My daughter was born just before I turned 24. I had only been out of college for two years, and I didn’t want to forgo living my own life to raise my kids. I already sacrificed enough during college, working full time, doing several internships, and completing huge design projects, and I was ready to be done. I had a normal job back then, so I didn’t have much vacation, but I wanted to go exploring and take day trips and weekend trips.
Packing my daughter up to go to my mom’s house or to my neighbor’s house while I went to work helped prep us for weekend trip packing. Plus, we doubled up on most critical items to make traveling with kids easier and packing faster. Over time, we got really good at day tripping and road tripping.
Today we’ve got 10+ years of adventuring and traveling with kids under our belts.
Now that Brian and I are both self employed, we take at least 7 weeks of vacation every year for family fun and family adventures. To be totally honest, whether you’re traveling with a toddler or a tween, the tricks to make traveling with kids fun and enjoyable — not frustrating and stressful — are pretty much the same.
Pack And Carry Your Own Stuff
Everyone in our family packs and carries their own stuff. Period. Today the kids are used to it, but only because they had to do the same thing when they were toddlers. The only difference now is the amount of stuff they pack and carry.
- When they were little, their packing job was to bring us toys and books we asked for from around the house, or to bring us specific pieces of clothing from their dresser or closet. And they only needed to carry their favorite stuffed animal.
- When they got older, we bought both kids adventure backpacks to carry their things on hikes and adventures, or to pack their activities in for the car in. For longer trips, we packed their clothes in with ours.
- Today, all four of us have our own carry-on size rolling suitcase and we are each responsible for packing ourselves and dealing with our own suitcase. We each have a full-size backpack for activities and snacks. And the kids’ adventure backpacks get packed in their suitcases empty.
When the kids first started packing themselves, I gave them a checklist to follow and they put everything on their bed for review, before putting it into their suitcase or backpack. As they got older, we could skip the checklist and just do a quick review. Today, they handle everything and it is amazing. It makes packing for vacation so much faster!
A Variety Of Activities
Brian and I both enjoy long drives and road tripping, so if we have the time, and if a destination is twelve hours away or less, we almost always drive. Our kids are road trip warriors. They can hang in the car with us for hours on end — as they have done their entire lives.
Carter was almost two when we bought my husband’s truck, and we made sure to get the dual headrest DVD players/screens, so each kid can put on headphones and watch the same movie or different movies, or play some basic video games. When they put those headphones on, it’s like we’re in the car alone — except when they yell at each other out of the blue and startle us half to death!
The key was that we only let them use the screens in the car on road trips or long cars rides over 2 hours. This helped keep it special.
Now that they are older and they have an iPhone/iPad and their own headphones, whether they’re in the truck or on a plane, they’ve got media and games.
We also make sure there are lots of activities readily available and within arms reach of the kids. When we’re flying, everything has to fit in their backpacks. But when we’re on a family road trip, the back seat area of our truck (also lovingly called the adventure wagon), is all food and activities, like coloring, word puzzles, MadLibs, doodle books, journals, car bingo, and travel games.
The key is to keep your travel activities separate from your everyday activities, so again, using them on a trip is exciting and special.
The #1 Secret To Make Traveling With Kids Easy: FOOD
Now, I’ve mentioned it a few times, but here it is: The number one secret to making traveling with kids easy and free from complaining is to pack lots of food!
You may think this is obvious, but it wasn’t to me. This is something I had to learn. My son was a crazy complainer. He complained that he was hungry in the car. He complained that he was hungry on hikes. He complained that he was hungry everywhere we went. He was always hungry and he’s a picky eater. So I started packing snacks for him in my purse.
OH. MY. GOSH. Having snacks ready immediately changed his mood and our entire experience. With a bag of Goldfish, this kid could hike five times longer before needing a break. With a little baggie of Reece’s Puffs, and being made the leader, he could hike ten times longer. It was amazing.
Unfortunately, those snacks looked good to my husband and Natalie too, and it only took one trip with the two of them eating the rest of Carter’s snacks to realize, my purse wasn’t going to cut it any more.
We needed a variety of snacks and snacks for everyone.
My first foray into preparing snacks for the family travels was for a camping trip to Burney Falls. Everyone in the family picked out snacks they liked at the store, then we came home and repackaged them into individual-size portions with snack-size Ziplock bags. We took one big bag of “snack bags” on our trip, and whenever the kids (or Brian) wanted a snack, they could just grab a snack bag. When we left the campsite for the day, we could just throw the whole bag of individual snack bags into the car.
When road tripping, we also always pack an ice chest with Odwalla Superfood, Yogurt, fruit/veggie squeezes, and other healthy food options to balance out the snacks.
It made things pretty easy.
As we got savvier with our snack bag planning, we also got savvier with our travel planning and that’s when the kids got their adventure backpacks. Then they put a water bottle and their snack packs into their own backpacks, and I’d bring a master bag of snacks for refilling them if the trip was a long one. Having the kids carry their own snacks made a huge difference.
But it could still get easier.
This past year, we went to Maui for a week, staying at the amazing Grand Wailea, and this trip brought with it my best snack game ever.
I don’t know about you, but I just don’t enjoy eating out constantly on vacation. First, it’s often expensive. Second, usually the service isn’t that great and the food isn’t that great. Third, I start to feel yucky after a while. Plus, with Carter eating a very limited diet, Brian not eating red meat or pork, and the both of us not eating dairy, often it’s just not worth it.
For Hawaii, we scoped out all of The Grand Wailea menus in advance, and found a great market, Island Gourmet Market in The Shops at Wailea, next door to the hotel. We knew we’d be able to get lots of fresh fruit, veggies, and smoothies, and there were great options for quick grab and go meals at the market we could eat on the beach or take with us on hikes.
But what about snacks for the plane and snacks for hanging out by the pool and the beach? We like to have our favorite snacks on hand — things we know we love and things that agree with our tummies.
For Hawaii, our snack/food plan included:
- One can of Pringles and one Ziplock of snacks for each person’s backpack. Putting all of the small snacks for one person into one big Ziplock helped keep the snacks together in the backpacks and none got sucked to the bottom and smashed under heavy things.
- Snacks organized by type, in large Ziplocks also went into Carter’s carry on suitcase because he didn’t need to pack much. This allowed us to bring lots of extra food items.
- Four fruit and veggies squeezes went into each person’s carry on suitcase.
You may be looking at this and thinking to yourself, “Man! They eat a lot of crap!”. But let me frame our snack prep for you with some other details:
- We all make healthy choices at home during normal meals times, eating fruits and vegetables, and lean protein. So for road trips, travel days, and long plane rides, we go with whatever makes each person happy and we just don’t care — it’s all about fun.
- At the start of a road trip or plane ride, the kids have snacks in their adventure packs. They don’t have to ask first to eat anything in their own adventure pack, but when it’s gone it gone and there are no more snacks. They actually often have snacks leftover!
- We always pack way more snacks than we need because we like variety and we may not always be in the mood for some of the snacks. This means we usually come home with extra snacks that then become after school snacks, or snacks to share with friends on play dates.
- This is only our non-refrigerated snacks. For road trips, we also pack lots of water, Superfood, yogurt, hummus, fruit salad, applesauce, and more.
- All big Ziplocks get saved and reused for the next road trip, hike, or vacation.
Preparing snacks and food for our travels and road trips has been incredibly helpful and it has saved us a ton of money too.
In Hawaii, when we were at the pool and wanted a snack, a candy bar by the pool was $4.00 or the items on the menu were $12-$20. Spending the money isn’t the issue. The issue is that we didn’t really want any of that stuff, and spending a bunch of money on foods you didn’t really want seems dumb.
I didn’t want something big and I didn’t want to have to wait 30-45 minutes. I just wanted some Peanut Butter Ritz Bitz while I read my book — and because I packed them, I was able to do just that. Or when we wanted to drive up to the top of Haleakalā National Park early in the morning, we didn’t want to stop and get a fatty breakfast sandwich, we just grabbed a few fruit and veggie squeezes and some snacks, or a Superfood and some Pop Tarts, and hit the road.
No complaining. No whining. Just easy family traveling, because everyone gets a say in what snacks and foods are packed with us. No one is hungry and no one gets hangry.
What About You?
Do you pack snacks for your family travels and road trips? Any other tips to make traveling with kids easy and fun? Did you get any new ideas?
I’d love to hear from you!