Traveling with family in tow—like so many things with kids—is different. There’s extra gear, a slower pace, another person’s interests and needs to consider. But it also means experiencing the world with and appreciating your family in a new way. (And remember, today’s heel-dragger is tomorrow’s route-planner.)
We asked Scott’s Cheap Flights Travel Community on Facebook for ideas on how new (and not-so-new) parents can add more travel into their family’s lives. Take heart from parents who’ve flown those long-haul flights before you. Their experiences—and savvy advice—could make all the difference on your next trip. Here are their tips for smooth family travel, whether you have a baby, young child, or teen.
If you have to lug a big car seat along, put it in a travel bag and take advantage of the extra room it creates for stuffing things like extra diapers and blankets inside.
“The last domestic trip I did with my daughter, I put her car seat in a bag and gate-checked it; it was awesome to shove extra stuff in it, like our winter coats.” - Crystal R.
“We just traveled with an infant (2 months) for the first time. The stroller and car seat travel bags were awesome. They were large enough to even throw in an extra blanket and clothes, and strollers and car seats are generally not charged baggage fees.” - Jose A.
When every inch of diaper-bag space is prime real estate, pack a few items that can work double-duty. How about a scarf that makes any place you stop perfect for tummy time?
“One item that I always pack is a small "splat mat" and take it with us everywhere. We like to carry our snacks or lunch and use the mat in a park, on the beach, sidewalk, piazza, city bench, etc. to spread out our food and have a moment to relax.” - Kristine H.
There’s something about babies that can make smiles widen and doors open. Enjoy this opportunity to connect with locals in a truly unique way.
“One thing I really like about traveling with young kids is how easy it is to mix into the culture. Meeting families at the playground, beach, wherever is easy.” - Alissa S.
That whirlwind itinerary that has you hitting three cities in one week and cramming multiple museums into each day? You may need to rethink it with a baby in tow. But for many travelers, the loss of speed means gains in other ways.
“Slowing down, not trying to follow a rigid schedule or must-see list and embracing the unique experiences you have when you do travel with kids is the best part.” - Megan W.
If you want to raise travelers and more travel is in your future, remember that a little extra effort now can pay dividends later. Getting kids acclimated to travel early generally means fewer bumps when they’re older.
“Don't be afraid to travel with babies, specifically long car rides. If they get used to it young, they'll have an easier time as they grow.” - Rebecca C.
With a little advance preparation, a toddler’s first flight can be full of wonder.
“Try to do red eyes so they sleep and arrive ready to take on the day. Let them burn energy running around prior to the flight. During the flight, let them get up and stretch. For daytime flights, bring lots of activities— sticker books, coloring books, stories, maze books, simple toys, pre-downloaded movies—and always bring snacks, something for the ears, and favorite blankets.” - Ana R.
Sometimes the smallest gizmos can make the biggest impact.
“For kids still in boosters, the mi-fold (a foldable, packable booster seat) has been a lifesaver for uber rides/taxis, etc.” - Tracy A.
“For the plane, I highly recommend the inflatable cube foot rest; it definitely helped my kids to be able to lay down and sleep.” - Lisa A.
It easy enough for adults to get bored on an 8-hour flight; keep your kids entertained with plenty of toys and activities, including old favorites and new or special activities that’ll hold their attention.
“Having a surprise every hour or so and movies, books, and food to keep them occupied are key!” - Crystal R.
“Balloons of different shapes for airport layovers are a must... sword fights, baseball, volleyball, keep up, drawing faces on them, making them into animals, ect... Don’t forget the bag full of balloons!” - Beth V.
“We are very strict with our children on their electronics on a day-to-day basis. But when we're on vacation, and when they get on a plane, it is a free-for-all. If you have the discipline to withhold it from them in other times, when they travel it makes it so much easier. I never hear any complaints about sitting on a plane or a train or going somewhere!” - Samantha C.
Everyone may want to do something different, but packing it all in a day is a recipe for meltdowns. Leaving some free time in your schedule can be what you need to keep a busy day sustainable.
“Don’t over schedule. Planned downtime can go a long way to helping young children stay in a good mood on a long trip.” - Jeff C.
“I try to break up our days. I’m not going to want to do museums all day with a five-year old. So the first half of the day, when they're the most awake, most behaved and have the most energy, we're going to go to a museum. And then the second half of the day, we're going to do some type of active activity where they can make noise and get some of their energy out in a way that's not going to bother anybody.” - Keren R.
What’s going to light up your child’s eyes? What will connect him or her to the place? Take advantage of kid-focused activities at your destination or choose activities that connect to an interest your child has.
“Scavenger hunts. At places like The Met, they often have some type of scavenger hunt for children. The Percy Jackson scavenger hunt thru The Met was wonderful. We’ve purchased scavenger hunt hiking books for Smoky Mountain National Park. 5 mile hikes became much more entertaining. They’re also available for cities. Even though our kids are now older, we still do this as it’s a family tradition. We have scavenger hunt books for Rome and Florence this summer even though the kids are now teenagers.” - Cathrine W.
“Ensure each trip has a special appealing item to each child, from their input. We’ve incorporated a special cupcake bakery, mudlarking, Lipizzaner performance, rolled ice cream, fun house, daily gelato, hotel pool, Rick Riordan sites, animal visits, and perfumery on various trips. Not all things I might have chosen, but it’s their trip, too ! Help them see it as theirs.” - Emily B.
When it comes to kids and travel, there’s no one right way. Be creative and figure out what works for you and your family’s needs.
“A major stressor for us is meals out. We want to eat well; they aren’t up for the wait. Packing our lunches eliminates the struggle of finding them something to eat and not stressing when they won’t eat said overpriced food. We opt to make simple dinners at our rentals, if possible.” - Lisa A.
“I keep in the back of my mind, ‘one thing for you one thing for me.’ Meaning we’re not doing all kids stuff and not doing all adult stuff. ” - Kristen M.
“We hire private guides for the most part. We can go and learn, and my kids can ask questions without adults feeling like they're taking up too much of the time.” - Keren R.
“My kids pack 150% of the underwear they're projected to need. I've never had a regret related to packing too much underwear.” - Erin B.
Each child is different, but once you feel they’re able, have each child carry at least some of their own luggage.
“Have them carry their own kid stuff in their own backpack. It makes them evaluate what they truly want to take. Our motto was, ‘if you want to take it, you carry it.’ It creates good packers and more independent travelers.” - Michelle D.
“My kids have to manage their own luggage. If an item they want to take doesn't fit, it doesn't go.” - Erin B.
Chances are your teens have opinions about the trip—why not channel them into trip planning? They’ll feel more invested and excited about the activities your family does. And learn about researching trips at the same time.
“I have my kids research where we are going and they each (we have 4) pick a day to plan. They need to give us all the info and it's sometimes voted on depending on what it is (not everyone wants to do some things). This includes prices, tour companies, and reviews.” - Jill Z.
“When my kids were teenagers we involved them in the entire process. Got their input as to what they wanted to see at a location. Then showed them how much it would cost.” - Kathie T.
If staying in a hotel isn’t giving you the space your teen needs, consider Airbnb or VRBO. More rooms and a kitchen come in handy after a jam-packed day of exploring.
“It is more relaxing to rent a house than to stay in a hotel, because everyone can spread out and do their own thing.” - Mindy G.
“Having Airbnbs were perfect for family living. Then could have a place to relax and we could all stay together.” - Melissa A.
You’re on vacation as a family for a reason, but there’ll likely be a point when you want to do your own thing. That’s okay. Separating for a bit—whether minutes or hours—can give everyone the breather they need to keep traveling on.
“Keeping them separated at some point is also essential! They can easily get on each other's nerves. So In places where there's self guided tours.... they can split. Sometimes it’s just for the walk back to the hotel ... one group goes one way and the other goes another.” - Jill Z.
“It’s important to let them know they don't have to stick with us the whole time...they need a bit of time to explore on their own.” - Ailsa T.
“They say your kids won't remember anything, but even if they don't remember the specifics of what they did, they’re being raised with a global mindset and an awareness that there’s a whole world of people of different shapes, sizes, colors, cultures, incomes, and living styles. And even if they don’t remember it, the parents do. You're forming memories with your family that you'll talk about for years.” - Keren R.