It’s that time of year again when many of us pack-up and put our families into a small vehicle or plane in hopes of making memories and spending quality time together on a family vacation. If your family is anything like mine, the trip never goes according to plan, but we end up making lots of hilarious memories and have a great time anyway.
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please see our disclosures here.
Even though my kids are getting a little older (9 and 12 years old), packing up a family of 4 for a trip (even a short one) is overwhelming. I have gotten better at it over the years, but we inevitably forget something each trip. In hopes of getting your trip off to a great start, I am sharing my best family vacation travel tips whether you are traveling by car or plane.
I usually start prepping for a trip about a couple weeks before we are scheduled to leave. This gives me time to gather the essentials and determine what I need to either hunt down or buy before we leave. Preparation is key to not getting overwhelmed, so take the time to prepare.
- Write a packing list or you can use this free Packing List Printable.
- Back-up and remove all photos and videos on your devices. This will free up storage space on your device to take photos during your trip and add books, movies and music. If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can back up your photos and videos for FREE with the Prime Photos app.
- Remove all previously downloaded books, movies, tv shows, podcasts and music that you will not need for the trip. Again, this will free up more storage space on your device.
- Download books, movies, tv shows, podcasts and music to your device. Now that your device is all cleared out, download any new stuff that you want for the trip. If you have a Prime Membership, you can download many of these items for free (more information about that here). Netflix will now let members download most movies and tv shows to devices as well. For my kids, I try to have separate movies and tv shows on their devices. I do this in case they get bored of their own movies they can switch devices to watch something different.
- If traveling by car, enter your destination into your Waze app. You can preview the routes, travel time and places to eat, shop and play along the way.
- Locate all your reservation confirmations. I like to add my confirmations to One Note and print out a copy for back-up. I also double check the dates and any other pertinent info.
A few days before we leave for a trip, I start pulling clothes and toiletries to pack. I do not like running a load of laundry at 10 pm the night before we leave, so this helps me see what needs to be washed before it can be packed.
- Layout clothes for each day. Because I am pretty good at forgetting important articles of clothing like socks, I make a stack of clothing for each day. Each stack has everything I need – pants, shirt, undergarments, socks, shoes, jewelry. I do this for each of my kids too. Since my daughter is 12, she picks her outfits, lays them out, and then I approve them. This give her freedom to make choices and saves me time. Win/Win!
- Let each kid have a backpack or small bag for personal items. When we travel, each of our kids is allowed to pack their own backpack with whatever they feel will keep them busy, happy and comfortable. I then double check the backpacks and add in whatever is missing that I feel is necessary (like headphones or small games). Each kid is responsible for carrying their own backpack and the items they bring. When our kids were smaller, they had small rolling backpacks for the airport. They loved them!
- Set aside easily forgotten items. I am notorious for forgetting to pack our “nice” camera. I don’t use it often, so it is not at the top of my mind. Here is a short list of items that are easy to forget to pack:
- Camera or camera lens accessory for your phone
- Hand sanitizer
- Charging cables
- Laundry bag for dirty clothes
- Power bank to charge devices
- Selfie stick to take group photos
- Car charger adapter
- Sharpie – I always ended up wishing I had packed a Sharpie
Traveling Snack Tips
We all know that snacks are a must have for all trips. When we travel, I like to surprise my kids with their favorite snacks that I don’t buy often like Cheetos and candy. This is an easy way to make the trip a little more special.
- Pack single serve bags. I struggle with this every road trip. Do I pack individual bags of snacks like pretzels or do I just save myself some time and bring the big bag? I have found the single serve bags are the way to go; whether I make my own with Ziploc snack size bags or I buy single serving snacks. My kids are happier when they don’t have to share, my car stays cleaner with the single serve bags, and we don’t seem to spread as many germs by sharing one big bag.
- Bring a Cooler. I admit that I was opposed to bringing a cooler on car trips. Bringing a cooler felt a little over the top and was one just more thing to keep up with, but overall it really makes things easier. Fill a small cooler with water, other drinks, cheese sticks, yogurt tubes, and pre-made sandwiches for when the kids are “starving” and there is not a fast food place in sight. I don’t recommend using ice packs unless you don’t mind keeping up with them the entire trip. Totally up to you and your situation.
- Shelf Stable Snacks Only for the Plane. If you are traveling by plane, you can really only pack shelf stable snacks since you cannot bring an ice pack through security. We bring snacks with us and purchase drinks once we get through security. *Pro Tip – You can bring an empty water bottle and fill it up at a water fountain near your gate to save money on buying bottled water.
Entertainment On the Go Tips
Now we are getting down to the nitty gritty. Can we get to our destination without major meltdowns, whining and complaining? Here is my list of what to bring to keep your kids busy while traveling.
- Movies and Tv Shows – Download from Amazon Prime or Netflix. You can also download movies that you have purchased previously and have digital download code.
- Books – Paper or Digital. You can download digital books from Amazon or even most public libraries.
- Educational Apps or Games
- Magazines and activity books – A few to try: Mad Libs, Ultimate Road Trip Atlas, and Brainy Book. Target usually has a decent selection of kid magazines, too.
- Car games – There are lots of fun travel games for all different ages. Some of the more popular games are Rubber Neckers, Find It, and Travel Scavenger Hunt.
- Whatever the kids packed in their backpack.
Tips to Stay Comfortable
Depending on the length of your trip whether on a plane or in a car, you will want to bring along a few items to keep everyone comfortable. My kids do well when we bring along these items.
- Small blanket (for longer trips) or a jacket for the plane
- Neck pillow – My kids like this one because it converts to a tablet holder.
- Stuffed animal
- Easy on/easy off shoes – These are essential for our road trips. My kids shoes are off when in the car, but back on every time we stop for a restroom break.
- Trash bags – Each kid gets their own small trash bag for the car.
Hopefully with these family vacation travel tips in mind, you will be on your way armed with plenty of snacks, lots of entertainment and the comforts of home. Don’t forget to pack your patience and try to enjoy the journey 🙂
I would love to hear your best family vacation travel tips, so please feel free to leave them in the comments below!
If you found this post helpful, you may also like…