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.
HOTELS & LODGING
Treat your car like a storage locker
Don't transfer all your bags into the hotel room, unless you really need to. On road trips, you should only have to bring one bag inside with you. The room will be less cluttered, and you'll be less likely to leave stuff behind.
If you'll be in the room a lot, get one you'll like
Consider upgrading to a room with a patio or a balcony—especially when traveling with a baby. That way, you can be outdoors and enjoy the scenery while still being within earshot during nap time. A nice view will also help you avoid that "trapped by the sleeping baby" feeling. An in-room kitchenette can be invaluable when it's time to heat milk and to clean bottles.
Childproof your hotel room
Remove or push out of the way anything that could conceivably get broken, particularly if there's glass involved. See that lamp placed near the edge of the nightstand? Move it before the nightstand gets bumped and the lamp shatters.
Go to town on the tourist brochures
Let your kids browse through them and suggest places to visit; they're also great for scrapbooks.
Scope out the pay-TV situation
Prevent your child from charging video games (or worse) to your bill. Establish rules about what's acceptable. If you're worried, have the front desk shut off the pay-TV options.
The hotel staff knows more than you do
Are there parks nearby? Is there a time when the pool is empty and therefore better for families? Where can you go for ice cream? Don't be shy about asking to speak with someone who has kids. And you never know: By chatting up the front-desk clerk, you might even get an upgrade to a better room or location.
Put a night-light in the bathroom
It will make all the difference to kids trying to find their way around a strange place at night.
Maximize your stay at a hotel
You may find it's worth paying a little extra for a hotel with a pool—but inquire in advance about how deep it is. Also, a room that comes with extra space can be a lifesaver, especially if you have an early riser. And it's handy to have a fridge for milk and leftovers.
Turn the fridge setting to cold
Some hotels keep the in-room fridge at the warmest setting or even unplugged entirely. Check before putting the yogurt away.
The hotel room is not a playroom
Designate one section of the room as a play area, and set up some toys and games there. If the kids don't listen and the toys start spreading all over the place, take them away for a little while.
About those toys...
Buy them as you go, and ditch them when you leave. Dollar stores are great for inexpensive toys and souvenirs. The biggest jackpots are secondhand stores that specialize in kids' merchandise, like Once Upon a Child (ouac.com), which has 248 locations in the U.S. and Canada. Don't want to schlep games or beach toys home? Hand them off to a family just starting their vacation. You'll make some kid's day.