My Rules for Traveling with the Kids

Every year, we look forward to our family vacation. Everyone gets a chance to step away from life and have some fun. The only problem? Traveling with kids can be a nightmare. It took us some time to figure out how to make vacations as smooth and stress-free as possible.

Here are my rules for traveling with the kids.

Don’t Overdo It

We try to visit somewhere new every year, which makes it tempting to try and pack each day – to the brim – with activities. There was a time when we’d try to fit every must-see place on the list into our trip. But then we wound up running around exhausted with cranky kids in tow. By the time we got home, we needed another vacation to recover.

Instead of going crazy, our new rule is not to overdo it. Everyone gets to pick an activity, and we try to keep the rest of the time open. We get a lot more relaxation and quality family time this way. And everyone is happy because they get to do something they want to do.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

We have limits on screen time, sweets and play time. I used to extend those rules to vacation, but I gave up after the first few years. When we’re on a 6- or 8-hour flight (or longer), I let the kids play on the iPad as much as they want. I let them have the ice cream and sweets they want.

When we’re in the hotel at night, I let the kids watch TV or take turns playing games on the iPad. It’s a temporary arrangement, being holed up together in a hotel, and we have to keep the peace somehow.

Do we overindulge? Not usually. But I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. Life’s short. Eat the cake.

Take Advantage Educational Moments

Traveling gives the kids – and us parents – a chance to experience new cultures and ways of living. Even when traveling across the U.S., the food, customs and culture changes.

We recently took a trip to Canada. We spent some time in Quebec, where the primary language is French. My kids asked why yesterday everyone spoke English, and today (in our new location), nobody did. I explained how fishing fleets from France would come to the Quebec region and eventually, France occupied the land. I also explained how many people immigrate to Canada – 250,000 each year (according to an immigration lawyer in toronto ) – which means there are many different cultures (and languages) everywhere.

My kids are now old enough to understand these lessons, so I take advantage of teachable moments whenever I can while traveling.

Choose Your Accommodations Wisely

We used to spend a lot of time apologizing to other hotel guests for our kids being a little noisy. Our kids aren’t particularly loud, but we always made the mistake of picking hotels that aren’t exactly family-friendly (think single or retired couples).

We’ve decided to ditch hotels completely, and simply stay in an Airbnb or vacation rental. We usually wind up getting an entire home to ourselves, which means the kids can continue with their normal sleeping routines. In many cases, we can also bring our dogs, which can save us a lot of money on boarding fees.

Make sure that your accommodations fit your family’s needs and comfort levels. Remember that you’re on vacation, so the goal is to make everything as stress-free as possible.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.