Take a Few Moments to Plan Now for Your Next Trip With the Kids to Save Money and Headaches
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Take a Few Moments to Plan Now for Your Next Trip With the Kids to Save Money and Headaches

Traveling with your children can be a truly rewarding experience, but there are many different considerations to take versus traveling by yourself

February 19, 2020

Do your kids have a spring break from school coming up soon? It's that time of year when many families make plans to travel in order to escape the monotony at home. Whether it's your first time traveling with children or your very first trip, you'll want to take a few moments before you leave to make it as hassle-free and safe as possible. Saving money while you're traveling doesn't hurt, either!

  1. Packing
  2. Maintain a list for each trip

    When it comes to packing, most people are able to get everything they need packed with very little left behind accidentally at home. But with smartphones conveniently in every pocket, it's easy to make a list of things you want to take with you. Even better, you can use the list over and over on subsequent trips to make packing easier. If you've never made one before, make sure to list each type of item to the list as it's going in the suitcase or car. Did you forget something this time? At it to the list when you realize you've forgotten. You can even have separate lists depending upon your destination, the time of year, or even whether the family dog is going with you. Over time, packing will be a breeze.

    Use carry-on luggage, even with children

    Many airlines are charging extra for checked bags, so using carry-ons might seem like a no-brainer. At the same time, handling extra bags while with children might seem like an unnecessary hassle. Along with packing extra snacks, entertainment devices and your toddler's favorite toy, your carry-on should include a change of clothes and an extra set of toiletries in case your checked baggage gets lost. Some travel sites tell you to pack light since you can always buy stuff at your destination. This is true, but it becomes an added unplanned expense. Depending on where you're traveling, it may not be as easy as you would think.

    Don't be tempted to overpack

    We've all been there when packing our luggage. We can't decide which shirts we may want to wear or try taking extra clothes just in case you go somewhere fancy. That's a bad idea, especially when you have kids with you. At the end of the day, there's a good chance you might be carrying one of your kids. And you don't want to be doing that while also hauling around unnecessary extra luggage. So pack only what you need. If you're tempted to bring familiar items for your children in order to maintain some kind of routine, it probably won't work well. Traveling itself is a huge disruption to the normal routine.

  3. Travel
  4. Go slowly and give yourself extra time

    When you're traveling with kids, everything changes. If you could safely get to the airport thirty minutes before your flight leaves, change your expectations. Everything will take a lot longer than you expect when kids are added to the mix. So take a lot of extra time when getting everyone in the car, getting to the airport, etc. Keep this in mind for all parts of your trip. You may not be able to fit all the activities you want to do in the same day when you have kids with you.

    Pick a kid-friendly hotel and vacation location

    Amenities like a pool or a nearby park is a free and easy activity for the whole family. You may want to consider a location that has restaurants and attractions within walking distance to avoid constant use of your car and avoid the hassle of finding parking.

    Road Trip? Take Frequent Breaks

    If you're driving to your destination, plan on taking a break every two hours to give everyone time to get out, stretch their legs, and get some fresh air. This may help keep your kids from building up too much energy while stuck in the car. You earn extra points if you can make those stops fun by finding cool attractions.

    Do a Test Run

    If you've never been on a family trip before, you might want to do a test run before you plan a two-week excursion to a fancy theme park. Take a weekend trip to the mountains or to the beach to see how your kids handle traveling. Keep note of what went wrong and what went well so you can plan for longer trips later.

    Book your activities ahead of time

    Your hotel and flight shouldn't be the only things you book before you travel. When you book activities and events ahead of time, it's less that you have to worry about arranging when you get to your destination. This gives you more time to enjoy the trip instead of calling around. Keep in mind that a lot of things fill up, so you could find yourself backing out of a promise to the kids, which could make the trip miserable.

    Snacks are your secret weapons

    Anyone who has ever traveled with children know just how important snacks can be at calming and distracting children. Besides, when you're traveling it's often hard to stick to regular meal times. A sudden traffic jam, delayed flight, or unavailable hotel room can stretch time between meals considerably. And we all know how children get when they're hungry. Keep in mind that the food at your destination might not be exactly what they're used to eating, which can lead them to nibble a little and then become suddenly hungry an hour later.

  5. Saving Money
  6. Book a room with food prep in mind

    Restaurants and fast food joints offer plenty of convenience, but eating out adds up quickly when you travel, especially with kids. Getting a hotel room with a refrigerator and a microwave can help prepare easy meals and store leftovers and snacks. Picking up deli meats and bread at the grocery store is a lot cheaper than eating at a restaurant every day. Similarly, if you book a hotel with free breakfast included, you're saving a bit of money right off the bat. Just make sure to get up and eat!

    Check rates after booking

    Booking early can help you get avoid getting closed out of a hotel during peak season, but you may find that prices drop closer to your trip. If your reservation is refundable, you can rebook at the cheaper rate and cancel the original reservation. Just make sure to book a new reservation before you cancel the first one. But before you do this, give your hotel a call and ask if the reservation fees can be adjusted. They can't always do it, but this is easier than canceling a reservation and making a new one.

    Check out free events

    If you have a little flexibility, check the event calendar at your destination. Are there any free events that your children might like, like family-friendly street fairs or concerts? Some destinations also have museums without admission fees. Free events are fun for the family and budget friendly.

    Ask for Children's discounts

    Many places offer discounts for children, so don't be afraid to ask. It's uncomfortable asking, but it becomes second nature pretty quickly, especially when the savings start racking up. And even if children's discounts aren't available, many people will try to go the extra mile for you and give you something else just because you had the nerve to ask in the first place. If you know you'll be going to certain places, send an email a few days ahead of time asking if there are children's discounts. Give an idea of how many people will be attending and ask if there are any special rates, coupons, or promo codes. Many companies will simply extend you a discount, even if it's small.

    Pack the pharmacy

    If someone gets sick, it can ruin the trip. One of the last things you want to be doing is searching for a place to buy basic medications. Make sure to pack the basics so you can have them at-hand when you need them. Otherwise you'll spend a lot of time searching and you'll probably end up spending a lot of money. Think about what you might need for headaches, allergies, upset stomachs, motion sickness, or anything specific that a family member needs. If you need to travel with prescription medication, travel with the original packaging if possible or with a copy of the prescription.

  7. Staying Safe
  8. Keep Quiet on Social Media

    Even if you have your social media accounts locked down, keep quiet about your vacation plans until after you return. Ideally, you want as few people as possible knowing that your house will be vacant for an extended period of time. You are more likely to be victimized by someone you know as opposed to a complete stranger.

    Watch your children... seriously

    We can almost guarantee that you've been somewhere at one time or another and heard the overhead announcements about a lost child. It can and does happen, but it doesn't have to happen to you. You don't want the anxiety and panic when you realize one of your children is missing. Always watch your children and know where they are at all times. If you have another adult with you, share the duties. Keep the children in view, hold their hands, have them hold each other's hands, or even consider a GPS tracker. You can buy inexpensive Bluetooth trackers used to locate cell phones, keys and the like. These can be placed on the child's belt and can send a loud alert to your phone if you become separated. But technology should be no substitute for knowing where your children are.

    Minding your sun exposure

    If you're going someplace near a beach or with an outdoor pool, you'll want to keep an eye on how much you are exposed to the sun. Otherwise, you or some of your family members can end up miserable. Make sure your kids are putting on sunscreen and wearing protective clothing. Sunscreen should be applied about a half hour before heading out and reapplied after coming out of the water. Sunscreen is best avoided for babies under six months old, but a small amount can be used if there is no way to avoid the sun. Ideally, babies should be kept in the shade and wear lightweight clothing that covers their arms and legs, and use wide brimmed hats that cover their ears.

    Keep a watchful eye near the water

    Even if your kids can swim, they should be carefully watched while in the water. Not all beaches or hotel pools have lifeguards on duty, so it's your responsibility to keep an eye on your children. Even if they do have lifeguards, it's no substitute for a watchful parent. Never allow children, even older ones, to swim alone.

    Pack any child safety equipment you might need

    If you are flying to your destination, don't forget to take a car seat for your child to use. Depending upon your child, you may want to pack extra outlet protectors and door knob covers that can keep your little one out of trouble in an unfamiliar place. Hotels are required to carry cribs for infants, but call first to ensure one will be available and that it meets all current safety standards. If using a crib provided by a hotel or even a family member, check that it hasn't been recalled before using it. These types of items often get recalled but fail to be removed from service.

    Contact Information

    When a child gets lost, it's important that you can be contacted. Make sure that your child has, at minimum, your name, phone number, and local address where you are staying. You can put this information on a note in one of the child's pockets or attach it to a belt loop. Just make sure your child knows where to find it if it's needed.

  9. Entertainment
  10. Electronic devices

    It's tough to keep children entertained, which can make or break a trip. An electronic device can help to keep children entertained on flights, in cars, or in long lines. Make sure that the electronics are charged and that there are plenty of options available, such as games or apps. It would be a good idea to use a set of headphones or ear buds so the noise doesn't bother you or others.

    Toys and Books

    Brand new toys and books are a great distraction for kids. Instead of bringing toys and books your children use all the time, consider one or two news ones to give at a time when you really need to distract them. Try to resist the urge to bring too much.

  11. Special Considerations for Infants and Toddlers
  12. Diapers and Wipes

    If your child isn't potty trained, you should probably bring more diapers and wipes than you think you need. Traveling can be stressful on everyone, not just you. So you don't want to find yourself running out of diapers at an inconvenient time, such as when you're on an airplane. Don't count on always being able to find some if you need them.

    Extra Clothes

    Just like needing a few extra diapers, you'll probably want an extra outfit or two. There's always a chance that a diaper will leak or the child will vomit, ruining the clothes. Don't forget an airtight plastic bag that you can bring to store the soiled garments. While you're at it, make sure you have something handy for yourself in case some of your clothing gets soiled in the process.

  13. Extra Tips
  14. Explain the parts of the trip

    If you've never traveled with your children, this is especially important. Children aren't like adults. They don't rationalize what's going on, get bored quickly, and can easily become overwhelmed if there's a lot of things going on. And if they aren't happy, you aren't happy. So help your children by giving an overview of the trip and what will be happening at each point. This way, they can know what to expect. If you want to make it interesting, turn certain parts of the trip into checkpoints so they can have something relatively soon to look forward to and feel as if they are making progress.

    Set your expectations

    Make sure to set clear expectations and boundaries for your children before you leave and periodically reaffirm them. If your children have never been in an airport, for example, they won't know how to behave unless you set your expectations. It's preferable to do it this way as opposed to scolding them each time they inadvertently act out of turn, which in turn can agitate them and cause you unnecessary headaches.

    Something will go wrong

    Nothing ever goes according to the best laid plans. And when you're traveling with kids, a small issue can turn into a major hassle. If you've built plenty of extra time into your schedule, it shouldn't be as bad. But not everything can be avoided. Your child might get suddenly sick, leave a toy in the taxi, or have a sudden bathroom emergency. Just expect that something will go wrong and try not to let it control your vacation.