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Monday, July 15, 2024

Traveling with kids: How to maximize fun and decrease stress

Traveling with kids: How to maximize fun and decrease stress


You made it through a world-changing pandemic and your bank account battled record-breaking inflation. Making travel plans should be comparatively simple. And yet, families who are traveling with kids may find themselves hesitating.

Never fear. You saved the funds and made the time, so let’s help you fill your travel plans with more fun and less stress.

A vast majority of Americans say inflation has taken a bite out of their summer plans, with nearly half saying they won’t travel at all this summer. But if your family is counting down for a vacation, here are some tips to make it smooth sailing – or flying or driving.

Opt for a road trip instead of flying

If you're a family of four or more, plane tickets can really add up!

With national average gas prices down by over $1/gallon compared to last year’s record highs, a road trip may be just what you and your kids need to get away.

While road tripping with a carful of kids might not feel like luxury travel, there are some major perks. Besides cost savings, you also have the added benefit of spending casual “windshield time” together and being able to stop for stretch breaks whenever needed.

Road trips aren’t just flexible in terms of stops you can make. You can also change course as needed. While you might hit some traffic or roadblocks, it could be better than waiting out flight delays at an airport – or on the tarmac – with kids.

Choose family-friendly spots

If you want to alleviate some stress while traveling with kids, make sure your destination is geared toward them. You don’t have to visit Disney World to find kid-friendly magic, though.

Beaches, mountains, or open spaces to run make for excellent kid vacations, too.

Choosing a destination that fits your family’s personality, interest, and energy level is a key way to ensure that your vacation actually feels like a vacation.

Be mindful of tourist traps

This doesn’t mean you can’t ever visit amusement parks or the World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock (yes, that’s a thing!). It just means that you want to consider how many tourist traps line your itinerary.

That’s in part because generally with crowds come increased costs. Whether it’s ticketed attractions with sky-high prices or souvenir shops with never-ending requests from kids, these tourist traps know how to make a buck. So choose wisely and be prepared to get off the beaten path.

If you're not sure where to go, ask a local for some recommendations for free and frugal fun. These options tend to be delightful surprises along the way.

Pack accordingly 

Before you head out on your vacation, make sure you pack the essentials. Instead of trying to tote all of your kids’ toys, opt for a few boredom busters and comfort objects. The goal is to pack lightly, so you can focus on your family – not hundreds of pounds of luggage.

You certainly don’t want to overpack, but under-packing can be a problem too. Taking snacks, sunscreen, and other essentials with you can lead to considerable savings. Things like a small first aid kit and rain ponchos can keep your vacation on track even if the universe seems to have other plans.

Plan ahead and prebook

There is a time and a place for spontaneity. Traveling with kids likely isn’t it. You don’t have to fill up every hour of every day, but pre-booking as much of your trip as possible could save you from a lot of heartache.

Many museums and other must-see spots have moved to ticketing systems that require reservations. Whether you’re driving across state lines or flying across an ocean, you don’t want to be disappointed when you get to your destination.

Plus, you may find significant savings online by booking ahead. From advance purchase discounts to third-party savings sites like Groupon and Rakuten, a little bit of pre-planning can be great for your budget.

Involve your kids

This one seems like a no-brainer. It’s a family vacation after all! But sometimes we get so busy planning the perfect trip for our kids that we forget to actually include them.

Sit down as a family to pick your must-do activities. That way, you won’t feel like you have to be constantly on the go only to discover you never got to what you really wanted to do anyway.

Involving your kids in the planning process can make traveling with kids easier for another reason, too. Kids and teens are creatures of habit, and vacations are a break from everyone’s routine. Sharing photos and details about what they will be doing can help turn the anxiety of a different place into eager anticipation instead.

Make the journey part of the fun

One reason road trips or plane rides can feel like a drag is because we treat them like one. They feel like an obstacle standing in the way of our vacation. What if you make the journey part of the family fun, too?

Before you pile everyone into the car, brush up on some road trip games. Scavenger hunts, I Spy, the license plate game, and more can keep things moving even in traffic. Snacks you’ve already packed make for easy prizes.

If you’re traveling by sky instead of land, you can pack special card games or offer entertainment options that your kids might not normally have access to. There’s nothing like an in-flight movie to keep your kiddos’ attention.

No matter how you get there, making the journey part of the fun certainly makes traveling with kids less stressful.

Consider ways to make life easier

Do you have fantasies of traveling by private jet? Maybe one day! But there might be other ways to make your life easier. TSA Precheck can help families navigate the airport with ease. Paying a little extra for a hotel with a pool can keep kids busy when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Think about little timesavers or treats, and consider adding one or two into your travel budget.

Plan for downtime

One of the biggest mistakes people make when traveling with kids is to not plan for relaxation. Everyone – even the grownups – needs time to decompress. Bring some board games or books and set up a plan for a little quiet time in the middle of each day.

You can recharge as a family and then hit the ground running later that day.

Track your spending

There’s no need to bust your budget with a vacation. Instead, make a plan to track your spending as your travel.

You can do this with Empower’s free Budget Planner tool. This tool helps you keep tabs on your spending with ease so you can spend more time soaking up the sun.

The bottom line

There’s no doubt that traveling with kids is different. But it can be less stressful and a lot more fun than Internet horror stories might have you believe.

Planning for fun times is one part of your financial life. Want a better way to manage your money? Empower’s free financial tools aggregate all of your accounts in one place so that you can keep tabs on your cash flow and plan for life’s big goals.


Andy Hill, AFC®


Andy Hill, AFC®, is the award-winning family finance coach behind Marriage, Kids, and Money, a platform dedicated to helping young families build wealth and happiness.

Author is not a client of Empower Advisory Group, LLC, and is compensated as a freelance writer.

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