Regarding traveling, the best recommendations are to go with the flow, be present, and keep your wits about you. It’s tempting to want to “overschedule” your family vacation, especially if you’ve been burning the wicks at every end with work and children’s needs, but even the best-clad plans can go awry.

As I planned for a MomShine episode on travel, I reflected on one trip where everything went wrong in 72 hours. We had a kid get violently ill with food poisoning only to miss the family wedding we were traveling for, then went to a mis-advertised vacation rental from hell, then tried to take a trek up a deserted Mexican highway only to have the police threaten to take us to jail, then had to turn around because the adventure we had planned could no longer happen due to bad weather.

Life happens on vacation, and I had to dig deep to keep my vacation vibe on this one. But if I had applied a few safety measures, as I learned from travel advisor Kristina Watkins of KW Lux Travel, some of these issues could have been avoided and easier to deal with. 

Travel Hack #1: Have one plan per day 

It’s tempting, but don’t overbook your family trip. When traveling with kids, an outing or adventure per day is more than enough. Keep the schedule flexible to allow for breaks and unexpected changes. Activities like sledding, ice skating, skiing, and snowboarding can be exciting in winter destinations. Some places also offer horse-drawn sleigh rides and winter festivals.

Summer is all about nature activities. Scavenger hunts with kids and beach adventures are always a hit. Also, visiting safari parks, zoos, and aquariums and seeing different animals in their habitat can be exciting.

Kristina shared on our latest episode to also book a guide whenever possible. Through one winging trip to the Louvre with her family and braving the crowds, it can make a real difference to have structure for you and the kids in toe. The added beauty of a dedicated guide is that they can help answer a million questions for kids, allowing parents to enjoy the experience, too! 

Travel Hack #2: Consider the channel you are booking through 

I didn’t know this leading up to the interview, but hotels and accommodations prioritize based on travel channels that guests book through. Using travel points or memberships is also best if you are booking yourself. We recently learned about the benefits of certain Amex cards with certain hotels. Think twice before booking that great discounted rate when traveling with kids. Sometimes, an advisor can help ensure you get preference. 

Booking with points is great because it’s free for the traveler. However, you don’t get any preferential treatment, and it is often the last priority to get assigned a good room or a connecting room if you need it, which can be very frustrating for families of 5.  Additionally, advisors offer the same, if not better, perks than Amex.  So if you are about to book a hotel room directly with the property, most advisors will book these complimentary, so there’s no added cost for the client, and then you can access VIP perks. 

Travel Hack #3: Connect with locals 

The other beauty of a travel advisor is they have support wherever you go. Having locals or friends who can help you settle in specific destinations and pivot when necessary can make a huge difference. Locals are a great source of recommendations. Even a local at a surf shop or retail store can help you get your bearings if you can locate those people before arrival.

It’s always important to feel safe when traveling with kids. Bad actors know that tourists typically carry larger amounts of cash and valuables, which can make them more vulnerable to scams. Dress like a local. Try to avoid “looking like a tourist.” Don’t wear flashy jewelry. Cross-body bags or fanny packs are safer than shoulder or handbags. Lastly, consider using RFID wallets that can’t be scanned by fraudsters, and drink responsibly.

Travel Hack #4: Get kids excited leading up to a trip with fun books and shows

Kristina likes the “Who Is” book series for kids. For instance, having your kids read about Cristiano Ronaldo could be good if you visit Portugal. For Australia, it could be good to read about Steve Irwin. Get them excited about where they are going, immersing them in the history and wildlife that they can learn about beforehand.

Travel Hack #5: Create packing lists of your items with all family members involved

Getting the kids involved in planning and packing will help prevent items from being “left behind.” Kristina says Tylenol chewables are fantastic to have on hand as they don’t spill and can help. For parents, knowing if any digital connectors and all cords are on hand can ensure you are armed and ready to wing it on the rest. 

Below are some items I’ve listed to ensure I don’t miss when going abroad.

Parent checklist

  • Hats (for all)
  • Sunglasses
  • Raincoats (when needed for all)
  • Clothing options: long sleeves, short sleeves, pants, shorts, leggings, jackets, swimwear, &  pajamas
  • Comfortable shoes, sandals, and water shoes if necessary
  • Bug sprays & Sunscreen
  • Devices, AirPods, chargers
  • Daypack for excursions
  • Wet bags for dirty clothes storage, checking for undergarments, and quick-dry clothing can all be wins when traveling
  • Adaptors, passports, and visas when needed & going abroad
Child’s checklist

  • Favorite stuffies, snacks, pillows, or card games (bring on the carry-on!)
  • Any important snacks & water bottles during travels
  • Toiletries (toothbrushes, hairbrushes, hair ties)
  • Clothing options: long sleeves, short sleeves, pants, shorts, leggings, jackets, swimwear, & pajamas
  • Comfortable shoes, sandals, and water shoes if necessary
  • Medications to consider: thermometers, allergy meds, chewable motrin/tylenol, Hydrocortisone creams, inhalers 
  • Daypack for excursions
  • Devices, chargers, and headphones

**Rolling clothes can also save space and minimize wrinkles

Travel Hack #6: Have a “plan B” if things go awry due to bad weather or other uncontrollable variables 

Know where the local hospital or medical services are. Having a local expert’s number, like a local tour operator or a travel advisor who typically has access to folks wherever you are traveling who speak English, is also a good idea. 

Upon arrival, get to know your surroundings wherever you go and have people you can ask for help when and if you need to pivot on plans.  Be sure to pack travel games like a deck of cards, like uno, to have on hand to play in the room or hotel lobby if the rain (or heat) prevents you from following your original plans.  

Travel Hack #7: Avoid peak travel seasons

Avoiding peak travel seasons can greatly enhance your travel experience by reducing costs, avoiding crowds, and providing a more relaxed atmosphere. Plan and book early if you must travel during these peak times, especially since most trips revolve around school calendars. Kristina recommends 4-6 months in advance.

Here are some strategies for preventing peak seasons at popular travel destinations:

  • Europe: The summer months (June to August) are extremely popular. To beat the rush, ensure you have a travel guide to skip crowds or aim for the spring or early Fall season.
  • Asia: For Japan, you want to avoid cherry blossom season (late March to early April), Golden Week (late April to early May), and Obon Festival (mid-August), and instead visit during late autumn (November) or winter (January-February). For Thailand, the peak tourist season is November to February.
  • North America: in the United States and Canada, summer (June to August) and holiday seasons can be more hectic than spring and fall. 
  • Australia and New Zealand: Avoid the summer (December to February) and school holidays. Visit during the shoulder seasons in March-April or September-November.
  • South America:  Avoid Carnival in Brazil (February or March) and the summer months (December to March). Visit in the shoulder seasons (April-June, September-November). For Peru (Machu Picchu), skip the peak season (June to August). The best times are the shoulder seasons of April-May and September-October.
  • Africa: For South Africa, avoid the high summer season (December to January) and major holidays. The best times to visit are in the shoulder seasons (April-May, September-October). In Morocco, you want to avoid the peak tourist season (March-May, September-November) and visit during the low season (June-August, December-January). But be mindful of extreme temperatures.
  • Middle East United Arab Emirates (Dubai): Avoid the winter months (November to March) and major events. Visit during the shoulder seasons (April-May, September-October). For Israel, skip the peak periods of spring (Passover) and fall (Sukkot). Ideal times are late autumn (October-November) and winter (January-February).

By planning your trips around these peak seasons, you can enjoy more serene environments, better availability of accommodations, and a more authentic destination experience.

Travel Hack #8: Make digital copies of important documents

Ensure you know if places require visas or other things before arrival. If something goes missing, it’s also good to have copies of passports, driver’s licenses, and credit card information. I also like a tangible folder and printout for all flight and hotel information to have on hand in case you need help getting to where you need to go.

Kristina recommends taking photos of all passports and saving them in a photo folder on your phone so it’s all in one place and easily accessible.  Sometimes, you can save this to the cloud, so it’s still available if you lose your phone.

Travel Hack #9: Book long enough layovers in airports

In this day and age, stuff can happen. Flights can change, but ensure you aren’t rushing in an airport with kids and again have a contingency plan. A pro tip Kristina recommends with kids is ensuring transport from the airline to accommodations to ensure smooth transfers after long flights.

Travel Hack #10: During your trip, check in with family and friends

Before you go, your loved ones or friends know where you’ll be and when, and check in along the way. When in doubt, work with a travel advisor to help ensure you’re at ease during your trip. You can contact Kristina at this link to help plan your next trip! 

Listen to the full episode on what we’d do differently when traveling with kids so everyone has the best time on their next trip.