How To Make A Family Trip With Kids Feel More Like A Vacation

There’s a common saying among parents: When you have kids, it’s not a vacation, it’s a relocation.

Going away just isn’t going to be as relaxing when you’re traveling with babies and young kids, no matter where you go or how you get there. All those daily parenting tasks — the feedings, the diaper changes and the cleaning up — just follow you to your destination.

But that doesn’t mean family vacations have to be a huge drag for parents. With some preparation, a bit of compromise and realistic expectations, you can make traveling with kids less of a hassle so you can enjoy yourselves more.

We asked parents to share their best tips for vacationing with kids. Here’s what they recommended:

Choose your destination wisely.

“It’s not difficult to bring your newborn along on an artsy city trip filled with museums and cafes thanks to the many baby carriers you can buy nowadays. On the other hand, the mere thought of taking my now 2-year-old into an art museum is enough to make me break out in hives.

“Knowing my own boundaries and my kids’ ages and personalities has helped immensely when deciding on vacation activities. My personal favorite is a low-key trip to a beach. Beaches are simple and endless entertainment and have an added bonus of just being a place that I find to be relaxing.” — Gina McMillen, artist and author of “The Mommy Life: An Unshaven, Milk-Stained (But Hopeful) Peek Into the Real World of Mommyhood”

Manage your expectations, and keep plans flexible.

“While traveling is fun and creates so many cherished family memories, keep in mind that kids are working hard to adjust to the new, often busier and unpredictable schedules. As a result, expect more intense feelings, crankiness and less sleep, and try your best to meet their basic needs during these challenging moments. For instance, it might be best to cancel evening dinner plans if they’re getting cranky before you even leave the hotel.” — Jazmine McCoy, @themomspychologist on Instagram

Do some legwork ahead of time.

“When traveling with kids, even a seemingly simple errand can take away from precious vacation time. Make your trip as relaxing as possible by doing your research in advance! Check which grocery delivery apps, babysitting services and equipment rental services are available at your destination, or contact your hotel or rental host to have certain things ready in your room for when you arrive.” — Caroline Hershey, blogger at Jet With a Set

Have the necessities delivered to your destination.

“Order disposable items, like diapers or groceries and snacks, ahead of time and have them scheduled to be delivered to where you’re staying for when you arrive. This saves you time and space when packing. Plus, having things delivered to me always feels luxurious.” — Katie Brunelle, co-host of the “Redefining the Rainbow” podcast

Consider places within driving distance if air travel is too stressful (or expensive).

“Family vacations happen often in our family. Instead of flying, we like to do things differently and go on a road trip to our destination. Flying is quick and all, but it ruins the ‘vacation’ vibe for the kids.” — Donnya Negera, motherhood and lifestyle influencer

Parent-backed tips can make traveling with kids more enjoyable all around.
Parent-backed tips can make traveling with kids more enjoyable all around.

Pack plenty of snacks and things to keep the kids busy.

“Traveling often involves sitting on planes or in cars for hours, which can make kids restless. Be sure to pack their favorite on-the-go activities, like water-reveal activities pads, reusable sticker books, books and magnetic drawing boards. Traveling also takes up a lot of energy. Be sure to keep snacks handy to help fill their bellies. Travel snacks, like fruit and veggie pouches, snack bars and veggie straws, can be great to pack in your diaper bag!” — McCoy

“A fun trick when flying with a toddler or preschool-aged kiddo is to get one of those hanging accessory travel bags that has lots of little pockets. Put new little toys or games or pictures in the pockets, and when they need a new distraction, they get a new prize in a new pocket. It can even hang on the back of the seat in front of you.” — Brunelle

Try to re-create your kids’ home sleep environment.

“If they’re used to having loveys, sound machines, certain blankets or toys when they sleep, be sure to pack those things to help them feel more at home while on the go. Invite them to help you pack their overnight bag (with one to two favorite toys) to help them feel more involved and mentally prepared.” — McCoy

Loosen your screen time limits.

“During any family vacation, I love to give my kids a little extra screen time to stay busy and stay in touch with friends and family. We always download movies ahead of time, and my son uses Messenger Kids to video chat and play games with his best friend.” — Dalesha Smallwood, early childhood expert and coach at Your Life Defined

Don’t over-schedule.

“In an effort to get your money’s worth, it’s easy to over-plan and fill up your schedule with sightseeing tours, activities or other events. But keeping a tight schedule is very hard for little ones. Instead, think of one or two open-ended activities, such as photo-ops at a famous park or a lazy day at the beach. These kinds of activities will allow you to come and go without the stress of being on time for a reservation.” — McMillen

Let your kid help choose some of the activities.

“When on vacation, we like to have fun and explore our surroundings freely while giving the children a chance to pick the activity for the day. Letting them ‘be the boss’ for a few hours takes the load off of us parents for planning the day, and the kids enjoy being in charge and planning events! Win/win.” — Smallwood

Give your partner some solo time (and vice versa).

“When it’s time for vacations, my husband and I fit in breaks to make sure we are having well-deserved ‘me’ time. We trade on who’s in charge of the kiddos and allow each other rest on vacation. Dad may take the kids out for ice cream while Mom soaks in the sun, and Mom may take the kids to the nearby museum so Dad can nap!

“If you have a partner, use each other to step away from the family festivities. As we all know, kids can be a lot on vacation, but parents need their time, too. Then you can come back energized and spend family time with the kids.” — Smallwood

Or get a babysitter so you can get a night off together.

“If you’re hoping to try a certain restaurant or check out something that’s not the most kid-friendly, find time to switch off with your partner or hire a babysitter so you can enjoy something as a couple without the kids.” — Hershey

Don’t put too much pressure on yourselves.

“Remember that babies and really young children aren’t going to remember the experiences — these moments are for you to relax and build connection with each other. They may not remember the waterfall hike or the roadside museum of giant bugs, but their nervous system is remembering that you spent time with them. Set a slow pace, and let yourself rest.” — Brunelle

This is part of a HuffPost Parents series called Enjoy the Ride. Read more here.

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