Summer is fast approaching, and we moms are all thinking about how to make memories with our kids during the summer break . . . and how to stay sane, right?! One of the most memorable activities we can do as a family is travel. Travel tests our patience and pushes us to our limits and — often in hindsight — reminds us how much we love our people.
As moms, we know that traveling with young kids can be hard. Many things in life involving young kids are hard, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile! Any horrors you experience will likely become funny family memories and favorite family stories — even if it takes some time! Traveling can also be expensive, but there are so many ways to save money on family vacation so you still get to make the memories without breaking the bank. Vacations don’t have to be fancy or far or expensive to provide meaningful time to connect as a family.
If you’re on the fence about taking your kids on a trip, be encouraged by the experiences some of our moms have to share. We’re including some helpful tips as well to make traveling with little ones in tow just a bit more manageable!
Birmingham is in an ideal location for traveling to the beach or to the mountains or for exploring a number of fun and historical cities around the Southeast. We have amazing options within a short drive of home! You can spend a week relaxing at the beach, or you can take a weekend to just enjoy a change of scenery.
Some of our team’s favorite family-friendly destinations nearby include Nashville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and New Orleans.
Don’t forget about camping! Kristin wrote a post recently about her family’s long-standing tradition of camping at various parks around Alabama. What a great way to bond as a family!
National parks are also a great way to enjoy awe-inspiring scenery and time outdoors with your family. Betsy and her husband traveled with their seven-month-old baby to four national parks around Utah, so they spent a significant amount of time both flying and driving. “Our baby was at a great age to take this type of trip because she was easy to tote around in the baby carrier — she enjoyed taking in the scenery and taking naps! We were able to enjoy beautiful hikes as a family, and my husband took a few solo outings when I needed to nurse or just take a break. It’s a trip we will never forget!”
Wherever you decide to go, try to keep your expectations low and just enjoy watching your kids explore and experience new things!
Accommodations can make or break a trip, especially when you take kids along. Hotels are standard and work great for some families, particularly if you get a suite or adjoining rooms. A hotel with a pool can be a destination in and of itself! Just ask a young child about the highlight of a trip and see if a hotel pool isn’t mentioned . . .
Hotels don’t work well for kids of all ages, but lucky for us in this modern day, there are options like Airbnb and Innclusive! Betsy had this to say about a trip to New York City: “We took my Chinese father-in-law on his dream trip to New York, and there were seven of us traveling together — four adults and three kids, ages four and under. Hotel rooms in NYC are tiny and expensive, so we went the Airbnb route. We found a great apartment in Manhattan near subway lines that provided the space and convenience we needed. The apartment owner even brought over toys for our kids to play with! The apartment definitely made this trip with kids more manageable.”
It’s not the most enjoyable part of a trip, especially when you have young kids to take along — there’s no denying that fact! But, if flying is your best option, keep in mind that you will not be on the plane forever! Many of the passengers around you have been in your shoes, and if anyone is judging you, you will likely never see them again and you don’t need to worry what they think of you. For tips on flying with toddlers, read here.
Road trips seem dreadful for some parents, but we have a number of moms on the team who have encouraging things to say about long car rides as a family. It can be really wonderful bonding time!
And something else that makes a road trip manageable . . . maybe even fun? The minivan.
According to Jenny, minivans make travel dreams come true.
“I knew a minivan would make daily life easier, but I had no idea that travel would become a completely different, more fun ballgame! I’ve taken three cross-country road trips with my two young children, something I wouldn’t have considered in my old vehicle. But a minivan opens up space for days, and it just has a way of making you feel as though the open road is calling. My sons were five months and two years old when I set out the first time, and it couldn’t have gone better! We traveled for five weeks, a mixture of my job, time with family, and the simple freedom of life without a school schedule yet. That was January/February, 2018, and I did a near repeat in June/July. My most recent trip was in February/March of this year when I did another relatively easy four weeks. With plenty of space for as much luggage as needed, a double stroller, snacks, and that Crock-Pot you’re giving your best friend, it just makes sense to take the minivan out for a few thousand miles at a time. My kids have been to almost twenty states each, and they are becoming rock star travelers. I’ve had some great times with friends and family members who have joined us for these adventures, and I know with certainty that these will be some of my most cherished memories down the road.
I just wish I’d added more miles to my extended warranty.”
If you are not a minivan mom, don’t rule it out for a long road trip. You can rent one, like Julie S. and fam!
“My husband detests vans and won’t let me even look at one to possibly buy, but he’s cool with renting one so I live out all of my sliding door dreams during these few days of travel. When you travel with little kids and you’re bringing Pack ‘n Plays, strollers, high chairs, diaper boxes, etc. you need a TON of room. Vans make it so easy to get everyone and everything you need in, PLUS you put all of the mileage and snack crumbs on a different car. WIN-WIN!”
Ericka is on the road frequently with her six-year-old daughter, and Laura W. recently took a family road trip from Birmingham to Cleveland, Ohio with kiddos ages seven, four, and eight months. They both chimed in with great travel tips for making road trips enjoyable:
- Plan breaks. — Kids get restless stuck in the car, and “Are we there yet?!” gets old quick! Plan stops not just to eat or potty . . . but also to play! How about packing (or buying) a picnic lunch to eat in the park instead of in a restaurant? Letting your kids get some energy out before cooping them back up in the car can help a lot. Even a simple stop somewhere with with a play place (I’m looking at you Chick-fil-A!) helps our daughter so much! – Ericka
- Definitely google the city you plan to stop in to see what their park options are. We chose a park in Kentucky that had a playground and restrooms. The city website allowed me to choose which “amenities” we were looking for in a local park and that helped us decide where to go! – Laura W.
- Utilize rest stops. We stopped at one just over the Tennessee state line and I was surprised at what a nice place to stop it was. The restrooms were very clean which was great! There were two older ladies as attendants at the front desk to answer various questions. There were multiple vending machines that were well stocked, and they even had a coffee vending machine! Outside was well manicured and the perfect place for my boys to run and stretch their legs. – Laura W.
- Accept that your timeline will likely change and it will take longer than expected. This is big! I enjoy planning and creating itineraries, but if the kids are sleeping and we’re coming up on a planned stop, you can guarantee we’re going to drive on through and google the next town’s offerings. Also, if everyone is breaking down or getting restless, it’s just best to stop even if you haven’t gotten as far as you had hoped. Allow for buffer time. The baby will not need a diaper change according to your itinerary; ask me how I know! If you can mentally accept that there will be changes to the plan and that it might take a little longer than anticipated, that will help everyone relax. – Laura W.
- Have individual activity buckets for each child. Ours included fresh paper, new colored pencils, new sticker books, various LEGOs in a pencil box, ear muffs for when they needed a little quiet but there was nowhere to go, silly putty, and dry erase activity books. We ended up doing all of our car time screen-free. That was not my goal, I had the iPad charged and in the console, but I honestly forgot about it and they never asked for it. – Laura W.
We have a few other tips that will make traveling as a family more appealing.
Maybe you’re not heading to a resort but to visit family. This is special time, and you can make it even more so by adding excursions along the way! Detour to a new city or a small town that seems worth exploring. There is history and there are amazing people all around!
Travel with extended family. If you are outnumbered or you just want to better your chances of gaining some time to relax while on vacation, travel or meet up with grandparents or the special people you want to make memories with. If this seems daunting, heed reader Laura G.’s advice: set expectations ahead of time and don’t try to do everything together. You will enjoy having moments to do things with just your family. Also, remember that the trip will come to an end and you will go your separate ways . . . hopefully with wonderful memories and stronger family bonds!
Try to avoid traveling with too much baby gear. Wherever you are going, there are likely places you can rent gear or buy it pretty cheap. Betsy shared this about her trip to Utah with a baby — “We purchased a Pack ‘n Play and an umbrella stroller at a resale shop when we arrived in Salt Lake City. We used them as we traveled around the state and then sold them back to another shop before we flew home. Even if we had donated them somewhere, it would’ve been well worth it to avoid flying across the country loaded down with that gear!”
Create your own “black out”. Ericka says, “At home, our daughter sleeps in a pitch black room. Without blackout curtains, she is up at the first hint of sun! Some hotels and condos have black out curtains, but for those that don’t, we’ve been known to take foam insulation board and cut it to fit the window in a room! It may seem crazy, but we think it’s worth it to have just a little extra sleep in time on vacation. You could also take your own blackout curtains, and some cheap tension rods. As long as the windows in your hotel/condo/rental are a basic size, it should be easy to pop them in when you arrive!”
Memories that last a lifetime
One of our more experienced moms had this to share about her memories of family trips growing up:
“When my parents married, they were only 19 and 20, and they made a commitment that when they had children, they would take family vacations. My mother’s family had struggled to make ends meet, so she had never been given the gift of vacations, and she wanted to be sure that her children experienced something different. And boy, did we. Nothing extravagant, but I remember from an early age we packed up and headed to the lakes of Wisconsin for vacations in musty cabins with family friends. When we moved South, we headed first to Holden Beach on the Atlantic Coast, and then after another move, to the Gulf Coast. Each trip offered up moments that have stayed with me through the years: the cabin at the lake full of games and dress up clothes where we spent hours, the tropical storm that blew in during our first Atlantic Coast vacation, the time we pranked our friend John by planting seashells on the shore, the choice we had to make during our day trip to Myrtle Beach between mini-golf and The Apple Dumpling Gang movie, the first jellyfish stings disrupting the picturesque white sand beaches of Fort Walton, and so many more. At home, we four kids shared clothes and bedrooms and split attention from our parents, but I am forever grateful that my parents put a priority on the experiences we could share rather than the items we could have. Save a little every week, find an affordable option, pack that car to bursting, and hit the road with your family. That is treasure.” – Chris L.
Traveling is something that shapes us in ways we don’t even realize and forges strong family bonds and shared memories. If you are hesitant to plan a vacation for your family because the kids are too young, it’s inconvenient, or you’d “rather go next year,” just think of the memories waiting to be made and know that the trip is always worth it!