The best way to ensure a smooth and enjoyable vacation with you and your little one(s) is to think and plan ahead. When traveling, there are so many elements that are out of your control, it really helps to spend a few minutes thinking through the things that you DO have control over. Here are a few important tips to make your trip a little easier and hopefully more fun:
1. Adjust your expectations. While you will have fun and create lasting memories with your family, the hard truth is, you (probably) will not spend the day lounging on the beach for hours on end with a frosty beverage in your hand. Mentally prepare for moments when it will be hectic and prepare for tantrums. Take "shifts" with your spouse during nap times to ensure you both get personal time. At the very least, you can look forward to those hours of personal relaxation. Adjusting your expectations will help set the foundation for the rest of trip. It can only go up from there!
2. Carve out time to prepare. Yes, the more you prepare for the vacation, the less stressed you will feel when unexpected things happen. This preparation should include pre-selecting a handful of family-friendly restaurants, identifying activities to do if the weather forecast changes, and maybe even connecting with some of the local mom-groups or kids organizations at your destination. On a recent trip we took to the Caribbean, it rained for at least half of the time we were there and I had no clue what indoor activities were available on the island, or how to get to them. The WiFi in the condo where we were staying had a poor signal, so we didn't do much on the rainy days besides go out to eat. It was a real bummer and I vowed to always have a "rain-day" option built into my itinerary for future trips.
3. Plan a food stop post-landing! After a long day of travel and a (likely) exhausted and somewhat cranky child, the last thing you want to do is have to scramble to find food when arriving in a new destination. Decide if you will take advantage of the restaurants in the airport upon arrival, or if there is a family-friendly dining option within walking distance of your hotel or rental property. Have a plan! Hangry toddlers aren't fun for anyone.
4. The cheapest flights are NOT always the best flights. While I love nothing more than a good travel deal, I've learned that the cheapest flights are not always the best flights when traveling with a child. Travel times and flight itineraries matter! Best option: nonstop flights that are under 5 hours. Now is not the time to book that $69 sale fare with 3 layovers, trust me. You will also want to know if your ticket carries any restrictions. Finding out on your departure date that you are not allowed any carry-on luggage is not ideal!
5. Call the airline. Call the airline's customer service line after you've booked your flight and ask if there are bassinets available on your aircraft. The bassinets are intended for children under a year old (age may differ with each airline), and can be adjusted to give your child a small area to nap or even play quietly. The seats with bassinets usually have more legroom.
Pro tip: Even if your child is too big for the bassinet, but under 2 years old, you should still call the airline and ask to be moved to a seat with a bassinet. If your aircraft is not equipped with one, ask if they are able to extend a complimentary upgrade to a seat with more legroom (for you and your child under 2). I did this with every flight we took when my daughter was under two, and they upgraded us every time. (Kudos to United Airlines!)
You might be asking yourself, "If I have to consider all of this, is it really worth it?" And my response, is an emphatic "YES!!" You will create memories and experiences that can be cherished forever. And even if your kids don't remember the trip years from now, YOU WILL, and you'll have some incredible photos for a lifetime.