Traveling with kids can be a great adventure — but it may also be filled with many potential pitfalls. Here are some mistakes parents make when exploring the globe with their children and what to do instead.
1. Trying To Save Money With A Cheaper Flight
Flights are often the most expensive part of travel with kids. But don’t sacrifice your sanity for a small amount of savings.
Cheaper itineraries often involve early or late flights plus stops along the way. The more layovers and middle-of-the-night departures you add to your travels, the harder your trip with kids will be.
Experts also often discourage treating your almost 2-year-old toddler as a lap child. You save money if you don’t buy an extra seat, but you also have an active child on your lap and possibly a very uncomfortable flight.
Plus, buying basic economy seats where you don’t get to pick your seat assignment may mean you’ll be separated from your kids. If you’ve read any social media comment threads about parents asking others to switch seats for their kids, you’ll know it’s not guaranteed that another passenger will agree to switch seats with you.
2. Not Taking The Right Luggage
The best kids’ suitcase is easy to tote, can carry what you need, and will last for many trips. It’s not the adorable but teeny-tiny carry-on that won’t fit much at all.
Insider’s Alesandra Dubin, recommends skipping “gimmicky” child suitcases and getting a good quality 20-inch suitcase in a fun color instead. Starting at age 5, her kids also began pulling/carrying their own suitcases/backpacks.
DWYM has recommendations for the best kids’ suitcase.
3. Not Bringing Car Seats Onto The Plane
Lugging car seats around an airport and onto a flight seems like a hassle, but I know from personal experience that they are worth the trouble. My kids slept better in them when they were small.
The Car Seat Lady points out that children are used to traveling in car seats and often feel more secure in them, even on a plane. When left to flop around freely in an airplane seat, my kiddos tended to be squirmy and restless.
Taking your airline-approved car seat on the plane also prevents any damage to it while in cargo or as it’s being carried to and from the gate for stowage. When you reach your destination, you don’t have to figure out how to rent one to drive your kids around.
Last but not least, your child is safest on an airplane when buckled into a properly strapped-in car seat.
4. Forgetting Carry-On Essentials
Some parents board a plane trusting that in-flight entertainment and onboard food purchases will get them and their kids through a flight.
But it seems like airlines continue to cut back on their onboard offerings every year, especially since the pandemic.
The Points Guy points out that kids may get “hangry” if you don’t have the right food on hand for them. And sometimes flights aren’t equipped with seatback screens or apps you can download to your devices. Make sure you pack extra food and entertainment.
Dubin recommends bringing extra clothes for you and your kids when they are young, especially if they are prone to motion sickness. She also likes to bring a trash bag to collect the flotsam your children create on a flight (this works for a road trip too).
Add in more wipes than you’d think you need, hand sanitizer, and the all-important set of headphones to listen to entertainment! And don’t forget an extra charger.
5. Having The Whole Family Share One Room
You may think a little inconvenience is worth the extra savings you’ll get if you share one room with your kids. But that savings means that when your kids go down for the night, you’re huddled in the bathroom or outside in the hall trying to read or watch TV without waking them. After all, you can’t leave your kids alone and go elsewhere.
Budget for more space, whether that’s a suite-type room, adjoining hotel rooms, or a vacation rental where you can really spread out. A middle-ground option for sharing a room in a warm weather location is to make sure it has a balcony you and your partner can relax on after the kids are in bed.
6. Not Planning For Your Kids’ Pace
Kids need downtime and naps on a trip to avoid meltdowns. They also need time to recover from a change in time zones.
The Traveling Canucks say they always plan for their first day at their destination to be an easy day of lounging at the pool, watching movies, or just hanging in the room in order to acclimate.
Kendra Thornton of Royal Travel & Tours told The New York Times that travel with kids often works best if you plan a half day of activities and the other half for more open play and relaxation at a park or pool or back at your hotel room.
7. Not Making A Plan For If Your Child Gets Lost
Children slip away before you know it in big crowds or unfamiliar areas. Make sure you’ve talked with your kids about what to do if they ever get lost.
Do they know your phone number? My friend Jenn once told me the best hack for getting her children to memorize her phone number. She made the iPad log-in code her cell digits and her kids had it memorized in no time.
Police officers, security guards and park employees are good people to tell your kids to look to for help when they are lost. But when those can’t be found, some suggest training your kids to seek out a mom or dad (spotted with strollers and kids in tow).
8. Eating Out For Every Meal
You can waste a lot of trip time and money dining out for every meal on vacation. Plan to eat at least one meal a day as a grab-and-go deal or back at your lodgings.
If you’ve got picky eaters you know they’ll be just as happy with cereal and microwaved mac and cheese made in your hotel room as they would be at a restaurant where the menu options are unfamiliar. And you’ll save money in the process.
Tips for Family Trips has several suggestions on food while traveling, such as looking into a vacation rental with a kitchen or kitchenette where you can make meals yourself. You cut down on costs and your kids can have their end-of-day meltdowns in the privacy of your own space.
Traveling with children is an art, not a science, and your own kids’ personalities as well as your family dynamic will guide how you operate on trips to other places. But these tips can make your life a bit easier — and when you’re away from home, that’s a good thing.