Holiday Travel: The Ultimate Prep List for Smooth Family Travel

Image: Vanessa's daughters waiting for take-off (Holiday Travel: The Ultimate Prep List for Smooth Family Travel Vanessa Santamaria Contributor Miami Mom Collective)
Grace and Gianna are always excited to board an airplane and see what surprises are in their backpacks.

Traveling with kids takes a little more preparation — and with all the COVID-19 regulations in place, a little pre-planning will go a long way so you can enjoy some much-anticipated holiday travel.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’m ready to fly, so my family is in the process of planning a little post-Christmas getaway. Whether you’re planning to drive or fly to your destination, this guide will ensure you cover all your bases when planning your trip.

Plan Ahead

  • If you’re planning to fly, stay in hotels, or rent a car, book everything 30-60 days before your trip to ensure you’re scoring the best prices. Also, review all cancellation policies before booking!
  • Check airline and travel regulations for COVID-19 vaccine or testing-related requirements. Also, check with your car rental company to see if they have any specific policies in place.
  • Consider a home rental or Airbnb instead of a hotel if you prefer to stay away from the crowds and are concerned about restrictions.
  • If you’re traveling to another country, check entry requirements well ahead of your trip to ensure your family has all the appropriate paperwork ready. Even if you’re traveling domestically, be sure to check state and local vaccination requirements as some locations may not allow entry to venues without proof of vaccine.
  • Avoid traveling on the busiest travel days and plan to leave a few days before the holiday or after the main holiday to avoid the crowds. For example, the day before Thanksgiving is a much busier travel day than Thanksgiving Day.
  • TSA Precheck can be a huge time saver, especially when traveling as a family. The dedicated line at security helps the check-in process go faster and smoother. Be sure to apply for TSA Precheck well before your trip, as it can take a few weeks to get your TSA Precheck number.
  • Invest in travel insurance! With so much unpredictability surrounding travel these days, it may be worth the additional cost if anything comes up later.
  • Get the kids excited for the trip and manage their expectations ahead of time. Travel can take a toll on the little ones so building excitement around it can help them focus on the positive during the trip. Additionally, prepare them for experiences that feel new or potentially scary, such as going through security at the airport.
Image: A mother packing a suitcase with her infant (Holiday Travel: The Ultimate Prep List for Smooth Family Travel Vanessa Santamaria Contributor Miami Mom Collective)
Packing for upcoming travel.

What to Pack

  • Be sure to pack any vaccine or testing-related paperwork along with tickets, IDs, itineraries, and confirmations. Keep everything together in a pouch that you can store safely in your purse or carry-on.
  • Bring some cash, just in case. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how unpredictable these times can be.
  • Don’t forget important prescriptions and some common over-the-counter medication to treat headaches, allergies, motion sickness, etc.
  • If you’re traveling with infants or toddlers consider packing extra diapers, formula, wipes, and even a pacifier (or two) if they use one.
  • Bring a change of clothes for the kids. Whether you’re driving or flying, a change of clothes is always a good idea since you never know when accidents will happen.
  • Pack plenty of healthy, yummy snacks for the journey, so there’s no going hangry along the way.
  • Plan fun activities to keep the kids busy. Think coloring and activity books, puzzles, simple crafting projects, and interactive games. Pro tip: Keep a stash of surprise activities handy, so if they do get bored, you can always surprise them with something new!
  • Use color-coded packing cubes for each child to organize and separate items. My daughters enjoy putting all their things in their cubes, which I bought in each of their favorite colors so there’s no confusion. No packing cubes? No worries! I’ve also used large Ziploc bags and labeled them, making it easier to find what you need in a pinch. When the girls were little, I would place an entire outfit in a Ziploc (including socks and a matching bib).
Image: Two girls sitting together on an airplane (Holiday Travel: The Ultimate Prep List for Smooth Family Travel Vanessa Santamaria Contributor Miami Mom Collective)
Kids getting ready for take-off!

Considerations for the Journey

If You’re Driving…

  • Avoid traveling during rush hour. Instead, try leaving for your trip very early in the morning or late at night. One advantage of traveling overnight with kids is they’ll likely get a few good hours of sleep, and if you’re not the one driving, so will you!
  • Plan to make regular stops throughout the drive. Kids get antsy sitting still for too long, and that pent-up energy can quickly turn into a meltdown. Take a few short breaks along the route, so the whole family has ample time to use the bathroom, stretch their legs and burn off some of that energy.
  • Consider bringing a small cooler for snacks and drinks. Keep some beverages, fresh fruit, cheese sticks, and other favorites on hand to snack on during the ride.
  • Bring cozy blankets and pillows for the kids so they have something familiar from home to snuggle up with while they nap.

If You’re Flying…

  • Check airline baggage policies paying special attention to weight limitations. Getting through the check-in is a lot smoother when all your baggage is within regulation.
  • Check-in and pay for additional baggage fees online to save yourself time at the airport. Often, there are also savings associated with paying for your baggage online.
  • Consolidate suitcases as much as possible, so there are fewer items to lug around.
  • Give yourself ample time at the airport, at least 2 hours for domestic and 3 hours for international flights.
  • Choose one designated person to hold onto all passports/IDs, tickets, and travel paperwork. (Who are we kidding? Give it all to Mom!)
  • Pack each of your kids their own carry-on bags filled with their favorite toys, games, and snacks. Include a change of clothes and a sweater or jacket in case the airplane gets cold.

By following these planning and preparation tips, you’ll be setting yourself and your family up for a successful trip. The more you take care of ahead of time, the more you can enjoy your holiday travel and be in the moment with your family.

Happy traveling!