Traveling with kids always has unique challenges. Holiday travel is always extra stressful. It’s no wonder that most parents dread holiday season travel with kids.
Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hannukah, and whether you’re driving a few hours or flying across the country, here are our best tips, short-cuts and hacks for easy holiday travel.
I hope they help you and your family arrive wherever you’re headed ready to celebrate and make merry.
Tips & Tricks for Holiday Travel With Kids
Table of contents
- Tips & Tricks for Holiday Travel With Kids
- Holiday travel flying tips
- Holiday travel driving tips
- Destination Christmas Vacation Tips
- Holiday packing tips
- Tips for keeping your cool
- A Happier Trip To Grandma’s House
- Pin it for Later!
Holiday travel flying tips
Time your flights
1. For short to mid-distance flights try your best to book early to mid-morning flights. Well-rested kids entertain themselves and resist squirming better than tired ones.
2. For long haul flights, choose the red-eye if (and only if) you can rely on your child sleeping (and you can either sleep or handle the lack of sleep).
This is pretty easy when kids are 6 or younger because eventually they get tired and konk out.
3. Once kids hit age 7 so the worst overnight flights leave between 6:00 and 10:00 p.m. It’s too early for them to sleep but they won’t be able to get through the whole next day without falling asleep (most likely at an inconvenient moment).
Tiny Traveler generally does fall asleep for at least a few hours on flights that leave around 11:00 or midnight.
The right gear helps
4. Even if you aren’t on a night-time flight, if you’re traveling with a baby request a bassinet from the airline. The plus of this is that you usually get a bulkhead seat, which has a bit more room (but you might have to pay for it).
5. If your toddler or preschooler has his own seat, weight the pros and cons of bringing a car seat onboard. Some parents swear by it, especially if they want their kids to sleep. I always felt that we’d give up too much flexibility.
A CARES harness turns the airplane seatbelt into a three-point harness and is a great car-seat alternative for kids 2 and up.
App up your phone
6. Apps can help you a lot when you’re flying. Download your airline’s app and put your reservation into it. You can check in for your flight, get boarding passes, pay extra fees and know immediately if there’s a change in your flight.
GateGuru can help you navigate unfamilar airports. If you have a long layover, LoungeFinder will tell you what airport lounges you might have acess to. If you’re flying international, Mobile Pass, from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, can save you a lot of time when you return to the U.S. Here are participating airports.
Holiday season airport tips
7. Check in as soon as you’re able. When you do, check your seat assignment to make sure they haven’t moved you and that your kids are seated next to you. Even if you’re flying internationally and have to present your passport, checking in ahead can save you time.
8. Traffic, check-in and security are crazy busy on peak days. More people flying, more inexperienced travelers are navigating the airports and people try to pass off ridiculous items as carry-ons. Even if your airport is pretty good, give yourself more time than you normally would to get to and through to airport.
At the same time, even small delays can really back things up on peak days, so be prepared to hang out in their airport jsut in case. Bring more snacks, toys, games and books than you normally would, plus a change of clothes or pajamas for your kids, and a toothbrush for you (trust me on this). And don’t forget an extra shot of patience!
9. This is the time of year TSA Precheck was made for. Make sure your airline has your TSA known-traveler number and that you can see it on your boarding pass.
Even if the TSA line is long it moves faster than the regular line. And kids who are flying with an adult can piggyback on their known-traveler number.
10. Know your liquids: Creams, liquids, gels and sprays in caryy-on bags still have to be under 3.4 ounces. (100 ml). The TSA makes exceptions for flying with milk, formula, breast milk and juice for toddlers, which is good to know, because security personnel sometimes don’t.
11. Increasingly, airports have play areas for kids under about age 7, and they can be real life savers. Of course, some play areas are better than others and they can be tucked away where they’re hard to find.
Oddly enough airport staff don’t always know about them and airline staff rarely do. If you know you’ll have time to kill, check the airport website or Google the word play area and the name of the airpot before you leave.
Holiday travel driving tips
Time your drive
12. With kids 5 and under do your best to begin your journey in time for a nap or bedtime. It makes the drive go much faster for the little ones. And both adults can sit in the front seat, which is helpful to the driver.
For nighttime trips let them wear their pajamas and give them a blanket and toy for snuggling.
13. If your child tends to get car sick, try to feed them 20 to 30 minutes before you hit the road. It seems to help if kid are not hungry but they’ve had some time to digest their meal.
Pack for the Unexpected
14. Stash in the trunk towels, a bottle of water for cleaning up messes, wet wipes and, if needed, a training potty. But keep them handy; not buried under luggage.
Have a leakproof bag or container (for motion sickness) and your diaper bag in the back seat where you can reach them easily and quickly.
Read more: 8 Ways To Keep Kids From Getting Car Sick
15. If you need to change a diaper on the road side, fold the front passenger seat forward to create a flat changing table. Being stuck in traffic is slightly less unpleasant when their isn’t a full diaper wafting from the back seat.
Buckle up right
16. Have everyone take off their coats in the car. Seat belts and car seat straps fit more correctly without the bulk of a winter coat, and frankly it’s just more comfortable!
17. Before getting in the car at this time of year, check the weather and traffic. Make sure your anti-freeze and wiper fluid are topped up. Stock up on both grown-up and kid snacks and water. And get gas so you don’t waste good driving time looking for a refill along the way.
Read more: A road-trip safety tips for holiday-season driving.
18. Our favorite perennial advice is Join AAA. The road service is oh-so-handy in bad weather.
The discounts will give you a break on all kinds of attractions. The hotel hotel discounts come in handy, especially on last-minute stays where you would otherwise pay rack rates.
Destination Christmas Vacation Tips
Befriend your concierge
19. If you’re doing a Christmas-week vacation stay at a hotel or vacation property with a concierge. Among many other things, he or she can round up tickets for that must-see holiday show you forgot to get tickets to.
He or she can also direct you to kid-friendly restaurants, make reservations and help you find a pharmacy or doctor should you need it.
Make yourself at home
20. For a Christmas or Thanksgiving getaway, consider booking a vacation home or condo. You’ll have a kitchen and living room, maybe even a dining room. You can stay in your PJs all morning on Christmas. You can deck the halls a bit if you want to.
And you can recreate your usual holiday feast with less fus. Vacation communities often have shopping services that will fill your fridge for you. If yours doesn’t a local concierge service will shop for you, and cook, if you like.
Planning a Trip? Here’s Help
Read more: Tips for sharing a rental home with family.
Book it! Find your ideal Christmas time vacation home on VRBO.
Read more: Spend less o$$$ n Thanksgiving and Christmas Airfare.
Find the best airfares and days to fly with Skyscanner
Holiday packing tips
21. Pack a large scarf to serve as a wrap, blanket, pillow, or light-blocking cover for you or your child.
22. If you’re traveling with a child under 3 always pack a change of clothes for yourself. Kids get carsick, diapers overflow and tykes love to cuddle you when they have food all over their faces.
23. Almost every parent we talk to has a tale of traveling with a sick kid during the Christmas break, or has had one get sick while away.
Pack a first-aid kit with enough a digital thermometer plus cold medicine, acetominephin or aspirin, nausea and diarrhea medication, rehydration tablets and sinus spray to keep sick kids comfortable until you can get to a pharmacy or doctor. (Tossing all of those items into a zip-lock bag counts as a first-aid kit.)
24. Ski pants, winter boots and presents fill a suitcase quickly. If you’re flying, ship bulky items to your destination ahead of time in flat-rate boxes from the U.S. Postal Service or via UPS or FedEx. Pay what you need to to get stuff there on time, and allow a two-day buffer for holiday-season delays.
It can be cheaper and more foolproof than checking big bags. Just alert your family, hotel or rental propery owner that you have packages coming.
Tips for keeping your cool
25. List-making is essential during holiday travel, when you have to remember winter gear, gifts and maybe your contribution to the big meal in addition to all the usual stuff.
If there’s anything essential and last minute, I post a sticky note to the front door. If we’re driving I put my car keys with anything I can’t forget (our keys have spent a fair amount of time in the refrigerator).
Download: our vacation planning checklist.
26. During the holidays, places often overbook. Parents have told me tales of walking into a hotel at 10:00 p.m. with exhausted kids only to learn their room had been given away. If you’re arriving late, confirm your accommodation the day before you leave and tell the hotel when you’ll be arriving.
Keeping your child’s routine
27. Keeping to a baby or toddler’s routines is hard when you are away from home, especially when you’re visiting family. Trust that if your little one eats or naps an hour earlier or later than usual, you’ll all be okay.
But it’s also okay to remind yourself—and maybe your relatives—that hungry, overtired and over-stimulated kids inevitably have meltdowns. And there is nothing jolly about that. If deviating from their schedule means a happy, rested tot you’ll all have a merrier holiday.
A Happier Trip To Grandma’s House
A Sidebar by Lyza Wyles
With November and December come the bum rush of holiday travel, visiting and family time, which bring with them excitement, frenzy and, invariably, stress.
Here are five ways I’ve learned to keep my BP to reasonable levels on Thanksgiving drive.
1. Be proactive
Since we’re often the ones traveling to our family (my folks), we try not to wait for invitations to decide how we’ll spend a particular holiday.
We start the discussion with family members as early as possible. (no, July 4 is not too soon).
Once we know Thanksgiving will be at my parents’ house, we establish a dinnertime that allows us to travel on Thanksgiving day, which is less hectic than the day before.
2. Be prepared
Our hosts often suggest we bring a dessert or some wine. No problem, but we also often bring something we know our kids will eat (I’m sure your homemade cranberry-ginger chutney is delicious but my child doesn’t eat purple. Or ginger. Or chutney).
More important, my son is highly allergic to peanuts, so we try to get a handle as soon as we can on what’s being served. We also vet anything he wants to put in his mouth at other people’s homes and keep his Epi-pen handy.
3. Be patient
Thanksgiving travel is pretty much the worst flavor of travel. I’ve learned that if we’re stuck in traffic, no amount of huffing and puffing will make it better.
Moreover, our kids can sense that stress. Keeping cool and keeping perspective is hard, but it helps.
Need ideas? Try these classic road-trip games.
4. Be present
With all the cooking, wrapping and shlepping, it’s easy to forget what the point is.
When it starts to feel like work I’ve learned to pause and re-assess my efforts. What’s the point of taking family time if you’re not enjoying it?
Regardless of where you are or who you’re with, at some point over Thanksgiving weekend and Christmas break, go off on your own and have quality together time with your kids. They’ll appreciate it and it will make the trip more than just obligatory travel.
5. Be positive
Present holiday-season travel to your family as an adventure instead of an obligation and you’ll make it memorable for the kids no matter what.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? Getting past traffic jams, bad weather, botched hotel reservations, or grandma’s back-killing sofabed is doable and maybe even worth it.
Just Keep calm and carry on. Over the bridge and across the interstate.
Pin it for Later!
I had help on this post from Daniel Rosalky, Chief Escapist for Inspirato.