The 11 Biggest Challenges of Traveling with Kids -- Solved!

The 11 Biggest Challenges of Traveling with Kids -- Solved!

Traveling with kids can be tough, but these smart ideas can make your next trip more fun!

By Wendy Robinson

A few weeks ago, I took my 6-year-old son on the trip of a lifetime. It was just him and me, staying at an awesome hotel and fulfilling his theme park dreams. (When I surprised him by telling him about the trip, he started shaking and emotionally exclaimed, “I’ve wanted to do this MY WHOLE LIFE!” Yes. All six years of it.)

While this trip went pretty smoothly -- a one-to-one parent/child ratio and a fearless flyer of a kid helps with that -- I’ve done enough traveling with small children to know that it isn’t always easy to have a good time on vacation.

Here, a few keys to making travel with little ones an easier and -- dare I say? -- even fun experience.

Improve Your Hotel Stay:
- Whenever possible, get a suite. In my world, sleep is critical to happiness and I’ve realized that everyone sleeps more when we aren’t all in the same room. Now, we look for one-bedroom hotel rooms, and put one kid in the living room space and the other in the bedroom in a portable crib. Everyone does better.

- Use technology. My kids use a white noise machine at home but I don’t want to cart one all over the country, so I’ve downloaded a white noise app for my phone that helps settle them down.

- Never underestimate the power of the pool. I refuse to stay in a hotel without a pool, because I know that nothing tires out my kids like an hour of swimming.

- Try to keep your bedtime routine. Even when we travel, we still do bath-stories-cuddles at bedtime and try to get the kids down around their normal bedtime so they don’t get that dreaded second wind. Also, consider packing a small nightlight, so that your little ones aren’t afraid of the dark in an unfamiliar space.

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Survive the Airport:
- Before you leave, check the website for your layover airport. Many larger airports -- including hubs like Denver and Minneapolis -- have kid play areas that can give your kids a place to blow off some steam. Knowing what concourse those are in before you leave will help you determine if you have time for a visit once you land.


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- Delays happen, so make sure you have all power cords for any electronic gadgets in your carry-on bag. (I recently had a three-hour layover turn into seven, and I was kicking myself for not having my phone charger when my kids drained the batteries watching videos.)

- If you know in advance that you’ll have a long layover, make up some airport-specific games to play. I like to play an invented game we call “Airport Bingo.” Before the trip, I make up some game cards with squares like “red suitcase,” “person wearing cowboy boots,” and “place selling ice cream.” Then, we walk around our concourse and see who can get bingo first.

Travel Differently:
- Consider taking the train instead of flying. When my son was 3, we wanted to take a short trip to a nearby state. We calculated that the drive time was about eight hours, and flying time (including getting to the airport and getting through security) would be at least five hours. We opted instead to take the train, which was better for everyone. We got there in about seven hours, but my son was able to walk around and enjoy the observation car while both my husband and I could relax and not have to worry about driving. It was surprisingly relaxing and train seats are MUCH more comfortable.

- Rent a house or condo instead of a hotel. There are a lot of websites that help you find a pad to rent for a few days, often at prices that are comparable to hotels. Staying in a home often means more space, free parking, and a full kitchen so you don’t have to eat out for every meal, which is healthier and saves money.

Stay Safe:
- If you know you’re heading somewhere with big crowds and a higher potential for lost kids, like a theme park, make sure you take a daily picture of your kids on your phone before you leave so you can accurately describe their outfits if you need to.

- Be sure to review a “getting lost” safety plan. My son and I practiced what he would do if he got separated from me at the airport or theme park, and I made sure he knew my phone number and the name of the hotel where we were staying. When we did end up getting briefly separated, he did exactly what he was supposed to do and I found him in less than two (very long!) minutes.

What was your best family trip? Any tips you could add to this list?

Wendy Robinson is a writer, working mom, and graduate student. Someday she'd like to sleep in again. She also blogs at and is on Twitter as @wendyrmonkey.

Image © Debenport

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