The Family Travel Handbook

Illustration by Aaron Meshon

Our print-out-and-save guide to family vacations is packed with tips on planning and packing; coping with cars, airplanes, and hotels; eating well; and enjoying yourselves while away from home.


Choose interactive snacks
Stock up on animal crackers for a trip to the zoo, or shark-shaped fruit treats or Goldfish for a beach getaway. That'll get the kids excited (especially since it's food they're allowed to play with).

Fill up the fridge
Don't lug your food and toiletries with you—especially if you're flying. Instead, create a shopping list while you're organizing what to pack, and then go on one big shopping trip on the day you arrive.

No hot dog should cost $5
When you're headed someplace where the food is a rip-off—the airport, theme parks, baseball games, and so on—pack snacks and fill up the sippy cups beforehand. Just make sure you're allowed to bring in food.

Or don't go to the store at all
Many supermarket companies (such as Safeway, Acme Markets, and Albertsons) will deliver groceries, which is a help at home, and even more convenient when you're on vacation with a group. Before placing an order with a store, do a Google search for "coupons" and "[chain name]." There are often free-delivery promotions or other discounts. If your destination has no major chains, look up the local chamber of commerce and inquire about delivery services.

Insta-fridge (or insta-tote)
Foldable coolers work well as regular bags when they're not holding drinks, fruit, and cold cuts, and you can easily stuff them away in a suitcase.

Simpler is better
Picnics are cheaper than restaurants, you can better control the food quality, and kids have space to run around and stretch their legs. Just pack a blanket, basic utensils, and some sandwich fixings.

Take advantage of the continental breakfast
The food served—fruit, yogurt, granola bars, and cereal—is often perfect for kids. If your kids get antsy while eating in public, bring food back to your room for them to eat while watching TV. Or grab a granola bar and an apple for the road.

Snack intelligently
Choose on-the-go foods that aren't messy or loaded with sugar—in other words, Cheerios are better than crumb cake and raisins are better than Raisinets.

It's theirs, all theirs, and no one else's
Kids often don't like to share their snacks, so parcel them out in individual baggies.

Let your kids decide where you'll eat
Giving kids a sense of autonomy helps them feel invested in the vacation. If they don't know the options, ask them to talk about what they'd like to have for dinner, and narrow down the possibilities from there.

Dine when other people don't
Bringing kids, rowdy or not, into a crowded restaurant during its busy dinner period is a recipe for disaster. Waiting for a table makes matters even worse, so eat before or after the rush. Breakfast is generally the safest meal: It's quick, usually cheaper, and has familiar menu choices.

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