Guest Post Written by Nicole Hockin, Hotels.Com Travel Expert!
1. Pack light: Bring only the essentials. The more you bring, the more you have to keep up with and the heavier the bags. Kids can require a lot of stuff: car seats, strollers, cribs, high chairs. Check out http://www.babysaway.com/ where you can rent gear instead of packing it all. Some car rental companies also rent child safety seats and some hotels offer childproof rooms or cribs upon request. Call ahead and find out which items you can cut from your packing list.
2. Expect the unexpected: Not to contradict tip #1, but make sure you have plenty of what you need in your carry-on: diapers, wipes (which are great for a multitude of things), medications, change of clothes, snacks, and a secret coloring book.
3. Bring toys and games – quiet ones: Be sure to bring something to keep everyone entertained, but leave the singing Barneys and beeping video games at home. You and everyone else will be glad you did. Backpacks for each child: Toddler or teen – give each child his own backpack to carry with their chosen toys/books/etc. The catch is if they pack it, they carry it. Trust me, one heavy backpack experience and they’ll learn just how much to take to Grandma’s.
** Parents Note: check the backpacks to make sure there are not any toys with water elements (ex. a toy train car) or Play-Doh (TSA considers this a potential explosive device.) as they will be confiscated.
4. Car seats: Do NOT count as checked luggage on any airline. You will NOT be charged. Get yourself a durable car seat cover and check it for your trip. Nicole’s secret tip: when your suitcase is over 50 lbs, avoid the overweight fees and stick some of those extra clothes in the car seat bag.
5. Airplane seats: If your child is under the age of two, then he/she technically does NOT need a paid seat on the plane. Be prepared to prove your child’s age. I.E. – birth certificate. I recommend that you purchase a seat for your infant once the child is mobile (even if he’s only one year) especially for flights over 2 hours in length. The airplane seat allows them their own space to wiggle and dramatically reduces on-board melt-downs.
6. TSA Security Screening can really delay you if you aren’t prepared. Know this: medications, baby formula and food, breast milk, and juice are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding three ounces and are not required to be in the zip-top bag. Babies do have to take off their shoes, too. So go for velcro on travel day. Plan ahead! Practice getting that stroller broken down quickly!
7. Eat breakfast where kids eat free and split meals. This can mean an enormous saving for a family of four or larger. Children are many times too excited or tired to eat much at a time. Restaurants that are kid friendly are more than happy to accommodate special requests for extra plates. Many do free meals for kids (with the purchase of an adult meal) on different days of the week.
8. Bring your own stroller. If you’re going to visit theme parks then this can save you $7 to $30 (for a double) a day in rental fees.
9. Bring along individual refillable water bottles. These can be refilled at the hotel and at restaurants around your destination. A family of four could easily spend $20 or more a day just buying water.
10. The most important tip of all is to be flexible. Lines will be long, traffic will be heavy, flights will be delayed and children (and adults) will get grumpy. But with just a little planning and an open mind, you’ll survive and enjoy another family vacation.