Family Travel: Tips For All Ages, Young Children Through Adults

Laura Lopuch

The house echoed with little feet running across wood floors. My niece sprinted around the long kitchen island, hands waving wildly, on a private mission.

In one kitchen corner, my little sister and sister-in-law’s heads bent together, looking at pictures on a cell phone. At the long table nestled in by windows overlooking Coeur D’Alene lake, my two tall brothers stretched out, drinking coffee.

The front door opened, closed with a bang. Little bare feet pattered, shaking the light fixtures, as my nephew ran from one end of the house to the other.

A few weekends ago, my scattered family gathered from both sides of America. One brother flew in from Anchorage with his family. My other brother and his new wife flew in from Washington D.C. We converged on Coeur D’Alene, a town nestled by a winding kidney-shaped lake in Idaho’s heart to celebrate my little sister’s weekend wedding.

Leaning against the kitchen island, I sipped coffee and watched my family. More than four years have passed since we’ve been under the same roof at the same time. Over a decade ago, we crammed into a station wagon and roadtripped the East Coast, surviving on music piped into individual headphones, and an ability to mentally separate into a private world.

I grew up traveling with my family. Not all trips were smooth — but every trip was worth it.

Here’s how you can have a successful family trip.

Traveling With Young Kids


Daphne Earley is roadtripping across America with her husband and three young children.

With young kids, it can be hard to explain why you’re traveling, or help them understand the importance of seeing the world.

Daphne’s secret?

“Our favorite thing is to tell them bedtime stories of the places we’re going to and the fun things we plan on doing. With my older child, we have him research online for interesting places that he might want to see. And we pick one of the things he finds for one of our go-to destinations. It can be as simple and fun — like finding a popular ice cream shop in one of the cities we are visiting. Which is exactly what we tasked him to do in Sedona, California.”

Traveling as a family is fraught with excitement. And traveling with young kids is that on a higher level. But Daphne believes it’s worth it.

“We travel because we believe that we are more than just the place we choose to live in. We are citizens of the world. Earth is our home. Because of this, we feel we have a responsibility to show and teach our children other ways of being and living. We want them to form connections with people from all walks of life. So one day, when our children go out and try to find their way in the world — no matter where that journey takes them — they’ll know they are always home.”

Tips For a Successful Family Trip

Bring Snacks
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“Always carry snacks your kids are familiar with and love,” Daphne says. “Kids have a tendency to be picky eaters. There is nothing worse than being in an unfamiliar place, being hungry, and not knowing where to grab food. Having their favorite snack handy makes a world of difference between crying and happy kids.”

Pack a Travel Crib

Hotels may have a travel crib, but rumor has it those cribs may be outdated or unsafe. Instead of taking your chances, bring your own travel crib. Look for one with dimensions that are carry on friendly (like Guava Family’s Lotus Crib). Before your trip, let baby take a few naps in the crib, so its a familiar space on your trip.

Build Your Day Around Naps

Use normal nap times as a framework for your day. Plan flights, or transportation, during those nap times.

Benefits are two-fold: the motion will soothe baby to sleep and you won’t have a crabby child. At your destination, aim for at least one regularly-scheduled nap time to ward off the fussy syndrome.

Let Go Of Your Expectations

“One of the main tips I like to share is,” says Natalie Hanson, mom to five kids. “Remember when flying was sort of relaxing? Magazine, cold drink — ah. When traveling with children (especially the 3-and-under crowd) you need to let go of that expectation. I tell myself that airport and airplane time is work time for mama.”

“From being the good attitude leader through security, to filling the never-ending bathroom, snack, drink requests — you need to be on duty. If things turn out where I can pull out the magazine, that’s a bonus! However, I also try to reward us (aka me) by having some down-time planned whenever we arrive at our destination.”

Packing List

Family Travel Ideas

Traveling With Elementary School Aged Kids


Natalie Hanson is mom to five kids and has traveled extensively with her family and husband.

Her motivation for travel is refreshingly honest and back to the basics.

“Taking care of children, especially little ones, is hard no matter if you are home or on the go. Choosing to take the show on the road takes your focus off the mundane — wakes up your senses to the world around you. So just go!

My favorite part of traveling with your children are the vibrant memories you make together. Changing your surroundings tends to help you better remember certain times and ages. My sister-in-law, Kate, and I were talking about this recently: how the days at home tend to run together, but when we think of times where we were on location with the kids, we really remember specifics about what they were all up to at that time.”

Tips For a Successful Family Trip

Plan Physical Activities

Find a local park or playground to let your kids blow off some steam. It’ll help them sleep better at night and give you a moment to breathe, letting them play on their own. Good trips are mentally and physically tiring. But if your little one is cooped up in a backpack or stroller, stretching their legs is a priority.

Snacks

If you’ve read my past articles, you’ve heard about me and the hangries. A thunderous moment when hungry and anger combine for waterworks, tantrums, and drama. The hangries doesn’t just afflict adults (like me). Children fall prey to their evil monstrosities. So, pack snacks in your bag.

That way, when your kids turn green and start growing out of their clothes like the Hulk does when he gets angry, you pass them a snack and nip the hangries in the bud.

A Good Stroller

“When you travel with children who still need a nap,” says Natalie, “And you don’t have a place for them to sleep, you end up cutting your day short because they just can’t take anymore. On the other hand, lugging a stroller around cities is a real hindrance to your enjoyment.

When I discovered BabyZen Yoyo, I was thrilled. It folds up so small. You can carry it over your shoulder or put it under your train seat. It made the difference for us getting the most out of our days and still giving my youngest a place to rest.”

Learn About Your Destination

“I try to pick up a few books or DVDs related to where we are going before we leave,” says Natalie. “Even the smallest landmarks seem special when you have heard their story before you see them in real life.  Printed coloring sheets related to the trip are great, too, and can usually be found for free online.”

Prepare With a Mock Walk-Through

“To minimize meltdowns with little ones, prepare them ahead of time for what could happen,” says Natalie. “I know it sounds a little silly, but a few minutes role-playing a grumpy traveler vs. good traveler going though security, boarding, etc. has made a huge difference for us. When they act like the ‘good traveler’ in real life, they look right at you and wait for your praise for what they know they did right. And everybody’s feeling proud!”

Packing List

Natalie’s list is simple: “Phone, ID, credit card. I check that list off over and over when leaving home. It calms my nerves to tell myself — even if I forgot everything else — I could handle most any crisis with these necessities.”

Family Travel Ideas

Traveling With Teenagers

Snag one of your few remaining chances at making memories as a family, before your kids go off to college. Use this time to get to know them and their interests. Soon they’ll be flying out of your nest, off to make their own lives.

Tips For a Successful Family Trip

Get Moving

Teens have tons of energy to burn. Engage their mind — and body — with physical-oriented adventures. Think kayaking, biking, skiing, hiking — anything that gets the heart pumping and limbs moving. Added bonus: a tired teen is one that won’t get into trouble.

Involve Them in Planning

Hand over one day’s reins to your teen and let them plan the day’s itinerary. You might be surprised at the activities they’ll uncover, like visiting the Yoda fountain in San Francisco. Or hiking out to the would-be location of the Summer White House in Colorado’s mountains.

Negotiate

Trade activities or outings so your teen does what they’d like and you get picks on activities, too. Give a little, banter a little with a smile, and everyone stays happy.

Volunteer

Give back by volunteering on your next vacation. (Here’s a quick guide on doing it right.) You’ll make lasting memories and get connected with the world with the right volunteer work.

Packing List

Family Travel Ideas

Traveling With Adult Siblings


Ah, my favorite type of family trip. Being the eldest of five kids means I have a plethora of destinations to choose from when I feel like visiting a sibling: Alaska, Idaho, Washington D.C., or Montana.

Gather your family around to re-discover your roots, shared quirks from being raised by the same couple, and laugh as your mom tries to take a picture of you and your sisters on a smartphone.

Tips For a Successful Family Trip

Give Your Schedule Air

When you bring adult siblings together, you’re bringing multiple worlds — and personal schedules — together. Give yourself plenty of room for flexibility and spontaneous chats on the deck with cold beers. The best plan is a loose plan.

Patience and Flexibility

This isn’t your childhood reborn.

This isn’t a second chance at being a kid.

Naw, this trip is about reconnecting or solidifying your relationships with your siblings and family as an adult. It won’t look like something you’ve done before. Have some patience and flexibility to allow relationships to unfold and blossom without expectations. It might take a while to peel open your little brother and find out what’s really ticking under his shell. Resist the urge to push his buttons. Instead make memories in the time you have.

Cook To Share Your Life

Food is a peek into someone’s life. When you’re a kid at home, meal times are planned by your parents. When you’re an adult on your own, suddenly feeding yourself is your responsibility. So, you build up a repertoire of go-to recipes.

Those recipes represent your life. The oven-baked chicken you make on nights where you can barely string two thoughts together. Or, the elaborate cowboy spaghetti for Friday movie nights. Open up your life to your family on this trip and make them a meal they’ll talk about for years to come.

Packing List

Family Travel Ideas

TL;DR

Traveling as a family is a time-tested method of making new memories and exploring the world together. Whether you have young kids or connect up with adult siblings, traveling is a perfect arena. Taken out of your normal routines and rhythms, your brain catches small details to cement into lasting memories.

And isn’t that what life is about?

Best tips for great family trips:

Photo credits: Daphne Earley, Natalie Hanson, author, Jenn Richardson, Unsplash