“Are we there yet?” These four simple words can strike fear in any parent’s heart. Luckily, as veteran road warriors know, it’s possible to avoid hearing them more often when you exercise a few simple strategies for planning vacations, and traveling more efficiently with children. Tired of constantly fighting with the family over where to head next, or having to find ways midway through any given trip to soothe the savage teen, tween, or toddler? The following hints, tips, and inside pointers, recommended by the experts at SELECT: Your City’s Secrets Unlocked, can help speed your clan along more comfortably over the river, through the woods, and to grandmother’s house (or Cozumel) this season – plus help you make any given trip far more enjoyable.
Pick a Family-Friendly Destination – Many attractions, hotels, and tours (e.g. cruises and all-inclusive vacations) are specifically-geared toward families and children of all ages, with major providers in every space offering package deals at a variety of pricing levels. Similarly, it’s also possible to plan a vacation personally that can put you at either a resort or area that’s rife with things to do for children, from stopovers at museums and waterparks to nearby tourist destinations with marinas, boardwalks, mini-golf courses, and more. As you create a plan for where to visit in coming months, look for a spot that offers that broadest range of activities and attractions for all ages, and consider whether you’d prefer to incorporate natural wonders (beaches, ski slopes, etc.), outdoor activities (camping, ziplining, etc.), or man-made diversions (hello, waterfront arcades and rollercoasters) into your schedule. Then triangulate which option works best for your family based on ages, interests, and how much excitement you’re looking for, so you can pick the option that offers you the broadest range of options with which to entertain and engage the entire clan. Note: Be sure to factor for flexibility as well – e.g. many beach destinations can become overcrowded around holidays, making it helpful to hunt for one that offers other nearby sources of fun and entertainment if you find lines too long or tickets hard to come by.
Plan Ahead and Plot Accordingly – Certainly, it can be fun to crash land at popular travel spots and ask your hotel’s concierge for tips – sometimes, in fact, it’s actually the best way to get to know any given region’s hidden gems. But it’s also helpful to plan ahead and study up on attractions and activities at the places you’re headed, as many often pack so many options it’s difficult, if not impossible, to cram them all in. You’ll also want to research tours and activities ahead as well, to make sure you’re getting the best price possible, and reserving a spot up-front with the best provider. Doing so not only allows you to maximize your time and dollars, pick and choose the options kids are likeliest to enjoy, and get them invested in the trip as they help you plan a schedule. It also allows you to plot alternatives and backups, have an idea what’s available nearby in terms of dining and restaurant options, and more effectively use the time you’ve got on your trip. Clever planners can even download and access a range of apps that can allow you to source hints and tips from locals in advance, research best options, or design a route (e.g. on road trips) that lets you pass through a number of intriguing and notable stops on your way to your end destination.
Rent Where Possible – One word of advice: Rentals. While items such as strollers and car seats are often must-haves for reasons of safety and convenience, remember – many auto companies, amusement parks (e.g. Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando), and other providers offer on-site solutions that you can grab right at your destination. Granted, it can be a pricier solution that simply bringing your own along on the trip, but remember: The extra money you’ll spend is often well worth the convenience these solutions provide. (And back pain saved having to haul a range of accoutrements from one airport to the next.) Similarly, remember that we now live in a sharing economy, and private providers can often provide a cost-conscious alternative to traditional lodging and transportation options. For instance, rental providers such as AirBNB (private lodging), Uber/Lyft (ride sharing or drivers), and Turo (local cars) can all help you find affordable and even last-minute places to crash or ways to get around as needed.
Give Kids Some Space – Like adults, children also need time to decompress during a long day, or between pit stops on vacation joyrides. So don’t try to jam-pack every minute of your travels full of activities – instead, also be sure to build in “blank spots,” or time to rest and enjoy more solitary pursuits. (And we’re not just talking about downtime by the pool or up in your suite at the hotel.) For instance, cruising up and down California’s coast can be a blast, as can stopping by signature attractions such as the La Brea Tar Pits and Santa Monica Pier. But there are also plenty of quiet spots with secluded beaches, clifftop overlooks, and shady trees where it can be every bit as fun and exciting to park yourself and enjoy a book, or the beauty of nature, for a couple hours here and there as well. Similarly, remember that to kids – especially younger sprouts – even a trip to local hotspots such as a vintage ‘50s diner or bustling outdoor market can be an adventure unto itself. It’s all about balance: Finding ways to offer moments where they can rest, unwind, and take things at a slower pace before you begin getting back to ping-ponging between name-brand attractions or historical highlights at a whirlwind pace.
Surprise and Delight – Like adults, kids can get jaded: To keep interest levels high, look for ways to surprise and engage them by finding more inventive attractions and escapes, or highlights off the typical tourist’s beaten path. As a simple example, on a trip to Washington DC, you might take them to “meet the President” (read: to Madame Toussaud’s wax museum to take a picture with said notable). Similarly, a trip to Memphis could include a guided tour with live musicians performing on the bus, while a visit to New York might feature a stopover to see the Macy’s holiday display windows or the Nintendo World Store. To keep kids guessing, get to know their interests – then look for quirky or offbeat destinations or activities that speak to them in ways they might not expect. After all, kids may not know much about New Orleans, but they may appreciate a trip to the voodoo souvenir shop, friendly ghost tour, or freshly-baked beignet at an outdoor café as much as any standard-issue historical attraction.