10 Tips for Traveling with Kids

My Top Ten Favorite Travel Hacks for Vacationing with Kids10 Tips for Travelling with Teenagers

We just returned from our second two-week trip through Europe with our kids and although we had a few small mishaps (aka setting off the train station alarm in Brussels) we also picked up a few great hacks to share.

While making an adventure like ours (15 days, six countries, seven hotels, plains, ferries, trains and automobiles) work is helped by the fact that I travel globally about 100 days per year for work, I think these easy tips can make family travel with kids less stressful for any family.

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Visit the Google Information page to view the busiest days and times to visit.

  • Research, Plan, & Prepare: There are a number of times where spontaneity is delightful – an unplanned evening out, or day at an amusement park for instance – but an extended family vacation is not that time. Do your research, use tools like Google Flights, and Google localized business pages to plan for the best value on your airline tickets, or best time of day to visit museums and popular attractions.
  • Pack Light, Use Local Amenities, & Buy as You Go: When traveling with children use the rule of twos: only bring the amount of luggage and gear that can be carried with two hands per person: that means four people, no more than eight pieces of luggage or gear (that includes suitcases, carry on, purse, strollers, or diaper bags). Hotels offer cribs, rental car companies offer child safety seats, and diapers are available in every city of the world. Don’t let your luggage dictate your adventure!
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Everything we packed for four people on a two week trip to Europe.

  • Bring the Best: To help the packing light process along, CURATE! Only bring the best: the shoes you love to wear, your comfiest most fashionable clothes – not the T-shirt with the stain for lounging around bring the silk pajamas, and pack the makeup you use every day, don’t “try” something new on vacation. 
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    I like these cosmetic pot jars for skincare, hair gels, and liquid makeup.

    Consider repotting items into smaller containers if needed. Travel is not the time to bring your “good enough” items because you’ll find yourself feeling less energized and more weighted down, instead bring your best stuff and USE it. That’s the whole point. Marie Kondo your vacay and only bring the items that spark joy.

  • Book Flights Early and Reserve Your Seats in Advance: The time to save money is NOT by booking the lowest cost econo seats that give you seat assignments at the airport, that guarantees unnecessary stress (I’ll go into tips on saving money on travel in a later post).  Buy your way out of travel stress. Book directly through the airlines (more on that later) and select your seats, and potentially your flight days and times, based on the most desirable locations, get aisle seats, toward the front of the plane, and read up on the inflight amenities so you know what to expect.

Pro Tip: For the best prices, book flights mid-week, always including a Saturday night stay, six to twelve weeks in advance, and ALWAYS book seats that allow you to review the seat map and select your seats first.

  • Book Flights the Right Way: An airline snafu can throw your entire adventure out of order, and correcting that snafu becomes exponentially more complicated if you book through a third-party site because, if your flight gets canceled or rescheduled to an unworkable time and needs to be rebooked you’ll have to call the third party, who will then call the airline, and all that game of telephone wastes your valuable travel time. Trust me, it isn’t worth the $10 you’ll save, and you’ll have access to more perks (like travel apps and lower cost upgrades) when you book directly through the carrier. Airlines really are the best way to get the best deals, especially if you’re flexible about the time of day, days of the week, and when applicable the airports (I.e. Miami vs. Fort Lauderdale).
  • Understand Your Hotel Amenities: Read the fine print on your hotel booking, is there a resort fee? What does it include? Is there a free breakfast? What hours is it available, will you actually be at the hotel to enjoy it and make it worth the extra cost? The best way to maximize your hotel stay is to read all the little details on the “about” page, calibrate your expectations, and know all the little extras you’re entitled to, I.E. a welcome drink, free internet, complimentary coffee or happy hour reception. Today’s hotels offer a lot of little perks you’ll only learn about by reading the fine print. But, just as these little extras can really add to your experience, hidden fees can bump up the cost for parking, daily hotel taxes, and resort fees which can be as high as $60 a night!
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    Working on our “Daily Briefing” travel itinerary.

    Go slow to go fast: It can be tempting to go-go-go and try to pack every activity into your itinerary, figuring out your route on the way, but with Kids (and husbands) this can turn into sun-baked meltdowns. Instead, create a daily plan of activities you’d like to do, in order of proximity (remember transit times, lines, and security) and outline a rough but flexible time of day to hit each spot, then choose one or two as your “must do” and the rest as “would be nice”. That way, if you show up to the Churchill War Rooms in London to see a line around the block, you can easily decide to skip it and move on to the next, less crowded activity.

  • Skip The Lines: One way to derail a family vacay is to expect people to complacently wait in a line for some must-do activity, restaurant, or boat ride. Instead, book Activity Passes in advance that let you skip the line or the ticket window, research after hours your options (like visiting the Colosseum at night). Every time I walk out of the Vatican Museum to see people waiting in a three-hour line to get in I shake my head. Ten minutes of advanced planning can get you out of that line and into the Sistine Chapel without incident, and usually with only a nominal additional charge. Visit the websites for each of the locations you plan to visit and research if appointments are available for the sights you’d like to see – especially in Italy where reservations to the most popular sites are an absolute MUST and don’t cost extra.
  • Spring for Space: When booking hotel rooms, read the room descriptions that list square footage. Go for the larger room if possible, that extra ten feet, or with older kids, second adjoining room, can add so much extra luxury and comfort to your vacation.  I’d forgo an extra night of vacation rather than downgrade to the smallest most economical room available.  I know that people often say that “Hotel rooms don’t matter, you’re only in it to sleep” but, SLEEP is critical! Which leads me to my final tip.
  • Schedule Sleep: Tired cranky families fall apart on vacation, meltdowns, runny noses, forgotten passports, brothers throwing fisticuffs in Vienna hotel rooms – this all comes from being overtired.  When planning a trip it can be easy to overlook the importance of eight uninterrupted hours of sleep (at least most nights) but don’t! If you have a busy day the night before, arrange for a leisurely morning the day after.  I know that we all want to maximize our go-go-go fun-button-punching while on a trip, but getting that little extra sleep will ensure that you can maximize your travel fun and minimize mishaps that come when your brain is run down from too much going.

What did I miss?  What are your favorite travel tips to remember?

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Packing Tips from a Professional Packer

I’ve traveled around the world a handful of times, and had all sorts of travel surprises. But, one thing I have learned is that (assuming your luggage arrives with you) a well-packed suitcase is the key to a smooth journey. And, another plus, a well-packed suitcase doesn’t need checking.

I have a few key philosophies to packing that I learned as a flight attendant years ago, and then adjusted as my work demands in a new career became more complicated.

1. The airport is a war zone.  Don’t dress for style, dress for function – with nice pieces that you can use if you have a bag-tastrophe.

2. Only pack what you, yourself, can carry – up and down stairs, through security, and all through the town … you never know when something unexpected will happen.

3. Pack a wardrobe, not outfits, but make sure the wardrobe will make up a few outfits that work for lounging, business, and going out on the town. As long as those three activities  covered, you can make your options work many different ways and your gear won’t limit your adventure.

4. When you get home, edit and evaluate.  Pull out the list of things you packed and cross off anything you didn’t need.  Next time you’re packing evaluate if you still want the item just in case or if you’ll be just fine without it.

That said, click on the first picture below for a few more tips and travel hacks I’ve figured out.

Shoe Sachets

Shoe Fresh Sachets

Shoe Sachets keep your shoes, bags, and luggage smelling fresh and clean. When I’m not travelling I store them in my handbags in my closet (and they make my closet smell divine).  They take only a few minutes and have a bjillion uses.

Instructions

1. Collect all your old panty hose with runs in them.

2. Pour one heaping tablespoon of Downy Unstopables inside the foot of the panty hose, tie off, and cut.

3. Make a knot in the bottom of the panty hose and repeat. A knee sock will make 3-4 sachets, a full pair of panty hose (legs only) will use up an entire container of the Unstopables.

I like to choose Unstopables with a coordinating dryer sheet scent which I’ll tuck throughout my luggage. It creates great scent layers and you can put them in the hotel drawers which can be dusty and unpleasant smelling.  When I pack, I put a sachet inside each shoe (shown in the image below) it makes my shoes fresh and clean smelling enough that I can use them for storage of socks and lingerie.

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Tip: Do you have candle warmers?  The unstoppable pellets are also a perfect filler for the candle warmer to make your whole house smell good.

Candle Warmers

 

 

My Travel Items: The Holy Grail

Everyone who travels eventually finds their must-have travel items. These are mine …

Shoe Fresh Sachets

1. Dryer Sheets – I love the way dryer sheets ensure everything comes out of your suitcase smelling fresh and clean.  I use them when packing, then store my empty suitcases with a few dryer sheets tucked into their nooks and crannies so they smell clean even after a muggy trip to the tropics.  I also recently discovered Downy Unstopables for making shoe sachets.

Passport Cases

2. Passport Case – I keep my passport in my purse or day bag and travel with it at easy access when going to other countries (it’s amazing how often you need it: booking trains, checking into hotels, exchanging money).

Monogrammed Beach Bag

3. Day Bag – I use this as my airplane carry on (make sure your purse will fit inside the bag so that you have one, easy-to-carry item for the airport). My day bag becomes the beach bag, my filing cabinet, and in a pinch a pillow during long layovers in lousy airports.

4. Lounging Clothes leggings make the perfect lounging pants, they can be paired with a nice tunic to make an outfit, and they can also take you to the gym (if you get ambitious). I don’t like to fly in leggings (for airplanes I like loose-fitting clothes) but they can roll up easily and tuck in your carry on if you have a long lay over and might want to change your clothes.

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5. My Tried and True Travel Outfit

Passport Case and Travel Book

6. The Book – I always buy a book on the place I’m going.  I prefer Rick Steves Guides when available (A lifetime of watching his travel documentaries on PBS and the amazing value-adds he brought to my trip to Italy – skip the line at the Sistine Chapel, yes please – have made me a life long advocate. Plus I can hear his voice in my head when I read his travel guides and it makes me feel like I have a buddy traveling with me.)

Recessed Outlets

7. Phone Charger – this goes without saying, but it’s one of those last-in items that can result in an expensive airport purchase if you forget.  Be sure you have the right adapter (they’re expensive for what they do, and every country is unique do your research).  My tip, get the smallest adapter you can, sometimes the outlets are recessed and although you ave the right adapter, you still can’t plug in because those American-bought adapters won’t fit. It’s hard to describe, but I gave you a picture for example.

Universal Adapter

Do not buy the universal adapter, they almost never fit into outlets in airports and low-end hotels, and even in high-end hotels it’s hit and miss.

8. Carry On Essentials

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, hair tie
  • Swimsuit or one critical wardrobe item so that even if your bags are lost your trip isn’t ruined (this has been a life saver)
  • Print outs of the hotel you’re going to first, and the name of the car service you’re using for the first stop (I book a car for the first location on international travel; it makes landing and transitioning simpler when arriving in unfamiliar places where the difference between legitimate taxis and gypsy cabs can be hard to determine – hence the gypsy cab-tastrophe that happened to me in Qingdao, China in 2011.)
  • A good book that travels well (don’t take Anna Karenina through 18 hours of travel, it’s a door stop, not a travel read)
  • A notepad

9. Local Currency – Always have at least enough $$ in the local currency of where you’re going just in case.  My just in case turned out to be the Jakarta, Indonesia airport where I had to take a taxi from one terminal to the other.  It cost about $2.00 and I would have paid $6.00 to pull money out of the ATM, then would have had a hassle getting change.

10. Print Outs of the Itinerary – Often enough I’ve loaded my luggage in the back of the taxi, climbed into the back seat, then realized the address of where I am going is sitting in my suitcase in the trunk.