Who’s ready to get out and start exploring again? ME ME ME ME ME!!! I have been dreaming about road trips since March 11th when I was first quarantined at home. It’s been a looong time. So long, that once I started thinking about getting out and about again, I had to remind myself of some tips I have learned (usually, the hard way) over the past 12 years of traveling with kids. Some of these tips are repeated in my posts here and here and here. Here are 10 tips for traveling with kids:
1. Take small risks: Road trips are a great opportunity to get out of your comfort zone. One of the best ways to do this is with food- try new, local cuisine (the “when in Rome” syndrome). The best time to do this is at lunch: energy, enthusiasm, and patience are usually higher than later at dinnertime, prices are more economical, and portions are smaller than at dinner (so if you don’t like it, you’re not wasting a lot of food). Read more about taking kids to fancy restaurants in this post.
2. Avoid tantrums by adhering to routines, nap times, and bed times. Most people thrive on routine. Try and stick to your family’s “normal” as much as possible. For years, no matter where we were, we stopped in the middle of the day and returned to the hotel for naptime. Everyone took a break, rested, and cleaned up before heading back out. Most trips, we reserve a one bedroom hotel suite (we always stay at Marriott properties; Residence Inn suites include separate bedrooms. Read about why we love Marriott here), so the kids can go to bed on time, and we can watch television in the living room.
3. If a meltdown does occur, bring comfort with your favorite take out restaurant meal or watch your favorite tv show (thanks Netflix!). Many chains have locations throughout the country, and having his or her favorite meal might make your child feel better (but still try #1 at some point). We’re not saying give in to tantrums, but most of the time, kids are having meltdowns because they’re hungry, tired, overstimulated, or aren’t being heard. There have been many times when we have cut a day short to head back to the hotel to either A. jump in the pool or B. throw on an episode of one of our family’s favorite shows or movies.
4. Let everyone have a say in where you go and what you do. Often, my husband and I will propose two or three places we want to visit and let the kids pick from that list. Or we’ll ask them to research a new place on their own and find activities that sound fun. Our favorite go-tos include National Park sites (read about why here), baseball parks (read about why here), beer gardens, and presidential sites (read about why here).
5. Buy some items ahead of time. If you’re driving, bring some things with you that you can get on sale (snacks, juice boxes, or water bottles etc) We typically stock up at a big box store before a trip. Sun related items like fans, sunscreen, umbrellas, and ponchos are also much cheaper at your local store than at any tourist location. Our children are ferocious readers, so we bring a couple of new books on every trip to keep them busy in the car or during downtown at the hotel.
6. Avoid wasting money on impulse items and choose a family memento. My daughter collects snow globes, so she ONLY looks for that item whenever we stop at a gift shop. Our family also collects holiday ornament, so we put my son in charge of finding the perfect ornament from every trip and avoid impulse buys.
7. Don’t bring your favorite clothing items for fear of losing them or having something happen to them. I know many kids have a special “lovie” that they need in order to fall asleep, but I always encourage parents to have kids leave it at home to “watch over” all the other toys and stuffed animals. Personally, I don’t have any fancy jewelry, but I leave anything of sentimental value at home. We also backup our computer hard drive before each major trip in case something happens to our laptop.
8. Bring proper footwear. This can have such an impact on your mood and ability to get around when traveling. Each member of our family usually brings three pairs of shoes: sneakers, “comfy” slip on shoes, and flip flops. Comfy shoes are for travel days when we’re in the car a lot, or not doing a lot of walking. Flip flops are for the pool and beach. Sneakers are important everywhere else to keep feet clean and safe.
9. Plan your transportation ahead of time. An overwhelming majority of the time, we take our car and drive. My husband is usually in charge of locating a safe place to park for a reasonable fee. However, there are some instances where it’s actually cheaper to park your car in a garage and, if necessary, take a taxi or Uber. When we’re in a big city, we find a reasonable rate, but it sometimes mean no “in and out” privileges. If it’s too great a distance to walk, we’ll opt for an Uber rather than take the car out of the garage.
10. Plan downtime. I am a huge planner and often get teased for over planning. But for every 7-10 trip (or longer) I budget a half day of “unscheduled time”. Usually, that involved pool time. I also schedule things that are non negotiable, like church on Sundays, and getting laundry done. Have a schedule ensures I won’t forget to stick to parts of our routine and I won’t forget what is most important to our family.
Dance party with Snoopy and the gang at Planet Snoopy at Kings Dominion in Ohio.