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Travel42 family travel tips to know before going on a vacation

42 family travel tips to know before going on a vacation


Family travel is a whole other ballgame.

The strategy, gear, planning, expectations and number of times you may answer “Are we there yet?” make it an entirely different sport than solo or adults-only trips.

While traveling with kids is quite different from traveling without a child, it doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, there are countless ways to experience memorable moments and make lifelong memories with your kids, whether you hike the mountains of Machu Picchu or ride the newest coaster at Disney World.

Related: TPG’s top family vacation destinations

We’ve compiled our 42 favorite family travel tips to make the journey a little easier. These tried-and-true tips are bound to ease travel headaches and ensure your family travels are as fun and carefree as possible.

Travel tips for infants and toddlers

MARC ROMANELLI/GETTY IMAGES

Having a baby may cause you to temporarily pause your adventures, and it will certainly change how you travel. But traveling with a baby is still worth the effort.

While it’s true that your baby may not remember vacations that happened during their first few years, quality time together is invaluable, and you will always remember their first big vacation.

Some kinds of travel are often easier with a small, snuggly baby than a growing, active toddler, so don’t be afraid to plan something while your little one is still young.

Use the right travel stroller

If you plan on traveling with a stroller, you want one that is lightweight, easily foldable and can smoothly maneuver through the airport or on rough terrain once you reach your destination.

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Several strollers fold up small enough to fit in the overhead bin on most major airlines, but foldability isn’t as important if you choose to gate-check your stroller.

Related: These are the best travel strollers for your next trip

UPPAbaby Vista V2. AMAZON.COM

Instead, prioritize protecting it from dirt and damage by investing in a stroller bag. For long layovers, you can request to have your gate-checked stroller delivered to you between flights so that your baby has a safe and comfortable place to rest while you navigate the airport. Just ask the gate agent when you check your stroller.

Practice babywearing

To keep your hands free and your baby snuggled, you may choose to practice babywearing through the airport or on a flight (though most airlines don’t allow it during takeoff and landing).

Transportation Security Administration rules state that infants may be carried in a sling or carrier while going through the walk-through metal detector, so you shouldn’t have to remove them for security.

If it’s not too hot, baby carriers and slings also come in handy at theme parks, which allow babywearing on many family-friendly attractions. Just be sure you ask about safety restrictions before you ride.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Breastfeeding mamas should consider carriers that allow easy access for on-the-go nursing, such as those in sling or wrap styles.

Consider a Doona

If you don’t want to lug both a car seat and a stroller and your baby weighs between 4 and 35 pounds, you’re in luck: The Doona can serve the function of both. It easily transforms from a stroller to a car seat and back again, all while your baby is strapped in.

Because of their convenience, Doonas are great for flights, cab rides, Uber rides and, frankly, any part of your busy life with a baby.

Think twice about flying with a lap infant

Most airlines allow children younger than 2 years of age to fly as lap infants.

The cost savings can be hard to pass up, and during those early months when the little one is nursing or sleeping a lot, it can be the easiest way to go. If they can sleep through anything or you have someone you can split baby-care duties with, you may have success flying with a lap infant. However, if your baby is fussy or you are flying solo, you may feel more comfortable keeping them in their car seat.

Related: Childproof your next trip with these must-have baby travel gear items

If you do purchase a seat for your baby, there are dozens of portable car seats out there that are much easier to travel with than the bulky car seat you may have at home.

Get a car seat just for travel

Every kid is different, but if your child sleeps well in a car seat in the car, they may do the same on a plane. If your kids are generally comfortable in car seats and have their own seat assignments on the plane, consider bringing the car seat on board for a secure flight experience. You may also want to bring your own car seat if you plan to rent a car or use a ride-hailing service once you reach your destination.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Related: Car seats that are airline approved

The Cosco Onlook is a perennial favorite for travel car seats. Weighing around 10 pounds, this car seat is a winner for situations where you need something easy and affordable. It’s rated for rear-facing little ones weighing between 5 and 40 pounds or forward-facing kiddos weighing 22 to 40 pounds.

Another model to consider is the WAYB Pico portable car seat, which was recommended by several TPG readers.

Bring a Boppy pillow if you’re holding an infant

A Boppy nursing pillow can be a lifesaver on long flights with an infant. In addition to being handy for nursing, it gives your baby a comfortable place to rest while giving your arms a break. To save space, you can stash your Boppy in a vacuum-seal bag when you’re not using it.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Sign your kids up for frequent flyer programs

Once you transition to buying your child a seat — either because they turn 2 or because you think having a separate seat will work best for your family — sign them up for a frequent flyer account and let the miles start rolling in.

No minimum age requirements exist for kids, so enroll them while they’re young to maximize their earnings. Several airlines allow families to pool their miles if you want to manage your family’s points in one account.

Board last

Most airlines let families with young children board early, but as long as your family has assigned seats, you don’t need to worry about rushing to board before others.

Instead, have one parent get all the gear ready and board first while the other waits as long as possible before bringing the baby on board. This will help minimize the time you have your little one in tight quarters, reducing the likelihood of a meltdown or further disrupting their schedule.

Pack your carry-on strategically

Think about everything you need easy access to for yourself and your baby before organizing your carry-on. That way, you won’t forget your must-have items or struggle to find them on board.

Pack food, diapers and extra outfits for at least twice as long as you think you’ll need them for your little one while in transit. Don’t forget to also bring clothes, snacks and drinks for yourself so you have everything you need.

As a general rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to have enough essentials on board to survive for at least 24 hours, as you never know what will happen.

Bring large Ziploc bags and black trash sacks

When you’re packing for a trip, never travel without a few Ziploc bags, grocery bags or trash bags. They can be used to store wet or dirty clothing. In a pinch, black garbage bags can also work as blackout shades for your hotel room.

Related: The best family beach vacation destinations to kick off summer

Find a space in your hotel for the baby to sleep

LJUBAPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

In the best-case scenario, you’ll have accommodations with at least two bedrooms so your baby has a dark, quiet place to sleep while you relax without disturbing them. However, there are times when having multiple rooms isn’t possible.

If you only have one bedroom, try putting a crib in a hotel closet or bathroom to achieve the same result.

Travel with gear that will help your baby sleep in the hotel

When it’s time for the baby to sleep, there are numerous sleep tents, shades and white-noise machines to choose from. Here are a few of our most trusted options:

You don’t always need to buy new gear for a successful trip, though. One reader suggested using painters tape to cover outlets as a quick, cost-effective way to baby-proof your hotel room.

Related: These are the best New York City hotels for families to check out

Have diapers and essentials shipped to your final destination

While you need plenty on hand for that first day or two, you can purchase what you need from Amazon or use a service like Shipt, Target Circle 360 or Instacart to deliver essentials to your hotel or home rental after you arrive.

Pack the snacks

This is true for all ages but especially applies when traveling with infants.

Never assume anything baby-appropriate will be available while you are in transit. The last thing you want is the stress of scrambling to find what you need at the last minute.

Related: How to pack — and prepare — for travel with a baby

To avoid any potential headaches, pack enough formula, snacks and more so you have whatever your child may need to stay happy and content.

Travel tips for preschoolers

D3SIGN/GETTY IMAGES

The good news is that when kids are old enough for preschool, they don’t need quite as much sleep and transportation gear.

With preschoolers, you’ll want to pay particular attention to toys and activities that will keep them entertained, night-lights that will help keep the “scaries” away and a few other important travel essentials.

Bring mess-free toys

When choosing toys to pack for a flight or road trip, keep in mind that you don’t want anything that will create a mess or get lost easily, such as slime or Legos.

For mess-free coloring, we love Crayola Color Wonder Markers and coloring pages. If you’re taking a long flight or road trip, consider suction toys that can stick to a car or airplane window.

Related: Mistakes parents make when traveling with kids

Pack hidden toys to reveal during your trip

A surefire way to keep your child content for extended periods of time is to wait to give them some new toys until your travel day arrives, so they feel fresh and exciting. You can even wrap them up or dole them out periodically throughout your trip.

Related: Your guide to flying with kids of every age

If you don’t want to splash out too much cash, visit a dollar store or the bargain aisle in a grocery store — you may be surprised at what you find. Trust us, the $5 investment will pay off in spades.

Consider an inflatable booster seat

If your child has graduated to a booster seat (congrats!), inflatable and fold-flat booster seats are much easier to haul around when traveling by car. While several options are currently on the market, the BubbleBum inflatable booster seat is a TPG reader favorite.

Use a stroller

If you plan to cover many miles with your kid during your vacation, having a stroller can be handy, even if you don’t always use one at home.

For example, at a large theme park like Disney World, you may find yourself needing a stroller until your kid is 6, 7 or even 8 years old — it helps you move quickly, allows them to keep up easily and gives them a place to sleep if they get drowsy before you are ready to call it a night. You could rent one once you reach your destination, or you may prefer to have your own.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Get stroller straps

Because it isn’t socially acceptable to AirTag children (though they do come in handy for finding lost luggage), we suggest getting stroller straps that bigger kids can hold on to while you push younger children in the stroller. We’re particularly fond of the Tagalong Stroller Accessory.

Preschedule car service from the airport

If you need car seats or want to be sure you have a ride waiting for you when you land, Uber and Lyft now both have options for prescheduling a ride if you need one. Blacklane is another high-end option. If you’re traveling with a lot of gear, consider having your driver meet you inside baggage claim.

Pack a night-light

Night-lights are useful for kids who are afraid of the dark. This affordable night-light is small, sleek and easy to pack.

If you are going on a cruise and don’t have access to traditional power outlets, TPG Managing Editor Erica Silverstein suggests bringing battery-operated tea lights instead.

Travel somewhere with a kids club

A magical milestone in travel is when your child turns 3 and is potty trained, as this unlocks access to various kids clubs at resorts and on cruise ships (some of which are free to use).

Outdoor water area at the Hilton Maldives kids club. KATIE GENTER/THE POINTS GUY

Whether you’re on a Disney cruise or at a resort with a kids club, these areas are great for preschoolers. By going somewhere that caters to younger children, you can get a well-deserved break while the kids are taken care of.

Plan down days and afternoon rest

Even if your preschooler has dropped daily naps at home, building some downtime into your vacation schedule is still smart. Their sleep schedule will likely be a little off while traveling and the vacation will be more action-packed than what they’re used to at home, so it’s important to set aside time for rest.

To help your overtired kid adjust, plan a relaxing pool day or take an afternoon break in your hotel room to keep crankiness at bay.

Travel tips for elementary-age kids

NIKKI A RAE/DENVER ZOO

As kids get older, they can do more while on vacation with less help, but the tried-and-true tricks for keeping them entertained may no longer work.

Because their brains are developing and becoming more complex, elementary-age kids will need access to more activities while away from home. As a result, you’ll need to adjust your trip strategy so they continue to have a good time.

Use packing cubes for the family

This tip applies to all age groups but can be especially helpful when your child starts taking more interest in choosing their own clothes. By relying on packing cubes, you can keep clothing for every member of your family organized while saving space.

If you decide to use packing cubes, there are a couple of good methods to choose from. You can have a packing cube for each day of your trip and put your family’s clothing in one cube. This works well if you will be making multiple stops and don’t want to pack and unpack everything.

KOSTIKOVA/GETTY IMAGES

You could also pack each family member’s clothing in a separate packing cube, which is helpful when encouraging kids to choose their own outfits and get dressed independently.

Leave 1 day free in the schedule

We’ve already covered the importance of leaving some flex time in the afternoons, but if you are traveling for more than a long weekend, we highly recommend leaving an entire day unscheduled. That way, the kids can rest, and you will have the ability to say yes to a spontaneous activity that they’d like to do.

Joshua Tree National Park. STEPHEN SIMPSON INC/GETTY IMAGES

Depending on your child’s interests, you may want to use your free day for activities like splashing around at a water park, exploring the great outdoors, enjoying an epic ice cream-tasting adventure or spending more time at the kids club.

The key is to leave this day flexible so you can cater some activities to what your kid enjoys most.

Take advantage of your hotel’s club lounge

Club access can be invaluable when traveling with kids.

If you stay in a club-level room at a hotel, you’ll often have daily access to breakfast, snacks and drinks. An added bonus is that the club can serve as a gathering spot for enjoying more time (and often gorgeous views) with them.

Related: Guide to World of Hyatt club lounge access awards, including how to use them for someone else

Plan trips with another family

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

At a certain age, having other kids around really starts to matter.

If possible, try planning the trip to at least overlap with time spent with cousins or friends. Doing so will virtually guarantee the kids will have a better time, which means you will, too.

For these types of trips, you may want to look into finding a good vacation home rental.

Travel tips for tweens and teens

DAMIRCUDIC/GETTY IMAGES

Traveling with tweens and teens is completely different from traveling with younger kids — something you probably know all too well if you are currently living with them.

At this age, kids are well on their way toward becoming full-fledged adults. As a result, they deserve a taste of the space, privacy and independence that comes with adulthood.

Build an activity bag

It’s easy to assume a phone will do the trick, but activity bags can keep kids (including older ones) occupied on long trips.

For your activity bag, consider anything from snacks and quiet toys to new games for their gaming console and art supplies — whatever will keep them entertained while you reach your final destination.

Double-check downloaded content

Wi-Fi on airplanes can be quite finicky. Even if you pay for it, there’s never a guarantee it’ll work for the entirety of your flight. Because of this, it’s a good idea to download movies, music, games and more to your device (or your child’s) before your trip.

When downloading movies or TV shows, use multiple sources like Netflix, Disney+ and Apple. That way, if you run into issues with one provider, you still have content from the others. Also, remember that messaging others is free on many flights, so be sure your teen has the airline app downloaded if you want them to be able to keep using services such as iMessage while in the air.

Enroll your child in TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck entrance inside Terminal 1 at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU). SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

Until they turn 13, kids traveling with a parent or guardian enrolled in TSA PreCheck will be allowed to go through the expedited security line even if they themselves don’t have TSA PreCheck.

Even after they turn 13, kids 17 and younger can typically use the TSA PreCheck lines with their parent or guardian as long as the teen has the indicator on their boarding pass.

If you have a credit card that reimburses fees for TSA PreCheck, you can recoup the cost of your child’s application. Note that Clear continues to work to bring kids through until they turn 18.

Related: Why you should get TSA PreCheck and Clear — and how you can save on both

Consider connecting rooms

Once they reach their teenage years, the days of squeezing two or three kids into one queen-size bed are long gone. Trying to have the whole family use one bathroom is an ordeal you won’t want to go through, either.

To keep the peace, consider reserving connecting hotel rooms.

With connecting rooms, you’ll have double the beds, bathrooms and storage space. Plus, teens and tweens will have the space and privacy they need without you being too far away to keep an eye on them.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Let kids choose a few activities (or plan the whole day)

At this age, kids are not just along for the ride. Give them some input (and independence) by allowing them to help plan your trip. Odds are they’ll be more engaged by being involved in the planning.

Bring a friend

While planning trips with other families is a good strategy with elementary-age kids, by the time kids are teens, just bringing one of their friends could be sufficient.

To keep the costs down, consider using an airline companion certificate to bring along a friend without spending extra.

Teens play foosball on Caribbean Princess. PRINCESS CRUISES

Go somewhere with a teen club

If you are visiting a resort or destination where you may be going light on activities, lean into places that have a space just for teens.

Edge teen club on Disney Wish. SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Cruise ships are fantastic at this, as they often have kid-focused spaces divided into pretty distinct age ranges. For example, Disney Cruise Line has a club for kids ages 3 to 12, another for those between 11 and 14, and another for teens ages 14 to 17.

By taking advantage of clubs broken up into designated age groups, your teen can have plenty of fun without the annoyance of hanging out with younger kids.

Related: Child turning 18? Here’s everything you need to know before the next time they travel

General family travel tips

MACKINAC ISLAND TOURISM BUREAU

Some family travel tips transcend age groups.

Regardless of how old your kids are, where you’re traveling or how you’re getting to your vacation destination, there are a few tips you’ll always want to keep top of mind.

Utilize airport lounges

Airport lounges are becoming increasingly kid-friendly, as they offer dedicated family rooms with toys and kids shows on TV, plus food that will please picky eaters. Additionally, if you have a long layover or are dealing with flight delays or cancellations, you’ll be much more comfortable waiting in a lounge instead of at your gate.

You can purchase a day pass to many lounges, but you may be able to get yourself and your family in for free with certain credit cards or airline status. For example, The Platinum Card® from American Express grants the cardmember and one guest complimentary access to Priority Pass lounges and access to Centurion and Escape lounges, though complimentary guest access depends on how much you spend annually.

Plaza Premium Lounge at Orlando International Airport (MCO). TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

Related: Best credit cards for airport lounge access

Upgrade to a suite

Like springing for connecting rooms, upgrading to a suite will buy you additional space and, sometimes, a pullout sofa bed that adds another sleeping option.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

You’ll also have more room for your family’s belongings and areas for relaxing and dining so your kids don’t spend all their time jumping, eating and lounging on the beds.

Check for reciprocal zoo and museum memberships

If you have a membership to your local zoo or museum, you may be able to use reciprocal benefits for free or discounted entry to other zoos and museums that you can visit on vacation.

This information is usually available on your zoo’s or museum’s website, but you can also check the lists on the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ page about reciprocal admissions or on the North American Reciprocal Museum Association website.

Get a travel tracker that doubles as a memento

You can get many unique travel souvenirs that also serve as keepsakes for remembering your child’s travel “firsts.”

These Junior Frequent Flyer flight logbooks allow you to record your child’s flights while teaching them about aviation.

If a national park visit is in your future, order a standard or junior National Parks Passport and collect stamps every time you visit a new park.

Don’t forget important medicines

You must be prepared for anything when you are away from home. That includes unexpected sicknesses and accidents.

Pack kid-safe and grown-up medicines, Band-Aids, antibiotic ointment and other first-aid necessities in your carry-on bag so you won’t be without them if your checked luggage is delayed or lost.

Bring an extra bag

If you are traveling between a cold and a hot climate, pack a lightweight tote bag that folds into your carry-on so you can easily gather everyone’s coats once on the plane. By keeping this tote tucked away until you’re boarding the aircraft, you’ll enjoy an extra allowed bag, saving you the headache of determining where to put bulky coats.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Get Global Entry for each family member

Unlike TSA PreCheck, which allows kids to travel with an eligible adult until they turn 18 (in most cases), anyone wishing to use Global Entry to expedite reentry into the U.S. needs to apply for the program.

Global Entry can save valuable time spent waiting in line. However, you’ll need to apply well before your trip so you have time to submit your application, complete an in-person interview and await approval.

As with TSA PreCheck, you can use a credit card and be reimbursed for your child’s Global Entry application fee. Or, if you wait to apply until Oct. 1, kids under 18 will be exempt from the application fee.

Try out the games built into many spaces

It’s easy to miss, but many resorts, theme parks and cruise ships have a hidden layer of fun that ranges from traditional scavenger hunts to interactive activities you can unlock with an iPhone or similar device.

While the youngest travelers won’t benefit from these types of experiences, they can be fun for other age ranges, especially elementary-age kids and tweens.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Related: Disney World rolls out all-new MagicBand+: Here’s what this wristband can do for your trip

Bottom line

Family travel has its unique challenges, but it also comes with immense rewards.

By being armed with a few tips and tricks, having the right gear with you, mapping out a game plan, and having the right attitude and realistic expectations, you can have a memorable vacation that every member of the family will enjoy.

You may not get to do everything you want, and sometimes, it will feel like more of a hassle than your prekid vacations. However, if you’re willing to be flexible — even if the end result isn’t quite what you had hoped for — you’ll find yourself eager to book your next family trip before you have the bags unpacked and put away.

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