Take the stress out of family travel with these insider tips.
Traveling with kids is supposed to be exciting, eye-opening and a chance to form lifelong memories together. But somewhere along the way -- between dealing with sibling tantrums, restless grade-schoolers and lugging around diaper bags -- stressful scenarios can arise. And while experts aim to help with sanity savers, the truth is, when it comes to jet-setting with kids, sometimes you're better off breaking the rules. Sure, some pro strategies apply to all ages, but there are also some time-tested tips the whole gang is better off skipping. That's why, U.S. News tapped family travel experts to bring you seven rules that are meant to be broken when traveling with kids.
Rule 1: Leave room for spontaneity.
According to family travel expert Amy Tara Koch, one of the most common mistakes families make is "being ill-prepared for routine scenarios: hunger, onset of illness, crankiness and boredom." Rather than planning a spur-of-the-moment jaunt with the kids, the key is planning ahead so you're prepared for any circumstance or unforeseen event that could change or spoil your travel plans. Koch recommends that parents arm themselves with plenty of snacks, sweets and toys. She also advises carrying practical pharmacy items (think: Pepto-Bismol, Advil and Benadryl) and entertainment and apps to prevent a mini-meltdown.
Rule 2: Carry creature comforts with you.
"If all you want is the comforts of home, don't leave home," says Bruce Poon Tip, founder of the small-group travel outfitter G Adventures. Rather than holding another country to your standards, you'll have a much more enjoyable trip by embracing cultural differences, he says. If you're going on a safari in Kenya, instead of trying to lug a car seat with you, accept the cultural differences rather than holding the destination to your safety standards at home, he says. It's best to let go of nonessential items and keep your suitcase compact, he adds, emphasizing that you could drive yourself crazy trying to replicate your experiences at home.
Rule 3: Dine out to sample the local gastronomy.
"One of the most exciting elements of traveling is enjoying local cuisine. But for a family of four, dining out on vacation adds up quickly," says TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals spokesperson Laurel Greatrix. To eat locally without paying steep prices, Greatrix recommends booking a vacation rental equipped with a kitchen and perusing local markets. "Buy fresh ingredients for a local classic -- think lobster rolls in Maine or Key lime pie in the Florida Keys -- and prepare it at home. You'll enjoy the local flavor, learn new recipes and keep your vacation costs reasonable," she says. "Rental hosts can be great resources for local recipes and shopping recommendations," she adds.
Rule 4: Squeeze into a single hotel room to cut costs.
"Gone are the days when families need to cram into a single room," Greatrix says, noting that vacation rentals offer multiple bedrooms, living areas and other desirable amenities. "Having enough space for the group will help keep the vacation relaxed and enjoyable," she says. If you're planning a multigenerational trip, renting a home that offers extra legroom is another way to ensure personal comfort isn't sacrificed. "Getting extended family together is special, but it can also present logistical challenges. If the thought of trying to book hotel rooms for aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents is daunting, look for a property with plenty of bedrooms, a backyard and a pool," Greatrix adds.
Rule 5: Hit the can't-miss sights.
"Don't feel that you need to conquer every spot deemed 'must-visit,'" Koch says. "For example, you can see the Eiffel Tower in Paris by boat or by having a picnic on the Champ de Mars," she adds. That way, you don't have to spend the majority of your day ascending to the top of the tower. The same applies to the Statue of Liberty, she says. It's also important to factor in plenty of downtime to prevent fatigue. "The key is planning your days around one major activity versus an entire day of sightseeing or an adventure," she says, noting that it's best to allow yourself to skip some noteworthy monuments.
Rule 6: Ask questions once you arrive.
Rather than counting on your hotel to be equipped with kid-friendly amenities that you can easily access upon arrival, it's best to call ahead, Koch says. It's especially important to check if normal-sized cribs for babies and rollaway beds for older kids are available before booking to prevent disappointment after you've arrived, she cautions. You should also inquire about kids-stay-free programming and whether breakfast is complimentary, she says. The same applies to car rentals. While most car rental companies offer infant and regular car seats, they need to be reserved ahead of time, so it's best to call well in advance to mitigate headaches.
Rule 7: Leave Fido at home.
With an increasing number of pet-friendly places, including hotels, train routes and airlines, it's never been easier to bring along a pet. "Pets are part of the family, so why not bring them along?" Greatrix asks. "You'll not only be happier with the furball in tow, but you'll save on expensive pet-boarding costs," she adds. A handful of airlines allow pets to fly in the aircraft cabin, including Alaska Airlines and JetBlue (for a $100 fee). However, carrier policies vary and weight restrictions do apply (JetBlue requires pets to weigh 20 pounds or less for example), so make sure to read the fine print before booking your flight.
More From US News & World Report