It is truly a joy to travel. We see historical and natural sights, taste new foods, and meet new people from different cultures. It’s a way to expand our horizons while also deepening our appreciation for our lives back home.
When we feel this way about traveling, we want to share it with our family. However, traveling alone is quite different from with a family. There are so many more things to consider, to pack, and to plan around. Here are some of my travel tips for families based on my personal experiences of traveling with families (my extended family, my friend’s family and families that I have met on the road).
Logistics: planes, hotels, and baby beds
At the beginning of every trip is the booking of transportation and accommodation. What I have learned about flying is the importance of reserving a baby bassinet, which attaches to bulkhead seats. They are free, and you can settle your baby in nicely instead of trying to hold him/her in your lap.
For older kids, stock up on movies and games on mobile devices so that they’ll have lots to do on a long flight or drive. Since downloads can be time-consuming, this goes on my to-do list at least a week in advance of the trip. Don’t forget to bring books, because mobile devices run out of power. I hit the local thrift shop and buy used books, and these are left behind as they get read, so by the time that we all head home, our luggage has room for souvenirs.
Other flying tips are to bring a change of clothes in your carry-on luggage (because kids are messy), book non-stop flights if possible, and book seats with extra room.
I always consider apartments or houses when looking for lodging, especially ones that come with kid-friendly gear. When I look through websites, I look at the amenities to see what’s available. These places have a kitchen, so we save time by not eating out, and they usually save us from having to pack or rent things such as strollers, bikes, skateboards, and more.
When a “lived-in” situation isn’t possible, the hotel suite is the next option. I always have to do a bit of digging here, to make sure that the suite has what we need, such as a kitchen, a baby bed, and more than one room, but it’s worth the effort. Wherever we go, I look for a laundry machine, because washing clothes cuts down on packing.
Packing: fitting it all in
When the kids are along on a trip, it’s no fun trying to keep track of everyone’s luggage. Sometimes, we know that we can cut down on luggage by buying things such as diapers along the way. Other times, we have to plan as if we might be without certain everyday items for the entire trip.
I make a pretty comprehensive list of what we need to bring by writing down everything that we do in a normal day and how we need to do it. For example, we all brush our teeth with toothbrushes and toothpaste, so those items go on the list. Baby’s diaper is changed in the morning, so I write down one diaper.
Then I have a list of things that we travel with but don’t use every day, such as passports, travel chargers and adaptors, or a first aid kit. This list is kept year-round because I never know when I will think of a useful item such as plastic bags for dirty clothes, or foreign currency. It also doubles as a reminder to check on certain things, such as the expiration dates of our passports.
After my list is complete, I figure out if we should pack enough for the whole trip, or make purchases once we get there. Whenever this task seems daunting, I just remind myself what it would be like if I didn’t pack the cream for diaper rash. For trips where we need to bring along car seats or other large items, I invest in, or borrow, items that are collapsible and aren’t too heavy.
We also save space by using items that serve more than one purpose. For example, nursing moms need both privacy and comfort when they are on the go, or in a place where breastfeeding is not accepted. A breastfeeding cover may be bulky to pack, but if that breastfeeding cover doubles as a scarf, then it can be worn and discretely converted whenever it’s needed. Another example is a stroller/car seat combo.
Then I practice packing! If what we pack is down to an amount that can be reasonably managed by two adults and a luggage cart, then things start to get cut. Most people overpack clothing, so I start with shoes and see what I can eliminate. I also pack “family-inclusive” suitcases – ones that have clothing and necessities for everyone in case luggage gets lost. This helps me to choose truly essential items.
A dream vacation with the family is definitely doable with good preparation. I hope that you’ll start planning an epic adventure today. Don’t forget the camera!