family holiday travel: david kolnerBy David Kolner
Senior Vice President, Consumer

The holidays are right around the corner, which means family travel is likely also right around the corner. You and your loved ones may be heading to Grandma’s for a holiday celebration or to an exotic beach or quaint ski town.

How can you reduce the stress that often accompanies family holiday travel? I’m not one to worry about things you can’t control: weather, flight delays, or the attitude of that grumpy Grinch across the aisle from your holiday-infused toddlers. However, take control when you can when travelling with kids. Here are 10 tips from my experience as a parent with two young sons who are globetrotters in their own right.

family holiday travel: activities
Letting kids plan their own fun activities is one tip for easier family holiday travel

Plan Ahead

Most people start thinking about activities on their trips about 30-60 days before travel. So now is definitely the time to set up final details of your family holiday travel: airport transfers; activities; even restaurant and spa reservations, particularly if you’re staying at a busy resort or heading on a cruise.

Your travel advisor can take care of all these details for you thanks to their experience and connections. If you’re looking for a travel advisor, check out the family travel experts at

Involve the Kids

Get your children participating in planning the trip. If age-appropriate, let your kids plan at least one activity to do on the trip – maybe a sandcastle-building contest, or trip to a park, or seeing a sight from a favorite book.

If they’re younger, present pre-screened options that they can pick from. Those might be an afternoon at an amusement park or visit to the beach. Click here to get creative ideas for memorable family travel experiences.

family holiday travel: bring new toys
Bringing new toys and activities will help keep children entertained while traveling

Pack Wisely

It doesn’t matter if you’re checking or carrying on your bags: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – so to speak. Pack at least a few items for each family member in each suitcase. This way, if one bag gets lost, everyone will have something to wear to holiday events without last-minute shopping.

If you do bring a carry-on, it’s a smart idea to carry at least one change of clothes in it. With kids, you’ll be ready for delayed or lost bags, plus unknown chills and spills.

Bring Something New

Save something new for the plane or car. Whether it’s a movie, app, or just an activity book with new crayons, squirrel away something you can reveal after boarding that will buy you at least 30 minutes of entertainment. Since high-bandwidth Wi-Fi can be hit or miss when travelling, I download a few new movies and TV series the night before leaving.

If your kids are old enough, pack a deck of cards. There’s a lot of downtime in travel, and even in this day and age, sometimes there won’t be power. Be prepared.

family holiday travel: pack own suitcase
Help build excitement for the trip by encouraging kids to pack their own suitcases

Anticipate the Fun of Family Holiday Travel

Encourage your kids to pack their own suitcase, even if it’s a smaller luggage item that you eventually pack within a larger suitcase. Most surveys indicate parents and kids have more enjoyment anticipating a trip, and our kids start packing weeks in advance. Plus the size limitations of a suitcase helps kids prioritize what’s most important. My sons quickly figured out that small toys like Matchbox cars and figurines gave them more choices than a single big stuffed animal.

Bring Something from Home

I always like to pack something from home, whether we’re staying with family or at a hotel. A favorite pillowcase is a great place to start – it can be waiting in bed each night, smells like home, and takes up virtually no space.

Family holiday travel: bathtime toys
Packing familiar toys for bathtime will make being away from home easier for children

Don’t Forget Bathtime

If your kids are of bathtime age, pack a few small bath toys as a surprise when you get to the destination. While a couple of plastic cups from the minibar can do in a pinch, toys are a fun and small reminder of home, particularly right before bedtime.

Find Playgrounds

It takes just a few minutes to research locations of playground areas at airports. My home airport of Seattle-Tacoma has a great one near the B Concourse. It’s a must-stop for both kids and parents in our family to burn off pre-flight excitement. At other airports, knowing a playground is ahead can help set a goal for good behavior en route.

Give Yourself Time

This is the simplest tip: Just allow more time for everything, particularly at the holidays. You’ll have less to nag everyone about and have a better family holiday travel experience if you aren’t rushing for the basics like final boarding calls.

Focus on the Experience

No matter where you’re going, remember to focus on the experience as a family, not the mechanics of travel. Keep the benefits of family travel in mind. You’re making family memories. No matter how dire the circumstances may seem at Aunt Edna’s holiday dinner table or the back of a 737, you’ll be laughing about them in just a few days or weeks. And you’ll probably be planning your next getaway then, too.

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