General Travel Tips for Families

We recently took a trip to Southern California. All told, we were gone for 10 days and 9 nights. 

While we were gone, I took note of any tips I thought of that add to the travel tips I already have on this blog so I could share them with you! I know, special. 

Packing App

Every time we go on a trip, I make a list of things to pack. That is fine and dandy for me when it is just me, but I am packing for 5 (and making a list for 6), plus prepping a house and pets for us to be gone. I wanted to make a list that I could use in the future instead of spending time re-writing the list every time we go somewhere. Needs can changed depending on where you are going, but many of the basics are the same. 

I decided to try out an app. I downloaded several apps and tried them out. I settled on liking “Packing Pro.” It isn’t absolutely perfect–there are things I would change. But it is my favorite of all of the apps I tried. 

Pack a Bag for First Night

We got to our destination late at night. Really late. I had just packed everything into everyone’s respective bags. If I did it over again, I would have had a bag for our first night that would have PJs, toothbrush, and anything else the kids needed to get into bed. Once we got there, it was an hour before we had things unloaded, sorted, and kids in bed. It would have been nice for them to have gotten to bed 45 minutes sooner. 

This same principle can apply for any time you are changing locations. We spent the first half of our week in a condo, then traveled to a different city and stayed in a hotel. I would have liked a bag for the first night there, as well. 

Everyone Pees at the Same Time

Whether you are taking in the sites, at an amusement park, or taking a pit stop on your drive, have a policy that everyone pees at the same time. If one child needs to go potty, the other children will say, “No, I don’t need to go.” Then 30-60 minutes later, the next child will need to go. I tell my entire family that we are all using the bathroom any time one person needs to. This makes it so you don’t spend more time than desired visiting the rest room. (Sidebar, I went to an amusement park with some girlfriends for a girls night out this last October–total riot by the way–and they did not follow the “everyone pees” at the same time rule. I about went insane. I swear we spent most of the night in the bathrooms. It is a sanity saving rule. And with kids, an underwear saving rule). 

Let Kids Entertain Selves on Drive

I had big plans to have lots of stuff for the kids to do on the drive. I pinned lots of fun ideas–there are tons of “101 things to do on a roadtrip” type of posts out there. In the end, I bought a few new travel-type things to do in the car, but that was that. I did a lot of traveling in cars for road trips when I was a kid. My entertainment was whatever I remembered to bring with me (which meant books, and when things really got high-tech, a walk-man. Several years later, I even had a disc-man). I had each kid pack him/herself a “bag of fun” for the car. They put whatever they wanted to do in the car. They all did great and I was glad I didn’t spend a ton of time creating an entertainment package for the trip. Here are some things we had for the drive that I thought were handy:

  • Cookie sheet or Travel Tray. We have two travel trays and used two cookie sheets. I like the travel trays, but I do think that the cookie sheets work just great for older kids. The Travel Tray was definitely best for Brinley, but the other kids all were fine with a cookie sheet. 
  • Headphones for kids. This is for the sanity of the adults. At times in our drive, we let kids watch movies. I found these headphones on Amazon: Kidz Gear Wired Headphones For Kids. They are awesome. I got a different color for each child. They fit Brayden on down to Brinley comfortably. These headphones are made for kids and help keep the decibels at a safe level for children. I also got a Splitter so they can all tap into the same source if desired. 
  • Aquadoodle. I got Brinley an AquaDoodle Travel Doodle. She loved drawing on this during the ride. I love these things because she can’t write on anything she isn’t supposed to. She can’t drop it into the cracks of her carseat and have it melt in the heat of the car. It is awesome.
  • Puzzles. My children like to do puzzles in the car. It isn’t ideal because pieces can fall and get lost, but it keeps them occupied. Travel Pouch Puzzle
  • Atlas. I got a National Geographic Kids Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas. This occupied Brayden for most of the 12 hour drive on the way there and then each day when he had down time. He loved following the map of our travel distance. He loved reading the fun facts the book has. Kaitlyn loved it, too. It is really worth the buy for any child who can read.
  • Books. Have the kids bring books they like–whether they can read or they are just looking at the pictures. 
  • Small toys. Brinley had some ponies to play with. Brayden had some Legos to build. Kaitlyn had some paper and pencil. McKenna had some small princesses. Have them bring some small things they like to do. 
  • Music. Music keeps our kids happy. Bring some music to listen to on the trip.
  • Movies. Movies is a great go-to when needed. I like leaving the movie thing for as long as I deem possible. I also will institute a “bedtime” in the car if we are out past bedtime. This is when they need to turn everything off and put everything away and try to sleep.

Bring Snacks and Water

Wherever we went, we brought snacks with us. We had string cheese, carrots, grapes, and granola bars almost always. Some days we had bananas, apples, cucumbers, saltines…just whatever your family likes to have for snacks. We also had several water bottles we would refill in drinking fountains as needed. Hungry kids are not happy kids. Snacks are worth it. We do not normally snack all day long, but we had a lot of snacks during our days. 

Have a Backpack

We didn’t think to pack a backpack to just be for our use in the parks to hold our stuff. Luckily Kaitlyn had a good one we could use that she had pack as her bag of fun. We just moved all of her stuff out and used it in the parks. 

Postcards Make Great Souvenirs

I have always loved to travel. When I was in high school, I brainstormed what I could get at places I went as souvenirs. At the time, a lot of people were getting shot glasses or little silver spoons with the place they went on it. I wanted something that would not take up a lot of space. It hit me to get post cards. Wherever I go, I buy postcards from that place. At the end of each day, we went into the gift shop and everyone picked a post card that represented their favorite thing about that park. I always date the post card. I also had the kids write down their favorite memories on the back if they wanted. It is like a little vacation journal.

We knew each child was going to have a place they had as a favorite park, so we let them choose a more significant and fun souvenir at their favorite park. I also got a Christmas tree ornament from each place. Our tree is not a fancy decorated tree; it is a tree full of ornaments that represent us. The ornaments will be something we will love each year as we pull them out to decorate our tree.

Keep Track of Water Intake

I knew that it was going to be hard to get the water I needed if I didn’t watch it. This was especially true in Oceanside. As much as I loved that place, the taste of the water was very difficult for me to drink. I have an app I use to track my water intake. It is called WaterMinder. I was able to get the water I needed each day by tracking it. 

Eat Smart

Going on vacation is notorious for causing weight gain. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like gaining weight. I also don’t like eating out for every single meal. It gets old really fast. We packed food for breakfast while at the condo and we had breakfast made for us at the hotel. We packed a lunch to take into the parks each day. We made dinner at the condo while there, then when at the hotel, we ate dinner in the parks. My husband and I sometimes shared a meal. When you are eating out every day, you can easily share meals because they are so high in calories. While on our trip, I lost almost two pounds (let’s not discuss Thanksgiving). 

Bring Sound Machine

We had a sound machine for the children. This was so helpful. At the condo, a commuter train would come by every so often. The hotel could get quite noisy. With the sound machine, the children were not disturbed by any strange noises that they weren’t used to.

Bring Miralax for Kids

Some people get really backed up when they travel. I wish I had brought some Miralax for some of the kids who needed it. That will be something I bring with me in the future. Being on the go all day and being in a strange place can make for some irregularity. 

Bring a Laundry Bag

When we go camping, we always have a bag we use to put our dirty laundry in. It is very nice to not mix the dirty clothes in with the clothes we didn’t use. I always pack more clothes than we need because you never know when you will need to change. Having the dirty laundry in a different bag from the clean clothes means clean clothes get put away when you get home rather than getting washed because it got stinky with the dirty clothes. Our camping laundry bag is packed away for the winter, but we just used garbage bags. As soon as we got home, I started the laundry and I was done about 14 hours after we got home (and most of that time was night time). Very easy to do when the laundry is already separated from your clean clothes. 

Bring Your Own Pillow and Blanket

I don’t know about you, but I really like to sleep on my own pillow. And I find my own blanket very comforting. I even took my own pillow to Hawaii. Yeah, I like it that much. Kids sleep well with their own pillow, blanket, and a familiar stuffed animal.

There you have my new tips! Be sure to see my Travel Index for a full list of travel tips.

For tips for planning the perfect family vacation, see my post on How to Plan the Perfect Family Vacation.

Surviving When You Get Home

Once you get home, there are some things you can do to make your adjustment back to normal life more smooth.

Expect tantrums. When you get home, you will have some tantrums/fits/crying. Expect some discipline issues to come up. 

Work toward consistency. Try to be consistent for at least a few days in your routine to help your child readjust easily.

Be patient. You know the fits are likely to come, so when they do, be very patient with them. It can be hard because you will likely be tired and want to throw your own version of a tantrum. Take a deep breath and be the grown up. Show patience and love to your overly tired and stimulated child. 


Reader Travel Tips

Katie said: Take a lot of pictures! Traveling with children will be full of stresses, especially if you, and they, are used to a consistent schedule, good sleep, and home-cooked food. But you will remember it through the pictures you take and the stories you tell. Remember the happy moments – that’s why you took the trip!

For example – when my son was 17 months, we went camping in a tent. He had a massive meltdown at bedtime, but since we were all going to bed at 7:30 in the tent, we just ignored it and let him cry. He fell asleep within 20 minutes, and there weren’t many other campers nearby. However, we mostly have pictures and memories of all the fun that trip was – and how grubby he got camping! That’s why we took the trip. I’m glad we didn’t avoid it because he might have a bedtime meltdown – he did, but we all (and the other campers) survived. Also, when he was 2.5, we stayed with friends at their house. Their guest room had huge east-facing windows with NO CURTAINS and no where dark in their whole house to put down a small child. It was SO bright. We got up at 4:30 every day with our son and the sun, and we were so exhausted we could hardly move by the end of the trip. But when we look back at our pictures, we have some truly great ones, and we are all happy and smiling. Again, I’m glad we didn’t skip the trip just because we all might be tired at the end! 

D & H said: I’ve found it helps a lot to have at least 1 nap/night in the pack-n-play before leaving on a trip. When my son was 6 months old we suddenly had to attend a funeral out of state. We had 3 days notice, and I wanted my baby to be as well-rested as possible for traveling so I really stuck to our schedule and had him nap in his crib like normal. The first couple nights in the pack-n-play were really rough and involved lots of crying. I wish for that trip I would have let him have a less-good nap before leaving so that he would have slept better while we were gone. Since then, even one nap in the pack-n-play in his room before leaving has made a big difference.

Emily said: Valerie we are SO much alike! I believe that travel is one of the most important things i can do with my child (children come dec!) we too try not to go too far though. I think the furthest driving trip we’ve taken our son on is 6 hours and we’ve flown once. we’ve also only changed time zones that are about an hour difference. We just got back from Hawaii (mommy and daddy only vaca) and several of the people we were with brought their kids. I cannot IMAGINE dealing with a toddler with a 6 hour time change and a 12+ hour flight!!! YIKES!!! I use all your same tips. My son doesn’t use a pack and play but we have a peapod and a toddler sized air mattress and we alternate between them depending on where we are staying. We use tacks and sheets to cover up windows so it’s nice and dark and a fan to keep that white noise going! I am a BIG believer in sticking to our schedule as much as possible but am glad I’m not alone in dealing with a couple days of tantrums/fits when we get home…no matter what the prep it always seems to happen! thanks for the great post!

Kristin L. said: Two random tips to share that I read in a travel article of a parenting magazine… If you are flying… carry-on an extra outfit for yourself… just in case your child has any sort of accident while on your lap!!! (I have two friends with horror stories of their child getting air sickness!) Also, if staying in a hotel… maybe splurge for two rooms or a suite with a separate sleeping and living area so that you and your spouse don’t have to go to bed when the kids do. You might even have a little alone time together after the kids go to bed… its your vacation too!!! : )

Petrina said: On a recent roadtrip, we modified your idea of a piece of string across the top of the car to mark the distance. We tied a wide ribbon across the car and taped on the first letter of the major towns that we were passing in, roughly to scale. Then we had a peg with a picture of our car on it that we moved along as we went. My 2 year old loved it! And had great fun trying to pronounce all the funny town names too

Sally said: I know that traveling can be stressful. My family takes a lot of road trips and this article pretty much sums it up on what to do. The one activity that has always helped me out is my iPad. With all the options on there the kids stay busy for hours. I always bring plenty of snacks and I live by technology for the kids. I bring my iPad with me when we travel. They have so many options with the iPad that they don’t need anything else to keep them busy. They can play games, read, watch movies, and watch TV through my provider/employer DISH Network. I have the sling adapter hooked up to my receiver and that gives me access to all our subscription channels from anywhere we are at. The kids love that they can watch all their favorite shows live from anywhere we are at.

Reader Questions about Travel

susie said… We are getting ready to travel to the beach with our daughter. We will be going this October when it isn’t soo hot and she will be 14 months. I worry about the 6 hour drive. She is a great sleeper and I thought I would travel at night, but I have never tried that and I don’t know how that will go. And too, most places don’t allow you to check in before lunch, so that affects the morning nap. Any suggestions?I love your blog. It has been really helpful to us!!!
June 10, 2008 5:44 AM
Plowmanators said… Susie,If it were me, I think I would stay home the night before and get the good night sleep. I would have the car all packed and ready to go so as soon as she woke you could get in the car and go. Then you would get to your hotel soon after check-in time. She might take her morning nap in the car, might not. But that way, you won’t disrupt night and morning nap. You will be in a better position for a good day. But neither of my kids will sleep in the car, so that is what I would do.If she does sleep in the car, you can drive in the night. If it is only 6 hours, though, I would worry about what to do in the middle of the night. If you left at 9 PM, you would arrive at 3 AM. Then what? An option would be to leave the evening before and get a hotel for that night, but just be checking in late. So say you left right after dinner around 6 or 7. You then would arrive around 12 or 1. Maybe baby would sleep on the way. But then you would all go to bed and have the hotel for the morning nap also.Lots of options! Be sure to check out the traveling posts:

June 11, 2008 10:23 AM

twinsx3 said…
First let me say congratulations on the girl! Also, I wanted you to know that this blog has been a blessing to me in the past year. Thanks for continuing it even when you are not feeling well. Now on to my questions! Thanksgiving travel with my 16 mo twins was horrible to say the least! The babies slept terrible at night and for naps. Once home, we are back to CIO because they both were basically in our bed almost every night while we were gone. 🙁 I am determined to help them learn to sleep better before Christmas travels. We also just went down to 1 nap this week since being home. How long should I let them get used to 1 nap before I start making them sleep in the pack n play in every room in my house! Seriously, how often should I change the location of naps to get them used to napping in different places. Also during Thanksgiving travel both pack n plays were in the same room as DH and I. Is there any way to for us all to sleep in the same room in our own beds?Thanks so much!
December 4, 2008 12:41 PM
Plowmanators said…
Twinsx3, oh, that sounds rough. I haven’t ever had a child sleep in bed with me for that very reason–I think I would sleep on the floor first 🙂 I have a good friend who was very sick one night, as was her 1 year old. There was a thunder storm and it was making it so her daughter couldn’t sleep. She decided to take her to bed with her that night. She told me that was the biggest mistake. Not only did she not sleep well anyway because she was being kicked all night, but it took her daughter (who previously slept completely on her own with no problem) two full weeks of basic re-training. I would give them a week to get back on track before you start mixing things up again. Maybe two if needed. I don’t know if there is a magic number of how often to vary locations. I only have Kaitlyn sleep in her room or my room, so we have two locations. If you think your twins are less flexible, you might want to add a couple of locations if feasible.When you set up the pack n’ play, put blankets around it so they can’t see out. That is what I do for Kaitlyn, then we do the same when we travel. When we camped last summer, we were all in the same camper without problem. I assume you have looked, but if not be sure to look at all of the traveling posts for further ideas.
December 5, 2008 12:14 PM

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