Traveling with Kids and the Importance of Planning to Make it Easy, Memorable, and Fun.

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I have always enjoyed traveling with my kids.  I love them dearly and I really like them.  They are fun, smart, witty, and love to travel.  The first family trip was when Alex was 18 months old and Amanda was 4.  We went to Disneyland and spent a week in Cabo San Lucas.  It was a wonderful trip and I loved every minute of it.  I found that my kids love Disney and they are water babies. They also thrived as travelers and we took great joy at experiencing the world through their eyes.

As they grew older and we grew as parents, we become more adept at planning and we made sure we had our yearly family time.  Over the years, we learned when was the best time for us to travel, how to travel with kids, and how to enjoy our vacations as a family. We made a lot of mistakes at the beginning but soon found what works for us and have picked up a lot of tips, hints, and hacks along the way.  We still discover hurdles and pitfalls even as they are now in their 20s and have found that most of the same principles apply.  I lived by 5 simple rules:

  1. Give yourself time
  2. Pack carefully
  3. Pre-book
  4. Snacks and Drinks
  5. Expect the unexpected

Having experienced a lot of family travel, I can tell you that something always goes astray. It’s never the intention, but they do.  Things like weather, travel delays, miscommunication, mistakes, and sometimes just a whole lot of drama can cause even the most even tempered person to indulge in some head banging.  We’ve also had to deal with diapers, feedings, sleep schedules, lost toys, and a meltdowns. The one thing that I have learned is to give extra time to schedules, arrangements, and ensuring that we were all when and where we needed to be.  I am a planner and have worked in operations for years and this came naturally.  Even having said that stuff happens.

Give yourself time.  I back track the tasks we need to accomplish to ensure that we arrive when we need to arrive.  During our many travels to Disney, we found what worked best as far as a routine.  We like to get there at the rope drop.  The kids would get into the lines for the busiest rides first.  If it was an attraction I wasn’t interested in riding, I would make sure to run and get a fastpass.  Now, that those can be scheduled online, I spend time meandering and looking for Disney pins to trade.  She has a nice collection and one year I organized them into two carrying cases for Christmas.  I bought the case and a book and divided them into complete and not complete categories.   It has become hobby of Amanda’s.  Because of the planning, I have time to indulge in our hobby. We spend time at the park until around 1-2PM and then go back to the room to relax before we go back for the evening.  If we are at the Magic Kingdom we stay all day.  I have found that we have a much more relaxed experience and we are happy with being able to do all that we want to do.

Another time saver we found is staying in our timeshare.  The room usually comes a kitchen and we would have breakfast in the room.  One of the reasons is because I like a casual morning.  I get up, make coffee and then take a shower.  While the kids are showering and getting ready, I make some breakfast, and then we finish our day packs that we started the night before.  I have also applied this to other vacations that we didn’t use out timeshare.  In London, Paris, and Rome we stayed at hotels that offered breakfast. We would go and then slip back to the room to finish getting ready before heading back out.  While at breakfast, we would finalize the plans for the day.

I have found that including an extra hour to get to the airport, giving us twice as long for stops when driving, and padding travel times and reservations times help make sure that we all don’t feel pushed or stressed.  Having that time means that you can enjoy some interesting stops along the way, a leisurely meal, or an impromptu event and not have to have melt down because we are running late.  It’s a terrible feeling to watch the train pull out of the station because you didn’t give yourself enough time.

Another critical element of traveling with kids is packing carefully. We used to overpack and went through airports like pack mules. We had these two large suitcases and the kids would sit on top as we roll through the airport. It was just too much.  Honestly, car driving is a lot easier yet you still have to pack carefully. Mark was the worst at overpacking, along with Amanda and my friend, Bob.  There would be some many extra clothes to keep track of and of course if there were purchases, then the packing had to accommodate that along with weight restrictions.  Plus, a car can hold only so much and I am not a fan of the rooftop carriers.  The timeshare had washers and dryers and that helped because I would run a load in the morning before we left and then dried it at night before bed.  I have found that I don’t need the extra clothes.  Recently, I found that sink washing delicates helped keep me from packing too much even with going through a few temperature zones.

Cutting down the number of suitcases helped out a lot.  I did not give the kids their own suitcases until they were in the latter stages of elementary school.  This really cut down on the bulk of what we packed. We had one giant suitcase for the four of us and that really worked. A backpack for each kid with personal items such as favorite sleeping stuffed animal, maybe a book and a few other things to keep them busy. I carried one with all essential papers and my personal stuff.  Backpacks are easy because they leave your hands free to catch a wayward child, pay the bill, or use the phone or bathroom.  Last year, I bought myself a backpack suitcase.  It is carry-on regulation and makes it much easier to hop on and off planes, trains, and buses.

When I went to Europe, I packed some things and my travel partner packed other things,  For example, I packed shampoo and conditioner while he packed toothpaste and Alleve.  Anything that we both needed we split up so we didn’t need to have all those extra products in a some ship or European bathroom plus we didn’t have to worry about security or weight restrictions.  I have also found that shampoo and conditioner bars are the way to go because they are a solid and don’t fall under the liquid carry-on problem.  Due to TSA restrictions, liquids are redistricted.  Here is the direct quote from TSA Liquids Travel Screening:

     You are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes in your carry- on bag and through the checkpoint. These are limited to travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item.

The solids help because they are lighter, smaller, and easy to get through security.  I also use a tin for solid soap and actually use a solid body lotion bar.  They last a long time and I don’t worry about running out or being restricted from carrying them because they don’t fit in a quart bag.  They key is to buy them with tins and then you can just refill them.  I found mine on Amazon.   

Another must is pre-booking. Do your research and know what you would like to do. When it came to Disney we would pre-book certain restaurants that I knew the kids would enjoy. One of the things we used to like to do were the character dining experiences. I made sure that we did Chef Mickey because of the characters involved and it was a great breakfast. We would then drive over from the Contemporary to the park which made it really easy. The thing about Disney is that you really do need to pre-book as soon as you know you’re going to Disney especially for such things as Cinderella’s table and Be Our Guest. We didn’t always dine at Disney and the year we spent at Orlando for Thanksgiving, we scheduled our Thanksgiving meal at Emeril Lagasse’s on the Universal Boardwalk, which unfortunately is no longer there. It was one of the best Thanksgiving dinners I’ve ever had.

Also, if you’re going to other locations pre-book tours and such. We were very lucky when we were in London to ride to Hogwarts Express. I was looking for something to do for Saturday and accidentally tripped across that and we took the train up to Oxford which was the real train from the movie and that was a great trip. I was lucky and really should’ve pre-booked. It was an amazing train ride through the countryside and there were guides talking about the use of the train in the movie.  We also did a Jack The Ripper tour and when I was in Europe this last time I used some tours to get to other locations.  Pre-booking helps because sometimes the prices are cheaper and you can plan out your time to give herself breaks especially when you’re traveling with small kids.

There are so many websites and apps for planning and pre-booking.  For planning, I like Atlas Obscura, Priceline, Visit A City, Open Table, Viator, and Roadside America.  These sites are great for finding tours, rooms, local information, and tickets.  There are also a lot of websites that have information on different types of travel like eco, event, solo, luxury, gap year, volunteer, medical, road trip, and so forth.  I also like support apps like Google Translate and Maps to get my bearings and understand what’s going on.  I also have found the app for NJ Transit and Park Mobile made it easy to get my tickets while I am waiting for the train and pay for parking while I was out of the country.  I had to renwe my parking since there was a two week limit and I was parked for longer than that.  Verifly is a great app and is used by several cruise lines and some airlines.  This stores your documents and gives you a checklist of what is needed for your trip.  My bestie and I used it for our trip to Ireland last year and it gaves us the documents needed with a place to store them, a place for our boarding tickets and where to get our covid tests and a place to upload those.  Another great travel app is TripIt.  It draws information from emails and puts it into your itinerary.  It also provides travel safety alerts, a loyalty rewards point tracker, a place for travel documents and emergency contacts.  It can also be used on a laptop.  I love using technology to make travel easier.

Snack and beverages can save the day.  Having available snacks and drinks is a critical part to keeping your kid not only on somewhat of a schedule but on an even keel. We are used to packing a little cooler bag with things for road trips and even took snacks and drinks into the Disney parks. First of all, I hate getting out of line for a snack. Even when my kids were older, I would pack sandwiches that they would consume in line. Another point of packing your own stuff is the cost. Also, you may not always find what your child wants to eat or may want to give them a bit of a snack before you get to the restaurant so they are not so hungry as to have a meltdown. If you need to restrict their diets due to allergies, this is also the way to manage.  It also helps from keeping from having stomach issues because they’re not always eating the food they were accustomed to.

Finally, expect the unexpected. One of things that you can count on are bumps, scrapes, and bruises. A lot of places have a first aid center which you can take advantage of. Carrying a bit of a first aid kit in your car or suitcase is a great idea. And when I say first aid I’m also talking about such things as kids medicines including stomach and gas aids as well as pain relief for adults. There is a art to expecting the unexpected, please don’t think that you have to take every little bit of something just to combat every possibility. You will overpack and more than likely 75% of the stuff that you overpack with you will not need. There are drugstores everywhere and first aid and urgent care is everywhere. I will say some of the things to not forget is sunscreen.  When we used to pack umbrella strollers for the kids we added accessories to them such as an umbrella, a cup holder and a little bag that would hang on the back for snacks and my wallet. You can’t and won’t remember everything but knowing where the nearest urgent care or whatever is important. You don’t have to bring all the answers but you should know where to find them.

Travel with your kids, if you can. Experience the world through their eyes.  It made usa stronger family and I have passed it on to my kids.  When they were in college they began to travel without me and now have their own stories to tell.  For us, it’s a gift that keeps giving.


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