Taking a trip with the kids can be an amazing experience. You can see new things together, or maybe just catch up with grandma and grandpa. However, a family vacation can also turn into a nightmare – bickering siblings, bad weather and the occasional disaster take their toll, after all. Before you start panicking, check out this list of tips for reducing stress and maximizing fun.
Randomly tossing stuff in a suitcase and hoping for the best won't end well, so create (and follow) a packing list. Print it out and check off items one at a time as they go in your bags, including shoes, clothes and even toys for your kids. This way, you won't have to rush to the store for a raincoat or a pair of flip-flops, which might cost a lot more in a seaside town without a lot of shopping options.
If you're going somewhere with lots to see and experience (like Disney, the Grand Canyon or New York City) don't over-plan. Try to take things at a relaxed pace to help everyone unwind and enjoy themselves without feeling pressured to hurry up and move along. This is particularly important for younger kids, who probably can't handle a jam-packed itinerary that doesn't give them a second to rest.
Family togetherness is important, but so is solo time. Let everyone have some space to keep tempers from flaring. Give little ones coloring books and crayons for quiet time in the bedroom of your AirBnB. If you have teenagers, give them a few dollars and drop them off at the mall and then slip into your sweatpants and relax with a good book while you savor the peace and quiet.
Always ask about deals and special offers when booking hotels. Some places give discounts if you stay for a certain number of nights, or just over a Sunday. Others have reduced rates for military families or specials on children's meals. If you can, book a hotel with a pool, which will make the kids feel like they're staying in a resort. And always make sure the place you're staying in has an elevator, or you'll get stuck carrying heavy bags up and down the stairs.
Even if you're going somewhere hot and sunny, make sure everyone has something warm to wear, like a cotton sweater. The beach can be roasting during the day, but chilly once the sun sets and a breeze rolls in. Shopping malls and movie theaters often blast the aircon, leaving you to shiver. And airplanes can be downright frosty, so don't forget something with long sleeves.
Research some alternatives in case your original plans don't work out. Maybe that great museum is suddenly closed for repairs or a storm will make a trek through the woods a cold, miserable mess, even if you're wearing a raincoat. If you know of another place down the road or even a fun pizzeria where you can play video games and enjoy a large pepperoni pie, you won't have to panic when things suddenly don't go your way.
Talk to your doctor a couple months before your trip, especially if you're travelling overseas. Find out if you, or any family members, need vaccines to go abroad (or just a booster shot). Buy or assemble a first aid kit stocked with things like band-aids, antiseptic wipes and gauze. Pack some over-the-counter painkillers and stock up on any medications; don't forget a copy of your prescriptions, too
Eating out for every meal can break your budget. Look for hotels that offer free breakfast to save a little each day. If you're renting an apartment or cabin, make sure it has a working kitchen stocked with pots, pans and everything else needed to prepare a tasty meal while wearing your flannel pajamas. You can even pack a few snack bars and other treats to hand out when tiny tummies start grumbling.
Make sure your kids have screen-free time every day, but don't be afraid to let them bring their phones and a tablet computer. That way, they can watch movies in the back seat of the car and text friends instead of feeling lonely, which can prevent hours of griping and arguing. Consider giving them an old digital camera to play around with and encourage them to take photos of your trip, too.
There's no reason to pay for everything you do on vacation. Research destinations beforehand to see about free activities, like festivals and fairs. See if local museums don't charge for kids visiting with their parents, or at least have a discounted rate. Most parks and beaches are free to visit, too, and spending a day at the lake or hiking through the mountains (wearing a cozy kids' fleece jacket of course) usually doesn't cost a thing, either.