Millions of North Americans travel for the holidays to spend time with family and friends, many with children in tow. Of those travelers who responded to a recent Travel Leaders Group Travel Trends survey, 61 percent say they will fly to their holiday vacation destination in the coming weeks and 38 percent will drive. When traveling with children, there are a variety of tips that will help smooth the journey, say expert travel advisors at Travel Leaders – one of North America’s largest retail travel agency brands with thousands of travel agents across the United States, Canada and Mexico.
“Domestic and international air travel with children has grown substantially over the past few decades,” said Roger E. Block, CTC, President of Travel Leaders Network. “Fortunately, advances in technology, including tablets and mobile phones, are providing greater entertainment options for kids, while on the road. Our travel advisors spend a significant amount of time advising parents on how to integrate entertainment and activity options and many other tips to travel better with their children to ensure a stress-free and enjoyable vacation.”
Here are nine easy-to-follow tips that will help vacationers “Travel Better” this holiday season when children are along for the journey.
Pack with a plan. Overhead space will be at a premium during the holiday travel season, especially as people bring gifts for friends and family or return home with presents they’ve received for their children. So, when preparing to pack your bags, it’s crucial to check in advance whether your luggage meets the airline’s size and weight restrictions for checked baggage and carry-ons, as well as to remember to save space for the extra items that will come home with you.
Children’s liquids are an exception to the 3-ounce rule. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows each passenger one quart-size bag of liquids and gels, including toothpaste, gel deodorant, and lotions. Each item must be 3.4 ounces or less, with medications and certain items for children being the exception. Infant formula, breast milk and juices for infants or toddlers, as well as ice packs to keep them cool, are permitted in higher, yet reasonable quantities through the security checkpoint. However, keep them separate from the items in your one-quart bag. Label medications and carry a copy of the prescription.
Bring multiple copies of important travel documents. It’s a good idea to have color photocopies and digital copies of all important identification documents, including your passport, front and back of credit cards and health insurance information for you and the children. If you’re traveling internationally, consider bringing a copy of your child’s immunizations. Also have extra ID photos cropped to passport size in case you have to order a replacement at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Travel Leaders travel advisors also say to pack all paper copies or flash drives in a separate location for extra safe-keeping.
TSA PreCheck is free for children 12 and younger. When traveling domestically, having expedited clearance such as TSA PreCheck or Global Entry usually means you can skip the long lines at security checkpoints and not have to remove outer layers of clothing. Although Children ages 12 and under never have to remove their shoes or lightweight jackets, they also do not need their own TSA Precheck boarding pass since they can go through the TSA Precheck checkpoint with any qualifying adult with whom they are traveling. If traveling internationally, children under 18 do need to apply for their own Global Entry or Nexus status with a consenting parent or legal guardian.
Ease flight wait times. Dress young children in comfortable clothing, even consider footie pajamas and no shoes. If your child is young enough, give your tot a ride to the checkpoint and gate in a stroller. Though they will have to walk through or be carried through security, the stroller ride there helps to keep them in tow, and your stress low. You’ll also save money as you can check the stroller or car seat at the gate, often bypassing the fees you’d pay at the ticket counter.
Work with a travel advisor if planning to visit a theme park. Winter, especially the days surrounding Christmas week, is a busy time to visit Walt Disney World® Resort, Universal Studios and other adventure parks. Travel Leaders travel advisors have access to special park discounts and tips. To ease long wait times for popular attractions, considering using Disney FastPass or Universal Express™ Pass during peak times. Bear in mind that lines are shorter first thing in the morning or late at night. Also, allow a travel advisor to book you at a Disney or Universal resort. If you do so, you gain extra perks, such as making your FastPass+ selections up to 60 days prior to check-in, allowing you access to the most popular rides earlier than most people.
Hit the high seas for family adventure. A cruise is a great way to vacation with family and friends without the stress of holiday meal prep, clean up and entertaining. To feel relaxed without overexerting yourself, skip an excursion at a port or two. If you take time to enjoy the ship while fewer people are onboard, you will avoid some of the hustle and bustle. When you do take a shore excursion, consider opting for the children to stay with the childcare service for one of your experiences. But don’t leave the children out of all excursions. They will also enjoy the adventure and culture of other lands and the bonding time with Mom or Dad.
Relax at an all-inclusive resort. Escaping the cold weather by traveling with the family to someplace warm and tropical can be a relaxing way to spend the holidays, especially when it is spent at a family-friendly, all-inclusive resort. Whether you land in Mexico or the Caribbean, the convenience and value that comes without always pulling out your wallet can make winter travel less stressful. There are many excellent choices and a travel advisor can help you select the one that best suits your family, such as ones that offer features ranging from kids’ clubs, water parks and family-themed entertainment to spas for the adults. Some, such as Palace Resorts with locations in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel and Jamaica, still have holiday specials available.
Road Trips with Kids. Long road trips with children allow for many options, as well as the ubiquitous “Are we there yet?” refrain. Pack a kiddie bag that can stay within arms reach of young children who may want to grab their favorite book, electronic device, sippy cup or snack pack. Remember to also pack wet wipes and paper towels for easy clean up. Play music over the car radio that the child can enjoy as a family sing-along in addition to an option of personal music time with their own headphones or video player. Children also love the attention if a parent climbs into the back seat with them occasionally, if space allows. I Spy and tic tac toe are classic games children will enjoy. Finally, be sure to build in time to take breaks to enjoy scenic overlooks or small towns or other attractions you may pass along the way.