The huge Barton Springs pool in Austin TX

The huge Barton Springs pool in Austin TX

Some of you are just heading out on spring break.  Some of you are there and are wondering why you left home.  That’s because traveling with kids is never easy.  It’s aggravating, stressful, expensive and wonderful.  Keep reminding yourself that all the travel research shows that family vacations are responsible for the happiest memories we have—memories that last a lifetime.   

Here are my 10 tips to de-stress and make family spring travel more fun.

1. Involve the kids in the planning.  Take a virtual tour of the theme park or museum before you visit and let them help decide what you are going to see first.  If the kids are older, let them plan the itinerary for a day.  You will be amazed at the adventures they will lead you on! And they will be much happier if they have a say.  We all know happy kids means happy parents!

2. Cut the itinerary in half—whether you are touring Washington DC memorials, Orlando or a major museum..  With kids, you aren’t going to see everything so don’t  even try.  The theme park, the monuments and the museum will be there next time.  Focus on what captures the kids’ attention—and yours—and leave when everyone has had enough.  Make sure there is time for the hotel pool, the beach or the playground!

3. Seek out healthier eats where you are visiting and ones that not only offer more healthy kids’ menus but allow kids to order half portions for half price from the kids menu.   Ask the doorman or the bellman where you are staying where they take the kids in their lives out to dinner.  The National Restaurant Association  has an initiative Kids LiveWell that now has some 33,000 restaurants on board   that have increased fruits and veggies, whole grains and lean proteins and limited fats, sugars and salt in their kids menus.  Here’s a piece I just wrote for the Today Show Website  about healthier kids menus and about healthier ski country eats.

4. Follow the locals!  Go to a playground or a park and chat up local parents to see what they like to do.  Check local parenting on-line magazines and blogs to see what special festivals or activities might be going on when you visit/    

5. Opt for a vacation rental  or suite hotel   So you can spread out and cook some meals.  You’ll not only save big bucks (who wants to spend $50 for breakfast the kids don’t eat or eat out every meal for a week) and rentals often are cheaper than hotel rooms for more space but you will be more relaxed—and you won’t have to go to bed when the five year old does.   

6. TSA Family lanes   are available at many airports.  Use them!  You won’t get stuck in front of a harried business traveler who has no patience for the toddler who doesn’t want to put his “lovey” on the belt.

7. Buy a seat on the plane  for your baby.  You don’t have to until they are two but everyone from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the FAA suggests that  you do because young children are far safer in turbulent skies.  Did you know babies are the only thing not required to be strapped in for take off and landing?

8. Alternate Free Attractions with those that cost money  That might mean  an afternoon at the pool or the local farmer’s market.  Take a tour of a local factory.  Joining that pick up soccer game at the park or talking with a local farmer may end up being a high point of the trip.

9. Share your passion   whether it is baseball, scuba diving or theater and use vacation to share with the kids.  At the same time, indulge their passions (dinosaurs, fashion)

10. Don’t expect perfection.  With kids it never is! Remember why you are on vacation in the first place—to have fun and make memories, to share new experiences.  Revel in the imperfect moments!  They make the best memories anyway.