It happens every year. You picture smiling kids in plush hotels, sing-alongs on the road, and adventurous meals at themed restaurants. Then reality hits, and family vacations don't go according to plan. We’ve been there, and we’re here to tell you it’s possible to have a great family trip with a little extra planning. Follow our secrets to survive—and even enjoy—your next family vacation.
1. Do a preview.
Before your vacation, look up photos and special experiences at your destination. Kids are visual, so seeing images of what to expect will get them excited.
Pro Tip: Print out maps of theme parks or other places you’ll visit so kids can study them on the way.
2. Let the kids choose some excursions.
Getting the kids involved in planning the trip will make everyone happier. Small children can choose between two activities: Would you rather go to the zoo or the science museum? Older kids can select from more choices and help you plan the daily itinerary.
Pro Tip: Teens appreciate autonomy, so give them a broad area to research, such as restaurants at your destination. Be sure to follow their suggestions!
3. Pack plenty of snacks and drinks.
Every road trip needs an abundance of treats to pass the time between roadside diners and convenience stores. Keep your sodas, fruit, and juice pouches chilled and fresh in a cooler.
Pro Tip: Help the kids make custom snack mixes with ingredients like pretzels, cereal, nuts, chocolate chips, and marshmallows.
4. Capture joy along the way.
Supply the kids with sketchbooks. Artistic kids can draw pictures while creative writers describe the scenery. Analytical types can make lists of the weirdest street names, favorite restaurants, or animals they spot.
Pro Tip: Keep a roll of tape handy to attach ticket stubs, receipts, and other small souvenirs inside their sketchbooks.
5. Hit the beach.
Adults love museums, art galleries, and quaint shops. Kids love sand, waves, and ice cream cones. One of the easiest ways to survive your family vacation is to choose destination kids will adore: the beach.
Pro Tip: If your budget allows, choose a beach resort that provides chairs and umbrellas so you don’t have to lug your own.
6. Give each family member a suitcase.
You may be tempted to pack the kids’ clothes with your own into one big case, but it’s better to invest in several small suitcases and let kids pack for themselves. It’s never too early to learn a little independence.
Pro Tip: School backpacks make great carry-on bags; just replace school supplies with activity books and kid-friendly snacks.
7. Pack smart.
Plan ahead and stock your carry-on with essentials like small bills for tips, empty plastic bags for leftover food or unexpected messes, baby wipes, snacks, and small toys.
Pro Tip: Don’t rely solely on your phone for travel details; print out a list of destinations and other important information to keep in your bag at all times.
8. Schedule some me-time.
While you fill your itinerary with theme parks and kid-friendly restaurants, don't forget a little something for yourself. Schedule a massage or reserve time for shopping; it’s your vacation, too!
Pro Tip: Consider bringing a teen relative to babysit your little ones. In exchange for a vacation, she can watch the kids while you dine out or do adventurous excursions.
9. Give kids spending money.
Don’t like being pestered at every gift shop and ice cream stand? Give your children a predetermined amount of cash at the beginning of the trip, and allow them to make their own purchases.
Pro Tip: To make the money last, help kids divide the cash into daily envelopes.
10. Be strong and unplug.
This is often harder on the parents than the kids! Spend at least one day of your vacation unplugged: no phones, tablets, laptops, or headphones allowed. You’ll slow down and connect, which is the ultimate vacation goal.
Pro Tip: If your family is reluctant to unplug, plan a reward such as a special dinner out. It will be worth it.