Dec 10 2009

Five Contradictory Tips for Holiday Travel with Children

Are you heading over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house for Christmas?  Or perhaps taking advantage of the school vacation to take a family vacation?  While you’re making your holiday road-trip plans, keep these tips in mind.  They helped us survive (and enjoy) a 17-day, 3700-mile trip with four young kids last Christmas.

Welcome to West Virginia

  1. Prepare a detailed itinerary . . . but be prepared to change it.
    Know how far you have to go, and how long it will take to drive there.  Make hotel reservations and plan your fun stops and destinations.  But work in the flexibility to change plans if necessary.  Look for liberal hotel cancellation policies.  Write down the hours (and holiday closures) of attractions you plan to visit, in case you don’t get there on the day you had planned.  We ended up leaving two days early to outrun a blizzard, and then being sick in a hotel room for a day.  We still got to see most of WHAT we intended, but not always WHEN we had anticipated.
  2. Plan lots to do . . . but don’t plan to do it all.
    Jot down every thing that you might possibly want to do along your route, and perhaps an alternate route as well.  Then, when a highly-anticipated museum only holds the kids’ interest for 16 minutes, you can easily move on to something else you’ll enjoy, because you have your list of possibilities at your fingertips.  On the other hand, don’t force yourself to do everything on your list.  If everyone’s having a great time at the Air & Space Museum, is it worth rushing through just so you can go stand in line for the White House?  Weigh your priorities.  Fully enjoy what you’re doing at the time, even if it means missing out on something else.
  3. Stick to your routine . . . but allow it to be flexible.
    Again, prioritize.  What’s most important to you?  Bedtime? Mealtime? Not eating junk food?  For us, our routine is kept roughly the same as usual:  Early to bed, early to rise, although naps in the car may allow later bedtimes.  Three good meals a day, but lunch and dinner are usually eaten earlier than normal.  Snacks are more liberally given on vacation, as they can be boredom-busters as well as taking care of hunger pangs.
  4. Make a budget . . . and then add some wiggle room.
    Know how much things are going to cost–gas, hotels, meals–but have the ability to make it through if things cost more.  A special souvenir for the family, unexpected vehicle repairs, even hotel taxes–they can be little or big things that catch you off guard.  Have enough money available that you can enjoy your trip and make it safely home again even if there was something you didn’t budget for.
  5. Stop for breaks . . . but keep driving if the kids are happy.
    I’ve heard people say that they stop every hour when they’re traveling with kids.  Not us.  For one thing, every stop adds time to the drive and takes time from the fun.  The clock might read noon, but if the kids are happily reading and coloring, drive another hour until they’re hungry and restless and really need a break.  If you, the parent, need a bathroom break but the kids are sleeping, deal with your discomfort.  On our trip last year, we drove 600 miles in one day with only two stops–lunch and supper.  (And we happen to be one of those no-DVD-player-in-the-car families.)  No one needed to use the bathroom in between meals, and we had snacks in the car.  The kids were happy, so we kept driving, and arrived at our destination with extra time to relax and stretch out.  That being said, if you do have to stop, try to make it somewhere fun where kids can work off some energy.  A children’s museum is great if you have a reciprocal membership, or a playground if the weather is cooperative, in making a stop be part of the vacation fun.

A cross-country trip may sound daunting, but it can be a great family experience.  Just remember that you can’t  see it all, so enjoy all of what you do get to see.  Have a good trip, and a very merry Christmas!

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Published by at 2:04 pm under Family Travel
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14 comments so far

14 Comments to “Five Contradictory Tips for Holiday Travel with Children”

  1. Meg on 10 Dec 2009 at 5:54 pm

    This is brilliant! You said it perfectly. I am posting it to my Facebook page so other parents can enjoy.
    .-= Meg´s last blog ..Making Travel Easier: Where to Buy Out of Season Clothes =-.

  2. minnemom on 11 Dec 2009 at 12:37 am

    Thanks, Meg. I hope it’s helpful for several family travelers.

  3. [...] Five Contradictory Tips for Holiday Travel with Children - Travels With Children [...]

  4. Kara on 11 Dec 2009 at 9:25 am

    We’re gearing up for a 14-hour road trip later this month. Great tips!
    .-= Kara´s last blog ..Top Ten Weird and Wacky Travel Stories of 2009 =-.

  5. Wanderluster on 11 Dec 2009 at 9:35 am

    Great reminders that we all need to be flexible when we travel – especially around the holidays!
    .-= Wanderluster´s last blog ..Photo of the Day: Indian Turbans =-.

  6. Sandra Foyt on 11 Dec 2009 at 10:34 am

    You’ve got exactly right! This summer we completed our most ambitious road trip ever, two months looping around the country. My kids are a little older so they helped research destinations, and we had a very good idea of places that we wanted to see. Still, sometimes it’s hard to know what you’ll find when you get to a totally different part of the country. And, you don’t know what mood you & the kids will be when you get there. Flexibility and an open-minded attitude is critical.

    Another thing that we like to do, traveling with older kids, is to let them journal the experience. When they were younger, they mostly pasted or taped artifacts (stickers, brochures, abc gum) into composition books. As they got older, they wrote more. This summer, I transcribed their journal entries onto their blogs (but I’m still finishing up this project!)

    By the way, some of our best stops are at parks (national/state/or forest lands) or at historical museums with open grounds for running around.
    .-= Sandra Foyt´s last blog ..Dreaming of a White Christmas =-.

  7. Amy @ The Q Family on 11 Dec 2009 at 11:37 am

    Wonderful tips! I know it might sound contradict for each tip but you have put it perfectly.. We have to plan for all the detail but be ready to change it. :) I think it’s part of family travel.
    .-= Amy @ The Q Family´s last blog ..The Best Budget Friendly Souvenir when Travel with Kids =-.

  8. Carolina on 11 Dec 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Hey, how did you know about my philosophy on life AND traveling? It’s all about the contradictions. Or maybe it schizophrenic. Either way the advice is right on.
    .-= Carolina´s last blog ..Photo Friday: Samba From Neverland =-.

  9. minnemom on 12 Dec 2009 at 8:30 am


    I’m glad you liked the post. Thanks for sharing it with others.


  10. minnemom on 12 Dec 2009 at 8:31 am

    Yes, planning is important, but flexibility is the key. Happy travels!


  11. minnemom on 12 Dec 2009 at 8:33 am

    Sandra, I love the journaling idea, in whatever way the kids can do it.

    After every place we visit, we ask the kids, “What was your favorite thing?” It gives them a chance to look back on the experience and think of something that was meaningful to them. We’re sometimes surprised at the answers, so it’s nice to let them process the experience and express their favorites.


  12. Lorraine on 17 Dec 2009 at 1:03 am

    OK this is the 17th post of yours I’ve read recently with sage advice. Great stuff!
    .-= Lorraine´s last blog ..Sea Turtles With Kids =-.

  13. [...] situation is exactly what I meant by my #1 travel tip of planning, yet being flexible.  We’re thankful that we’re road-tripping, where we [...]

  14. [...] Five Contradictory Tips for Holiday Travel with Children by Linda, Travels with Children Here is some handy advice for holiday travels with kids based on the premise to plan, plan, plan…and then be prepared to change, change, change those plans. [...]

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