver when traveling with kids. Pack a variety of healthy snacks they enjoy to keep hunger at bay and ensure they stay hydrated throughout the journey. Snacks can also come in handy during unexpected delays or long waits – and not just for the kiddos. 😉 

Always carry wet wipes.

Wet wipes are a parent’s best friend while traveling. They come in handy for quick clean-ups, wiping surfaces, refreshing hands, and tackling any spills or messes. Diaper leaks, cat puke, spilled coffee, spit up or drool, last night’s mascara, half-eaten lollipop in the bottom of your purse – wet wipes is great for it all! Be sure to have a travel-sized pack of wet wipes within easy reach at all times. 

Build in buffer time.

4 year old boy kneeling on sidewalk on Notre Dame campus
Hey remember that time Skyler refused to walk more than a few steps at a time because we forgot the stroller and wore him out??

When planning your itinerary, it’s important to build in extra time for unexpected delays or unforeseen circumstances. Adding approximately 25% to your time estimates allows for flexibility and reduces stress. Embracing a more relaxed pace will make the travel experience more enjoyable for both parents and kids.

What exactly do I mean? 

If planning time-sensitive activities that require you to be somewhere and do something at a specific time, give yourself more time than you think you need to get there. You may get lost on an unfamiliar route, there could be public transit delays or unexpected traffic, the plane could be delayed, the baby could have a diaper blowout or the toddler could have a meltdown.

Here’s an example: Google Maps says that the drive from Nashville to Chicago is 7 hours 23 minutes. If I were driving it alone or just with my husband, I’d say we could easily make it that time. With a child, we budget 9 hours for the trip. One time, we had to stop at a McDonald’s because Skyler said “his butt hurt” and that he needed to poop. We were there for forty-five minutes. Justin waited in the restroom with him while I did yoga in the parking lot, earning many strange looks from the drive-thru lane. This little detour severely impacted our arrival time since we had not allotted so much time for one stop! 

Try home exchange instead of paying for a hotel. 

We love using home exchange on our travels with Skyler. It saves us money, cutting out some financial stress and allowing us to stretch our trip budget to do more or stay longer. For example, we stayed in a home exchange in Chicago for 2 weeks. Since it was free, we didn’t feel bad about shelling out $500 for a week of daycare so we could work.

Home exchanges usually affords us more physical space to spread out. In hotels, we’re all sleeping in the same room, sometimes the same bed, and while Skyler may sleep just fine with his head on top of our legs and his feet kicking us in the neck, we don’t sleep so great. We use hotels for quick overnight or short trips when sleep may be less important. 

Prioritize your family’s sleep hygiene.

Traveling with kids sometimes means sleeping whenever you can, wherever you can!

Maintaining a routine and creating a sleep-friendly environment for your kids is crucial during travel. Stick to a loose bedtime routine, bring familiar items such as their favorite stuffed animal or blanket, and ensure the room has adequate airflow to keep them comfortable. By prioritizing sleep hygiene, you’ll help your children adjust to new sleeping arrangements more easily.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love sleeping. I need a solid 8-9 hours of sleep every night to feel fully functional and human. I get by on 6-7 more often than I’d like. But I’m my best self with more sleep. I love being in bed. I like to joke that I want to come back as a cat in my next life so I can rest for 18 hours a day and not feel guilty about it. 

My whole family loves sleeping. I come from sleepers. My parents always let me and my brother sleep in on weekends and during the summers, and our trips were never early-morning adventures. So as a wife and parent, it’s been important to me to cultivate a sleep-positive home for my family. 

Sleep plays a big role in our planning travel activities, departure and arrival times, and workcation schedules. No one will be sleep deprived or stressed out on my watch! (There has only been one time that I completely, abjectly ignored and compromised the quality of our sleep. My husband will never let me live down that time we intentionally slept in an airport. Whoops.)

So how do I prioritize our sleep and rest when planning?

We try to build in rest days, especially on longer trips, to avoid burnout (and the resulting bad moods). On these days, we don’t plan anything and aim to make the whole day as low-effort as possible. This might mean lazy mornings, beach time, afternoon movies, naps, reading, or even a spontaneous adventure. 

Whenever possible, we try to avoid extremely early morning or overnight travel. Travel is hard enough, let’s not make it worse by throwing off our body’s schedule.

We book accommodations with the right-sized beds. Justin and I know that we cannot sleep together comfortably for long periods of time in anything smaller than a queen, especially if we plan on sharing it with Skyler. 

We usually book accommodations with enough beds, which is one reason we prefer home exchange or AirBNB when traveling with Skyler. When he was a baby, he slept in a pack n play or crib in the same room as us. Now, we prefer for Skyler to have his own room or sleeping space that can be closed off from ours. When staying in hotels, this isn’t always possible and we all get way less sleep on those nights.

We take all of the things that each person needs to sleep well. For me, that means a noise machine, a sleep mask, and my bluetooth sleeping headband. When Skyler was a baby, this would mean a lot more than it does now: his travel crib, a sound machine, blackout curtains, diapers, and proper sleep garments. Now, he’s a lot easier to travel with since he can seemingly sleep on anything, anywhere, in full daylight or semi darkness, without a sheet, often naked. He is usually surrounded by a couple squishmallows, though, no matter where he goes.

We maintain the same loose bedtime routine wherever we go. We’ve never been dogmatic with our at-home sleep routine, simply because we didn’t want it to become a limitation down the line. A bedtime routine can be an effective tool for creating consistency and a psychological sense of safety. So even if we spend the day exploring Mayan ruins and bumbling our way through the Spanish language, we still have to eat dinner and brush our teeth and go to bed at a reasonable hour. Next time you go somewhere new, try sticking to a similar daily routine to feel more at home.

Lower your expectations.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, expect less from traveling with your kids. While you will have amazing trips that go smoothly and exceed your expectations, you will have some challenging trips that make you question all of your life choices. We want to avoid disappointment after a trip simply because things went wrong or not according to plan. So we plan fewer things, lower our expectations, and hope for the best. We are usually pleasantly surprised by how well things go. But when things just don’t work out, such as the week from hell in Mexico, we recover quickly. By being prepared for something to go wrong, and setting reasonable expectations, you will derive more fulfillment from a trip

Family traveling with a baby, on a cruise

Before I even got pregnant, it was very important to me that we would continue to travel after we became parents. But everyone told us differently; I was warned by so many people that our lives would be changing forever. You’ll have no social life! Everything will change! You’ll have to stop traveling!

Cue the horror music. Losing a sense of myself was one of my biggest fears, and travel is a major part of being me. I feared that we would allow parenthood to completely alter how we lived and keep us from doing the things that we loved. So we’ve been intentional in parenting in such a way that we don’t allow our entire existence to revolve around the smallest human in the house. 

While prioritizing our son’s needs, ensuring he’s well cared for and fed and loved, we continue to do the things we did before becoming parents: we go out to eat more often than we should, we host a lot of gatherings and parties (I love a good theme!), we hang out with our friends and watch TV and play games and have date nights and float in our hot tub and sleep in. 

Most importantly, we prioritize travel and make it an integral part of our lives.

It’s always been important to us to maintain our lifestyle as our son grows up. He is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to us. And he is not the only person in this house whose needs must be met. Mama needs variety and fun and adventure. 

Thankfully, Skyler has become quite the travel buddy. He’s adaptable and goes with the flow. He can literally sleep anywhere (I’m jealous). As an only child, he’s had to learn to entertain himself which is useful on the road. He is always down for an adventure, and even when he’s overtired or hangry, he’ll ride along silently in his stroller, taking it all in. He just loves being with people and doing things. 

Some of it is his natural personality. But I fully believe that Skyler has learned these skills because we have been taking him everywhere since he was only a few months old. By indulging my travel addiction and going on adventures as a family, he’s had no choice but to learn to go with the flow. 

Every kid is different. Heck, every day every kid is different. One day they love pineapple, the next day they won’t touch it. Moods shift. Preferences evolve. Circumstances influence behavior. No two kids are alike and there’s no guarantee that what worked for us will work for you…. But maybe it will. 🙂 So, embrace the journey, make the most of your family adventures, and enjoy the wonders of travel together! 

How do you travel with your kids? As Skyler grows, we’re constantly having to shift tactics and try new things, so send me all of your wisdom! Let me learn from you too. What has worked to help you travel with your kids? 

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