Thursday, May 24, 2012

{Traveling with Kids} 10 Tips for a Smooth Vacation

My sweet family, out for dinner on vacation
A few weeks ago, I shared a few tips I found helpful for packing for a road trip when you have kids. Today I want to share some ideas for the actual traveling. We had a blast, and I hope you can learn from our experience.

We went to San Antonio for a few days, then drove over to Houston for a couple more days. All in all, we probably spent about 30 hours of our vacation in the car! My kids are 5, 3, and 1, and I was a little worried about how they would do. They did GREAT though, and there was very little whining or crying. (I was most worried about Paisley, my 1yo.) Unfortunately, they didn't sleep a lot either. My younger two kids usually take 3-hour naps, and that did NOT happen. We left early in the morning (about 4:30) hoping they would sleep in the car. Um no. They ALL stayed awake until it was light, at which point there was no turning back. I guess they were too excited?? And I was so worried I would forget something, I barely slept at ALL the night before, even though we were in bed early. So I think my lesson learned is that if I'm going to be awake anyway, maybe I should just drive?? I don't know... that kind of scares me too.

1. Pack plenty of activities for the car!

I spent a LOT of time getting together little packs of fun stuff for the kids to do in the car. Stickers, crayons, notebooks, cars, even puzzles and small toys.

As a table for the kids laps, I got two super cheap cookie sheets with edges. These were perfect. They provided a hard surface for coloring pages, puzzles, car tracks, and I even found some magnets that worked as "paper" dolls for Sara.

I put all of the craft materials in hanging toiletry bags. Each kid had their own, and they hung nicely beside their chairs. It worked great!!

2. Eat at Chick-fil-A

I'm actually really serious about this!! I know some parts of the country don't have these, but if you pass one, take advantage! We brought lots of snacks and drinks, but each way we stopped at CFA one time on the road. You are guaranteed a clean restaurant, yummy food, great service, and a clean, indoor play place for the kids to burn off some steam. We let them play for about 45 minutes at lunch each time, and it was SO good to get the wiggles out! (Does anyone have any alternatives for parts of the country without CFA? You poor souls...)

And cookies. :-)

3. Take advantage of shuttles.

If you can, book a hotel that has shuttles to the attractions you plan to visit. This was SOOOO handy! Not only do you not pay for parking, but you are dropped off at the door and picked up when you're ready! We were so glad to not walk all over the parking lot, load up, and find our way back to the hotel when we were tired and just ready to be done! When you're hauling little kids, diaper bags, strollers, etc etc etc, this is huge.

4. Get a hotel with a good free breakfast.

This will seriously save you so much money!! We gorged ourselves on breakfast, then most days didn't even want lunch, just a few snacks. We ended up only buying meal each day, and it was perfect (even if Tucker's face disagrees).

5. Download apps for your trip.

It turns out that two of the places we were going -- Sea World and the Houston Zoo -- both had free iPhone apps. These came in super handy! They had interactive maps to get you where you were going in the park, so it was a lot easier to find the show or a bathroom wherever we were. They also had list of events such as animal shows or feedings, and what time they started. Very convenient! Do your research ahead of time and download anything you need before your trip.

6. Use your camera's self-timer

I personally have a hard time asking strangers to take a picture of my family. I know many people don't mind, but I always feel like I'm imposing. Plus, you aren't really going to ask them to take 4 more in case the first few don't come out. Since my only camera of the trip was my iPhone 4S, I downloaded an app to take care of this for me. I just used the free version of the TimerCam app and it worked great! I set my phone in the cup holder of the stroller, set up the picture, and ran to sit down and get everyone to smile in time! Not always successful ha! But we got some great family pictures that we wouldn't have otherwise, and there's actually proof that I was on this vacation now. :-)

7. Take advantage of your Maps app on your phone (if you have one)

There are several great things you can do with your Maps app, besides the normal searching and navigation. These screen shots are specifically for the iPhone, but I'm sure Android and other smart phones have similar capabilities.

Before you go on your trip, save all the locations you will be going as bookmarks. Then it's super easy to access any of the addresses you need and navigate back quickly.

Save your parking spot location. This is SO important if you're walking all over town like we did! Or even if you are just parked somewhere in a huge lot. Here's how to do it on the iPhone. First, find your location in your Maps app (make sure the little compass icon in the left corner is blue). Your location is indicated by a pulsing blue dot. I like to give it a few seconds to make sure it's settled on the location. Then, tap the blue dot, and it will show the details of your location, like this:

Select "Add to Bookmarks" and you can now save your parking spot and not be lost!

You can even get walking directions back to your parking spot, or your restaurant or other attraction.

Lastly, this is also my favorite way to find phone numbers for local businesses, as well as nearby restaurants. Simply search for the type of restaurant or name of the business, and click the blue arrow. You'll get the phone number, address, even website if available. Plus you can get directions or save the address easily.

8. Be flexible. Be spontaneous. Take the scenic route.

You may have plans to go out to dinner, and then get there and turn around to find this. :-) Ha!! Poor kids were EXHAUSTED! But that's ok, just get a pizza and take it back to the hotel. Be ready to change plans if needed!

One of the absolute highlights of our trip was a spontaneous drive down to the Galveston beach. The kids looooooved the beach, and we ate the best food of our whole trip. This was definitely not on the original itinerary, but I'm so glad we did it! I mean really, eating seafood on the beach -- who could complain? It definitely whet my appetite for Pensacola again!

On our drive home, we were desperate to avoid the traffic of Austin and Dallas (Austin was AWWWWFUL), so we took a slightly longer route home and had the most peaceful, beautiful scenery the whole way!!

9. Don't forget your own entertainment

I loaded our phones and my kindle with books, movies, and audio books for the car trip too. Definitely made the trip go faster! I almost forgot though, in the busyness of getting stuff ready for the kids.

10. Obey the 1/3 rule.

Zack's uncle has a philosophy for vacations that I think is totally awesome -- especially if you are traveling with kids. Divide your day up into 3 sections, and be sure you are home for one of them. In other words, if you are going to be going strong as soon as it's breakfast time all through the afternoon, plan a lazy evening in the room or at the pool. If you have dinner plans, be sure you either sleep in late or take an afternoon rest time. Even if you don't have nappers, I think this is absolutely key to keeping everyone happy and rested (i.e. in a good mood!!). Plus, you know how it is when you're going hard for a 7-day vacation -- you get home and feel like you need a vacation from your vacation!

Bonus tip: Don't sit in the splash zone.

It's false advertising. It's really the SO-SOAKING-WET-YOUR-KIDS-WILL-HATE-THEIR-LIVES zone. Don't do it. :-)

We had such a fun trip!!! I know everyone has lots of fun vacations coming up this summer. What are your survival skills when traveling with kids? Please share!


  1. I absolutely ADORE the hanging activity centers for the car! That is such a great idea!! I always pack stuff for the kids for long car trips, but accessability is always a tough one, especially when they are both in carseats, reaching a box in the middle/holding everything on your lap/putting things on the seat backs never works. Nice job!

    visiting from Sew Many Ways FaFF :)


    1. Thanks for stopping by, Andrea! We have definitely kept these things in rotation since the trip :-)

  2. So glad I ran across this! We are taking our 3 and 5 year olds from Panama City to Miami in less than a month. I was dreading the 10 hour drive, but these ideas are GREAT! Thanks for taking the time to post this

  3. I ran across your post via Pinterest. Great ideas! Do you remember where you bought the pink hanging toiletry bag or do you know what brand it is? I have been searching Amazon and I'm not finding one that would work quite as well as yours. Thank you!

  4. Hi I found you via Pinterest, and I'm so glad! These are the best travel tips I've read anywhere. I'll be coming back soon to visit and see what other delightful things you blog holds!

  5. In the Midwest we have McDonalds and Pizza Huts with play lands.

  6. where did you get your toiletry bags? can't seem to find them. Love the idea. It's awesome.

  7. Your "put the camera phone in the stroller cup holder" tip is brilliant.

  8. Wow!! These are GREAT tips!!!!! Thank you sooo much!!! I am def going to make my kids the toiletry bags and the cookie sheet with magnets is genius!!! And the ChicfilA tip is right on the money, they are the ONLY fast food my family eats, ever!

    We are going to Garner State Park in the Texas Hill Country in June and these tips will def help me out, thank you!! Lauren, not sure where you live, but if you live in Texas you should go visit Garner State Park if you haven't already.

    We stay at the same cabin every year and we love it! For info go here: - the owners are so sweet and the cabins are nice and clean and have everything you need for a nice Frio River weekend getaway (they are not ON the river, but they are just a few min away)

    Thanks again!

  9. Great tips!! We just adopted 3 children ages, 9, 7 and 4 and so far the longest trip we have gone on was a 3 hour drive. I'm getting good at having things to do but we haven't taken a long trip yet so these tips really help. Especially the hanging bags. That would solve our problem of their tote bags spilling!