Babble’s Family Vacation Survival Guide
More than 100 tips for actually enjoying yourself.
by Allison Pennell
August 6, 2009
As soon as you become a parent, the term “vacation” (previously defined as days of footloose R&R) takes on a whole new meaning. Family vacations operate on a different clock than the rest of the year – speeding by while standing perfectly still at times. Back to the past and right smack in the moment.
Here’s our exhaustive guide to everything you’ll need to survive your family travels in one piece, with more than 100 sanity-saving tips. – Allison Pennell
How To Travel Light
Traveling light and family vacations would seem to be mutually exclusive, but it actually can be done, according to packing guru Doug Dyment of Onebag.com. A family of five can actually pack everything you need into two carry-on suitcases or backpacks. His greatest hits in a nutshell:
· You don’t need more than four of any item of clothing: four tops, bottoms, undies, socks, and so forth. Exceptions: bathing suits, shoes, and jammies, which shouldn’t exceed two. And one jacket if needed.
· Other sartorial rules of thumb: limit your color palette to no more than two compatible colors that easily mix and match, think lightweight and quick-drying for easy overnight wash and dry (eg. no denim or cotton socks).
· Traveling to a new country? Check the cultural appropriateness of your gear at Journeywoman.com.
· Maximize space and cut down on wrinkles by bundle wrapping instead of folding.
· Air travel regulations have outlawed liquids larger than 3 oz. in your carry-on luggage. Transfer small amounts of your favorite products with Easy Traveler’s Totally Compliant Carry On Kit (easytravelerinc.com) or check out Traveltoiletrykits.com for one-stop shopping. Or find alternatives to your favorite liquid products: J.R. Liggett’s Bar Shampoo, lightweight tooth powder instead of paste, facial and body cleansing foams and wipes, insect repellant cloths.
· Multi-use Essentials:
Waxed Dental Floss (dental hygiene, clothing line, in-a-pinch shoelaces, stopgap for missing eyeglass screws)
Duct Tape (shutting up annoying siblings, emergency child-proofing, resolving territorial disputes, ad-hoc car repair, etc)
Mini Flashlight (book light, monster prevention, seeing where the hell you’re going)
Resealable Plastic Bags (dirty laundry, organizing, packing laundry detergent and other helpful stuff)
Laptop or iPod Touch (movies on demand, music, games, search engines, driving directions)
· Don’t leave home without: tweezers, umbrella or lightweight raincoat, first aid kit, compass (helpful in cities too).
Fear of Flying: Sanity-Savers
Parking. Find bargain lots and coupons at Airportdiscountparking.com.
Flight Delays. Avoid them if you can with online or phone alert updates provided by your friendly air traffic controllers at Avoiddelays.com. For terminal cases, check out this list of all airport entertainment and recreation amenities throughout North America.
Getting To and Fro. Don’t check the stroller! You can bring it to the gate and it comes in very handy for schlepping car seats, carry-on luggage and tired kids.
In The Air, Junior Birdman. Ah, the flight. Remember, bathroom breaks and diaper changes before boarding. Bring no-mess snacks and goody bags filled with portable activities. Also, this is where that laptop can really come in handy for watching favorite shows and movies.
Etiquette. Apologize to all neighbors in advance of the myriad possible infractions young children have been known to commit in-flight. Looking and sounding like you are putting some effort into stopping whatever bad behavior ensues is also key.
Into the Wild: Camping for Beginners
You can get back to nature without importing a sherpa or lugging half the house (not to mention the kid) into the wilderness on your back. “Car camping” – using your wheels to get to the campsite – still counts, says Kristin Hostetter, Backpacker magazine’s Gear Editor and author of Don’t Forget the Duct Tape, Adventure Journal, and Tent and Car Camper’s Handbook.
· Borrow gear from friends or relatives rather than buying.
· A few nights is probably enough for beginners – and first-timers should stick close to home, no more than two hours away.
· Tag along with another family who knows what they’re doing.
· Pack synthetic socks (cotton causes blisters) and a whistle necklace for each kid just in case they get separated.
· Know your leaves: go here for images of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.
· When hiking, there’s no shame in bribing your kid up a steep hill with Skittles.
· Want to read your book in peace? Organize a nature hunt. Give each kid a bag and a list of things to find/do.
· If you’re feeling adventurous, invest in a National Parks annual pass ($80 buys a year’s worth of unlimited access to all national parks). They also run the Junior Ranger program: kids get swag and at the end of their stay, new recruits get “sworn in,” complete with a badge of honor.