Are you feeling overwhelmed about your next family vacation with the kids? Today we’re sharing our best trip tips for families and favorite must-have travel essentials to make it less stressful for you!
The thought of going on a family vacation can be intimidating to any parent. What do you need to pack for you and the kids? What do you leave behind? How to do you avoid over packing? If these are the questions plaguing you right now, grab a handy dandy notebook and hold on tight! We’ve packed all of our best trip tips for families into this blog post. Plus we’re sharing our favorite must-have travel essentials for any family vacation. Today’s post will help take some of the guesswork and stress out of trip preparation.
Best Trip Tips for Families
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Whether you’re flying or driving to your travel destination, we’ve shared many family travel tips and tricks that will make life easier for you. If your travel plans specifically include a theme park, amusement park or any big tourist attraction with large crowds and a lot to see, we’ve got trip tips for that as well. While the majority of our family trip tips specifically talk about our experience traveling with babies and toddlers, many of these ideas would work great for older children as well.
31 Travel Essentials for Family Vacations
1. Umbrella stroller – If you’re traveling with kids under the age of 5, don’t leave home without an inexpensive umbrella stroller. The Jeep umbrella stroller we personally use is no longer on the market, but you can find many similar ones on Amazon. Umbrella strollers are light-weight and compact so you can easily fold them to gate check at the airport or to pack in the back of a mini-van or SUV.
2. Water bottles – No matter where you’re going, the kids are going to get thirsty. Often. We love these Nalgene Tritan Grip and Gulp water bottles because they don’t leak and come in a multitude of colors.
3. Snack cups – It goes without saying that you need snacks on your trip, but these Munchkin Snack Catcher cups are awesome because the lid keeps the treats from spilling all over the place. You know, like on the plane, in the car or when the kiddo is tooling around in their stroller. Our boys are 7 and 4 now and we still use these when we travel.
4. A strap — And speaking of things spilling all over the place, the Booginhead Sippigrip Strap is a must have. There’s velcro on each end so you can tether your child’s water bottle, snack cup or favorite toy to their car seat or stroller. This keeps you from losing the treasured item repeatedly and your child can also easily retrieve whatever goes overboard.
5. Electronics – I know, I know, there are numerous studies saying we should limit the amount of time our children spend on iPads and other electronic devices. But you and I both know that sometimes we just need to let the kid play on a LeapFrog tablet or some other device so we can breath for a minute.
6. Headphones – Now if you really want to maintain your sanity on your trip, the kids are going to need headphones to go with those electronics. We really like the Kidz Gear wired headphones because you can limit the volume to protect their precious little ears.
7. Protective cases — Some electronic devices like the Kids Edition of the Amazon Fire Tablet come with a protective case. If your tablet or device doesn’t have a durable case that can withstand the wear and tear of kids dragging it around, you must get one before your trip. We’ve had a Gripcase on the iPads our boys use for several years now. It’s held up amazingly well. More importantly though it’s made our iPads nearly indestructible! We cannot rave enough about how awesome the Gripcase is.
8. Waterproof protection for your cell phone — Having a waterproof phone case is great for family vacations to water parks, cruise ships, houseboats, camping along rivers or lakes, canoeing, kayaking and other water sports. In fact you can even take it one step further and get a waterproof cell phone case that floats.
9. Comfortable shoes — Everyone in the family needs good, comfortable shoes for your trip. We personally love Keen Newport H2 sandals because they have good foot protection and arch support. They come in several colors for both kids and adults. Plus I love how versatile these shoes are . They’re stylish enough to wear with most summer outfits. But they also have good tread to wear hiking along a trail in the woods and are comfortable when we wear them standing in lines at airports, theme parks or anywhere else our travels take us. I usually just pack my Keens and a pair of black Croc flip-flops for most of our family vacations.
Activities for the Kids — Believe it or not, sometimes the kids get bored playing with their electronics or just need something else to do. Here are some of our favorite activities to bring along on any family trip:
- 10. Crayola Color Wonder Books — The magic of these books is in the paper itself. The markers appear clear until they’re used on the special paper. This means they’re mess-free and won’t mark up car and airplane seats.
- 11. MadLibs — I used to love these as a kid! We recently picked up a book of MadLibs for our spring break road trip. Now that our 7 year old can read and understand basic parts of speech these were SO much fun!
- 12. Puppets — Sometimes a little puppet just lightens up the mood when traveling with the kids starts to feel stressful. We took this small chicken puppet on spring break with us. It was great for entertaining the kids with songs during traffic back ups from road construction.
- 13. Travel joke books — Travels getting tense? Break out a joke book, like this one, and the whole family will be laughing again in no time.
- 14. Blank notebooks — Our kids love to write and draw when they’re bored. You can even keep a small spiral bound notebook in your purse or backpack that the kids can use when you’re waiting for food to be served at a restaurant or other places.
- 15. Coloring books — I always like to bring along one or two new coloring books the kids haven’t seen before.
- 16. Colored pencils — Our favorites are the Crayola Twistables Erasable colored pencils. They won’t melt in a hot minivan or rental car like crayons might. Plus when the tip gets broken or dull, the kids can just twist them to get a fresh start.
17. Sun protection – Most family vacations involve some sort of fun in the sun. Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen, wide brimmed hats or whatever you like to use to prevent sun burns. We personally like the Coppertone Continuous Spray Sunscreen SPF 50 for kids because it’s fast and easy to put on the kids, long-lasting, water resistant and doesn’t sting if it accidentally gets in their eyes.
18. Small first aid kit – Despite your best efforts, someone is bound to get hurt at some point during your family vacation. There are some great travel-size first aid kits you can buy on Amazon. At the very least though, make sure you tuck a few band-aids in your purse or backpack.
19. Back pack or travel bag – You need some sort of bag that’s comfortable, yet large. You’re going to want something large enough to haul all your travel essentials for a day. Think about what you’d want if you were running between gates at the airport or lugging all your stuff around a theme park or tourist attraction. We prefer to bring along a decent sided back pack with padded shoulder straps and mesh side pockets to hold the kids’ water bottles. These Rustic DIY Luggage Tags are the perfect way to keep track of all your bags while you travel. (By the way, if you’re eyeing that adorable suitcase in the photos, it’s the Stephen Joseph Rolling Luggage Blue/Red Airplane design. Our four year old loves his!)
20. Small mesh zippered bags – We use several of these on all our trips. They’re great for organizing small toys, colored pencils, first aid supplies or whatever else we need. We’ve found that zippered pencil pouches with a mesh window work especially well. You can see what’s inside them. Plus they’re safer and more durable than resealable disposable plastic bags, like Zip-Loc.
21. Wipes – Kid’s anti-bacterial hand wipes or baby wipes are handy on trips for cleaning up messy hands and faces. We’ve also used them on plastic toys, tray tables, dining tables at restaurants and numerous other hard surfaces that could use some sanitation and cleaning.
22. Hanging travel bag – A small bag for all toothbrushes, toothpaste and other toiletries is essential for your family vacation. You could easily use one of the mesh zippered bags I mentioned earlier for this. We prefer a hanging toiletry bag like this Victorinox travel bag though. It has compartments to separate different types of toiletries, but we especially love the built in hanger. Hotel bathrooms often have small counters so this allows you to hang all your family’s toiletries on a towel rack or on the back of the door for easy access.
What You Need to Know If You’re Flying
If you’re flying with children, you’ll want to read our 10 trip tips for stress-free air travel. Need to bring a car seat with you on the plane? We’ve explored a variety of options for flying with car seats as well as the pros and cons of each one. Furthermore, we’ve put together a great list of what you should pack in your carry-on luggage. If you want a printable version of that list, just sign up below. We’ll send you the list for free — plus you’ll have the opportunity to become a Kenarry Idea Insider and get our weekly e-mail newsletter as well as access to our entire library chock full of free printable art, note cards, treat tags, eBooks and other special resources that are exclusive for Idea Insiders only.
Additional Travel Essentials for Air Travel
23. Easy method for transporting kids – Over the years, we’ve used several different tools to help us get the kids easily from point A to point B at the airport. When they were babies we hauled them in a front carrier. We’ve also used the Go-Go Babyz Kidz Travelmate which allows you to turn a car seat into a stroller. At times we’ve taken a large double stroller to the airport so our older son could sit or stand as we hustled between gates. Most of the time now though, we just take our light weight umbrella stroller. If our younger son feels like walking (and we have enough of a layover!) then we just use the stroller to hold one of our heavy carry-on bags.
24. Car seat protection – Nowadays, we always use the JL Childress Wheelie Car Seat Travel Bag when we check our car seats as luggage at the ticket counter. We actually have two of them and they’ve kept our car seats clean and free of damage through numerous flights. Plus the bag is roomie enough that we can throw a few extras on top of the car seat like our winter coats so we don’t have to stuff them into our other checked luggage.
What You Need to Know If You’re Driving
Road trips with small children can make even the best parent cringe with fear and anxiety. Who wants to be trapped in a car with a screaming child for hours on end? Try these 10 road trip tips to help you survive your next adventure on the open road with the kids.
Additional Travel Essentials for Your Road Trip
25. Cell phone holder – It’s important to stay safe and hands-free if you’re using your cell phone to get directions to your destination or to call the hotel to change your reservation. We also enjoy listening to Amazon Music Unlimited or a podcast while we’re on the road. Kent just got this ToHayie Universal Car Mount for his phone and loves it. The holder actually uses the CD slot in your car stereo to keep it more stable and secure than other car mounts.
26. Car seat tray — Kids can play with toys or eat snacks easier if they have a good tray for their car seat. Our preference is the Taby Tray which has a built in cupholder and a slightly raised edge so things don’t roll off. What I especially love though is that it’s a hard surface so it easily wipes clean from snack crumbs and spills.
27. Waterproof protection for carseats – If you’ve got a kid potty training or currently in diapers, this is a must have. When they’ve got to go, they’ve got to go and sometimes it’s a long way to the next rest area. We used a Diono Dry Seat Car Seat Protector on many, many road trips. It’s protected the car seat from more leaky diapers and drink spills than I care to remember.
28. Large storage totes — While you can always pack your clothes and travel essentials in luggage and tote bags, we prefer to use these large storage totes from Home Depot (If you prefer to shop on Amazon, these storage bins look the same to me). These big plastic tubs with lids are easy to stack in the back of a minivan or SUV. This allows you to fit more into the back of your vehicle than if you try to pack a bunch of separate bags and suitcases for your trip.
29. Car top storage — We’ve typically been able to fit all we need for a road trip into large storage totes. But we recently bought the Keeper Waterproof Roof Top Cargo Bag to have when we travel with my parents or in-laws in our vehicle and need more storage space. It got really great reviews on Amazon so we’re excited to give it a try.
What You Need to Know If You’re Going to an Amusement Park (Or a any place with big crowds and a lot to see!)
If Walt Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios or some other big exciting amusement park is part of your travel plans, you’ll want to review our 5 theme park survival tips for families. Most of these trip tips would also apply to any super large tourist attraction like the Grand Canyon, the Mall of America, Times Square etc.
Additional Travel Essentials for Theme Parks
30. A way to track your child – Before entering a large theme park or tourist attraction, we always review our cell phone numbers with the kids. We also point out the “helpers” in the area, like police officers, security guards and park workers with name tags. If your child is too young or might panic and forget their phone number if they were lost, these lost child tattoos/stickers are essential. They gave me real peace of mind a few years ago when we went to Walt Disney World with my husband’s whole family to celebrate his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. I was so afraid we’d lose a kid!
31. Double stroller – Got two small kids with you at the theme park? Then you need a double stroller. We’ve got a Joovy Caboose Stand On Tandem Stroller that we’ve used for our boys. The exact one we have is no longer available, but the latest Joovy tandem stroller models are very similar. Our double stroller might be more cumbersome to travel with than our umbrella stroller. But it’s been a lifesaver when our older son used to beg us to carry him on vacation. With the double stroller along, we could give him two choices — does he want to walk or does he want to ride? When kids feel like they have a choice in the matter it puts an end to some of the whining and tears on a long hot day in the park.
So there you have our best trip tips and all our favorite things we use on our family vacations! Did we cover everything? What are some of your family’s favorite travel must-haves? Please comment below and share. We’re always looking for new ideas!
While you’re here to be sure to check out other family travel ideas on Kenarry: Ideas for the Home, like how to make your own DIY bug spray and our tips for how to plan the best summer ever with your kids. If you enjoyed these trip tips and family travel essentials, please share this post with your friends or pin it for later:
Carrie is the chief writer, crafter and cook here at Kenarry: Ideas for the Home. She’s an optimist by nature and enjoys sharing recipes, trying new craft ideas, planning for parties and events as well as organizing and decorating. When she’s not blogging, preparing meals or picking up around the house, you’re bound to find her hidden away in a castle under the stairs reading to her two young boys. Whether you’re cooking, crafting or creating for your family, follow Carrie on Etsy, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Instagram to get inspiring ideas for your home.