All Ages

13 Holiday Travel Mistakes for Families to Avoid

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‘Tis the season for turkey dinners, hot apple cider, snowy nights, decorating the house and seeing pure joy and holiday cheer on your kids’ faces. But what happens if you have to travel across the country or around globe to (attempt to) achieve that Norman Rockwell moment?

Let’s face it — traveling with kids during the holidays can be an absolute nightmare. The crowds, the lines, the meltdowns and tears (both yours and the kids’)… We’ve been there, done that, and are here to share our mistakes and how you can avoid them this holiday season.

A family headed into the airport to catch a flight.

1. Santa has to fly around the world in one night, but you shouldn’t.

Be strategic when booking holiday flights. Consider flying out of a smaller, regional airport if you need to fly during peak holiday times. “Even if you have a slightly longer drive to and from the airport, it’s so much better on those busy days. We flew from (a smaller airport) one year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, parked right next to the terminal and pretty much just walked right through security,” Mandy Poling, mom of two, says.

If you have more flexibility with your holiday travel dates, try arriving a few days in advance of the holiday and leaving a few days later. “We fly cross country for Thanksgiving and have found that arriving on Monday and returning on Saturday make for a much easier time in the airports. That Wednesday and Sunday have been the most crowded I have seen in LAX,” says Joshua Tuberville.

 

An added bonus to hanging out with extended family and friends for a few extra days? They’re usually happy to babysit. Squeeze in a pre-holiday date night before the chaos begins!

2. Don’t run out of reindeer food.

Snacks are essential for surviving holiday travel with your kids — and your spouse. If you want to get creative with your snacks (because you’ll have an abundance of time prior to the holidays…), make holiday-themed snacks such as reindeer chow or Grinch Kabobs.

3. Don’t overlook a strategic potty plan.

Don’t hit the road without a potty plan — especially if you have potty-trainers in tow.
Step 1 – Limit the intake! Maybe hide the juice cup or water bottle about an hour before it’s time to depart.
Step 2 – Bring a travel potty! We suggest creating a kid-sized bathroom in the back of the minivan. This travel potty features a lined bag inside so that when it’s full, you can easily tie it up and throw it away. It doubles as a potty seat, too, so you can easily take it inside a rest stop or airplane bathroom.
Step 3 – Whether they’re still in diapers or can’t hold it, s#@! happens. This waterproof car seat insert is perfect for those occasions. No need to scrub the entire car seat upon arrival at grandma’s house — just take out the insert and rinse it off.

4. Don’t be pocket-less.

If you have kids, you need pockets! “Own stuff with an abundance of pockets: pants, vests, and backpacks. Figure out a system so you’re not always rummaging in the main storage area for everything,” Stephen Lin, father of a 7- and 10-year-old, says. Pants and vests with pockets are a great option this time of year, and are lightweight for travel. Also check out these versatile weekender bags with pockets. Another simple, yet genius necessity for the airport? A couple of carabiners. They come in handy for holding hats, gloves, travel pillows, snack bags, kids’ backpacks — you name it.

Related: 10 Weekender Bags for Your Next Family Escape (and Everything in Between)

A family headed to the security line at the airport.

5. Don’t have to get checked twice at the security line.

Going through the security line is always stressful. Add kids and kid equipment to the mix and the stress level may glow as red as Rudolph’s nose. Trim the (turkey) fat and get TSA Precheck for the entire family. It may be a bit of an investment at $85 per application, but it’s good for five years.

If you travel internationally more than once a year, look into Global Entry for the family. Global Entry, which is a $100 investment, gives you all the benefits of TSA Precheck and expedites the immigration process when you return to the U.S.

6. Don’t get lost in the airport like Kevin McAllister.

Download the GateGuru app prior to your flight. It provides an airport map and tells you what dining options and airport amenities are located near which gates. It’s also a good idea to download your airline’s app. Many provide in-flight entertainment through the app, and some airlines even provide real-time information on gate changes and checked luggage.

7. Don’t be a Clark Griswold and cause a power failure.

Don’t travel without fully-charged electronics. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning, considering every family has so many electronic devices these days. Charge all the devices the night before you depart, and bring spare chargers, battery packs, multi-cable ports and cords. Phones, iPads, cameras, headphones, eReaders, and even the extra power bank — you’ll need to charge all of them.

8. Don’t pack diapers. Free shipping isn’t just for Black Friday deals!

OK, so it’s not exactly free shipping, but it’s headache-free. Mail diapers, a box of baby formula, baby wipes and other necessities to your holiday destination, and it will be like a Christmas morning full of re-gifts upon arrival! And speaking of gifts, when you place those Amazon gift orders, have them shipped directly to your holiday destination. This — THIS! — is when you can enjoy free shipping!

9. Thanksgiving Day is always on a Thursday. Don’t mess with the schedule.

Try to keep kids on their normal schedules while traveling. It can be tough, but it also keeps everyone from melting down like Frosty the Snowman. Begin the car ride or book a flight during normal nap or bed times — that way your child is asleep for most of the journey. Once you arrive and all the family holiday fun has begun, remember to stay on schedule. Tell grandpa he can have a snowball fight with the kids after nap time!

A little girl playing on her iPad on vacation.

10. Don’t forget the iPad!

Did you know that every time a child swipes an iPad screen, an angel gets its wings? It’s true — Jimmy Stewart said it himself! Download all of your child’s favorite holiday movies prior to departure and your trip will have a wonderful life of its own. Also bring a headphone splitter so you (or a sibling) can listen, too.

11. Don’t forget you have an elf up your sleeve.

“I’m going to call Santa,” said many a desperate parent. During the holiday season, you have the added assistance of magical friends. Santa, Elves on Shelves and Mensches on Benches are in every parent’s corner throughout the holiday season. These secret friends are a big help when it comes to seeking good behavior from your children while traveling. Maybe when you’re in hour 10 (or one) of flight delays, it’s a good time to mention to the kids that these friends are always watching.

12. Don’t leave all the new toys to Santa.

Entertaining the kids on a long car or plane ride is important any time of year. No matter the season, a new toy, book, game or puzzle has the potential for hours of distraction time. Hit the Dollar Store or pick up a few small new toys before your trip. Make sure to keep them a surprise until you are mid-journey. It’s the newness that makes this tip work best. Stash a few more new activities or toys in your suitcase and you can benefit from the same magic when it’s time to cook the turkey or clean the house.

13. Don’t let Cindy Lu Who get the flu.

Pack a first-aid kit. Make sure you have all the essentials like a thermometer, Band-Aids and medicines. Traveling, germs and cold season is the perfect time for Ebenezer to cause a sneezer and someone is bound to get sick.

And when all else fails, stay home and spike the eggnog! Happy holiday travels!

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