25+ tips for the perfect family vacation
I’ve collected a set of amazing tips that will make your next family vacation so much better. Let’s start.
Ask For A Child Discount
Asking for child discounts can really save you a lot of money during your trip. Most people are not aware of these, or they don’t feel comfortable asking, but give it a try, and you’ll be surprised when you see how many places will give you a child discount when you’re traveling.
Some restaurants and other locations may publish their prices and kids’ policies online on their website, but there is usually no mention of a discount. You have nothing to lose by simply asking.
Either send a quick email ahead of time or ask when you’re buying tickets at the location.
Ask for discounts on:
- Attraction entrance fees
- Transportation including buses and trains
- Private tours and guides
The more popular locations and cities will offer a large variety of coupons you can find online. Give it a try.
Book Accommodations With Separate Sleeping Areas
Whatever type of accommodation you choose, choose one that offers a separate room for the kids. You’ll pay a little more for this convenience, but a good night’s sleep is the key ingredient to a successful family trip.
If everyone stays in the same room, you also lose privacy when needed, have less sleep, share TV, and more.
If your kids are older, you might even want separate sleeping areas for each one.
Not every accommodation offers one- or two-bedroom suites, so you need to do a little more research.
Most of the big sites like Expedia, Booking.com, and Hotels.com will offer that information.
Vacation villages such as Center Parcs and Landal or Apartment rentals from sites such as Airbnb are the best option for this. They are often cheaper than hotels and offer all of the comforts of home. Try looking for centrally located apartments that provide full kitchens and laundry, saving us time and money.
Less moving means less packing and unpacking. This means less trouble and fewer things being lost.
Bring A Car Seat
Kids’ car seat regulations change between different countries. Check the law in the place you’re going to. Regardless of the law requirements, we recommend that if you use a car seat at home, you’ll probably need one when traveling to keep your loved ones safe.
Make sure to bring a seat with you. We always recommend packing light but not at the expense of safety. To make things easier, if you plan to rent a car, most car rental companies have car seats available with your rental, but you should confirm before your trip that there will be a car seat there and available for your use.
Make sure the car rental agency has a seat for your kids' age/weight.
Bring A Stroller Or Sling
- Are you traveling to a warm destination? Do you really want your baby pressed to your chest the entire trip?
- Would you travel mostly on sidewalks and stroller-friendly trails or the wild nature?
- Do you like to pack light or even lighter?
If you're bringing a sling, make sure you know how to use it before the trip.
Bring Plenty Of Diapers And Wipes
It does not exactly match my goal to pack light but, when traveling with babies or toddlers who aren’t potty trained yet, you should always bring far more diapers, pull-ups, and wipes than you ever think you’ll need. Even on an hour ride, you might need to change your child several times.
I’m pretty sure that you’ll always need more than what you brought so bring one more.
It doesn’t hurt to have a few extra diapers at the end of the flight, but it is awful to have too few.
Since “accidents” happen, it’s also a good idea to bring an extra set of clothes and begs to save the smelly ones (preferred Ziplock).
Have a spare outfit, within reach, for yourself. Diapers leak, babies spit so be prepared.
Choose Your Destination Wisely
Choosing the right destination can make or break your family trip. When choosing your next destination, consider your children’s needs, but don’t forget your needs. Try to mix between kids’ activities and places that will interest the adults in the group. Most destinations have some form of an amusement park or family-friendly attraction, so when you make your shortlist, look for destinations that have some adult fun for you, too.
Do you still travel with a stroller? If so, consider destinations with proper streets and sidewalks, as it will be easier to get around than trying to navigate jungles and more obscure places.
One more thing to remember is that young kids get tired after a long travel day, so it might be a good idea to plan for a “start” trip, where you sleep in a central location, allowing you to take a short drive to different places and make it back to the room early enough to rest for the next day.
It might also be a good idea to pick a location that offers direct flights. Long travel time is not a wise choice with the little ones.
Don’t Jump Between Hotels
There’s no point trying to cover everything. Take your time, focus on close areas, and cover all the things that interest you in that area. This will also help you avoid the need to just from one hotel to another every night. Try to pick a place to stay the whole time you are in that area. Jump to the next one when you move to another place or a different part of the city.
It’s especially important when traveling with your children since they get used to the place and develop some comfort level, helping them enjoy it more and sleep better.
Less moving means less packing and unpacking. This means less trouble and fewer things being lost.
Food Special Needs
If you or one of your family members has any food allergies, I have no doubt you know about them, how to avoid them and how to handle them if they were exposed to food that puts them in danger. It’s easy to maintain a clean environment at home or your local school, but it is a bit more tricky when traveling. As part of the trip preparation, make sure you know how to explain it. It would be better if you’ll know the right words in the local language.
The same goes if you have special diet needs such as vegan, vegetarian, soy-free, gluten-free, etc.
You can even prepare cards with your family’s special needs, in English and the local language. Use them to explain the waiter, the hotel staff, and in case of emergency, the medical caregivers.
You can save the cards on your phone or have a printed copy. If you're traveling to several countries with different languages, prepare a set for each language.
Have Entertainment Available
When you’re traveling with kids, keeping them entertained is critical, especially on long flights, waiting at the airport, standing in long lines, or when having a long car ride. It can make the difference between a great trip and a miserable one.
Entertainment doesn’t necessarily mean a smartphone, although a smartphone is a great option when traveling. Depending on their age, here are some great options to consider:
- Electronics – a phone, music player, tablet are great ways to pass the time.
- Journal – let them draw or write a travel journal. It’s a great way to enrich the trip and an amazing souvenir.
- Card and board games – you can buy the games you know and love in traveling versions (small, magnetic, special packaging).
- Road Trip Games – check out our guide of road trip games you can play when driving or have free time.
- Dolls they love
- Make sure to have chargers, headphones, spare/backup batteries, adaptors.
- If you take electronics, don't count on WIFI or mobile plans. Make sure to download the apps, music, movies, or TV shows to the device before your trip. You never know when you’ll be without Wi-Fi, and it’s almost guaranteed your kids will desperately need a new app or episode when that happens.
Hotels Are Not The Only Option
- Holiday villages – have your own house in nature, especially if you live in the city, to have new experiences. Not only that, some parks offer everything you can imagine for a perfect family vacation, including entertainment, food, activities, and much more. My family and I love these villages and tried several in Europe and the US. It’s just pure relaxing fun.
- Cruise – this is another type of lodging and a completely different type of trip experience. The new cruise boats have everything you can imagine on them so you can enjoy great entertainment for the entire family, amazing food, shopping, and much more—all that while traveling to different locations.
- Home exchange – you can either rent homes on sites such as Airbnb or even exchange your home with other families.
- RV – RVs and Trailers are another option to consider when planning your next trip. It’s a different experience, had its advantages and disadvantages like any other option.
- Camping – Enjoy the freedom of the outdoors and connect with nature. If you’re less experienced with camping, there are organized places where you can rent a ready-to-use, equipped tent.
Try to experience new ways of traveling but remember to choose those that your family likes.
When traveling with kids, make sure always to check the regulations of the countries you are traveling to. Some might require additional documents or paperwork when crossing the border.
Most times, a passport should be enough, but some countries require you to show your kid’s child certificate to prove you’re the child’s parent, especially when traveling without your child’s other parent.
Different countries may require different documents. For example:
- Birth certificates
- Copies of birth certificates
- Notes from the child’s non-present parents
- Other documents, especially if you travel with minors who are not your child
Frequently, the documents will need to be notarized and available in both English and your destination language.
You might have already been traveling to places that require special documents and passed border control without presenting anything. This doesn’t mean it will be the same the next time you travel there, so make sure you got what’s required.
It might be relevant to your country of origin. In that case, you don’t want to get caught without the documents you need to get your kids back home from vacation.
Journal Is A Great Addition To Any Trip
As mentioned on the “Bring A Car Seat” tip, a journal is a great opportunity to get your older kids involved, learn more, and have more fun.
It’s their choice if they want to buy a physical notebook, write an online document, or blog about it. Some might like to record a short video each day. Give them some time at the end of each day to reflect on the day and talkwrite about their experiences. What they did, what they enjoyed, what did they learned, and maybe where they’re going next.
This journal will also help you if you plan to print a photo book for the trip, which is always fun to have on the shelf and look at once in a while.
You'll appreciate it when you're home and want to reflect back on your trip, even years later.
Kids Are Great Photographers
Kids can bring a whole new perspective to photography and your trip album. It’s not just due to their height, which brings a new perspective; it’s about the way they look at things.
No matter their age, give them a camera, and you’ll be surprised with the results. Give them their own kids’ camera as it will save your battery (which is precious when traveling) and reduce the risk of someone stilling it. Sure, your phone camera is good enough if you don’t have a camera or don’t want to carry one.
Your kids don’t need a fancy DSLR, and they’ll be just as happy with a simple camera or even durable kids’ point-and-shoot camera.
Not only will you get nice pictures for your album, but you’ll also find that kids enjoy taking pictures and learn more about the environment since they focus better on things around them as they search for the perfect picture.
If they are too young, hold the camera and let them press the shutter or use a tripod.
Make Them Partners
If your kids are large enough, let them help with the planning of the trip. If they’re too small, keep them engaged and explain the journey ahead of time.
Making them partners can help in many ways:
- It helps them grow and learn responsibility.
- Read, research, and choose.
- Learn teamwork.
- Learn about where they’re going ahead of time, let’s them study about its history, things to do, what to expect.
If your kids are not used to travel, trips have a lot of new things going on. The preparation and the trip can make them feel uncomfortable, which will ruin the trip for everyone.
If they’re too young, go over the trip plan with them. Show them pictures, a map with the trip plan and places you’ll go, explain the agenda at a high level. All these steps will help them know what to expect.
You can even let them prepare their own trip plan using our Trip Planner For Kids, based on the places you discussed. Use it during the trip to let them know where they are according to the plan.
Remember that the airport and the flights, staying in a new “house”, riding a new car and eating new types of food are all part of the plan.
If they’re older, let them pick the activities they want to do, at least for part of the trip. Take this opportunity to go over your expectations for their behavior during the trip.
Make your kids part of the trip right from the start. It will result in a happier trip for everyone. Give them options of activities to choose from.
Ohhh, The Pressure
Kids and adults often suffer from ear pressure when the plane takes off or land. An easy way to overcome this and equalize the ears’ pressure is to chew gum or drink from a bottle for babies and toddlers.
Be prepared and have a pack of gums in your carry-on. Get ready to feed them on take-off or landing. Please don’t wait for them to suffer, do it as part of the flight plan.
Last update: January 2022
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