50 Family Travel Tips for 2023 (Advice from a Traveling Mom)
If you’re looking for the best family travel tips, I’m a mom of four and I’m here to help!
From airplane rides to multi-day road trips, I’ve been traveling with kids for more than a decade now. In this guide, I share my top family travel tips based on my experiences with kids of all ages.
This list of tips starts with tips for what to do to get ready, then moves to how to manage kids en route, and ends with ways to make the most out of your travel destination. By the end of this guide, you’re sure to feel much more confident in your upcoming travels!
Table of Contents
- 50 Helpful Family Travel Tips
- #1: Consider Traveling a Skill that Takes Practice
- #2: You Still Won’t Feel Ready — Go Anyway
- #3: Get Necessary Papers Well Ahead of Time
- #4: Check on Required Vaccines
- #5: Learn about the Place Ahead of Time
- #6: Include Kids in Planning
- #7: Consider Your Sleep Schedule
- #8: Splurge on Assigned Seats
- #9: Consider Travel Insurance
- #10: Bring Reusable Water Bottles
- #11: Consider Your Family’s Needs
- #12: Explain Unfamiliar Things
- #13: Consider Your Gear
- #14: Consider Splurging if You’ll Use that Gear A Lot
- #15: Bring Along Common Medications
- #16: Know How to Communicate Food Allergies and Medical Concerns
- #17: Pack Light
- #18: Pack Ahead of Time
- #19: Bring A Comfort Item
- #20: Get Kids Their Own Bags
- #21: Let Kids Pack (But Check Them!)
- #22: Download Entertainment Ahead of Time
- #23: Get Kids a Camera
- #24: Print Out Boarding Tickets
- #25: Stay Safe
- #26: Consider Air Tags
- #27: You’re Already on Vacation
- #28: Run Everyone Around As Much As Possible
- #29: Hit The Bathrooms
- #30: Keep Important Items in the Same Spot
- #31: Give Yourselves Plenty of Time
- #32: Get A Paper Map
- #33: Have New Things and Pace Them Out
- #34: Bring Extra Supplies
- #35: Help Them Pop Their Ears
- #36: Explore the Airport
- #37: Stick to a Schedule
- #38: Have Some Downtime
- #39: Look for Special Kids’ Programs
- #40: Talk about Getting Lost
- #41: Snap a Picture
- #42: Have Backups
- #43: Be Clear on Souvenirs
- #44: Enlist Kids to Help
- #45: Discuss Family Safety Rules for Water
- #46: Childproof Your Place
- #47: Consider Distinctive or Matching Clothes
- #48: Explain Your Rules
- #49: Make It a Point to Try New Foods
- #50: Debrief Afterward
- FAQs about Traveling with a Family
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50 Helpful Family Travel Tips
#1: Consider Traveling a Skill that Takes Practice
You may want to take some smaller local trips to practice packing and road-tripping before a longer trip. And each time you take a trip, some things get easier (or at least stress you out less!). To get started, check out our list of more than 50 family vacation ideas.
👉 Don’t Miss: Make traveling easier with Vanessa’s guide on what to pack for a weekend getaway!
#2: You Still Won’t Feel Ready — Go Anyway
There are so many things to worry about when traveling with kids! From whether babies will sleep on the plane to what I forgot to pack, I have robbed myself of countless hours with anxious worrying.
I haven’t met a single parent who feels like they have it all together when they travel with their kids! But the trouble and worry are worth it.
#3: Get Necessary Papers Well Ahead of Time
Allow lots of extra time to get any papers you need while traveling. If you need passports, allow 10-13 weeks, plus mailing time for a routine passport.
Children traveling internationally with one parent may also need a letter stating that they can travel overseas. You may also want a copy of kids’ medical records, prescriptions, or other information.
#4: Check on Required Vaccines
Check on vaccine requirements at your destination. Work with your child’s pediatrician well ahead of time to make sure your children have the necessary vaccines. The CDC has a good list of what countries require what vaccines.
#5: Learn about the Place Ahead of Time
Read your kids books — both fiction and non-fiction — about where you’re going. Look up pictures or videos of your destination. And, of course, peruse our library of destination guides on Travel Lemming!
Not only does this get everyone excited for your trip, but it can also help to calm anxious kids who may be nervous about going somewhere new.
#6: Include Kids in Planning
One of my favorite road trips was to Bryce Canyon National Park after my 8-year-old saw a picture and thought it looked cool. Kids have some great ideas! They’re also more likely to be invested in an activity if they helped plan.
#7: Consider Your Sleep Schedule
The first time we took a road trip with my toddler, we left at 8 pm so he could sleep in the car — which he did. When we arrived at 2 am, he was well-rested and ready to party while his parents just wanted to crash!
It can be helpful to plan travel around your children’s schedules. Some kids fall asleep on planes, and a flight during naptime is perfect. Others don’t, and it’s better to fly earlier or later.
#8: Splurge on Assigned Seats
It’s no secret that many airlines have moved to charging for things like assigned seats. If you’re traveling as a family, it’s worth it to splurge and get assigned seats ahead of time. This saves trying to talk someone into switching with you or trying to get an agent to put you together at the last minute.
✈️ Taking Off? Before buying your plane tickets, see Nate’s guide on how to get cheap international flights!
#9: Consider Travel Insurance
Traveling with children increases the chances you may need travel insurance.
The more people you have on a trip, the greater the odds someone may need the insurance, and the more expensive it will be to cancel a trip! Travel insurance can also help with unexpected medical expenses — something we need to think about as parents!
#10: Bring Reusable Water Bottles
If you’re flying, bring an empty water bottle to fill on the other side of security. You can also put any drinks the airline serves into a water bottle so kids are less likely to spill. These same water bottles will serve you well while you sightsee, and on the way home as well!
This Grayl Geopress is my preferred water bottle because it holds a good amount of water, is super durable, and is an awesome water purifier.
#11: Consider Your Family’s Needs
With four kids, a short-term rental works so much better for us than a hotel room (actually, we need two hotel rooms!). Though, smaller families may find a hotel easier or cheaper. Also, consider whether your hotel includes breakfast. Even if it costs slightly more, it may be cheaper overall because you have a meal a day included.
#12: Explain Unfamiliar Things
If this is a child’s first airplane trip, talk it out ahead of time. Explain things like airport security and talk through the experience of riding in an airplane. If you don’t often go out to dinner but plan to on your trip, talk about how that experience will go. Help kids prepare for new experiences!
#13: Consider Your Gear
If you’ll be staying with friends or family, see if they have things like a high chair, crib, or even a stroller you can use while you’re there. Many hotels and vacation rentals also have baby gear you can use. Car rental companies may have car seats for you to use, but you’ll want to check ahead of time.
If you have purchased an airplane seat for your child, carry their car seat onto the plane to use in their seat. Also, most airlines do not count strollers or car seats as checked bags if you do that instead. However, there is some risk — we once had to get a loaner car seat from our airline when they lost our car seat for a day!
✈️ Related Reading: Carry on Packing List
#14: Consider Splurging if You’ll Use that Gear A Lot
There are two schools of thought on items like a travel stroller. I bought a cheap umbrella stroller that I didn’t mind getting banged up.
However, if you’ll be flying a lot with your stroller and using it for miles of walking, you may want to splurge on a good-quality travel stroller instead. I preferred keeping the kids in a baby backpack carrier (with a stand) to keep my hands free. It’s all a matter of preference!
#15: Bring Along Common Medications
Bring ibuprofen, acetaminophen, allergy medications, and other basic first aid medications. In fact, an entire small first aid kit is a great idea.
#16: Know How to Communicate Food Allergies and Medical Concerns
If you’re traveling in a country where you don’t know the language, make sure you have a way to communicate important information. If food allergies are severe, you may also want to bring emergency snacks in case you can’t be certain a meal is safe.
#17: Pack Light
Along with bringing less gear, pack fewer clothes and supplies when traveling with kids. If you can, do laundry at your destination. See if you can get pick-up items like diapers at a store when you arrive, or have them shipped.
For advice on what luggage to bring, check out Taylor’s review of the best carry on suitcases.
#18: Pack Ahead of Time
Pack at least a day ahead of time, although several days is better! This gives you time to buy anything you didn’t realize you needed. It also helps you figure out exactly where everything is going in suitcases or the car.
To make sure you don’t forget anything, be sure to read my family vacation packing checklist after you’re done with this post!
#19: Bring A Comfort Item
If your child has a blanket or stuffed animal they can’t sleep without, don’t forget to bring it. But just as importantly, make sure you double-check airplane seats and hotels for that item before you leave!
#20: Get Kids Their Own Bags
If you travel often, get kids their own bags to pack and bring. Smaller kids will need smaller bags. I once put a too-big backpack on my 2-year old and he fell over like an upended turtle!
Fortunately, smaller kids also have smaller clothes and you should be able to pack most of what they need in their bag!
#21: Let Kids Pack (But Check Them!)
The first time I tried this, my son packed a plastic taco, a Thomas the Train engine, and no socks — so they do need some guidance. But as soon as kids can read, they can follow a packing list! It’s also good to let them pack because then they know where all of their things are and can find them later.
#22: Download Entertainment Ahead of Time
Don’t wait to download movies or music until you’re at the airport. Download entertainment at home so it’s one less thing to worry about!
#23: Get Kids a Camera
If your kids are too young for phones and tablets with cameras, get them a kid-friendly camera so they can document their trip. It will keep them occupied, and they’ll have some nice mementos at the end!
#24: Print Out Boarding Tickets
I find it a lot easier to hand an agent a physical ticket while trying to wrangle kids! It’s harder to pull up each ticket and scroll through them with my hands full.
#25: Stay Safe
Do some research on the safety of your destination! Get tips on where to stay, how to stay safe while you’re out, and what to do if there’s a problem.
#26: Consider Air Tags
Putting Air Tags in kids’ backpacks can help you track both your child and the backpack in case it accidentally gets left behind. I know tracking kids or their possessions makes some people uncomfortable, so you’ll have to make a personal decision on whether you want to try this!
#27: You’re Already on Vacation
Your vacation doesn’t start when you reach your destination. Your vacation starts when you leave your house! You’re already off work. The kids are already out of school. The best advice I can give for any trip is to take a deep breath, relax, and set the tone for your trip!
#28: Run Everyone Around As Much As Possible
If you’re flying, have kids walk around as much as possible before your flight! If you’re on a road trip, plan stops where they can play. Have sandwiches at a local playground, or look for a fast food stop with a play area.
#29: Hit The Bathrooms
For plane trips, have kids go to the bathroom (or change diapers) right before the flight. A mom friend of mine also advises having potty-trained younger children go as soon as the seatbelt light goes off, even if they don’t have to. This helps avoid a potty emergency at a time when you’re not allowed to get up.
#30: Keep Important Items in the Same Spot
If you have items you know you’ll be using often, put them back in the same spot each time. On car rides, this means shoes! There’s nothing worse than finally finding a bathroom for a preschooler and having to tear apart the car to find his shoes before disaster strikes.
For airplane trips, keep boarding passes, passports, ID, or other items you need to access in the same spot so you can always find them.
#31: Give Yourselves Plenty of Time
Part of enjoying your trip is going to be lowering expectations for how long things take. Everything you do with kids is going to take longer than it does without. You’ll save your stress levels and your sanity if you allow for lots of extra time right from the start!
#32: Get A Paper Map
Get a physical map so kids can highlight their travels. On a road trip, they can trace your route and see where you’re going. On a plane trip, they can also have fun plotting the plane flight. This also makes a fun keepsake for later!
#33: Have New Things and Pace Them Out
On road trips or long plane trips, I get lots of small treats that I can hand out over the duration of our drive or flight. Things like animal cracker boxes, a new board book, new crayons, and coloring books aren’t expensive, but the kids are excited to get them.
#34: Bring Extra Supplies
You don’t want to overpack for your entire trip. But you will want to have some extra supplies in a carry-on bag for plane trips or a diaper bag on road trips. Pack a few more diapers than you think you’ll need, and a change of clothes for babies and toddlers. Parents may want an extra shirt for themselves as well!
#35: Help Them Pop Their Ears
Bring gum for older kids to chew on the flight. Younger children can try sucking on lollipops or drinking water to relieve pressure on their ears. If you’re flying with a baby (especially with an infant), try to feed them on takeoff and landing to induce them to swallow.
#36: Explore the Airport
If you arrive at the airport early or are stuck on a layover, spend some time exploring! My local airport, Denver International Airport, has some features for families including nursing rooms and a play area. Some airports have therapy dogs for kids to cuddle. You may also find geocaches and scavenger hunts for airports online.
#37: Stick to a Schedule
We don’t schedule every minute of our trips, but we have a rhythm for our days. Plan when you will do outings, when you will eat, naptimes, and other important events. If your kids are old enough to understand, discuss the schedule with them so they know what to expect.
#38: Have Some Downtime
Plan for an hour or two of quiet afternoon time, especially for younger kids. We also plan slow days after a hectic day (we call the day after a Disneyland visit our Disney Hangover day and do almost nothing!)
#39: Look for Special Kids’ Programs
Look for things like Junior Ranger programs, scavenger hunts, geocaches, and other fun ways to explore a new space. These programs are usually free!
🥾 Heading Outdoors? Check out my tips for hiking with kids!
#40: Talk about Getting Lost
I hope you never need this, but talk to your kids about what to do if they become separated from you. If they’re old enough, make sure they memorize your cell phone number and know where they’re staying.
Also, teach kids to stay in one spot if they lose you. It’s a lot easier to find them if you retrace your steps than if they run around looking for you. Discuss when they should look for a safe adult to help them, and teach them who to approach.
#41: Snap a Picture
Before we visit an attraction, I would take a picture of each of my kids at the entrance and save it on my phone. If they do get lost, you’ll have a photo to show and know how to describe what they’re wearing.
#42: Have Backups
If you’re packing for a camping trip or hope to visit a national park, have a backup plan if the weather doesn’t cooperate. If you’re visiting theme parks, have several rides in mind in case the favorite one is being repaired.
Be ready to be flexible — it’s part of traveling and teaching kids to be resilient. Also, the trips where things go wrong are always the ones that make the best stories later!
#43: Be Clear on Souvenirs
It helps to work out a souvenir plan ahead of time. Communicate it to kids well before they’re standing in a shop begging for something. You may want to discuss who’s paying for the souvenirs, how many they will get, where they will get them, and what kinds of items to choose from.
#44: Enlist Kids to Help
Just like kids can do chores at home, they can help on trips! If you’re staying at a vacation rental, they can help with cooking or laundry. In hotels, they can keep their things together and help to pack up when it’s time to leave.
#45: Discuss Family Safety Rules for Water
If you’re staying at a place with a pool or are visiting a destination near water, go over the family rules ahead of time. Set boundaries about when kids can go in pools, discuss life jacket use, talk about how far kids can wander near water, and any other safety rules.
🌴 Related Reading: Beach Packing List (17 Things You Might Forget to Bring)
#46: Childproof Your Place
If you’re staying at a vacation rental, do a sweep when you arrive to secure any dangerous items like cleaning supplies and sharp knives. Look for heavy furniture that could be pulled over.
If there are stairs, see if the host has a baby gate you can use. Also, remind family members you’re traveling with to keep medications where they can’t be reached.
#47: Consider Distinctive or Matching Clothes
I’m not a matching clothes person. But I realized at Disneyland that if a little one strayed from their family in matching shirts, you could see at a glance who they belonged with. If you don’t want to match, consider bright clothes that stand out so you can easily see your children.
🎢 Planning a Disney Vacation? Check out McKenna’s tips for Disneyland or Katie’s tips for Disney World.
#48: Explain Your Rules
There are inevitably going to be some family rules you have for traveling. As soon as kids are old enough, start explaining why you have those rules. As they grow, children need to work out their own ideas on travel and it can be helpful to understand why you made the decisions you did!
#49: Make It a Point to Try New Foods
Part of the fun of family travel is trying things you can’t at home! We always try to order popular local foods when we travel.
If you have picky eaters and don’t want to order them a whole dish, consider ordering one dish for everyone to share. You can also order the meal for yourself and have each of the kids try a bite.
#50: Debrief Afterward
Make sure to set aside time after a trip to talk about it! This is one of the family travel tips that has been hugely helpful for our family. My kids have given some surprising answers when I asked what they liked best! I never would have known if we hadn’t talked, and it helps us as we plan future trips.
FAQs about Traveling with a Family
What do kids need when traveling?
Kids need less stuff when traveling than they do at home. They need items to keep them entertained while traveling, such as a tablet, coloring sheets, books, or card games.
They also need water, and it’s a good idea to bring plenty of snacks. Also, pack meals if kids will be traveling during mealtimes.
How do I make my family vacation successful?
Make your family vacation successful by relaxing and taking a deep breath. Kids can sense when parents are tense and they can worry or become anxious.
The next best thing to do is plenty of careful planning. Have an idea of where you’ll vacation, and backup plans in case something falls through.
Planning meals and downtime for kids is also an important part of a successful vacation, and can be often overlooked. Traveling with kids will go much better if everyone is well-fed and well-rested to enjoy the activities you plan.
Hopefully, these family travel tips help you to plan a smooth and fun family trip! I’m convinced that family vacations are some of the best ways to build memories with your children. Maybe some day, you’ll even take trips with their children, too!
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