Travel Tips & News

10 family travel tips from real parents

Recently updated on April 22nd, 2024 at 03:47 pm

Fill in the blank: Traveling with children is  ___________

Heartwarming.

Hair-raising. 

Whichever you picked, there’s no doubt you’ll always cherish your family travel memories. But we’re sure you’ll agree, there’s no family vacation in history that has gone off without a hitch. From that all-important thing didn’t you realise you left behind until it was too late, to finding a destination/activity/place to eat that everyone can agree on, it’s rarely plain sailing. But it doesn’t have to leave you in need of a vacation from your vacation.

To help you make your next family vacation as smooth as possible, we asked the parents we know for their best family travel tips.

Read next: 9 tips for keeping kids entertained on road trips.

Brother and sister sitting on log, Bryce Canyon, USA

“Plan as much as you can, then forget about it.” – Alex A.

That adage about the best laid plans? It’s true for mice, men, and especially, the mom trying to plan the perfect trip. Seasoned travelers who are surgically precise in planning the ultimate itinerary will admit that throwing even one kid into the equation can blow up the schedule. 

One of my best family travel tips is to plan as much as you can: pencil those special moments, activities, and meals in as much as you can. But also remember that you wrote it in pencil for a reason. If all goes according to plan, great. If not, then remember that sometimes the best travel memories are often unplanned and unpredictable. 

“Screen time is acceptable, even in the great outdoors.” – Emma W.

It’s totally acceptable to feel your blood pressure rise when your kids are paying more attention to their iPads than the wonders of the world sitting before their eyes. But that doesn’t mean you should completely embargo electronics. Yes, the limited screen time, the better; but remember that their digital world is far different than yours. It’s an integral part of a teen’s social circle, it streams their favorite fictional friends on demand, and it gives even the littlest of learners a unique way to engage their minds.

Some screen time to manage emotions and exhaustion is acceptable (imagine if you couldn’t mindlessly scroll through your phone for days at a time). Be sure to download games, movies, or TV shows for offline use — and if you can weave the content into your destination, then go ahead and post about it your #eduvaction win.

Read next: Inspire kids with the real-life history behind these fairytale settings.

Toddler girl with Irish cloverleaf lollipop playing in meadow

“Find comfort foods while traveling and pack their favorite snacks.” – Amanda G.

Got a picky eater in the group? Then unless you want to waltz around Europe with a hangry kid, do everyone a favor and feed their need for comfort food. Maybe it’s fries from a fast-food joint. Perhaps it’s ordering chicken tenders from a Parisian brasserie or asking nonna to whip up buttered noodles at a family-owned restaurant in the heart of Rome. Few kids will truly appreciate the opportunity to taste farm-fresh feta or a sixth-generation polenta recipe. 

One of my favourite family travel tips is to let them order what they want so you can make sure they actually eat abroad. And if you’re taking their palates to parts unknown, pack snacks in anticipation of them eww-ing at the menu. A jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread, and a bunch of granola bars require no refrigeration for satiation.

The kids will get a kick out of making Okonomiyaki, Japanese pancakes, on Trafalgar’s Classic Japan tour.

“Make sure some days include napping and nothing.” – Dave O.

One of the family travel tips that no one tells you is “Get as far away from the hotel as fast as possible.” It’s sound advice for solo travelers, couples, and groups of friends, but for mom, dad, and a cacophony of children, the hotel may be one of the best points of interest on your trip. Rushing to complete a packed schedule will wear everyone out, and should they be in good spirits despite the exhaustion, the sheer amount of stimulation will be difficult for them to fully process. 

Your kids won’t remember every moment of your vacation (and half the time they’ll remember details like the make-you-own-waffles station at the hotel buffet). So make sure that you make specific moments more memorable by making other moments forgettable. Dedicate time to rest and recharge with an afternoon nap every other day. Let them spend hours playing in the hotel pool or gameroom instead of sightseeing. Downtime is still time well spent when it has a positive impact on the rest of your vacation.

Mother and Father playing with daughters in river on summer afternoon

“Pack for comfort and convenience realistically.” – Katie T.

Packing for a trip sucks. Packing for a trip with kids is impossible. Which toys do you bring: the favorites that you’ll chance losing or the benchwarmers that won’t keep their attention? Which clothes are in the suitcase: the photogenic outfits they groan over or the well-worn attire that you’re tired of seeing them in? And more importantly: do you pack it all just in case or lighten the load and hope for the best? 

There’s an art to packing and it’s a delicate balance of comfort and convenience. Two things to remember: first, unless you’re going into the deepest, darkest Peru with Paddington Bear, you’ll likely be in a place where pharmacies, groceries, and corner stores can provide anything you’ve left behind. Second, if you’ve got everything in your bag for “convenience”, a heavy pack won’t be comfortable; just as if you travel with only the essentials, you’ll be inconvenienced everytime you need to shop for that *one* thing you kid desperately needs. 

Read next: 6 handy travel gadgets for kids

“Identify must-dos before you start your trip.” – Marla C.

Let’s circle back to planning and pretend you’re going to Disney World. You want to ride all of the rides, but that’s a tall order to fill. So, instead, you prioritize in order of what you must do and what you can be at peace missing out on. You should plan a trip the same way with your family. Make a list of your destination’s must-dos for each family member. If everyone writes down, say, the five things they want to see in London, you can see which must-dos overlap and which ones could be skipped if needed.

Family in the city

“Map out playgrounds and parks at your destination.” – Shawn W.

It’s not always applicable, but when you’re based in a city or town for a few days, you’ll want to know exactly where the public parks and playgrounds are. It’s one of the clutch family travel tips for parents travelling with children in the toddler-to-kindy ages. Find the neighborhood park and you’ve found a free place where the kids can have fun, expend their energy, and enjoy their experience abroad in an environment that’s familiar to them.

“Research perks, amenities, or programs for kids at attractions.” – Ryan P.

Another tip that’s only applicable in certain contexts, it helps to do a little digging into the ways an attraction elevates the experience for children. The United States National Parks System, for instance, has a Junior Ranger program that engages children with fun activities and lets them earn official Junior Ranger badges. Other attractions, such as museums skewed towards an older crowd, may have scavenger hunts, coloring books, or other unique experiences that allow them to learn more about a place in an age-appropriate way.

Visit Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park on Trafalgar’s 9-day US National Park Wonders tour.

Children dressed up as knights playing

“Budget as best as possible, but don’t let penny pinching ruin the fun.” – Tim D.

Do not take out a second mortgage to pay for your vacation and do not base your budget on just how much weight your credit card can handle. But also don’t get all cheap on your kids when you have an opportunity to give them a priceless memory. Pay the extra quid for the gondola ride in Venice or the camel ride in Cairo. Their smiling faces in the photograph will be worth every penny.

Go on, pay the extra Euro to let the kids kiss the Blarney Stone on one of Trafalgar’s amazing tours through Ireland.

“You won’t regret the family photo, even if it’s a hassle getting it taken.” – Sheila R.

Life is short and vacations are shorter. Parents may only get a dozen or so summer vacations with their children before they become adults themselves. Push for the family photo and make sure you get a good one. Even if moods get testy and the smiles aren’t their brightest, you’ll be eternally grateful that you said “cheese” every time you look at the photo.

Read next: 6 reasons why your kids will love a Trafalgar trip.

Did we leave out any top tip for parents traveling with children? Share your family travel hacks in the comments below.

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