As millions of families are aware, vacations, road trips, and weekend getaways are one of the most enjoyable and entertaining parts of parenthood, and provide a great way to help kids explore the world around them. Happily, as our team at SELECT: Your City’s Secrets Unlocked (the fastest way to get to know any city and live like a local) is often fond of pointing out, it’s also easier than ever to make the most of them, courtesy of a growing range of options for keeping children engaged, entertained, and otherwise cheerfully preoccupied en route to any destination. Below, you’ll find five helpful hints and tips to consider when planning your next family escape, each of which can help you make travels more enjoyable and expedient. Keep them in mind, and not only will get more from any trip – you’ll also discover a number of promising ways to bring smiles to kids’ faces, no matter how far afield their adventures take them.
Plan Ahead and Schedule Accordingly
Want to ensure smooth travels for the entire family? Invest time in up-front planning which can save you from scrambling on the back-end. Before arriving at a destination, take time to research activities, dining options, and local highlights of interest, then build an itinerary and reservations around these options. Don’t forget to factor in travel time and wait times when scheduling, and research local providers to make sure you get the best deals, discounts, and service too. Note that an ever-growing number of online apps and tools can help you source recommendations from local residents or frequent visitors, and gain useful insights into best times to visit attractions or schedule tours and dining options. Don’t have time to do a lot of digging in advance? Phone ahead to concierges at four- and five-star rated hotels: They can give you a quick rundown of top recommendations.
Pack a Variety of Toys and Games
To keep kids entertained, especially on longer trips, bring along an assortment of engaging activities, both high- and low-tech, to pick from. Remember, the more variety, the merrier… A range of creative options (coloring books, sticker sets, etc.), playtime favorites (i.e. action figures or dolls), and digital diversions (handheld gaming systems, portable media players, and so forth) comes recommended. Note that a broad range of free and paid downloadable apps for mobile devices may also prove helpful as well, letting you provide kids access to video games, films/TV shows, or even interactive adventures. (Some of which can even point out interesting spots as you travel along your route). Social options such as travel-friendly editions of board game classics, rounds of “I Spy,” or family scavenger hunts – which you can build while assembling your itinerary – can also prove an easy way to engage and entertain kids as well.
Take Advantage of the Tools Provided
Many theme parks and entertainment centers offer options to skip to the head of the line, preschedule appointment times at rides, and enjoy package deals on everything from food to admissions. You’re encouraged to take advantage of them: While some may come at a premium, a few extra dollars are often a small price to pay for what you’ll save in stress or screaming toddlers. Likewise, it’s best to tag-team big attractions, especially with friends and family, so that someone can watch sprouts who need to rest and recharge while others tackle long waits or more action-packed thrill rides. In fact, some parks often have child activity centers to keep kids busy if you need a break, or swap” rooms where one member of your group can wait in comfort while others ride – and then swap places and enjoy a turn after you’ve had yours.
Make Layovers and Downtime Work for You
It can be tiring enough running around all day for adults, let alone kids. When planning your schedule, make sure to build in downtime and rest stops as well. However, rest stops don’t have to be boring: Many destinations offer access to beaches, parks, outdoor areas, and similar attractions where you can still sneak in a little sightseeing along with rest and relaxation. Similarly, when traveling by air, it’s not uncommon to experience layovers or breaks between planes. Using a number of apps and services such as GateGuru or iFly Airport Guide though, it’s possible to plan ahead and scout out nearby eateries, entertainment options, and ways to pass the time. Take a little time to plot out what’s nearby before arriving, and you can find ways to make stopovers far more enjoyable.
Consider All-Inclusive Options
Feeling overwhelmed by the idea of trying to keep everyone in motion and entertained for days on end? Consider outsourcing planning and activities: From all-inclusive resorts to pre-packaged tours and character-themed cruises, numerous providers can provide end-to-end travel solutions that also happen to put many exciting dining and entertainment options right on-site. That way, you can focus more on big-picture choices (destination, range of activities, type of vacation, etc.) as opposed to worrying about micro-managing schedules. While such choices may offer some trade-offs in terms of flexibility, parents will find they often more than make up for it in convenience. Boarding a plane and arriving on-site to find a complete menu of activities and tour options ready and waiting to pick from can frequently prove a welcome alternative, especially for working professionals, to agonizing over every detail of a custom-built trip.