Family Vacations: 11 Tips for Successful Travel

My husband, Collin, and I are international travelers. As educators we make a point of experiencing the cultures of as many countries as we can; we do this for our own enjoyment, but on more than one occasion we have each used things we have seen or done to help educate our students. 

Travel is a lifestyle choice that we want to share with our children and experience as a family as the kids get older.

This Christmas we started our family international travels to the Dominican Republic. It was the first plane ride for both girls and their first time being outside of an English-speaking country, as well.

Collin and I in Orvieto, Italy

Obstacles along the way…

Whether you’re traveling or not, life with children is prone to hiccups and chaos. For example, the day before our departure we found ourselves sitting in an emergency room because our youngest, Munroe, spiked a high fever due to the start of an ear infection. Although it was a worrisome event, I’m glad it occurred before our trip rather than during it. Munroe was prescribed antibiotics, and we received approval to continue to our holiday destination. Fortunately, this was the only mishap during our travels.

At the Peds ER in Chicago

Our trip began with an early morning drive to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport with Collin’s family from their home in suburban Chicago. Although holiday time at a large airport can be extremely chaotic, our security and baggage check went rather smoothly and quickly. After a short walk we arrived at our gate and had a meal with all ten members of the family who would be with us on vacation. The flight was on time, so we sat and waited. Up next would be boarding the plane.

Worries and Anxiety

Despite having flown more times than I can recall, I still get anxious and dread the overall experience. Flying for the first time with our children only intensified my anxiety. I wasn’t worried about what others thought or if they’d be annoyed by the presence of a one-year-old. My worry was that if something went wrong, my entire family was on that flight–a morbid thought, but I’m sure it has crossed a number of mom’s minds. My second fear was that my oldest would hate the flight, and we would find ourselves in a pickle trying to get her on the plane back home.

Ohare International Airport

However, just like our airport security check, the flight went perfect. In fact, my oldest was in awe during takeoff and landing, and she loved the overall experience. As I clung to the hand grips on my chair during takeoff, she stared out the window and said she was excited to be “in the sky like a bird.” Of course, the youngest was too antsy to sit still. She recently learned to walk, so being cooped up in a small and cramped space for four hours was not her cup of tea. Keeping her from crying wasn’t a problem at all–keeping her contained was the issue.

The Sweet Rewards

We arrived safely to our destination and stepped off the plane onto the tarmac of the Punta Cana airport to clear blue skies and warm weather. The girls got to play in the ocean for the first time, experience a new culture, and have a Dominican-style Christmas with Santa on the beach. It was a perfect getaway, and our family had a phenomenal time.

How did we plan for this trip? I have included some traveling advice that helped me on our adventure. Hopefully these will be as useful for someone else as they have been for us.

11 Tips for Successful Travel on Family Vacations

1. Travel during an off-season to save money. 

This trip not included, Collin and I travel internationally every two years, and we save a ton of money by traveling in an off-season. We’ve traveled to places like Mexico, Ireland, France, and Italy without breaking the bank. By booking during an off-season, airfare is cheaper, the airport/airlines are less busy, and hotel costs are lower. We ALWAYS opt for carryon luggage, because there is no charge and we can guarantee that our stuff will not be lost.

2. Sleep and eat like you do at home.

It is cheaper to stay in bed and breakfasts or rent apartments/homes via online services like AirBnB. We love shopping at local markets, and we make easy and simple meals at home. This way we don’t need to eat out for every meal, which adds up by the end of the trip.

3. Drop the Guilt.

Don’t feel guilty if your child cries or has a tantrum on the plane. Don’t spend extra money for treats or gifts to hand out to passengers either, as seen on Pinterest. A wise mama told me that if someone has an issue, then they can spend the money for a first class ticket. This is public transportation, and anyone at any age is allowed to travel. So if you get an eye roll, a snarky smile, or a sigh, just shrug it off. If a grown adult can snore on the plane, then your baby can cry.

4. Diaper Details

Traveling with a baby or a toddler who is not potty trained can increase luggage.

Tip #1: Pack a few diapers and wipes for the travel portion, and purchase more when you arrive to your destination. This will help eliminate the extra carryon.

Tip #2: If you are traveling to a resort that doesn’t sell diapers or isn’t close to a convenient store, pack a diaper bag only with diapers. A diaper bag does NOT count as a carryon at the airport, so you don’t have to check an additional bag.

5. BYO Sippy Cups

Sippy cups are essential, but it can be a pain packing a number of them if you don’t want to spend your time doing dishes on vacation. HyVee sells six disposable travel sippy cups for $2.50. They leak a little, but they do the trick. My one-year-old used them on this recent trip, and they were very convenient. We used one a day and didn’t stress if they got left behind.

7. Snacks, Snacks, and More Snacks

If you have a picky eater, it is wise to stock up on a variety of snack items. Not only does it help pass time on a long plane or car ride, but it helps if you’re in another country that doesn’t have access to foods that your child is accustomed to. Our favorites are the applesauce squeezable packets, cheese or peanut butter crackers, animal crackers, and raisins.

Ready for take off!

8. Baby-Carrying System

Bring a stroller AND a baby carrier. We learned this the hard way. We decided an umbrella stroller would be easy. It was far easier than a regular stroller, but was still a small hassle at the airport. Yes, it gets you to the head of the security line, but it is not as convenient as baby wearing. If your baby is in a wrap, you do not have to remove them from it ever–unlike a stroller which has to go through the metal detector separately. We also didn’t realize that when we landed we wouldn’t have access to the stroller until AFTER customs, which led us to carrying our very antsy one-year-old in a very long line. I think it’s safe to say that it would be wise to bring both or only your carrier.

9. Dump the Pack-n-Play.

If you don’t want to opt for co-sleeping, then request a crib at the hotel the day you book your trip. Don’t request one when you arrive, because you won’t be guaranteed one. Also, confirm at least a week or so before you arrive to ensure that it will be in your room.

10. Get a car.

If you don’t mind spending the extra money, rent a limo or car service to and from the airport. Not only is it convenient, but it’s a fun experience for the kids.

11. Screen Time

Bring an Ipad or a device that can play movies or games. Airlines tend to charge for everything, including entertainment. However, Netflix has a new fantastic feature where you can download all of your favorite shows and movies at no extra cost! Not only can you guarantee that your child is watching age-appropriate shows, but you will have more of a variety for your child to choose from. If you’d prefer that your child play interactive and educational games, then opt to download some free or cheaper apps prior to the trip. Our favorites are GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine, PBS Kids, Doodle Buddy, and 123 Color HD.

Being a big girl

Family vacations are priceless memories to cherish forever. I hope these tips give your family smooth sailing!

Happy Traveling!


Mary, a native of Rockford, Illinois, attended DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois where she received her BA in Secondary Art Education. In 2007, she moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa after accepting a position as a high school visual arts teacher with the Cedar Rapids Community School District. She and her husband, Collin, who is a teacher in the Iowa City Community School District, reside in Cedar Rapids with their daughters, Zoey and Munroe. Zoey is five and Munroe will be turning one in October 2016. In addition to being a full time mommy, full time teacher, and writer for the mom’s blog, she is also a professional artist who has shown and published works both nationally and internationally. Mary enjoys traveling, painting, and most of all, spending time with her family.


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