Planning a vacation with young kids

by Brittany Gilbert

If you’ve heard the saying “cleaning a house with young kids is like eating Oreos while trying to brush your teeth,” then you probably agree that a vacation with young kids doesn’t sound like a vacation at all.

Alas, we attempt these trips in order to give our family an experience to remember forever. Vacations do just that; they stick with us for a lifetime, good or bad. So we shouldn’t stray away from these family moments, but there are definitely tips to help make the most of the experience as well as make it easier on everyone.

Plan a trip with your family in mind

My husband and I love New York City. We could probably plan a vacation there every year. However, it is not conducive to our family’s needs. We have three young children, and the thought of keeping up with them in the biggest city in the United States is overwhelming. For families with small children, a beach vacation is more realistic.

Plan in advance

I’m a huge planner. I like to make lists, sometimes several times, and love to cross things off as I complete the task. Being a planner works to my advantage when organizing a vacation. You can get the best deals, save money and avoid a lot of hassle whenever you plan in advance.

If it’s your first time going to a specific location, ask around and get advice from friends who have gone before. Look on Pinterest for checklists to get ideas on what to pack that maybe you aren’t considering.

The same friends who have advice might also have items you can borrow instead of purchasing them yourself. You can even pay for excursions and activities ahead of time if you find the right deal.

Take a family member

On vacations, you need extra sets of hands. You’re not only juggling kids, but all of your things as well. I can picture my family trying to manage keeping our kids organized as well as all of their toys, bags, food, etc. It even sounds like a nightmare.

Grandparents make things more fun anyway, so consider bringing them along to help with the kids. Aunts, uncles, older cousins and family friends are also great options.

Plan for things to not go as planned

Weather doesn’t always cooperate. Kids get sick. You are too tired and really want to nap instead of follow the itinerary. It’s OK. Go with the flow.

Sometimes the stormy weather that forces you to stay inside is when you get to teach the kids a new card game that they wouldn’t sit down and learn if you were at home.

Let go of your expectations and allow for freedom to explore and be bored. We think we have to visit all of the places and do all of the things whenever we go on vacation, or else it won’t be memorable, but it’s just not true. This may seem to go against the whole “planning” theme, but I’m really just trying to encourage you to soak in the moments and avoid disappointment when a super strict schedule doesn’t work out.

Plan for the trip

No matter how you travel, by plane or by car, activities will need to be planned for kids. You probably won’t avoid the “are we there yet” questions and the multitude of bathroom breaks, but it will help some with your sanity and can even provide more memories for your family.

Screen time is popular and a must-have for our family, so we make sure to pack movies that we know we won’t mind watching over and over if we must. 

One of my favorite things to bring is a cookie sheet tray. I screwed holes in the ends, threaded Velcro through and attached it to their car seats. It takes up very little space and is perfect for meal time and activities.

I have a plastic shoe organizer attached to the seat in front of our kids with crayons, coloring books, snacks and toys.

Another activity that encourages family time is family interviews. Come up with a list of questions for your kids and allow them to do the same for the adults. It’s such a fun way to get to know your kids, or get some really comical answers to look back on.


Brittany Gilbert is a former FACS teacher at Maumelle High School. She and her husband, Levi, have two sons and a daughter and live in Conway. Brittany can be reached at [email protected].