1. Rules are good. Sit down with the family and set some ground rules for the trip. If you make your expectations very clear, it could save hours of frustration and fights. Say right up front, loudly and clearly that X, Y and Z will simply not be allowed or accepted under any situation.
But prepare to be fair parents by extending the same opportunity for ground rules to your kids (within reason). Anyone caught breaking ground rules must put 1,5,or 10 dollars into a pot that someone later wins. Winner to be determined by vote upon return home. Let the lobbying begin!
2. Lower expectations: What's that saying about the path to hell being paved by good intentions? Well, the path to hellish vacations is most definitely paved by plans and checklists and expecting everything to be fun, run smoothly, on time and under budget.
Toss those happy (and ridiculous) expectations out the window right now. Instead, plan and hope for anything that is a notch above a terrible vacation. Why? Expect less equals get more. Getting more equals being happier. Being happier equals good.
So, expect that you will indeed go on vacation and that you will indeed spend too much money and get lost and someone will get sick and someone will get mad and others will get mad at the one getting mad and something will get broken and Panadol will be taken in excess and words will be exchanged and promises to never do this again will be spoken in hushed tones. Now that you've envisioned this version of a vacation, anything better than this will be a home run!
3. Busy minds. Busy is good. If you have three hours to prepare and pack for a trip, spend 2.9 of those hours finding things that will keep your kids busy. Clothes are an afterthought. You can always find a Target somewhere and buy something to wear.
Focus your time and attention on things that will keep your kids entertained, engrossed and out of your hair. Put them all in a bag and dole them out in 10 to 20 minute increments. Insist they give you the old one back, rinse and repeat. Busy kids are happy kids and happy kids are what holidays are all about, right?
Travel expert and mother Nicole Hockin, author of the Travel Smart Blog, lists her 10 suggestions to make family travel a little easier.
1. Pack light: Bring only the essentials. The more you bring, the more you have to keep up with and the heavier the bags. Kids can require a lot of stuff: car seats, strollers, cots, high chairs. Visit: www.babysaway.com/ where you can rent gear instead of packing it all. Some car rental companies also rent child safety seats and some hotels offer childproof rooms or cots upon request. Call ahead and find out which items you can cut from your packing list.
2. Expect the unexpected: Not to contradict tip number one, but make sure you have plenty of what you need in your carry-on: nappies, wipes, medications, change of clothes, snacks, and a secret colouring book.
3. Bring toys and quiet games: Be sure to bring something to keep everyone entertained, but leave the singing Barneys and beeping video games at home. You and everyone else will be glad you did. Backpacks for each child: Toddler or teen give each child his own backpack to carry with their chosen toys/books/etc. The catch is if they pack it, they carry it. Trust me, one heavy backpack experience and they'll learn just how much to take to Grandma's.
Parents note: check the backpacks to make sure there are not any toys with water elements or Play-Doh (security can consider this a potential explosive device) as can basketballs and footballs and they will be confiscated.
4. Car seats: Check with the airline but they normally are NOT counted as checked luggage on any airline. You will NOT be charged. Get yourself a durable car seat cover and check it in for your trip. When your suitcase is overweight, avoid the fees and stick some of those extra clothes in the car seat bag.
5. Aeroplane seats: If your child is under the age of two, then he/she technically does NOT need a paid seat on the plane. Be prepared to prove your child's age ie birth certificate. I recommend that you purchase a seat for your infant once the child is mobile (even if he's only one year) especially for flights over two hours in length. The aeroplane seat allows them their own space to wiggle and dramatically reduces on-board melt-downs.
6. Security screening can really delay you if you aren't prepared. Know this: medications, baby formula and food, breast milk, and juice are allowed in reasonable quantities above the liquid limit and are not required to be in the zip-top bag. Babies do have to take off their shoes, too. So go for Velcro on travel day. Plan ahead! Practice getting that stroller broken down quickly!
7. Eat breakfast where kids eat free and split meals. This can mean an enormous saving for a family of four or larger. Children are many times too excited or tired to eat much at a time. Restaurants that are kid friendly are more than happy to accommodate special requests for extra plates. Many do free meals for kids (with the purchase of an adult meal) on different days of the week.
8. Bring your own stroller. If you're going to visit theme parks then this can save you $US7 ($A8) to $US30 ($A34.25) (for a double) a day in rental fees.
9. Bring along individual refillable water bottles. These can be refilled at the hotel and at restaurants around your destination. A family of four could easily spend $US20 ($A23) or more a day just buying water.
10. The most important tip of all is to be flexible. Lines will be long, traffic will be heavy, flights will be delayed and children (and adults) will get grumpy. But with just a little planning and an open mind, you'll survive and enjoy another family holiday.
* Paula Sirois is a Florida based writer who writes about divorce, single parenting and frugal living.
Her site, www.Cheapstingybargains.com, scours the internet for the very best deals, sales, close-outs, freebies, rebates, and exclusive coupons.
Hybrid Mom: www.hybridmom.com