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

Your vacation is finally starting, and you want to get off on the right foot. Make your car ride or flight more of an adventure and less of a trek. 

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Help your plane ride go smoother.

Anissa Charles, a Southwest flight attendant based in Orlando, has seen her share of meltdowns from both kids and parents. Here's how to nix the turbulence:

Be savvy about boarding times If you're flying Southwest with a child age 6 or under, take advantage of being able to board after group A. Since you don't get seat assignments (unless you pay extra), you'll be able to find seats together. Other airlines tend to allow families with children ages 2 and under to board after first-class, but think about whether you really want more time on the plane.

Soothe little ears.  EarPlanes for Kids & Smaller Ears help regulate pressure while reducing engine noise. Anything that encourages sucking and swallowing also helps. For babies and young toddlers, that means pacifiers (bring at least two, in case one falls on the floor) and bottle- or breastfeeding.

Strategize bathroom trips. Slip a pack of wipes and one diaper per hour of flight time in your carry-on or diaper bag. Ask your flight attendant to give you a heads-up ten minutes before descent begins so you can make one last stop.

Keep the kids occupied. Reframe that daunting three-hour flight as nine 20-minute segments. Eating after takeoff and before landing knocks out two of those segments; reading a few books will knock out a third. Bring activity or coloring books for the fourth, and let the kids spend the remaining 90 or
so minutes watching a movie on their own device or an in-flight system.

Ask for a cockpit visit.  Flag down a flight attendant after the post-takeoff fasten-seat-belt sign has gone off. "Don't promise your kid anything, but nine times out of ten, it's a yes," says Charles. "A lot of our pilots have kids and are usually eager to invite children in." The actual visit will take place once the flight has landed.

Don't rush off the plane (unless you have a tight connection). It'll take at least 20 minutes for your luggage to arrive on the claim carousel—and a good ten for the ground crew to bring your stroller up to the arrivals gate. If your kid is antsy, point out the window and let him watch all the other planes taking off and landing.

Stave off backseat boredom.

Did anyone tell you about these road-trip sanity savers? We are!

Window cling decals They're like stickers, but they peel right off. A few bucks buys you a pack of fish, butterflies, flowers, and more—not to mention15-plus minutes of quiet.

Wikki Stix Wax-covered strands of yarn bend into almost anything with no mess. Jeff Bogle, who chronicles his family's adventures in his blog Out With the Kids, recalls the quiet hours his girls spent
in the backseat twisting them into hammocks, swings, and zip lines for their toy figures.

Colorful duct tape Kids can plaster their car seat
and clothes with the stuff—or, if they're like Bogle's girls, make a pair of flip-flops.

Bubbles Save the party favor–size bottles for traffic jams, then open the windows halfway so your kids can blow off steam—or should we say suds.

Soccer ball Or a toy that will get even the smallest tot moving on any grassy area you can find even if it's at a highway rest stop. Keep the ball in the trunk.    

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 Enjoying Yourself