It's that wonderful time of the year again, when holiday travel kicks into high gear. Going on vacation with young kids can be a stressful experience. Long travel days with the high likelihood of unexpected delays. Time zone changes. Sleeping in unfamiliar places. But, with some careful planning based on your family’s preferences and your kids’ needs, you can maximize the fun and minimize the stress.
I interviewed Lee Friedman, a professional family vacation planner and owner of Mango Tree Travel, a boutique travel agency that focuses on helping busy parents find unique and awesome hotels in the Caribbean. Lee has gone on 10(!) trips this year to scout out unique, family-friendly and under-the-radar properties in the Caribbean.
She shared with me some tips she’s learned over the years that help parents enjoy the family travel experience.
1. Think about the one thing that stresses you out when traveling with kids and solve for that one thing.
Anything you can do to relieve the mental stress about the one thing you're going to be really worried about can go a long way. For example, if you have a kid who is a picky eater, make sure to pick a hotel that is close to a grocery store and has kitchens in the rooms.
That way, when you get to your destination, you’ll be able to get a bunch of snacks and have the ability to cook food that’s familiar to your child. You won’t have to worry about your kid not eating during your vacation and that’s one source of stress you can remove from the equation.
Flying with young kids is often a stressful experience for parents. Check out our tips on how to survive a long airplane ride with kids.
2. Think about your ideal vacation experience and select a property that enables that experience.
Every family has their own unique travel preferences. And the perfect vacation when traveling with an infant may be very different than when traveling with older kids. If you are traveling with other families and need a space with common rooms and a large kitchen, an Airbnb might be your best bet.
If you want to go somewhere that has lots of amenities, activities and entertainment on site, a large resort would be a good fit. If you want to do lots of excursions, a small boutique hotel would be the best type of property that acts as a home base and place to rest after a long day out and about.
3. Prioritize the vacation lodging where you will be staying.
Lodging is most often the most expensive part of a trip, so it’s important to pick a place that you will enjoy. It can also make or break a vacation. If your kids are happy and comfortable, then everyone will feel more relaxed and have a better time.
And especially when you’re traveling with young kids, between naps and early bedtimes, you’ll likely be spending more time than you otherwise would in your rental property or hotel room. Make sure you select a place where everyone will be comfortable and ok with spending extended amounts of time.
Check out this article on Mango Tree Travel's site on how to pick a family-friendly hotel.
4. Pick lodging that has a separate sleeping area for your kids.
There’s nothing worse than sharing a room with your kids while on vacation and being forced to hang out in the bathroom for the evening after they’ve gone to bed. Find a hotel room or property that has a separate sleeping space for your kids. That way parents can still relax in the evenings and not feel like they are missing out on nightlife.
A bonus would be to rent a place that has outdoor space like a balcony or patio, so you can sit outside with your spouse, enjoy a glass of wine and talk without fear of waking up your kids. Vacation rentals with multiple bedrooms or hotel suites are often more expensive than a single hotel room, so an alternative is to find a hotel room with a large bathroom or closet that can double as a separate sleeping space for the kids.
5. If you are going to stay at a hotel or resort, pick one that has a restaurant the you are excited about.
When traveling with kids, you’re going to end up eating at the hotel more than you normally would. And if you’re at a hotel that serves mediocre food you don’t like, it’s going to feel like a major sacrifice, and that’s not how you want to feel when on vacation. Pick a hotel with a menu you’re excited about and that serves meals you look forward to. This will be really helpful and can be a big factor in creating a vacation experience you’ll look back on fondly.
If you’re looking for some travel inspiration or need some help with planning your next family vacation, be sure to check out Mango Tree Travel’s website. There are some great articles about under-the-radar travel spots in the Caribbean.