1. Pack your positive attitude. An upbeat outlook is infectious and gets everyone excited about the fun ahead.
2. Before you go, set a budget. Deciding how much you’ll spend will help you set limits with the kids and help avoid post-vacation shock when the credit card bill arrives.
3. Bring comfort objects, from your toddler’s special toy to your tween’s favorite pillow. Taking along a little bit of home can help ease the journey.
4. Schedule downtime. No one stays happy if they’re constantly on the go. Make time to splash in the hotel pool or observe your family movie night—even if you’re a thousand miles from home.
5. Manage expectations. Individual family members often have different ideas of what “fun” means on vacation. Before you go, talk with your children about their ideas and hopes for the trip.
6. Take advantage of free events. Search online for freebies before your trip, so you’re in the know about concerts, exhibitions, and more once you arrive at your destination.
7. Get your gear on. The right travel gear can make or break your vacation. Consider a lightweight travel stroller or a baby carrier for the young ones, and wheeled backpacks for older kids to carry their belongings.
8. Don’t forget your sense of humor. Everything feels better with a little laughter, especially when you miss the highway exit or when it rains for five days straight.
9. Indulge a little. Treat the family when you can, especially if it saves time or reduces headaches. Consider grabbing dinner at a conveniently located restaurant, for instance, even if it’s more expensive.
10. Assign each family member specific jobs. Dividing up the responsibilities, such as packing the sunscreen and the water, helps keep your vacation on track and can help even the smallest family member feel involved.
11. Focus on the kids, but don’t forget about you. Remember to balance the kids’ trip wish list with a few activities the adults will enjoy, too.
12. Just let go. The constant togetherness of a family vacation can increase the likelihood of disagreements and misunderstandings. Letting go helps preserve the peace among family members.
13. Collect mementos of your trip. Carry a gallon-size baggie in your daypack so you can add treasures as you go—shells, stones, ticket stubs, anything goes! When you return home, create a scrapbook or a memory jar to remember your holiday.
14. A couple of new toys or books can do wonders for extending playtime—and calm—during travel. For older kids, try a new mobile app.
15. Provide options. Involve the whole family in the decision-making, whether it’s when to go the beach or where to eat lunch. Everyone will have more fun if they feel a part of things.
16. Pack light. Minimize the number of outfits and shoes you bring for each family member. You can always pick up an extra T-shirt at the souvenir stand, if necessary.
17. Get an early start and avoid the queues. Provide an incentive to sleepyheads by offering a reward to the family member who’s out the door first each morning.
18. Try a vacation rental. Sites like Airbnb and HomeAway list apartments and houses for rent, offering kitchen facilities to cook meals and more space for everyone to relax.
19. Bring your favorite snacks from home, to get you started. Or visit the grocery store at your destination, rather than shelling out cash for more expensive treats at tourist spots.
20. Teach your children about wonder and the wider world beyond your own community.
21. Unplug. Gadgets like smart phones and tablets help pass the time on a flight or long car trip, but once you reach your destination, encourage everyone to put away their electronics and connect with each other.
22. Go for variety. Even the beach can feel dull after the fifth day in a row. Make sure to mix it up and vary your activities and outings.
23. Get wet. From lakes and rivers to the coast or the pool, make sure your trip includes some quality water play.
24. Take time to eXplore. Exposing your children to new sights and experiences helps them feel more comfortable in unfamiliar places and helps develop self-confidence.
25. Whenever possible, say “yes.” Of course, you won’t agree to buying the sixth toy at the amusement park, but maybe you’ll say yes to ice cream every day.
26. Your trip will zoom by, so make the most of it and enjoy this special time together.
What to Pack in Your Child’s “Busy” Bag
A bag packed full of surprises is just the thing to keep younger children occupied on the journey, whether you’re en route, dining at a restaurant, or hanging out at the beach.
Travel games, like Bingo and Hangman
Activity books and sticker books
Crayons and drawing paper
Miniature collectible figures, like dinosaurs and jungle animals
Die-cast cars and mini-sized dolls
A couple of favorite books
“Invisible ink” coloring books
A favorite toy or blanket
Heather Van Deest is a freelance writer who enjoys trips to the beach with her two young sons.