Have a plan
A successful family vacation takes planning. Arts and education consultant (and mom) Shnieka Johnson offers three planning tips to keep the trip from getting stressful before it even begins:
- Figure out how far you're willing to go. Decide on your mode of transportation and lodging options. Create a budget.
- Review travel magazines and websites. Talk to friends and neighbors about their travel adventures.
- Seek out tours and excursions offered in the area you're visiting, keeping your family's personal interests in mind. ?
||Tammy spends months planning her family's trips. Her detailed research filters down to her daughters, who, even at the ages of 9 and 12, can figure out which clothes to pack and how much piggy-bank money to bring for souvenirs.
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Adjust your plans
Mom-of-three Ellen also believes in planning... to a degree. "When traveling with kids, anything can happen," says Ellen. There are pit stops, meltdowns, mishaps and surprises. "Your kids may want to linger at an attraction you never thought they'd enjoy, or they may have absolutely no interest in the activity you planned your entire day around." Pencil in your plans, and don't be too rigid about sticking to a schedule.
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Luggage is a burden! Whether traveling by plane or car, keep your baggage to a minimum.
"We refuse to pay $25 to check bags," says mom-of-two, Lynne. "Plus, baggage check and claim are just two more stops we'd rather not have to make." Lynne says each member of the family brings one carry-on bag. "They can bring only as much travel-approved stuff as they can fit in their bags."
||Lighten your load to stretch your gas budget, says family travel expert Amy Graff. Pack light by bringing only a few changes of clothes and do wash along the way. Carrying 100 pounds in the trunk reduces a typical car's fuel efficiency by 1 to 2 percent.
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Enjoy kid-friendly accommodations
Not every hotel caters to families with children, but some are built with kids in mind! Look for places that welcome kids and offer rooms and amenities that will keep your entire family comfortable and relaxed. "Bed down at places that offer great value, such as free breakfast, Wi-Fi, swimming pools and parking," says Graff.
The more complimentary family-friendly services and amenities your accommodations offers, the less you have to pack... and that's always a plus for mom and dad, says Jackie Fazendin of Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North.
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Schedule down time
Remember that the whole purpose of the trip is to bond as a family, says Johnson. Expect to have some time every day to relax and unwind. Kids need a break to nap or to just run free. "We know our kids are wiped out by 2pm," says Ellen, "so we do fun stuff in the mornings and right after lunch, and then find a way to relax for a few hours before grabbing dinner."
Explore eating options
Every meal you eat in a restaurant takes at least an hour. Not only are you missing out on the other things you could be enjoying, but you're pushing the limit on your child's daily threshhold of sit-still time.
"We avoid restaurants when we're on vacation," says Amy M. "We have to eat, but we don't want time-consuming (and expensive!) restaurant meals to interfere with the other things we have planned for our vacation." Amy M's solution? "We look for hotels with continental breakfasts or nearby grocery stores so we can eat on the run."
And super-planner Tammy researches carry-out options near her family's hotel. "We can get pizza or Chinese food, kick off our shoes and relax to some iCarly reruns while we eat. It's a lot cheaper than room service!"
||"When you do hit the restaurants, split entrées and search out local coupons," says Graff. "Always start by ordering one entree for two adults and one children's meal for two kids. If you eat everything and are still hungry, order more."
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Kids need sleep whether they're at home or on the road, so it's important to have some semblance of a bedtime routine.
"We go all day long when we're on vacation," says Christine, an active mom of three boys and a girl, "so we're usually ready for bed pretty early." Christine says that even as her kids grow, they still keep a routine: after a full day of running around, the family goes for a cooling-off swim, orders some dinner and hits the sheets. "Then we're up and at 'em in the morning to do it all over again the next day!"
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Guess what: someone on your trip is going to get irritable, or have a fit or cry. That's okay! Let go of unrealistic expectations that you'll have a perfect vacation, and keep in mind that you're creating family memories together. Just enjoy!
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