Family vacations can be a daunting proposition but rewarding nonetheless. Proper preparation helps ease the journey for kids and parents alike and the tips below will help ensure that your next trip is the best one yet.
Manage Their Expectations
Using an upbeat voice, explain to kids exactly what is going to happen from the time they leave home to the time they arrive at the destination. Eliminating the unknown for them (and making it sound fun) may help ease their stress. The other upshot of full disclosure is that it may flush out concerns that you can address in advance.
This is particularly important when it comes to air travel. Find children’s books themed around flying for the first time and read them aloud to help kids visualize what it’s like onboard an airplane. Cover the entire process, especially the need for seatbelts during take-off, taxi, and turbulence.
As hard as it might be for you to retain composure during a full-blown meltdown, do your best. Kids sense and react to your discomfort and so do other passengers. Maybe you’re not in full control and that’s okay, who is? Fake it until you make it.
Arm yourself with travel games for on the road or in the hotel room such as magnetic checkers, Scrabble, Mad Libs and other convenient games to play. “I Spy” is another favorite. And, don’t forget the ones that only require your memory, like knock-knock jokes and the license plate game.
Be Able to Locate Them
Wearable child GPS trackers come in a variety of forms including bracelets, watches, and even tiles that can be slipped into shoes and backpacks. Travel ID bracelets labeled with parents’ contact information and hotel details provide an extra layer of safety. Talk to kids about a meeting point inside of a hotel or what you feel is best to do in case you become separated by closing elevator doors.
Let them Help Plan and Document the Trip
Give the kids input on the trip itinerary. This way, they’re more likely to have a vested interest in daily activities and have something to look forward to that they choose to do.
Travel journals for kids who can write are another way to hold their interest. They can collect postcards, ticket stubs, take instant photos (the newer Instax cameras print photos like the old Polaroids use to) and other fun mementos to paste inside.
Skip Lines When Possible
Thanks to technology, it’s possible to skip the lines at major attractions around the globe by having straight-to-the-gate tickets already in-hand. The other good news is that you can often save a little bit of money by doing so, even at places like Disneyland. Bundled attractions passes, like CityPASS or Go City Cards, are available in major cities worldwide and allow users to skip ticketing queues at participating attractions while enjoying discounted admission.
Travel requires extra planning for school-aged children. If the kids are going to miss school, it does layer on some extra work for teachers. Be sure to give them ample notice so that they may prepare lesson plans for your child to take on the road. And, more importantly, make sure it gets done. Believe it or not, a common complaint educators have about students traveling during the school year has to do with the return of incomplete work.
For those of us who travel during school and summer holidays, avoiding peak season pricing advanced planning. Hotel rates typically rise closer to the travel dates. Set Google calendar alerts 330 days in advance, or for whenever your preferred airline opens up mileage ticketing on your dates of travel, to jump in and grab those seats.
Loosen The Rules
Technology has revolutionized family travel. If a few extra hours of screen time is going to keep them happy, let them enjoy it. Going to bed a little later and an extra scoop of ice cream for good behavior won’t hurt, either.
Remember, it’s their vacation, too. And, it will be incredibly rewarding when years later they recognize historic places they’ve been to or museum artifacts they’ve seen in their school textbooks.
Katie Dillon writes a travel site called La Jolla Mom that is named after her seaside community in San Diego that helps readers plan vacations to San Diego, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Beijing, London, and other major cities worldwide. Katie is also the San Diego editor for USA TODAY/10Best, never fully unpacked, and mom to an 11-year-old world traveler who has been crossing oceans since she was four weeks old.