Painless Vacations With the Kids
No matter the destination, packing a few kid-specific things for a family vacation guarantees fewer “I’m bored” moments. A favorite stuffed animal, special treats for tricky situations and age-appropriate gear keep things running smoothly.
Vacationing at the Beach
Sun protection: Pack sunscreen that protects from both UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF of at least 30. If you’re headed to the beach with an infant, have her wear a hat with a wide brim that will protect her face and shoulders rather than applying sunscreen. For older kids, pack a hat with a wide brim and a strap to keep it from blowing away on windy beach days.
Bug protection: While it’s frequently breezy on the beach, pack some form of bug protection. Products containing DEET are most effective at keeping mosquitoes, gnats and other biting insects away. Remember to reapply it after a dip in the water, and don’t use it on the hands or near the mouths of young children who might ingest it. DEET is safe for pregnant women.
Clothing: Pack light-colored clothing made from fabric such as polyester blends that breathes naturally and wicks perspiration away from the body. Cotton breathes, but once it’s wet, it stays wet longer. Include beach shoes to protect feet from rocks and pebbles, as well as jellyfish. Make sure everyone has a cover-up of some sort in case of sunburn or chilly temperatures after the sun goes down. Kids’ eyes are more sensitive to glare, so consider buying goggles with an elasticized strap if yours are too young to wear sunglasses.
Staying in the Mountains
Hiking wear: Pack lightweight clothing that can be layered for warmth in the morning and evening. Kids should have sturdy, close-toed shoes for hiking, but they don’t need to graduate to hiking boots until their feet stop growing. Adults should have sturdy shoes with ankle support.
Insect protection: Remember that DEET not only protects from biting insects, it also keeps disease-carrying bugs like ticks from attaching to bare legs.
For the littlest: If a child is riding in a sling or a backpack, pack something to keep him warm, because he won’t be as active as you and will stay cool from the heat. Remember to protect little heads and shoulders from the sun with a hat.
Cold weather wear: Pack merino wool socks. They itch less than other varieties and keep feet warmer and dryer than cotton. Mittens keep hands warmer than gloves. Consider packing layered gloves that have a liner, covered by standard gloves, and then mittens.
Packing for an Overseas Trip
Keep-'em-close connectors: While it may not seem appealing, a harness is an effective way to keep toddlers from wandering off while you check in at the airport or wait to hail a cab. Child monitors, or a GPS system for kids, are less intrusive. Your child wears a tag or wristband and you carry a transmitter that finds him in seconds.
Passports and visas: If you need a visa for entry into your destination country, your child probably will too. Make sure your passports are up-to-date and your visas are in order before you pack them in your carry-on.
Backpacks: Pack one for each person in your party. Kids should have a favorite toy, a spare set of clothes in case of accidents or in case you lose your luggage and some activities.
Air pressure aids: Make sure to pack something, like hard candy for older kids, or a bottle for younger children that they can suck on during take-off and landing. Changes in air pressure might make them uneasy.
Entertainment: Pack a guidebook so a co-pilot, friend, partner or teen can point out interesting things along the way. Make sure you have a car charger for devices and either a built-in or portable DVD player. Pack headphones for the children if they enjoy watching their favorite movie on repeat. Avoid the probability of backseat kerfuffle by packing an activity bag for each child and snack bags with the same rations for each.
Car comfort and safety: Make sure your child’s car seat meets the standards of each state you’ll be traveling through, and pack booster seats for kids who are too big for a child car seat but too small for a seatbelt. Pack pillows and blankets for naps, and add organizers to the back of each seat for crayons and small toys.
Rest stops: Pack a cooler with bottles of water and juice, along with healthy snacks—like unpeeled fruit—that won’t spoil if exposed to melting ice. Place it where you can easily get to it at rest areas. While there, pull out the jump-rope or Nerf ball you packed and make sure the kids get a dose of physical activity before piling back into the car.
- Parents: 9 Best Sunscreens for Kids
- EPA: DEET
- UT Health: Insect Repellent Containing DEET Best for Pregnant Women
- PMags.com: Glove in Hand-Laying for Cold Weather
- Governors Highway Safety Organization: Child Passenger Safety
- The Guardian: 50 Top Tips for Traveling with Kids
- Conde Nast Traveler: How to Pack for a Family Vacation
Meg Jernigan has been writing for more than 30 years. She specializes in travel, cooking and interior decorating. Her offline credits include copy editing full-length books and creating marketing copy for nonprofit organizations. Jernigan attended George Washington University, majoring in speech and drama.