The Ultimate Vacation Planning Guide: Smart Tips for Enjoying Yourself

Ah! You're finally at your destination! Now slow down and savor the good times.

Mom and Daughter at Fruit Stand on Vacation Catherine Ledner/Getty Images
Live It Up Like A Local

Some of the most memorable experiences on vacation are simple. Go to a couple of attractions and spend the rest of your time chilling out in these ways:

* Sleuth out a swingset. The rest of the hotel is snoozing and your early risers have already polished off breakfast? Kidsplayparks.com will show you to the nearest park, where you can chat up other sleep-deprived parents.

 * Go Geocaching. Sightseeing's more fun when it doubles as a treasure hunt. Geocaching.com gives you the scoop on the crayons, Matchbox cars, and other trinkets fellow Geocachers have hidden near your destination.

 * Board the bus. Or monorail, subway, ferry, or you name it. To the 4-and-under set, public transit is nearly as thrilling as an amusement-park ride.

 * Find a farmers' market. Yummy samples, street life, impromptu performances. What better way to give your kid a taste of the local landscape while stocking your hotel room with fresh fruit? Ask your concierge—or smartphone—when and where to find a market near you.

 * Hit the library. When you're all played out, grab a couple of cushy chairs in the kids' section and thumb through some picture books. 

Help everyone sleep better.

How can you stick to a snooze schedule on a vacation filled with day trips, evening Ferris-wheel rides, and a bedroom your kid's never seen before? The weirdly liberating answer: You don't. Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., Parents advisor and author of Sleeping Through the Night, shares what to do instead.

* Slacken the schedule, but maintain the routine. "Without being too rigid, try to keep the most important parts of your child's schedule," says Dr. Mindell. If she short-circuits without her nap, take a walk after lunch so she can snooze in a stroller. Shoot for close to the usual bedtime, knowing you may have a few later nights out.  "If you normally do a bath and two stories, do a bath and two stories—even if it's late," says Dr. Mindell.

* Pack the bedtime gear. A familiar lovey, pillow, and worn copy of Goodnight Moon can warm up an unfamiliar sleeping space. Leave the white-noise machine at home and download Sleepy Sounds by OwenTech, an app that turns an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch into a baby mobile and noisemaker that plays lullabies, white noise, or nature sounds to soothe your baby to sleep ($2; itunes.apple.com).

* Sidestep time-zone trouble. Keep kids on their home clock for a quick two- to four-day getaway. Anything longer, switch them to local time—which Dr. Mindell swears is easier for little ones than for us. "Do this as soon as you get on the plane by adjusting their meal schedule—and get them out in the sunlight first thing in the morning as well as throughout the day to reset their circadian rhythm."

Learn more about how to plan the ultimate vacation:

The Ultimate Vacation Planning Guide: Smart Tips for Booking Your Trip

The Ultimate Vacation Guide: Smart Tips for Finding a Deal

The Ultimate Vacation Planning Guide: Smart Tips for Surviving Travel Days