10 Tips for How to Save Your Family Vacation From Disappointment

Learn how traveling with "junior" can be rewarding rather than ruinous.


Traveling with kids can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be fraught with pitfalls and frustrations. With some careful planning, many of the most common traveling-with-Junior travails can be avoided. Here are 10 ways how:

1. Research your destination before you book your tickets.
Conduct online research or ask a travel agent to find out if your vacation base is a place where a lot of families visit. Some places may sound kid-friendly, but they can turn out not to be. On a recent eight-day trip to Panama, our 4-year-old son had a total of one playmate (who spoke Swedish) for a total of 30 minutes—needless to say, this was an unexpected bummer. Had we known the dominant scene was 20-something European backpacking partiers, we could have made a prudent itinerary switch before dropping a dime.

2. Splurge on the hotel.
Let's face it: With kids, you're going to be spending more time in the hotel than you would if you were traveling with just your sweetie. Make the most of your precious vacation hours by biting the bullet and splurging on digs with a swimming pool and other amenities, like a spa and fitness center, if possible. Also, don't underestimate the convenience of a laundry facility!

3. Prepare for the plane ride.
When my son was an infant, a travel-savvy friend advised me before a trip to Paris to bring an extra change of clothes on board—not just for the baby, but for me! Kids get sick a lot when they travel, and you don't want to be sitting in 'ick' for hours if you happen to be the target. Also, use your child's allotted carry-on bag for his or her things. A carefully timed unveiling of dollar-store toys, crayons, children's books, and snacks and juice can buy you and your child-weary plane neighbors some sanity.

4. Pack some familiar items.
If you own a laptop, a few favorite DVD's tucked away for rainy afternoons could be the save of the century, and might even buy you a nap. Chances are you aren't packing light anymore, so go ahead and throw in a couple of boxes of the munchkins' favorite granola bars or other non-perishable snacks to get you through the unavoidable "foreign pickiness syndrome." Salted cod kippers tided my husband over till dinner, but um… 'nuf said.

5. Keep their schedule in mind.
If you were at home, would you drag Little Monkey through an hour-long museum stroll during naptime? If you still use a stroller, this could make sense. But if your tykes are on foot, figure out their peak time and head out then; otherwise you could be headed for an easily avoidable clash of wills.

6. Lower your activity expectations.
If going on a three-mile hike will leave you hot and tired, how do you think your kids will feel? Be reasonable, or be prepared for the inevitable meltdown.

7. Keep restaurant time to a minimum.
It's not fair to expect your child to sit patiently through three restaurant meals a day; consider easy picnics for lunch purchased from a local grocery or market, and if you've splurged on a hotel (see No. 2, above), request a room with a small refrigerator and a microwave for fast fixes.

8. Take play breaks.
Ask a local if there is a neighborhood playground nearby. If not, make up beach games or even play a simple game of hopscotch; normal play activities should be a kids' birthright on a vacation. Remember, it's their downtime, too!

9. Pick your thrifty battles wisely.
Spend the extra bucks on things that will make your children comfortable, like that cab ride at the end of the day. On the above-mentioned trip to Panama, we made the mistake of boarding a local "collectivo" van to get home from a beach; it quickly became stuffed with 20 human beings. The result revealed an amazing coping mechanism: My panicked son attempted to count to one thousand for the first time. I'm grateful he did that instead of whining loudly for an hour, but still. Had I known what a claustrophobic nightmare we were headed for, I would have sprung for the taxi.

10. Visit a local library.
You don't need to be spelunking or trekking for every activity; some should be intentionally mellow to keep your kids from getting burned out. We ducked into a hole-in-the wall library in Bocas del Toro and had an impromptu shaded story hour during the hottest hours of the day.

Themes: Family Travel

User Comments

fridge In my experience even the low-mid budget chains have on site laundry. What was really key in the month I just spent traveling with my three year-old was a small fridge in the room, and the proximity of a playground.

headline Good article, informative and well-written. That's an, umm, interesting headline.

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