Family travel advice

10 Tips to make your family vacation more fun for everyone!

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Ah. The family vacation. We have dreams and ideas of how it should go. We plan for happy moments, all the time. But reality is often different. Each trip I’ve been on with my family has had at least one snafu. It started immediately with the very first trip my husband and I took together. We set out for our honeymoon and were so excited, we forget to get gas. So, we ran out. In the 22 years since then, we’ve had many other vacation adventures and added two kids into the mix as well. When it comes to family travel advice, I’ve got a decent amount to help make your next family vacation more fun for everyone.

1. Talk about destination choices ahead of time with everyone.

This is one of my best tips. If you want plan a family vacation everyone will enjoy, then get everyone’s input on the trip. You need to set some parameters ahead of time for this to be successful. When it comes to family travel, my husband and I have the final say-so for our family of four. During the years we had babies through preschoolers, we didn’t ask for any input from the kids on where we went. But we did always think about what would work best for them.

As they got older, our kids were able to be part of the decision-making process. My husband and I talk ahead of time and come up with two or three trip ideas for our family. We look up general things to do in those places. Then we give the kids a presentation. Well, that sounds way fancy. We sit in the living room, give them options and use the TV to show photos or videos we find. Then as a family, we discuss what we’d most like to do.

We don’t always agree, but we do agree that the majority rules. And, honestly, we’ve not had an issue in the past. Usually we can all work around to being on board with the same trip. Because what we really want is to go on a vacation and spend time together. That’s the best family travel advice you can get: remember a family vacation is about being together more than it is about where you’re going!

If you are traveling with extended family or friends, then talk among yourselves about ideas so that everyone is on board and excited for the trip. After all, no matter how frugal you are, traveling is going to cost money. Nobody wants to spend money on a trip they dread!

2. Make lists.

I am a HUGE fan of lists. I make lists for everyday life, so making lists for family travel just makes sense to me. Each member of my family has a packing list that comes in handy. I also make a list of things we want to do, places we want to eat and where we’re staying. Keeping track of confirmation information is a great idea in case you need it when you check in.

I usually put everything together in a file folder and take it along with us, whether we are flying or driving.

The more you organize ahead of time, the less you’ll have to worry about on the trip!

In fact, I am so into organizing for trips that I put together a 30-page family travel planner you can download and use yourself. It has everything you’ll need from brainstorming before you go to collecting memories when you return, including a daily planner, travel budget planner, flight information tracker, gift planner, travel log, packing lists and pages to organize what to do, see, eat and photograph. It’s an awesome planner to help keep you organized for your next family trip. Use the Coupon Code: FWGFAN to receive 10% off!

3. Plan downtime.

Another great piece of family travel advice is to plan for downtime. We learned pretty early on that our kids love to see and do things, but they also need a break. In fact, both of them talk about how much fun they have just hanging out in our hotel room together. Be intentional about finding downtime for breaks and rest, even if your kids are past napping age.

When our kids still took naps, we did our best to make sure they were able to have a chance to nap around their usual time because it just made for happier kiddos. Now, we plan for downtime as we go. Over spring break, for instance, we traveled to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. We planned for two days in Vegas, two days at the Grand Canyon and then two more days in Vegas. The days “off” at the Grand Canyon were more laidback and restful. We all need a break. Little legs get tired from walking a lot. Little minds get overwhelmed and overstimulated.

We also sometimes institute family nap time even now. On the same spring break trip, we went to a magic show one evening. It didn’t start until 9 p.m., which was late for us, especially considering the three-hour time difference. So we planned for less activities during the day and headed to our room in the afternoon for a couple of hours to all four rest and nap. It made the evening more enjoyable.

4. Allow for flexibility.

I love to plan, but anyone who has kids knows that life can be unpredictable at best. That remains true even on family vacations. Some things we just don’t know until we’re in the moment. On the same spring break trip, we planned to go to certain hotels to see sights on our first day. We opted to go to hotels closer by where we were staying and have an early night instead because we were all tired by the afternoon. Shifting your plans is sometimes necessary. Going into your vacation with general ideas of what you want to do each day is great. But being flexible to move things around is necessary. You want everyone to enjoy the trip. Sometimes that means changing plans last minute.

5. Keep your kids’ schedule close to usual.

Schedules and routines keep our kids happy. As a schedule-oriented person myself, I’ve had a basic schedule and routines for our kids from very early on. Vacation means those schedules and routines might be changed around a bit, but the younger the kids are, the more we try and keep routines the same no matter where we are.

If you always read a book before bed, bring some along. If your kids are usual in bed by 8 p.m., then don’t plan for too many late nights. For kids who are used to a daily nap, find a way to make that happen. My kids are 9 and 12 now. They are more flexible. But I remember the days that wasn’t as true. Sometimes it meant making a sacrifice on what my husband and I wanted to do, but the days of little ones really don’t last forever. Keeping kiddos on schedule and happy makes everything better.

Nowadays, we try to keep bedtime reasonable on trips. We make sure to have meals at pretty usual times or have snacks if needed to make it through. And if we are having a late night, we plan for it ahead of time by scheduling downtime during the afternoon of that day.

6. Take along grandparents or friends.

Sometimes the best family travel advice you can have is take along others on your trip. Grandparents, siblings, other relatives or friends can make a trip more fun in multiple ways. (And I say that as an introvert who values her alone time to recharge!) Obviously babysitting is a bonus in having others along. You can trade off babysitting kids so you can have a dinner out with just your spouse. You can also save money by sharing a bigger space and splitting the cost.

In March of 2019, we took our kids to Orlando for the first time. We went to Disney World and Universal Orlando. We invited grandparents to join us. My parents did so, and it worked out even better than expected. Halfway through the week, my daughter got sick with strep throat. We immediately took her to urgent care and got antibiotics for her. Since my parents were along, they stayed back with her and we took our son to a day at Universal Orlando alone. (We had three days planned at the park and this was the first of them.) Even now, a few years later, my daughter has fond memories of that down day with her grandparents. They got her ice cream and catered to whatever she wanted. My son had a blast being the only kid picking what we did for the day. It worked well for everyone. By the next day, my daughter was well enough to join in on the fun again.

7. Ask everyone for his or her priority activities.

Before we go on a trip, we talk about things to do on the trip (see tip number 1). Once we have decided on our destination, then we start talking about what we’re going to do. We ask our kids what their priority activities are. My husband and I think about that for ourselves. Since it’s pretty much impossible to do absolutely everything you want to do, knowing what is most important to everyone on your trip helps make everyone’s trip better. You are able to make sure you do the activities your family really wants to do!

I have been surprised by what my kids prioritized. I know my kids well and think I know what will most interest them, but they surprise me sometimes! During our spring break trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, my son really wanted to go up in the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel. It was one of his priorities for the trip that I didn’t really expect. It had been more at the bottom of my to-do list.

Another thing we do when we talk about everyone’s priorities is remind our kids that we are going to do fun things for everyone. We tell them we expect them to be patient and kind during all of our activities, even if it’s something they don’t necessarily want to do. Usually when that happens, though, we all end up having more fun. If one family member is beyond thrilled, then that excitement passes along to all of us.

It goes right along with one of our family’s mottos: What is good for one of us is good for all of us.

8. Have the gear you need.

You can’t offer family travel advice without talking about gear. When our kids were babies and toddlers, we had so much gear. Planning ahead really helps. Think about how your kids are going to sleep. Do you need to bring a pack-and-play and sheets? Sleeping bags? Does your kiddo need a highchair and one won’t be available (like on a camping trip)? Pack a travel highchair/booster seat.

Make sure you have enough of the supplies you’ll need to take care of little ones from diapers to burp cloths to feeding supplies. I’ve even taken along kids’ bowls and utensils before. Even now, my son takes a medicine every other day to help with reflux. He can’t swallow a pill, so I break it up into applesauce for him. Most trips, I pack some applesauce pouches (which we always have at home), disposable 2-ounce dip cups and plastic spoons so we are prepared no matter where we are.

Don’t forget to think about yourself. Aside from needing toiletries and other essentials, what do you need to make the trip more enjoyable? Sunglasses? Sunscreen? A hat? A sweatshirt? One of the best choices I made on our recent trip was buying a fanny pack. (My 1980s child self is pretty happy these have made a comeback. Though I did opt for a plain black one instead of neon pink.) We did a LOT of walking in Las Vegas, and I knew that even a lightweight purse would hurt my shoulder thanks to my fibromyalgia. The fanny pack worked great!

9. Keep a sense of humor.

Motherhood definitely requires a sense of humor, and that’s just as true on family vacations! Be sure to pack your sense of humor as well. Sometimes plans go awry or things fall apart and usually the best thing you can do about it is laugh.

During our same spring break trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, we ended up being at the West Rim of the Grand Canyon during one of the very few times a year that it snows. It snowed so much and so hard that we literally couldn’t see the Grand Canyon while we were standing beside it, shivering in our hoodies. We made the best of it and ate lunch at the restaurant. We bought a book and then hung out in our rented Jeep for a while with the heat on, reading while we waited for the weather to clear out. It wasn’t what we planned, but we kept a sense of humor. After all, how often do you get to see snow in the desert when you’re from the Midwest?!

10. Don’t put pressure on yourself to have a perfect vacation.

Even though we all know that perfect doesn’t exist, we sure do like to strive for it and put pressure on ourselves. But the best family travel advice is to just relax and remember why you’re on the trip to begin with. We travel to let our kids experience new things and to make memories together. They learn how to react gracefully when plans change and we go to plan B.

Over spring break, they saw us figure out transportation to the Grand Canyon after our first car rental fell through at the last minute. Make the best of every moment. Remember that often the best memories are made in the small moments. Let your kids experience small pleasures like sitting in bed, eating Froot Loops, watching cartoons in a hotel room. Snuggle in with them and embrace the moment. Forget the perfect vacation and settle instead for the best company you could ask for — those you love!

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