We have plenty of reviews and articles to help you plan your vacations and getaways, but we thought we would share our hard-earned lessons of what NOT to do when traveling with kids!
While one mother and reader of Family Vacation Critic Melissa Bettinger jokes, "don't take the kids," we have some tips to keep in mind when traveling with kids.
1. "Don't try to do everything a destination has to offer," says contributing writer and seasoned travel journalist Diana Lambdin Meyer. "Choose two or three key things to experience, but plan plenty of downtime so the kids don't get all 'wiggy.'"
Want to plan two or three key experiences in your chosen destination? See our Attractions links under Destinations!
2. Don't overschedule the kids, continues mommy contributor Carrie Calzaretta. "Leave one day where you have NOTHING to do, and ask them what they feel like doing that day."
When the kids just want to chill at the hotel all day but you want to get out and explore, consider resort kids' clubs, which provide camp-like environments for the kids under supervised, trained staff. Read about Carrie's favorites in 10 Best Kids' Programs.
3. "Don't expect the kids to enjoy something passive like museum exhibits or tours that are not specifically geared toward kids (with guides that know how to engage them)," says mother of three and our experienced, contributing travel writer Lisa Meyers McClintick. "Look for hands-on, active things to do. They won't be oohing and aahing at National Park scenic drives as much as you do, but get them a Junior Ranger booklet and a badge to earn and you can hook their interest.
Lisa wrote a couple of our National Park destination guides and knows her stuff. For guides and more information on Junior Ranger programs, visit our National Parks section.
4. "Don't forget to get seat assignments early as you don't want to haggle with strangers to take your middle seat for their aisle seat so you can your child can sit together," says daddy travel journalist Steve Jermanok. "And don't plan a connecting flight with only 45 minutes between flights. We missed our connecting flight in Charlotte back from Jamaica after trying to run our stuff from one gate to another on the other side of the airport. My daughter was crying from the stress." On the flip side, he also says don't plan extra long layovers. "We tortured ourselves by planning a layover in Paris for eight hours on our way to Israel but had to stay in the airport rather than see the city."
Need more flying tips? Read Surviving the Airport With Kids or our 10 Ways to Amuse Kids at the Airport for when you do get stuck.
5. Don't turn your mommy radar off and assume all is kid-friendly, says travel writer and mom Wendy Irvine. "We took a Disney cruise and because it was Disney we did not think twice about the bunk bed in our room. I assumed it was totally set up for kids; I was wrong. There was a railing around the center portion of the top bunk but it did not extend far enough. My sleeping 4-year-old fell out of the top bunk with such a loud thud the next door neighbors reported that night at dinner that they heard it, too. He had a concussion and kept throwing up and the ship's doctor had us go to a Mexican hospital. We did not want the CT scan excursion -- we had signed up for the submarine excursion!"
We don't want to bemoan Disney and actually love their cruises. For more on cruises, read our Family Cruises article.
6. Don't forget to pack and have snacks and drinks on hand, says Kara Williams, mom, travel writer and co-owner of TheVacationGals.com. "Even short road trips (i.e. an hour ride to the zoo) necessitates snacks in my book; if the kids get hungry they are NOT fun. I always make sure I have dried fruit and crackers, as well as ice-filled water bottles on hand at all times. I don't like meltdowns due to low blood sugar, and even more, I don't like spending money on overpriced convenience-store or theme-park food and drinks."
We have more tips on what to pack when traveling in our Family Packing List.
7. Don't accept the free upgrade before knowing what it entails, says our frequent contributor, Disney expert and mother, Jackie Perrin. "I learned this lesson the hard way on a visit to a resort where every detail was true to the "back to nature" theme, right down to the kids' sleeping quarters. At check-in time, our reserved room wasn't available, so helpful staff kindly offered us a free 'upgrade' to a more deluxe accommodation. While we were advised that we would be getting a complimentary move to better scenery, what we actually received was a slightly better outlook, along with a set of bunk beds -- otherwise known as a jungle gym for my youngest, who at the time was too small to safely sleep in an upper bunk (confirmed by a prominently posted warning sign), and drawn like a magnet to the acrobatic opportunities. We spent most of our stay avoiding our superior room with a view, in order to avoid an overnight in an emergency room."
Be sure you know in advance what rooms are like at various resorts by checking out our Family Resorts, where we are constantly adding full reviews conducted by parent journalists who describe room details, even down to could-be-dangerous bunk beds.
8. Lastly -- and we hate to laugh but -- "Don't put your kids down for a nap wearing a swim diaper. They do not work the same as a regular diaper. Thankfully, we had put a towel underneath my daughter before laying her down," says new contributor Karon Warren.
Even little parenting tips like these are helpful for moms and dads who may never have any reason to think of it first. You can find more advice and share your own on our Forums.
Learn more about the women and men bringing you their tips and advice on Family Vacation Critic in our About Us section's Meet the Team.