T Is for Travel: 16 Family Travel Tips

Pont du Gard

Jasper kicking back at the Pont du Gard in Southern France.

The Perrin Post, from Conde Nast Traveler’s Wendy Perrin, has been running a super-fab family travel contest that ended last week. Perrin herself posted an A-to-Z list of 26 family travel tips — A is for apartment rental, B is for Bananagrams, etc. — and she invited parents to send in their best tip or tips, too, for a chance to win a $16,000 family vacation at a 5-star resort in the Caribbean.


Needless to say, I and many thousands of other parents, sent in the best of what we’ve got to make family travel easier. Some parents did a full-on 26-tips-long list, others (like me) didn’t force the full alphabet theme, but did send in our faves — many using the A is for… format.

The winner will probably be one of the over-achievers who tackled the entire alphabet, a la Perrin — although what’s the point, really, in stretching to come up with an “x” tip? x is for x-ray machine at the airport, x is for Xanax — eh — but I’ve got my fingers crossed anyway.

We love to travel — just got back from a road trip to Charleston and we leave soon for a month-long stay in France and Italy — and we put these tips for traveling with little kids into action every time we take off.

16 Family Travel Tips from Shiny Brite

(When I submitted my list for entry into the contest, I didn’t use the A is for… format — I thought that only had to be employed if you were doing the full alphabet. Doh! Hope that doesn’t discount me, Wendy! But these are the tips I submitted — they’ve just been re-tooled to fit the alphabet format.)

A is for avoiding the pharmacy in foreign lands. Pack your thermometer + cold/fever meds from home — The second you’re out the door, the likelihood of kid illness or ailment seems to triple for some reason. One of our kids almost always winds up with a cold, cough, or fever at some point on vacation. If we’ve brought our digital-read temporal artery thermometer and some meds from home, we’re ready for it — without having to make a run to the pharmacy in a foreign country.

B is for a bag of tricks, which you should pack for the plane — Bring along a special bag, packed with fun, cool new things the kids have never seen or played with before. Sticker books, Melissa & Doug Jumbo coloring books, a fresh pack of Wikki Stix, etc. Don’t forget to stuff copious amounts of appealing — and not everyday — snacks in the bag, too.

C is for cameras — Buy the kids inexpensive digital cameras (most of which come loaded with games they can play, too) before the trip, and let them snap what’s interesting to them while you travel. Depending on the kid, he or she may be *really* into it (Magnolia is), and you may wind up with some fun, surprising shots.

E is for extra batteries — Bring them. For everything. Cameras, DVD players (a travel essential if ever there was one), etc.

F is for flexible. Be flexible — It’s hard to stick to an itinerary when traveling with little kids. Have a long list of things you’d like to see over the entire trip, if it works out, but remember to be OK with just hanging, too. You’ll still be hanging in a locale that isn’t home, which is often reward enough.

G is for go with another family — I’m no joiner, and value my time (and our family time) alone probably to a fault. But we’ve traveled with another family and it’s great on several important fronts: you’ll save money by sharing in the cost of a rental property, you’ll get free babysitting by taking turns staying in with the kids one evening while the other couple goes out, and your kids will have built-in play mates on vacation with kids they already know.

H is for hang out online before you go — Find bloggers who write about things to do with kids in a specific destination, who blog about travel in general, or who just know a place well. You’ll find some great insider info beyond what you’d discover in guidebooks. Not so into blogs? Get into them. (You’re reading this one, aren’t you?) You’ll find it’s worth your while. Start with: Travel Savvy Mom, Ciao Bambino, My Little Nomads, and Pret a Voyager — then see who they link to, and branch out from there.

J is for just say Europe. It’s your friend — Depending on your personality type and priorities, if you can, consider leaving exotic, truly far-flung locales for later, when the kids are older. Europe is…. easy! Different yet not entirely unfamiliar or unlike home. Adventure is fun, yes, but don’t you mostly want to RELAX on vacation? You’re a tired parent. Of course you do.

K is for kid-hand-off, to a paid professional — hire a sitter or be open to camps while away — You want to spend vacation with your kids, of course, but you deserve a little break from them, too. And an adults-only dinner out or an afternoon of uninterrupted shopping will get you re-charged. It’s worth the additional expense if you can swing it. If staying at a resort, inquire about camps or get the name of the nanny service they use. If you’re renting a place from an owner, ask for a list of two or three reputable local services they’d recommend.

L is for let the kids carry their own bags — Once old enough, they will love it. And obviously, it’s less for you to lug. Get personalized bags and backpacks from Pottery Barn Kids. The personalization adds to the fun.

M is for more clothing. Pack extra sets of clothes for the kids in your carry-on bag — Air sickness happens. And I speak from experience — both on, and sometimes just immediately off, the plane. Spills and other accidents — hello, poopy-up-the-back-and-out-the-sides nightmare — happen, too, so be prepared with extra clothing.

R is for rent an apartment, skip hotelsWendy Perrin included this in her list, too, but it is such a great tip for families! My spin on it: You’ll have more space and be more comfortable, you’ll get to settle in and prepare meals at home like a local, and you’ll save money (don’t be afraid to try to negotiate the price, especially for stays of three nights or longer. If you’re renting directly from an owner, you’ll be surprised by how often there’s wiggle room if you ask.) Spend time combing sites like VRBO and if you’re headed to Paris, you’re in luck! We’ve done hours worth of research for you on the best family-friendly apartments to rent in Paris.

S is for steal away for as long as you can — You’ve planned, you’ve spent money, you’re prepared to deal with jet lag — try to make the vacation as long as is humanly possible. Also, it takes a while for everyone to really get into a groove while away — you don’t want to have to head home just as you’re all getting settled in and feeling comfortable. Try for at least two weeks if it’s a possibility for your family.

T is for talk it up before the trip — Get the kids excited about jetting off by discussing how things will be different while you travel before you leave. Prepare a couple of special meals typical of the cuisine you’ll eat while on vacation, have them learn a few words in a foreign language, or sign up for Little Passports, a monthly subscription service that sends your kids cool info (maps, souvenirs, etc.) on Sam & Sofia, globetrotting kids who set off on adventures to foreign countries via a magic scooter. My kids love it.

W is for water fun. Focus on pools + beaches while you’re away — As mentioned above, elaborate itineraries are challenging with little kids — and they’ll be just as happy hanging at a pool or beach anyway. Plus, the sun and water will thoroughly wear them out (bonus for you at the end of the day.)

Y is for yummy food. Food, food, food! — Museums and other adult-oriented sights may be tricky, but food is a great way to explore a country’s culture, and eating is a democratic activity — everyone can enjoy it. Visit farmers’ markets, sample street food if you’re in a place where that seems safe, have picnics, seek out kid-pleasing ice cream, gelato, and other native treats.

More on travel:

Ciao Bambino on Paris with Kids

A Mom Amok on Rome with Kids

Travel Savvy Mom’s Tips & Tricks on Visiting Disneyland

More Tips from the A-to-Z Contest

Southern France

Learning to walk -- in France!


1 Response to “T Is for Travel: 16 Family Travel Tips”

  1. 1 Cay May 11, 2011 at 7:11 am

    Great tips, Melisa. We are planning a big family trip to CA (Yosemite, San Diego) this summer, and I love the idea of giving the kids their own cameras! Thanks!

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