Kids get hungry and cranky. Pack snacks to save some cash before they’re distracted by every restaurant on the way.

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My family just got back from a whirlwind 10-day trip to Florida. It included stops on both coasts as well as in the middle of the state, and while it could be labeled “vacation” — to us adults along for the ride, it was nothing short of a nightmare.

Traveling with children in itself isn’t necessarily the issue, it’s the addition of one or more people into your well-established travel routine. If you travel alone, you may not enjoy packing, but you only need to pack for one person — yourself. And you only need to worry about yourself from point A to points B, C or however many stops you may encounter along the way.

Adding a significant other can add to travel stress if you have different travel styles. There will be “overpacking” arguments, “leaving for the airport on time” arguments and even “itinerary” disagreements, but in the end, there are only two people, both of whom are adults and can take care of themselves if need be.

But with kids — it’s significant-other-stress plus the stress of children. Kids cannot take care of themselves — especially young children. They cannot pack for themselves. They need car seats, snacks, toys, drinks, spare clothes, jackets and more. They don’t understand when they are tired and need to rest. They don’t necessarily know they are hungry until it’s too late and they are “starving.” They also don’t remember to use the bathroom on their own or depend on you to make sure their bottoms are clean.

Traveling with children increases the amount of “stuff” you bring on a trip ten-fold. My husband wanted to take one bag for the four of us for the entirety of the trip, explaining that he only had one carry-on for his solo trip to India. I explained that he was one person, not four, and eventually he succumbed to taking one extra bag, that was a carry-on, along with a backpack and a roll-on suitcase for our older kid that held toys and blankets.

There were strollers to take, bags for the strollers and bags for the car seats. It was ludicrous.

Packing tips for traveling with kids:

  • Don’t argue over what you are packing the kids. With kids, it’s better to have a bit too much than too little.
  • Always pack a spare set of clothes for your kids. You never know what they might spill, or expel from their bodies on the flight.
  • Bring snacks! Buying them at the airport can be really costly. There have been times when our flight has been delayed and I neglected to pack enough snacks. By the time food service had gotten to us, there was no food left and the kids were starving. Buy a bunch ahead of time and take them out of their boxes so you can stuff more into a purse or carry-on bag.
  • The Dollar Store is your friend. Trinkets, games and knick-knacks can keep kids entertained if their tablet runs out of battery, or if you are someone who avoids screen time for their kids.
  • Figure out the easiest way to get to the airport. This past trip we used Lyft to get us to the airport, which worked but was also stressful because of the amount of stuff we had to get into the small car. In the past, we have used an off-site valet service, which I highly recommend to people as an alternative to parking at the airport. It’s usually less than day parking at the airport, and when you return, they pick you up at arrivals in your own car where they hop out and find another way back.

You get there, now what?

Little people need food basically all the time. As an adult, you can get busy and forget to eat, or skip a meal here and there, but kids on the go? Don’t feed them and forget it. You have a full on Gremlin on your hands. It’s hard to pedal backward once you real the point where your kid is actually hungry. It’s important to make time for meals in your schedule, even if that means quick stops at a drive-thru. Even better, make a stop at a grocery store once you arrive at your destination to pick up some healthy choices for the kids that’ll last.

Don’t forget bedtime. Kids need rest. Again, as an adult you can push it and go to bed late and wake up early, but “no food and no rest make kids go something something.” It’s not a pretty sight when you have a kid on a different timezone who is skipping naps and going to bed at 11:30 p.m. each night.

Tips for traveling with kids once you get there are:

  • Don’t overpack your schedule. Our time was so jam-packed while we were visiting, it overwhelmed the kids and us. We went to a theme park, an NFL game, a wedding, fishing, and a zoo. That doesn’t include all the stops at friends’ houses. It proved to be too much. Next time I think we will halve the amount of things we do and save a few bucks along with it.
  • Stay with friends and family to save on hotels, but stay at hotels if you need some space. We stayed with friends and family along our trip, which was unbelievably kind of our friends (especially those without kids!) and helped save on costs. However, when we reached our final stop, we chose to stay in a hotel for a few days. We did this because the hotel was reasonable, but also because it allowed us to get a bit of normalcy back into our lives. We could take the kids back to a quiet place where they could go to sleep at a more regular bedtime without too much disruption. Hotel rooms are notoriously dark, so it also allowed them to sleep in a bit as well. You can sometimes feel like you are putting friends and family out when you bring kids along for the ride because of how much disruption they can cause. A hotel helps alleviate you overstaying your welcome.
  • Stop at a grocery store for daily essentials. Our oldest likes eating a “school sandwich” every day for lunch, so when we travel, I stop by a store and pick up some bread, turkey, cheese and mayo and either leave it at our friends’ house or in the fridge at our hotel. This way he gets to eat something he likes and it also saves on having to dine out for lunch.
  • Buying souvenirs? Remember that it has to be able to fit in your luggage. We got our oldest a set of three small dinosaurs and our youngest a light up ball. While they wanted bigger, flashier toys, we stuck to the things that would give them enjoyment that also wouldn’t break our zipper trying to stuff it into our bags.
  • Use family and friends’ laundry or find a laundromat. This was a lifesaver. We made it work with two suitcases, but still needed to do laundry throughout the trip in order to have clean clothes. This is one great way to save on luggage fees if you have access to a washer/dryer.

Take a deep breath

Friends of ours have four kids and choose to drive when they go on a family vacation. This can be a great way to save money, but it also has its fair share of downsides. Understand that no matter what kind of transportation you choose, it will be a series of compromises and patience that gets you to the other side if you have different traveling personalities.

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Meet the Author

Jessica Patel

Jessica Patel

Contributor

Jessica Patel is an award-winning editor and writer living in Los Angeles. She previously served as deputy editorial director of T Brand Studio at The New York Times and as Senior Editor and Analyst of Bankrate.com.

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Article last modified on November 23, 2018 Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Tips for Traveling with Children — A True Form of Torture - AMP.