Traveling with kids is rewarding in so many ways.
You get to experience new parts of the world together and go on exciting adventures as a family. You never know what’s going to happen from day-to-day as you make your way through a new city. One thing I know for sure is you want to avoid making some obvious mistakes if you can. Because when you’re traveling with kids, you want to maximize the vacation time, have fun and stay out of crisis mode.
Here are just a few mistakes to avoid when traveling with kids.
Trying to pack everything for everyone
Over packing and trying to think of every conceivable weather situation or possible activity is a big source of travel mistakes. You can only take so much stuff, so make a list and stick to it. Your kids will not wear twelve different outfits and do not need a dozen sets of socks and underwear. Instead, take a few pieces that can be worn a few different ways and then pack a little laundry detergent should they spill juice or get messy. You can easily wash, rinse and hang up to dry.
Also, traveling is a good time to wean yourself from all the little “modern conveniences” you think your kids can’t do without. If you start to think it might be a good thing to go the week without it, then it’s a good sign you should leave it behind. Just make sure you’ve got all the essentials covered like medicines, toothbrushes and pack a little sweater/sweatshirt just in case it gets cold.
Not setting a budget
One of the first things I do for any trip is set a daily budget. The biggest items are usually food and activities. If I get a really great deal, I might allocate a bit more to the budget. Whatever your strategy, make sure you have a budget for the days during the trip. Otherwise, you may find yourself paying more for the vacation than you ever dreamed. And we all remember those times we spent freely and regretted it later when the bill came.
Keep it simple by having one budget number for food and a second for a daily activity. Jot it down in a notebook and if you’re under one day you can splurge the next. Get some help from the older kids by asking them to help track, manage and collect receipts. Also, be sure to allocate about $10-25 per child for a souvenir.
Trying to do too much
This is for all you “conquer the world” travelers out there who think you can see a very big city or destination in just a few days. Just like anything else in life, you need to choose your battles. When traveling with your family, choose very carefully. Keep in mind that it will take you time to get there and back, and things like nap time need to fit into the schedule. Choose a few really interesting places that you know your kids will remember forever. Take time to relate it to their interests and involve them in researching and selecting. While a museum or two is fine, limit the number you choose. A good tip: find the museums that local schools usually bring kids on field trips.
Heading off to the crowded and overpriced tourist traps
When you’re unfamiliar with a new destination, it’s easy to be led to the tourist traps. While some are well worth the aggravation of long lines and steep ticket prices, many are simply not.
A good practice: visit a few destinations that are not at the top of the guidebook recommendations. Best way to find these are to talk to friends and family who have visited on a prior vacation, or talk to hotel or restaurant employees. Many of the people you meet at a particular resort will have been there before and are full of useful information and activities. Locals are a great source of hidden gems and can usually give you several good ideas that are tons of fun and budget-friendly. Strike up a friendly conversation and when they mention they have kids, start digging for information.
Book your trip without checking family friendly deals
In the era of online booking, it’s difficult to identify all the various deals that could apply to your dates and situation. To get the best all-around (optimized) deal, you should call the resort or hotel and discuss your needs. At many resorts, you will find several family friendly packages that include significant freebies for kids under 12 years of age. Many ski resorts have programs where your kids ski free if you book during a particular period or stay in their lodging. Other deals include free meals for the kids for a certain number of days. Sometimes these deals are obvious at booking time, but many times you can uncover unexpected values by speaking with an actual person.
Not having your insurance information organized
Almost any parent will tell you about the time their kids got sick and they ended up spending their vacation in a doctor’s office. Even though you have a million things to organize before your trip, make sure you have all your medical and insurance information printed out and ready to go.
Assume you’re going to need it and come prepared to handle the crisis. Search and jot down the nearest pharmacy and 24-hour health clinic to your hotel and have all your pediatrician’s numbers on hand. Make copies of your insurance cards for your travel file. If you are going out of the country, take the time to research what your health insurance and traveler’s insurance covers. When in doubt, go ahead and take the travel package that affords the best coverage, even it it costs a few bucks more.
Leaving an unexpected gap in your itinerary
One of the horror stories I hear about is travelers who accidentally book dates that don’t line up with their flights. It’s not as hard to do as you think, but the best way to avoid this is to check and double check your dates/times throughout the booking process.
Avoid getting into a rushed situation where you might overlook times and connections. Some airlines list flights that may seem to work for you, but upon further inspection, they have 5 hour layovers or 30 minutes to make a connection. If you are a family that likes to book your own, then take your time and make sure all your scheduled hotels and flights/connections create one fluid timeline.
Forgetting to pack your travel documents and print outs
Organization is the key to staying relaxed when you’re on the road. The best tip of an organized traveler is the travel folder. A few weeks before your trip, start the folder and start printing and filing critical information about your trip. When you finally put it into your bag the night before, it should have printed copies of everything you can think of. Include hotel reservations, boarding passes, lists of activities, frequent traveler information, contact phone numbers (airlines, hotel, etc.), insurance information and so on. Create a special pouch for everyone’s travel credentials and keep it all organized as you progress through security and customs.
Not applying for a passport months before your trip
This one is really obvious, but I always hear from friends how surprised they are at the time it takes to get everyone’s passport before the first big international trip. Know about requirements and visas ahead of time and make arrangements to have your kids passports in-hand at minimum a month before you leave. Waiting until the last minute produces stress and you don’t want to be panicked during the last few days before you leave. Normal processing usually takes 4-6 weeks and even expedited processing can take 2-3 weeks. Plan ahead and have it all taken care of 30 days out to save yourself extra fees and headache.
Have you ever made a huge blunder while booking a family trip or traveling with your kids?