7 Genius Family Travel Hacks to Try on Your Next Trip
Parennial Travel founder Erica Jackson Curran shares road-tested tips for traveling with kids.
If I've learned anything from traveling the world with my toddler and documenting it on my travel site, Parennial Travel, it's that ingenuity just might be the most important thing when it comes to family travel. It's all about finding that perfect balance between careful planning and the ability to pivot when things (inevitably) go off course. From D.C. day trips to six-week sojourns in Spain, here are some of the most useful family travel hacks I've picked up along the way.
1. Timing is everything. This may be the single most important family travel hack I can offer. Whether you're embarking on a long road trip or flying halfway across the world, it's important to time your travels with your child's schedule in mind. For my family, this means taking long car rides after bedtime and choosing overnight flights so our little one will sleep on the plane. Taking a daytime flight from Iceland to the U.S. with a rambunctious 2-year-old was the longest day of my life.
2. Maximize your travel spending with the right credit card. Look for a card like the Marriott Bonvoy Bold that allows you to earn extra points on travel-related purchases, including hotel stays. If you're traveling overseas, you'll save big by avoiding foreign transaction fees, and you can also rest easy knowing that you have perks like reimbursement for lost luggage and trip delays.
3. Take the time to research airport amenities. If you're flying with kids, your time in the airport can have a direct impact on your experience in the sky. That's why I recommend getting to know any airports you'll be spending significant time in, and keeping an eye out for amenities like nursing pods, playgrounds, and kid-friendly eateries—which can make a long layover feel more like a trip highlight for a kid. (Plus, getting to exert some energy at the airport almost guarantees they’ll be better behaved on the plane.) Also look for programs like TSA Family Lanes.
4. Pre-load electronics with games and movies. Whatever your policy on screen time for kids, you may want to reconsider when faced with an eight-hour car ride or back-to-back flights. Just don't make the mistake of assuming you'll have Wi-Fi everywhere you go, or that it will be fast enough to download new episodes of Super Wings. Load up those devices before you leave home, and make sure they're fully charged, too.
5. Rethink restaurants. Dining out has always been one of my favorite activities while traveling, but it didn't take me long to realize that it's not always fun to do with kids. However, that doesn't mean you can't try new things and eat well on a family vacation—you simply need to look beyond restaurants. On a trip to D.C. with three young family members, we got takeout from the open-air fish market one evening and ate it while overlooking the Wharf. The kids still talk about that night. And if all else fails, download a local food delivery app and order takeout to your hotel room.
6. Take your travel gear on a test run. Contrary to what you might think, overpacking can make your trip significantly more difficult, especially if you're bouncing around a bit. The goal is to pack as light as possible and avoid packing unnecessary items by giving them a test run before you leave. For instance, I bought an expensive, heavy travel high-chair for Europe that turned out to be too small for my son. We didn't use it once on our trip, but it did get us stopped at security in every airport we flew through.
7. Upgrade to a suite. Staying in a cramped hotel room with kids is one of the quickest ways to put a damper on your travels. I still have bitter flashbacks of a painfully boring night in Boston when we got our very young son to sleep in his crib at 7 and then didn't turn on the lights or TV for fear of waking him. (Oh, how much we have learned!) Booking a suite not only ensures parents get some downtime away from the kids, it can also save you money if there's a kitchenette where you can prepare meals and keep a stock of favorite snacks.