Like parenthood itself, a family vacation is both wonderful and a big headache. It's expensive but full of moments to cherish. Is it worth all the trouble if it leaves you feeling like you need a vacation after your vacation? We say definitely. The editors of American Baby do a lot of traveling ourselves! Here's advice we've gleaned from experience.
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.
Now, even newborns need a passport to travel aboard, even to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. In 2008, everyone will need passports for cruises as well. To get a passport for a baby, Mom and Dad have to apply together, in person, at a post office or a FedEx Kinkos store.
"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 stretched for walking and dreaming."Judith Nolte, Editor-in-Chief
Originally published in American Baby magazine, June 2007.