Tips for Planning a Family Vacation
This section is intended to provide for you tips and advice in planning a vacation for you and your family. When you are traveling with a infant, baby, toddler or small child a few extra steps can go a long way towards a great holiday.
- Managing Expectations
- Setting up for Success
- Where to Go
- Safety First
- Can You Drink the Water?
- Are Children Welcome?
- Love Your Room
- Vacation Home Rentals
- Passports for International Travel
- Visas for International Travel
- Getting Through the Airport Faster
- Travel Insurance
1. Managing Expectations
While traveling with a little one (or little ones) is wonderful, it is a drastically different experience from pre-child trips. Once you accept that you will be digging in the sand, not resting on it; playing in the pool, not floating on it; and that “happy hour” is any time your baby or child is not demanding one on one attention; you are ready to start planning.
2. Setting Up For Success
What things are absolutely necessary for you to have a good vacation? For one person it might be a trip to the spa, while for another it might be an afternoon of uninterrupted reading. May we suggest:
- If you are traveling with a partner, plan to take turns watching your child so that each of you can have some time to pursue something you enjoy.
- Consider bringing grandma, aunty or another caregiver along to do a little babysitting.
- Find out if your preferred hotel or resort offers certified babysitters, at what cost, and if they need to be arranged in advance. Hotel babysitting services can sometimes be very expensive so you could also research outside agencies. Please see the following North American directory for a babysitter on vacation (please note this is a directory, not a recommendation service).
- A baby or kids club can be a great option, but be sure to find out the cost, what the age requirements are, if they are fully supervised, if you need to pre-register, and if it will be in operation during your travel dates (some are only offered during high season).
3. Where to Go
Traveling with a child may require you to put extra thought into your destination and type of accommodation, especially if you have a newborn.
Thing to consider include:
- proximity to good medical care
- access to clean drinking water (especially if you are formula feeding)
- childcare options
- vacation home rental versus hotel or resort
This is not to say that you can’t go anywhere you want. Travel magazines are full of stories about amazing travelers who circumnavigate the globe with a baby in a sling. It is advisable, however, to either choose a destination relatively close to home or in a country with a very high standard of medical care while your child is still a newborn.
4. Safety First
If you do make the decision to travel to a less developed country, or a tropical location, we recommend looking up your destination on the website of the Center for Disease Control in case there are any medical advisories you should be aware of (Malaria, Dengue, Zika etc.). On the website, you will find advice on how to minimize your risk, suggested vaccinations, and recommendations on types of medications to bring with you. If necessary, plan to visit a travel health clinic at least 6 weeks prior to your trip. Bring with you the immunization records for each family member. Use the following links for a list of travel medicine clinics in the U.S. or in Canada (in Canada they are often referred to as Yellow Fever Vaccination Centres despite the fact that they vaccinate for a variety of travel related diseases).
Should you be interested in other information, such as the current political climate or any serious weather advisories in the region you plan to travel to, you can research your destination through the U.S. State Department or Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.
5. Can You Drink the Water?
In many fantastic vacations spots, the tap water contains microbes that can cause diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration if ingested (think Mexico). You can still travel to these places with your baby or small child, but you need to give some thought as to how you will deal with this inconvenience. Carefully chosen accommodation (ideally with a water filtration system), or a well tipped maid bringing you copious amounts of bottled water can also make this job much easier.
The following steps will reduce your risk:
- Use bottled or purified water, a brush and dish soap to clean any of your child’s bottles, cups, bowls, and utensils. After washing, sterilize all of these items. For information on how to do so, please consult the babycenter.com website.
- Use only sterilized water for teeth brushing and wiping sticky hands and faces.
- Do not let your child have anything with ice in it unless you can be sure the ice has been made from sterilized water.
- Make sure your child does not swallow any water when in the bath or shower.
6. Are Children Welcome?
Does the accommodation you are considering welcome children by providing rooms and services that will make your trip easier? A family friendly hotel or resort will offer some, if not all of the following features and amenities (ideally without an additional charge) :
- high chairs and booster seats
- cribs and playpens
- child proofed rooms
- baby monitors for loan
- gradual entry pool
- llfe jackets
- babysitting service
- baby or kids club
- large rooms with a private sleeping area for your child
- adjoining rooms
- kitchenette or fridge and microwave
- complimentary laundry service for kids or in-room washer and dryer
- room service
- baby menu, kids’ menu or buffet
- in room entertainment system
- coffee maker for bleary eyed, sleep deprived parents
When researching a hotel or resort, it is also helpful to spend some time reading reviews specifically from families. Tripadvisor.com, for instance, allows you to filter reviews by “Families”. Also useful for reviews is Family Vacation Critic. It has lots of reviews on the larger resorts, but for boutique accommodations you are still better with Tripadvisor.
7. Love Your Room
With a child now sharing your space, you need to think about the location, layout and size of your room within the hotel or resort. The most important consideration is where you will be when your child is sleeping. Having accommodation with a separate bedroom, walk in closet where you could fit a crib, or a living room with a sofa bed, allows you to still enjoy this time. Even a nice patio where you can retreat to can make all the difference between being on vacation, and feeling like you are a prisoner of your room. Many parents we have spoken to (as well as the author) have spent evenings holed up in the bathroom with a bottle of wine watching a movie so as not to disturb their child; but generally this is not ideal. The long and short of it is, that if at all possible spend the extra dollars and get the suite, the one bedroom, or the adjoining rooms rather than a single standard room.
Depending on your personal style and the temperament of your child you may also want to request a room:
- away from the noise of the elevator/bar/restaurant
- away from other guests so you do not need worry about a fussy baby disturbing anyone
8. Vacation Home Rentals
Many parents find renting a house or apartment a much more convenient option than a hotel. The benefits of a home rental include: more privacy, more space, a lower per night cost, laundry facilities, a kitchen, and the ability to have meals and naps on your schedule, not on that of a hotel. Several popular vacation rental companies include VRBO.com, Tripadvisor Vacation Rentals and Airbnb.com (be sure to use the filter for “kid-friendly” properties. Also worth taking a look at is KidandCoe.com which features some very special family properties.
There are several potential drawbacks to vacation rentals of course. Booking it may require a little more time and work than a hotel as you are often dealing with an individual owner. Another consideration is that since you now have the ability to do more for yourself, you may find that you spend a lot of your trip cooking and cleaning. For a price, however, anything is possible. If needed, you can arrange maid service and plan to eat some of your meals in restaurants. You could also hire a babysitting or nanny service to give yourself a break once in a while. Some home and villa rental companies even offer a concierge service that can help to arrange things for you such as pre-stocking the kitchen with groceries. For a list of reputable villa rental agencies around the world, please see this Travel and Leisure article.
If the property you have selected does not have certain things that you need such as a crib, almost every city has a baby equipment rental company. The following link will provide you with a directory of baby equipment rental companies in North America (please note this is a directory, not a recommendation service).
9. Passports for International Travel
If you are traveling internationally by air, you will need a passport for everyone in your family no matter how old they are (this includes newborns). Approximate processing time for a passport in the U.S. is about 4-6 weeks, and in Canada it is about 10-20 days (although in both countries it can be done in a much shorter period of time for a higher cost). Give yourself ample time since the application is lengthy and there is nothing worse than being a week away from travel and not having your documents in order. For more information on getting a passport, consult the website of the US Department of State or Passport Canada. If you already have a passport, make sure it is not close to expiring, as many countries will not allow you entry if your passport has less than six months to expiration.
Single parents planning to obtain a passport for their child will be expected to present a copy of the court order establishing custody and guardianship. Also important to note is that regardless of custody or guardianship, if only one parent is traveling internationally with a child, they may be asked to provide to customs and immigration a notarized letter of consent signed by the other parent.
10. Visas for International Travel
In addition to presenting your passport, some countries require that you have a tourist visa for entry. To find out if you need one for your travel destination, check on the following government website links for the USA and Canada .
11. Getting Through the Airport Faster
More than the flight itself, one of the most dreaded parts about airplane travel with babies, toddlers and kids, is the security screening process. While there have been small improvements over recent years (such as the fact that children no longer need to remove their shoes), the new TSA Pre expedited screening lane is making things much easier for qualified passengers and their children 12 years and under. These pre-screened travelers are allowed to leave their shoes, light outerwear and belt on, keep their laptop in its case, and their 3-1-1 compliant liquids/gels bag in a carry-on , when traveling domestically through one of 180 designated airports across the U.S.A.
U.S. citizens, nationals and LPRs can apply to the program by submitting an online application and scheduling an in person appointment at any of 380+ enrollment centers. A background check and fingerprinting will also be done. See more information here: TSA Pre website.
If you are a member of the Trusted Travler Programs (NEXUS, SENTRI & Global Entry, you do not need to enroll into the TSA-Pre program. You can use the TSA Pre lanes by using the PASSID on your membership card. Prior to this, when booking your plane ticket, you must add your PASSID to the field titled Known Traveler Number (KTN).
12. Travel Insurance
We all know that buying travel insurance is important when traveling out of country, but your chances of needing medical, cancellation or trip interruption insurance are much more likely when traveling with a child. A serious medical problem out of country can easily cost you more than $50,000 especially if you require an ambulance or an air evacuation. For some information on insurance coverage for travel, see Top Tips for Buying Travel Insurance by Katrina Hunt of Travel and Leisure or Do I Need Travel Insurance by Rick Steves.
Up Next: Choosing a Flight