Five Tips For Traveling With Kids

May 18, 2024

Memorial Day has arrived, kicking off summer and a time when many families take vacations together!  I don’t know about you, but I tended to go into a vacation thinking that I would unplug and unwind.  Unfortunately, what I typically imagined and reality were worlds apart.  I often returned feeling more exhausted and needing a break from my kids.

Taking vacations as a family was often more stressful than work!  Can you relate?

If you find family vacations and traveling with kids overwhelming and stressful, I highly recommend planning ahead to help things go more smoothly.  Here are five tips for less stressful and more enjoyable family vacations.

1. Map out the trip with your kids ahead of time.

 In general, kids behave better when they know what to expect and are involved in the planning process.  When kids don’t know what to expect their central nervous system gets activated, they get uncomfortable, and you have more behavior issues.

Consider holding a family meeting prior to your trip, where you talk about the vacation, what the travel will be like to get there, and what you’ll be doing once you’re there. 

Look for opportunities to give the kids choices, like options for restaurants or activities, as well as responsibilities.

Most kids like to have something that they’re responsible for.  Even littles can have a “job” and help find the gate number at the airport.  I had one client whose 8 year old filled all the water bottles and packed the snack bag for the car with the help of a checklist.

2. Plan in extra time. 

Everything takes longer when you’re traveling as a family.
Someone needs the bathroom.
Someone needs a snack.
There is a line and you have to wait.

If you are rushed you will be stressed, and your whole family will be on edge.
If you plan in extra time you can remain relaxed and roll with things more easily as challenges arise.

3. Plan morning activities. 

Do you want to do some sightseeing or activities that will require your kids to focus and behave?  If so, I highly recommend that you plan it for the morning.

The ability to focus and control impulses is driven by the prefrontal cortex, which is underdeveloped in kids.  As a result, it takes a tremendous amount of energy for kids to continuously keep that part of their brain engaged to control themselves and their actions — and kids are more likely to have more energy earlier in the day.

4. Always have snacks on hand. 

Hungry kids become miserable kids in the blink of an eye, and it can take longer than expected to find snacks or get seated and served at a restaurant.

Make sure to have snacks for adults too!  I know that personally I get cranky when I’m hungry, but I also don’t feel great after eating many typical snacks that you pick up when traveling.  I find that I’m much happier, I feel better, and I enjoy the trip more when I pack myself a mini cooler with veggie sticks, turkey slices rolled up, and cheese and crackers when I travel.  

5. Plan for downtime and be flexible. 

When we are spending money and taking time off for vacation, we want things to go smoothly and we want our kids to be grateful — but when kids get overtired and overstimulated, their behavior can be frustrating and unpredictable. 

Remember that the part of their brain that helps them control themselves takes a tremendous amount of energy, and be cautious about packing in too many activities without giving kids (and yourself) downtime to rest and regroup.  

Watch for signs that your kids have hit their limit.  Be willing to cancel plans so they can have a good meal and a nap or early bedtime — otherwise, you will be trying to get them to behave at a time when they just can’t and you will all be miserable.

When kids are on vacation and off their routines — staying up later, and eating more treats — they will struggle to control themselves and behave.  If you know and expect this, you will be less likely to get frustrated and you will be more effective in your parenting.

Planning ahead makes for less stressful and more fun family vacations!

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