10 Tips to Dial Down Holiday Family Travel Stress

Traveling families face many challenges during the holidays. Here are 10 tips to keep spirits bright, safe and sane this busy travel season.

By Kit Bernardi

Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go … all because of a highway detour. ’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the airport, not a plane was departing … because of a snowstorm. Keep your chin up, though. There are ways to anticipate Grinchiness and make the most of your family vacation.


Take the “lug” out of luggage.

Ship bulky outdoor clothing, pre-wrapped presents and any special family needs to your destination to lighten your load and avoid airline extra baggage fees. On the way home, instead of hauling unopened goods with you, gift them to a local day care. Also, ask host family or friends if they have kids’ toys and baby gear such as car seats, cribs and strollers you can borrow. When I host friends and family with little ones, we ask for their food, diaper, room safety gear (outlet safety covers, cabinet locks) and other necessities, and then try to include the items in a guest room welcome gift basket.


Shop when you stop.

Consider gift shopping and the purchase of baby formula, diapers and any other kids’ essentials at local retailers in your destination. Besides supporting them, you’ll experience the holiday like a local, from browsing festively decked-out stores to community Santa visits. If gift recipients want to return something, it will be easy to do right in their hometown.


Make a list and check paperwork twice.

If traveling internationally, check passport expiration dates for everyone in the family. Some countries require six months validity remaining on a passport to permit entry. In the U.S., standard passport processing takes up to five weeks and up to three for expedited service. Make sure that you have the right visas and any required (or even highly recommended) immunizations. If parents, especially those with different last names, are traveling separately with their children under age 18, each must carry signed and notarized permission letters authorizing children’s travel , as well as the children’s birth certificates (a worthwhile security measure to thwart child abduction). Checks really do happen. I chose not to change my maiden name, and without proper documentation was once prevented from boarding a flight in Hawaii with my toddler son who has my husband’s last name.


Include kids in travel planning.

When kids share ownership in the travel planning process, they are much more likely to participate in a trip’s joys and pains. Show them maps, mileage, time zones, seating charts and more. Let them choose their own books and download movies for the trip, and join in selecting holiday activities on site. Invite them to take photos for the family album and caption them for use on Facebook and Instagram.


Manage tick-tock travel day anxieties.

Whether catching a flight or pulling into a driveway in time for dinner, watching the clock creates travel day tension. Allow extra time for heavy traffic and long lines. If driving, plan for rest stops so kids can expend energy.


Snacks, wipes and pockets make everything easier.

Surprise snacks head off meltdowns. Forego sugary foods to keep energy levels manageable. Bring your own water bottles to refill (after security screening) thus making it easier to supply kids with beverages on demand, versus when flight attendants serve. Carry travel-sized hand sanitizer and wipes for quick cleaning of seats, tabletops and hotel room surfaces. Always remember that misplacing important stuff like favorite toys and cell phones can trigger travel stress, so take extra care with them. When my son was in elementary school, we labeled his backpack’s and suitcase’s compartments with masking tape tags he wrote, thus turning packing into an organizational spelling lesson.


Staying apart keeps families together.

Too-close-for-comfort living with hosting friends or relatives can make you hungry for privacy before the turkey ever becomes leftovers. Instead, home exchange gives you a house in the area to call your own. Because lodging is free, HomeExchange travelers save an average of up to 58 per cent on vacation costs. Financial savings, space and sanity promise holiday peace and joy.


Cash in on holiday savings.

Try traveling on the actual holiday, as opposed to the day before and after. It usually offers attractive pricing and saves time due to smaller crowds. Check travel purveyors’ websites to take advantage of last-minute deals for hotels, flights and available HomeExchange properties.


Relieve worries about leaving pets at home.

My family has made a kennel-stay, holiday goodie bag for our dog, Indy. Kennel staff text us photos of his tail-wagging response and we click into their doggie webcam to watch Indy at play. Also, when we’ve employed pet sitters, they send mobile updates (provide caretakers veterinarian contact information). Of course, if you’re in a pet‑friendly home exchange, bring your four‑legged friend along with you!


Keep little believers’ holiday spirits bright.

Little ones worry about missing Santa when not in their own homes. So consider traveling on Christmas Day in the afternoon, or the next day. But sometimes that’s not possible. One year my son sent a letter to Santa before Christmas letting him know his whereabouts on Christmas eve. To assure him that Santa was aware of his travel plans, my son received in the mail from the North Pole an advance gift before heading off to grandmother’s house.

What’s your favorite family travel tip for the holidays? Share in the comments below or visit us on Facebook and share!

About the author

Kit Bernardi is an award-winning, freelance travel writer and photographer based in the Chicago area. She’s traveled to more than 55 countries on six continents. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or check out her personal website, KitTravels.com.

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