With a little preparation (and a good attitude) anyone can enjoy a family vacation, even with lots of little kids! Read on for our big family’s favorite hacks for making travel time fun, exciting and sanity-saving. Whether you’re flying on a plane, taking a road trip or just doing a staycation in a hotel, these ideas will keep everyone happy, even Mom!
BONUS: included is a road trip with kids checklist!
This year my awesome mother-in-law suggested we all fly to Montana to visit Luke’s oldest sister and have a nice, cold, festive Thanksgiving! We said yes, of course, and the kids were brimming with excitement for weeks!
I, on the other hand, began to feel the vague misgivings of a potential looming disaster. To say I felt uneasy about the logistics of getting 7 kids through airport security and a flight without meltdowns would be putting it lightly. Also, I was 7 months pregnant. You understand my hesitation.
In the end, the flight TO Montana was a dream; everyone was so excited, they were angels! The flight back was, ah, well…not as successful. I mentioned to Luke afterwards that overall I’d describe that second flight as “less painful than 2 root canals”, and he agreed. Take that as you will.
I wanted to share some of my favorite tips for surviving travel with the whole family! Or even just a handful of the family. Or even just ONE tyrannic toddler. Read on for some ideas that really can make or break the trip…
- If staying in a hotel or rental property (vs. staying with relatives) pack toys, food and baby feeding supplies. My big kids love a pack of cards or some books; a couple of action figures, pocket-sized dolls or matchbox cars work well for the younger crowd. We prefer to stay in rooms with a kitchenette if possible and always buy some snacks and cereal to tide kids over between meals. Make feeding time for the baby or toddler easier by packing the special spoons, sippy cups and bibs that you usually use at home. And check out this portable booster seat! Genius.
- Make sure you’ll have everything necessary to keep the littles happy at bedtime: a portable crib, pacifier(s!), favorite blanket and white noise machine (we love this one but sometimes even use a white noise app on our phones!) are our favorite tools for a peaceful nighttime routine, even in a strange place. Think about your own child’s evening habits and make sure you can replicate them as closely as possible while on vacation.
Finding a dark, quiet place for a baby or toddler to sleep can be the trickiest step. My ideal place to set up a portable crib is in a large walk-in closet. I’ve also had success putting a crib between the decorative and blackout layers of curtains in a hotel room, shielding baby from both the morning sun and the TV or hotel room lights. I even once put a infant to sleep on a thick blanket in an empty bathtub! We turned on the bathroom exhaust fan and closed the door and she slept like a dream. (This only works with very little babies who are non-mobile, obviously.)
3. Be sure to pack well for your children, without going overboard. This can be hard to do but I generally pack something like this:
Kids ages 7+: 1 shirt, pair socks and pair underwear per day and 1 pair of pants for every other day
Kids ages 2-6: 1 full outfit (shirt, pants, socks, underwear) per day PLUS 1 extra outfit
Kids ages 2 and under: Same as above but bring TWO extra outfits
Obviously this can be adjusted depending on how long you stay, whether or not you have access to a washing machine and the likelihood of your children ruining outfits (muddy or snowy places, etc). And don’t forget to pack each day’s clothes up together by taking everything your kid will need for 1 day and then rolling it all up tightly (I often secure with twine, tape or rubber band). Then there’s no rummaging around suitcases looking for stuff!
4. Lastly, when it comes to stuff to do on a plane or road trip, don’t be tempted to overpack! There are a few essentials you want to have with you, but the less crap you have to haul through security and 4 miles to your gate (which, when traveling with kids, will always be the furthest one possible) the better!
Here’s my road trip with kids checklist (also works great for a plane!):
Drinks and snacks (especially if you’re flying and your airline doesn’t provide much, and nowadays most don’t),
a new toy,
coloring book (with attached markers/crayons if possible),
movie or games on a device (don’t forget headphones and a splitter if needed),
and a book for older children who can read.
My hands-down best trick for keeping kids happy this trip? A giant bag of little suckers. I’ve learned to let go of my control freakish tendencies when traveling and just give the kids whatever keeps them happy….within reason.
Also check out this post for my favorite household items to entertain squirmy toddlers on a plane!
Comment below with any other tried and true tips you have for making family vacay fun and easy!