1. Plan in Plenty of Advance
Have you secured your airline seats so the entire family can sit together? If not, do so now. Also, if you're planning to park your car at the airport for the duration of your trip, reserve a spot in advance, as spaces quickly book up around the holidays.
If you're driving, plan where you'll stop for bathroom breaks and quick bites, or better yet, see if you can find a fun roadside attraction to visit. Also, be aware of detours and map your road trip accordingly.
2. Leave Later, Arrive Later
Plan to arrive at your destination late in the day. This will allow you to unwind with family and friends just before bedtime and start fresh the following day. If you're traveling to a different time zone, it will also help to keep sleep schedules on track. And if you're running behind schedule (because that never happens... ), arriving at night will eliminate the possibility of missing out on valued time with relatives or other scheduled plans.
3. Download Useful Travel Apps
Part of smart planning means downloading useful travel apps. These are a few of our favorites:
Sunday Drives: This app directs you to scenic spots, quirky landmarks, restaurants and more, based on your route. It also offers themed tracks in certain areas, such as a "Bonnie and Clyde Route."
TSAwait: Using statistics from TSA, this handy app calculates how much time you'll spend at airport security, on average. Though average numbers vary based on weather and holidays, you'll still get a good idea of how long the wait will be.
Rest Area Finder: It's as simple as it sounds -- and free. Based on your location, rest areas are displayed on a map, along with welcome centers and scenic vista points.
Gate Guru: Once you and the kids clear security and get your shoes and coats back on, tap in to GateGuru, which will tell you where the nearest restaurant is located, or where you can find a shop to replace items you may have forgotten. This app also provides real-time user reviews and ratings.
4. Pack More Than Enough Snacks
Low blood sugar is a sure-fire way to make anyone miserable. Stock up on sustainable snacks like granola bars, fruit and nuts for car rides or flights. Family Vacation Critic readers also swear by lollipops! Some domestic airline carriers provide small snacks (think miniature bags of pretzels and chips), plus meals (additional fees apply), but your best bet is to purchase snacks in a store at the airport.
5. Plan Activities -- And Time Wisely
Next to food, entertainment is most important. Pack coloring books and crayons, iPods and DVD's, and don't forget the Nintendo DSi! Family Vacation Critic reader Trisha Evans Williams also suggests preparing activity bags for each of your children. "On road trips, I prepare the kids their own special bags. Inside are new crayons, coloring books, stickers, pipe cleaners, joke books and other entertaining crafts. I also include a journal for them to draw and write about our trip as we go. It helps them remember and appreciate the trip more."
Also, create a "schedule" of activities -- pull out a game at 2 p.m. and plan a movie for 4, so there are new options throughout the trip. You can even do this with activity bags, passing out crossword puzzles and other trinkets along the way.
6. Don't Underestimate Creature Comforts
Family Vacation Critic reader Laetitia Shelton says it's all about the gear! "Bring an inflatable lap tray, favorite pillow and sleep sack for the plane." She also packs her children's staple items, which include a stuffed animal and favorite blanket.
Other gear essentials include a vaporizer, ergonomic digital scale and a multi-purpose power charger, specifically a portable one that don't require an outlet -- it's a great investment.
More From Family Vacation Critic:
Family Packing List
10 Ways to Amuse Kids at the Airport