best family travel tips for 2021

22 Best Family Travel Tips

Our best family travel tips will help you to navigate an especially complicated travel world. Along with the normal stresses of traveling with kids (hello meltdowns!), you have ever-changing restrictions, border closures, and different rules in different states.

Below are our best family travel tips for traveling with kids from Peru to India. These family travel tips will help you stay safe, healthy, and have fun while traveling as a family. We started traveling internationally as part of a Family Gap Year, and just kept going.

We’ve been full-time traveling as a family of four for two years now, so we’ve done a lot of road trips, and a lot of long bus rides, and made a lot of travel mistakes! We’d like to think we’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Here’s the best advice we would give ourselves (if we thought to ask!).

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At the bottom of this post, download a free guide: 6 Safety Tips for Traveling with Kids: What You Should Know Before You Travel.

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Digital SIM Cards: Airalo eSIM
Travel Insurance: SafetyWing

Best Tips for Traveling with Kids

1. Plan Ahead

When traveling with kids, one of our best family travel tips is simply to plan ahead. Remember showing up somewhere and then finding a place to stay? That doesn’t work very well with kids- you need to plan ahead. It’s best to have a game plan ahead of time and know exactly where you are going and how you are going to get there.

In 2022 constantly changing regulations meant reduced capacity and lots of closures. Hotels were open but their restaurants and pools were closed. Attractions required timed tickets that sold out.

In 2023 travel is back and booming- meaning more people are booking earlier, and you’ll need to plan ahead to get trains, buses, and even hotel rooms.

International Travel

The International locations that are currently open will also be busy. In general, limited options mean lots of crowds. This is not the summer for spontaneity. Plan ahead and pre-book everything you can.

Recheck restrictions right before you leave as they are changing often. If traveling internationally, make sure to recheck border restrictions and testing requirements to avoid quarantine at your destination. Rules have been especially vague about unvaccinated children crossing borders.

Make sure that you have travel insurance! We prefer SafetyWing, you can read our thoughts on travel insurance on our Travel Guides page.

Get a Quote: SafetyWing Travel Insurance

2. Check Cancellation Policies

This is the era of changing plans- whether the border closes, the flight gets canceled, or someone in the family gets sick. Make sure as many of your travel plans as possible can be changed or canceled without penalty.

Here are some planning resources we love that have Free Cancellation:

Hotels: Read the details of each place, but usually, you can cancel without penalty within a day or two of arrival. We often pay a little more for our reservation to keep full cancellation a possibility.

Car Rental: Discover Cars. This car rental service is very upfront about what is included. Cancel up to 48 hours before picking up the car with no penalty.

There is an unprecedented shortage of rental cars- families are even resorting to renting U-Hauls because they can’t find a car rental. Make sure to plan as far ahead as possible if you anticipate needing a rental car.

Buses, Trains, and Ferries: Bookaway. This company operates all over the world, to help you figure out how to get from Point A to Point B, whether that’s by bus, plane, or ferry. Cancel up to 24 hours before departure.

Tours: Viator. This company organizes tours all over the world from whale watches to cooking classes. Cancel with no penalty 24 hours before your event.

If you’ll be joining the crowds on the roads this summer, check out our epic cross-country road trip, or a shorter road trip through the American Northwest.

3. Bring Safety Essentials

Make sure to stock up on masks for everyone, hand sanitizer, and sanitizing wipes for wiping down tray tables, seats, and anything else the kids may be in contact with.

While science has moved away from the most worrisome germs being transmitted by touching objects, a little extra cleaning never hurts. When we need to wash something in a hotel sink we use Earth Breeze environmentally-friendly dry laundry sheets.

4. Don’t Overpack

This can be a tough one. Try hard not to overpack. In most places you go, you’ll be able to pick up whatever you are missing. With young kids, it’s best to send items ahead or rent on-site when possible.

When visiting family in California, we have ordered diapers and wipes to be shipped to our destination. That means we only had to carry enough supplies to get us there.

“Packing Light” means something different to every family. We don’t fly “carry-on only”, but we do try to only pack the things that we will need.

We love using Amazon Basics packing cubes– each family member has a different color to keep our cubes easily sorted. We mostly use small cubes, as well as a few medium size.

I was skeptical at first, but they save you from packing and unpacking your whole bag when looking for one item. I will never travel without them again!

Check Prices: Amazon Basics Packing Cubes

Stock up on things that are hard to replace while traveling, from disposable contact lenses to specific hair care products. I have struggled to find deodorant in Jordan after the airline lost my bag, and sunscreen in Thailand was extremely expensive. Pack to be comfortable, whatever that means to you.

Don’t sure what you need for a road trip? Check out our post on Road Trip Essentials for everything you’ll need! Planning a long trip? Read our packing list for full-time travel.

5. Prepare for Jet Lag

Jet lag can be rough on kids and adults alike. Plan at least a day after arriving in a new time zone to adapt, with no pressure to go anywhere or see anything in particular.

Walking around outside can help kids stay awake a bit longer, but be prepared for them to crash. It’s also a good idea to have food on hand in case little ones wake up hungry in the middle of the night while their bodies are adjusting.

We carry melatonin to help our bodies adjust to time changes, though I can only guess whether it really helps.

6. Get Kids Excited for the Destination

Traveling with kids goes more smoothly when everyone’s excited and has an idea of what to expect. Read stories about your destination, watch a movie set in that destination, or ask kids what questions they have and google the answers together!

We found that the Scooter Stories that are part of a Little Passports subscription are great at getting our girls interested in new places. Some of the countries on their travel wish list are a result of these stories.

Learn More: Little Passports Subscriptions

Our kids struggled to make progress with their Spanish until we went together to Mexico. Once they saw how useful it was in real life, they embraced learning the language.

Learn a few phrases in a new language and practice them together. We love doing podcasts together- to improve our Spanish skills or learn about a new destination.

7. Set Daily Expectations

Kids often thrive on schedules and knowing what comes next, especially when traveling. Explain the plan for the day, and give them choices when it makes sense.

The older the kids are, the more they can be involved in planning the trip itinerary. With younger kids knowing what to expect can help get them excited for the day which makes it a lot easier to get everyone out the door in the morning.

8. Make a Safety Plan

To keep us all safe when traveling, we all wear ID bracelets. We love our RoadId bracelets- they come in fun colors and the silicon bands come in three sizes. The kids’ bracelets include their name, blood type, any allergies, and a cell phone number for mom and dad.

If we ever get separated, I don’t have to worry about whether the kids will remember our phone numbers. If any of us need medical attention, the important information is there, as well as easy contact numbers.

Make sure to make a plan in case you get separated at each busy location. Discuss a central landmark to meet up, and what to do if you get separated on public transportation (like a subway).

We always tell our kids to stay put, and that we’ll circle back to find them. Make sure they know the separation plan, and how to find a safe adult to ask for help if needed.

Check out our full post on keeping kids safe– with our best tips for family safety while traveling anywhere in the world.

9. Carefully Pack your Day Bag

Having a few essential items in your day pack or carry-on will go a long way toward keeping everyone safe and comfy. Plan to pack an extra set of clothes and extra underwear for younger kids.

Create a mini first-aid kit- don’t forget Neosporin, bandaids, tissues, and chewable fever tablets. Carry a wrap or travel towel that can be used as a blanket in chilly planes or buses.

Check out our full post on what to keep in your day pack.

10. Carry Lots of Snacks

Snacks are super important when traveling. Tummies are off from new food, schedules are different, and everyone gets grumpy when they are hungry! Snacks quickly revive kids’ energy levels and can turn around the mood on the trip.

Snacks are also great for unexpected travel delays, whether it’s a broken-down bus, or getting into town after all the stores close.

Heading out on a road trip? We’ve got the best road trip snacks, as well as the best road trip activities for kids!

11. A Good Breakfast is Key

Starting the day with a solid breakfast helps everyone head out with the right attitude. If lunch is late, or the kids are picky about what they are eating, we don’t worry if we know they had a good breakfast.

We like instant oatmeal when possible (just add hot water), or yogurt with berries and granola if we have a mini-fridge. When we first arrive somewhere, we make it a priority to stock up on snacks and breakfast foods. Our kids are early risers, so having food ready for them quickly in the morning makes our day go smoother.

12. Plan to Be Flexible

Don’t try to stuff too many activities into your family travel plan. Expect to have a quiet day after arriving in a new time zone to manage jet lag, and a backup day if something goes wrong.

The more flexibility you have built into your plan, the more you can rearrange things with grace when things don’t go your way.

We were very excited to go to the National Zoo in Washington D.C.- it was our first stop once in town. We got there and found many of the animals were not in their enclosures, and then S came down with an earache and we had to leave.

Our plans for the day were canceled, but after a nap and some cartoons in the hotel room, she was soon feeling much better and we had a great trip overall.

13. Tackle Top Priority Activities First

Plan to head out to your “must-do” activity first thing in the day. Plan for a second activity that may or may not happen depending on everyone’s energy levels. We find that everyone is at their best in the morning, and more prone to meltdowns in the afternoon.

We like to schedule exercise (like a playground!) or downtime in the late afternoon before heading out for dinner. If everyone is tired, we also find that sometimes dinner and a movie in the hotel room are just what we need.

Make sure you schedule an extra day with nothing important planned, so if something gets pushed back you have a second chance to attempt it.

14. Choose Places Everyone Can Enjoy

Choose attractions that everyone in your group can enjoy. Usually, anything involving nature or animals works well for all ages.

If you are visiting someplace a bit more intriguing for the adults than the kids, follow it up with a playground or plaza with a fountain to balance the focus of the day so everyone gets to do something they are excited about.

Some families find that rotating who picks the activities works well and helps keep the plans balanced. So mom may pick a museum one day, but then the kids get to pick the next day’s main activities. This also helps kids learn empathy, and to appreciate that everyone in the family is different.

15. Vary Your Type of Activity

One of the easiest ways to keep kids engaged and entertained is to vary your type of activity. So for example, take a hike one day, then walk around a town or visit a museum the next.

The kids will stay more engaged than if you try to do a similar activity for two or three days in a row. You’ll hear less of the whiny “Not Again…” if it’s been a few days since you’ve attempted a specific activity.

16. Schedule Quiet Time

Naptime in our house evolved into quiet time. Quiet time is one hour every day when everyone does their own activities quietly. No screen time is allowed. The kids can read books, play quietly with toys, nap, or write in a journal, but it has to be alone.

I’m a bit of an introvert- I need time when no one is asking me for anything or needs an argument settled or a timer set for sharing anything.

We all need time to recharge, and then we come back together with patience restored and play much better together. Figure out what works best for your family, set your own rules, and give each other a bit of quiet space.

17. Schedule in Exercise (for all of you)

Kids need time to run around and be physical. That may be on a playground, or around a plaza, on a beach, or even at the hotel pool. They need to let their brains rest and their bodies stretch.

Plan exercise into the day and everyone will sleep better and be in a better mood.

18. Travel Slow (even slower)

Give yourselves time to process and explore beyond the highlights of a place. There was a weekend in New York City when all my kids wanted was to follow the dogs they saw being walked on the sidewalks.

When E was 2 she stopped in front of a violin player on the sidewalk in Cambridge, MA. She stared and listened for 20 minutes. I would never have expected her to be so captivated.

Make time to follow whatever catches their attention. If you aren’t rushing, and have scheduled in some flexibility, you’ll have an easier time following the kids’ lead.

“Slow” means something different to everyone, for some families that means staying in one place for several weeks, or even several months. It takes some time to find the pace that works for your family.

When we were driving cross-country, staying in one place for three nights felt luxurious. For other types of trips, three nights in each location is our minimum. The more we travel, the slower we move. Now we tend to alternate between moving quickly (3-5 days per location), with one or two months stays in one place.

19. Accept that Things Will Go Wrong

If you accept that things will go wrong, you’ll have a much easier time rolling with it when they do. Things will get left behind, kids will get sick, planes will be delayed. It’s all part of the magical adventure that is travel.

Once, when visiting New York City for Thanksgiving, we made a plan to have Chinese food for dinner. We arranged for friends to meet up with us, and headed out, only to find the restaurant shuttered. We ended up having a fantastic meal at the Mexican restaurant down the block, and now consider tacos and margaritas a perfect Thanksgiving meal for our family!

From canceled ferries to motorbike parking tickets, to lost luggage and lost Harry Potter wands, there are always things that will go wrong. Each of these is a life lesson, and an opportunity to teach the kids how to handle these situations calmly.

20. Give Each Other Breaks

If traveling with kids and two or more adults, each adult may need alone time. For me, this may be visiting something that doesn’t interest the kids or taking a quiet walk around town with my camera.

Waker is a morning person, so he may go for a run in the morning, or simply go out alone to get coffee to bring back to where we are staying. Especially on longer trips, give each person space to explore a bit on their own.

21. Practice Gratitude and Teach Gratitude

We try to end each day with a round of Best & Worst. Each person takes a turn to tell the family what the “best” part of their day was, what the “worst” part of their day was, and anything else that they are “thinking about” or is “on their mind”.

We usually do this over dinner. You don’t have to have a “worst”, but each day you must have a “best”. We are sometimes surprised by what comes up!

It’s a great way to reflect on your day and practice gratitude. No matter how rotten the day was, we always come up with something that was “best”, even if it is just being together in that moment. Sometimes we help remind each other of the best parts of the day.

It also gives the kids a chance to share anything that they are worried about, or have questions about- especially during the “on your mind” portion. It’s also great for them to listen to how we feel about our day- to see that adults also have good and bad days, things we worry about, and things we are grateful for.

22. Just Go!

Enjoy it! Your kids will never be this age again, make some memories, and laugh together over the frustrations. There are a million excuses not to go- to wait until the kids are older, or until finances are better. Just go. You can do this, plan ahead and go have fun!

There You Have It: Best Family Travel Tips

Our 22 best family travel tips to celebrate getting back out there in 2022 and beyond. From planning ahead to embracing slow travel when you can, we hope our family travel advice will help you to have a great family vacation, and make great travel memories with your family.

We love traveling with our kids, even during stressful times, and we hope you do too! Ready to embrace travel with kids? Start with a family bucket list of travel ideas!

Traveling to South America? Check out our best tips for embracing and enjoying South America with kids.

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