Like parenthood itself, a family vacation is both wonderful and a big headache. Is it worth all the trouble if it leaves you feeling like you need a vacation after your vacation? We say definitely. Here’s the best family vacation advice from the editors of American Baby.
Every summer, Managing Editor Kate Kelly and her husband drive their three sons on an 18-hour trip to Canada. Their lessons learned:
Break up the trip. Keeping kids in car seats for more than 6 hours means misery. "We stay with friends one night, stay at a hotel the other night, and stop at local attractions along the way," Kelly says.
Take blankets and pillows to help kids nap in the car.
Get a portable DVD player. At Best Buy and Amazon.com, kid-friendly models range from $100 to $250.
Give kids daily playtime at parks or fast-food playgrounds.
Production Editor Heidi Balaban is her family's travel agent. Her tips:
Read about hotels at tripadvisor.com and travelpost.com. Keep in mind what matters to you – complaints about kids running around, for instance, might be good news.
Book flights online. Balaban checks Orbitz.com and hotwire.com, as well as sites that comb other sites, like mobissimo.com, sidestep.com, and kayak.com.
Travel while school is in session. Having preschoolers means you can go when rates are lowest.
Plan far ahead. The year, Balaban's family went to South Africa, so she got passports months in advance.
In order to squash tantrums, it’s important to keep your kids busy on a plane. Here are some ideas.
Eat: Don't fill up in the airport; draw out snacking one Goldfish at a time.
Browse: The in-flight catalog and safety card might catch baby's interest.
Play: It's hard to put on a voice for a car or pony more that 5 minutes, but delve into your inner actress.
Watch TV: If your airline doesn’t have satellite TV, consider bringing an iPad or portable DVD player.
Cuddle: Depending on baby's age and mood, having you available is a thrill.
Color: But crayons roll off the tray; don't depend on this for too long.
Nurse: Swallowing alleviates ear pressure.
Unwrap: Buy a dollar store toy, gift-wrap it, then use it as a surprise.
The notion of traveling with your newest family member probably fills with you with an equal measure of excitement and dread. But you can do it! Here are some tips to make your trip as easy and fun as possible.
1. Start packing ahead of time
Besides weather-appropriate clothing, you also might want to stock up on regular diapers, wipes, baby bug spray, utensils, bibs, etc. ... thinking about what you need at least a few weeks in advance makes those final few days of packing less overwhelming.
2. Babies need passports, too.
If you're traveling outside the country, remember to leave yourself ample time to get your baby a passport (and a super cute passport photo). Airlines like Delta will allow you to "lap" your child for free without a ticket if he or she is under 2 and you're traveling within the U.S., but you'll need to obtain a ticket (and pay taxes and fees) if you're traveling internationally.
3. Know your rights.
The TSA allows you to carry on breast milk, formula, and baby food as well as medically necessary liquids and gels in "reasonable quantities." So feel free to pack whatever your baby needs to eat or drink on your flight ... and/or stash a nursing cover in your diaper bag.
4. Check your big items.
Worried about checking or lugging your car seat and stroller attachment along with all your other stuff? Don't be! Most airlines will allow you to gate check your car seat and stroller, so it's right there waiting for you when you get off the plane (avoid bringing a large or non-collapsible stroller, which you might not be able to gate check).
5. Make sleeping arrangements.
Planning on using a Pack 'n Play or a crib at your hotel? Reserve one early before they run out! You'll also want to consider where baby will nap during your stay.
6. Bring entertainment.
Pack a few of your baby's favorite toys and books from home. Not only will they keep him entertained in the car and/or on the flight, they can also pass the time in the hotel room and make him feel a little more secure as his normal routine is disrupted.
"Maui is the perfect blend of activities and relaxation. There's always something to do, but you can always do nothing. It doesn't feel like you're in the United States, but you don't have to deal with customs or passports."– Colleen Dowd, Editorial Assistant/Lifestyle
"I love all things Disney: sprawling Disney World in Florida, the more intimate Disneyland in California, and the amazing Disney cruise ships. It's easy to be a parent when you're on their property because everything is geared to your children, and everyone smiles at your family. You can stop apologizing for kids being kids."– Jessica Hartshorn, Senior Lifestyle Editor
"Arizona has a great climate. You always know it's going to be warm there and the scenery is beautiful, so you can't lose.” – Katie Rockman, Editorial Assistant
"Acadia National Park, in Maine, is gorgeous, with its lakes and craggy shoreline. And there's a lot for families in Monterey, California, from historic Cannery Row to the aquarium to a children's museum." – Christine Porretta, Health Editor
"I love Prince Edward Island in Canada because it's got beautiful beaches but never gets too hot. It's not overrun with tourists either. And there's great ice cream!" – Kate Kelly, Managing Editor
"I ski because I like to be outside all day. Kids need to be 3 or 4 to do most ski schools, though. I highly recommend the resorts in Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming. I also have nothing against beach vacations; I spend time with my nieces and nephews at the New Jersey shore." – Tricia O'Brien, Features Editor
"I'm a sucker for the beaches on Long Island, New York. Though it can be a pain to drive out there – summertime traffic can be horrific – once you arrive, it's worth every mile. Wide beaches, beautiful sand, endless stretches for walking and dreaming." – Judith Nolte, Editor-in-Chief