How to Travel with Kids (and Have a Blast While You’re at It)

These moms have totally mastered the art of vacationing with kids. Read on to learn their best-kept travel tips.

A honey stick being pulled from a jar while the honey drips back down slowly

Shutterstock / MNStudio

Every summer when my brother and I were kids, my parents would stuff our tan Plymouth Voyager with two weeks’ worth of necessities, and we’d head off on an epic American road trip. I have nothing but fond memories of our adventures, from panning for gold in the Rockies to picnicking on a sand dune in the middle of the Mississippi and even tasting some regional dishes along the way. Now that I’m a parent, too, I’m in utter awe of my own parents’ miraculous abilities to keep the peace while the four of us logged hundreds of miles in the family van.

My parents’ favorite trick? We sang a lot. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” and every single tune from the Peter, Paul and Mary songbook. My mom, the navigator, also read books aloud-The Chronicles of Narnia, The Giver, James and the Giant Peach-while my dad kept us hurtling down the Interstate. As we got older, these traditions took a backseat to technology. We got a Game Boy and Walkmans (I listened to the same SWV tape all the way to Florida and back; my parents couldn’t have been more grateful for my headphones).

That was back in the early ’90s, before most vans came with DVD players and most people had an iSomething-or-Other. No doubt these are huge sanity savers, but if you’re looking to limit screen time and data usage, rejoice and read on. Moms here at Trusted Media Brands (Taste of Home‘s parent company) are divulging their secret ways to win at family vacations.

Bring On-the-Go Eats

Traveling with snacks is a must. You can avoid a potential temper tantrum with a few healthy snacks-and it sure beats having to stop for fast food (or gas station hot dogs) along the way. When my family is traveling by plane, we make sure to pack our own in-flight meals. This way my son won’t get hangry if the airline food isn’t his fave. Got a trip coming up? Be sure to check out these tasty TSA-friendly recipes. I asked my fellow office moms about their favorite snacks for the road.

“We travel with a few mess-free snacks, like Pull ‘n’ Peel Twizzlers, grapes, Pirate’s Booty and cheese straws.” -Jessie Sharon, Art Director, Country Woman magazine and Taste of Home books

“For our baby, we stock up on Gerber Puffs, yogurt melts and organic pureed food packets.” -Christina Craig, Associate Editor, Country Woman and Farm & Ranch Living magazines

“Our No. 1 go-to: McDonald’s french fries. Just being real! We survive long car rides by having bags packed full of snacks (Plum Organics Fruit Shredz are a fave) and toys within easy reach.” -Lori Vanover, Senior Editor, Country magazine

“Don’t forget refillable water bottles! Gotta stay hydrated.” -Peggy Woodward, Food Editor, Taste of Home magazine

“My youngest son doesn’t like bubble gum, so when we travel by air I make sure to have Tootsie Rolls and suckers available for him during takeoff and landing.” -Jessi Rhine, Senior System Administrator, HCL Technologies

Stay Busy

Car, plane and train travel involves a whole lot of sitting around. This can be hard on anyone, especially the littles. If our toddler is showing signs of a meltdown and stopping isn’t an option, we switch the music to heavy metal. Everyone in the car-including him-lets out the stress with a headbanging session. Here are some other trusted tips:

“We recently drove to Florida, and my husband made each of our three kids a travel binder. Inside there were homemade word searches (using their friends’ names and things they love), the license plate game, coloring pages and a map so they could track how far we had gone.” -Jami Geittmann, Art Director, Taste of Home special interest publications

“We’ve taken bags of cars on many airplanes and raced with them on the tray tables. My son has a water-drawing board from H2-Woah! It’s great for coloring, writing and putting together small puzzles. Clipboards work, too. For road trips, we love the license plate travel game from Melissa & Doug. He can’t really spot the license plates yet, but he still loves flipping the things on the board. We love audio books, too.” -Kate Unger, Business Analyst, Publishing Technologies

“My older daughter plays hangman, I spy and tic-tac-toe, and my younger daughter colors and flips through books. They both love watching a movie to pass the time. And when all else fails, we pull out the iPad for a fun game!” -Jessie Sharon

Make Stops Fun

Layovers and pit stops can be about lots more than just stretching your legs. Turn them into exciting mile markers for your trip. After all, sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination. Make every moment count with these fun tips:

“Each time we stop, I give my son a surprise from the trunk (I raid the Target dollar bins and check out library books before the trip). He loves it!” -Kate Unger

“When we drove from Milwaukee to Philadelphia, we broke the trip up into two days, stopping at Cuyahoga National Park at the midway point so our toddler could run around.” -Lori Vanover

“When we stop for gas, we hand them a dollar and tell them to go find a treat in the store.” -Jami Geittmann

Make Your Hotel Stay Cozy

Packing for an overnight trip? Keep the kids in mind when it comes to lodging. Be sure to pack a favorite pillow or blanket-and, if you can, choose a kid-friendly hotel with lots of room to play. Check out these mom-approved tips for hotels:

“Book a hotel with a pool. My kids are on their best behavior when we travel because they’re looking forward to the destination!” -Jessi Rhine

“We always pack a few snuggly stuffed animals, a pillow and a blanket for each kiddo.” -Jessie Sharon

“We like to stay at Embassy Suites (or someplace similar) because then Mom and Dad have a separate space. Hotels with indoor play areas are awesome for little kids.” -Lori Vanover

“We always take card games with us, especially for evenings when we’re tired and stuck in a hotel room. Uno is a must!” -Dena Ahlers, Business Analyst, Production Support

Take Care of Yourself, Too

It’s important to stay calm and relaxed even if your toddler is throwing a fit across state lines. Remember: You’re on vacation, too. Schedule in some “me time” to reclaim your sanity (a spa trip isn’t necessary; often a relaxing morning stroll will do.) In-the-know moms tell you how they keep their cool:

“I bring earplugs. I’m serious. For me, not my kids. You have to be prepared for the worst.” -Peggy Woodward

“I make sure I pack some small treats for myself, too: Sour Patch Kids and Haribo Gummy Bears…my favorites!” -Kate Unger

Don’t have your trip booked just yet? Travel around the world at your dinner table with our best international comfort food.

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Ellie Martin Cliffe
Now Taste of Home's content director, Ellie has been writing about food and parenting for almost 20 years. When she isn't at TOH HQ, she's likely trying gluten- and dairy-free recipes, canning whatever's in season, listening to anything with a fiddle, or playing Forbidden Island with her family.