I love family vacations. There is something special about traveling and exploring new destinations alongside your kids. I appreciate the way vacations literally force us to hit the pause button on the usual commitments – school, work, and the like – and offer the opportunity to reconnect with our more lighthearted selves. We can be goofy and silly, and maybe even eat half of our body weight in desserts, because hey, that’s what vacation is for! 

On the other hand, the stress of travel and the departure from the typical routine can leave kids and adults alike vulnerable to exhaustion and cranky moods. It’s only fun to feel like a kid again on vacation if you can avoid the associated tantrums, whining, and hunger-induced meltdowns.

I experienced both sides of the coin last week when my husband and I took our daughters on spring break in Florida. While the trip had plenty of highlights, there were also some lows, reminding me that even the best vacations will include some challenging moments.

It’s not realistic to avoid every contingency, from a lost piece of luggage to a stomach bug that shows up in the days before a scheduled trip. But on every trip with my kids, I’ve learned something that I hope will help us on future vacations. Below are some ideas that I jotted down after our most recent trip. I’d love to hear your favorite family travel tips!

1. Hydrate. When it comes to lousy moods, dehydration is a major culprit on vacation. We’re consuming more salt than usual and are likely outside in the sun for several hours at a time. Toting your own liquids along can be a drag, but many places, including the Disney and Universal parks, now offer free ice water at their beverage stations. All you have to do is ask. For an electrolyte boost, I bring along Emergen-C packets and add them to regular tap water at the hotel or when we’re out.

2. Be flexible to accommodate different travel styles. A big perk of family vacation is spending time with each other, of course. But over the years, I’ve learned it’s okay if everyone isn’t together 100% of the time. Sometimes breaking up into groups makes a lot of sense. My husband and oldest daughter are the morning people in our family, while my youngest and I prefer to greet the day at a more leisurely pace. One morning during our trip to Universal Studios, my husband and oldest daughter ventured out to the parks early to beat the crowds. They had a blast, and my younger daughter and I were happy to have extra sleep and a leisurely breakfast.

3. Bring plastic shopping bags to help organize clothing. So ridiculously simple, but this is one item I never seem to have enough of on family vacations. You can usually find at least one bag in your hotel room closet. They’re super helpful for separating dirty and clean clothing, and for containing things like wet swimsuits.

4. Pack a generous amount of snacks, way more than you think you’ll need. There are plenty of times on vacation when you find yourself in between meals without viable food options. Having your own snack supply helps you avoid the sting that comes from plunking down $14 at the airport kiosk for two granola bars and a pack of gum. Been there, done that. Chewy treats like gummies and fruit leather are also especially useful for kids who feel pressure in their ears on the airplane. Older kids can help pack favorite snacks before the trip.

5. Take the photos! Don’t worry if they’re not perfect or if your kids find your paparazzi efforts annoying (which they likely will). We tried valiantly to capture a decent family photo on this trip. We ended up with several mediocre snapshots, but hey, I’d rather have an imperfect photo than none at all. Plus, sometimes the worst photos make for the most hilarious stories later!

Wherever your spring break may take you, I wish you happy travels!

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