5 Travel Tips for Families

Here are 5 travel tips that we have found useful on our family trips.

#5: VRBO/Homeaway

Often we try to find a vacation rental home to stay at when we are on vacation trips rather than a hotel. We are a family of 4, and we always place a high priority on getting a good night’s sleep at home, and the same applies for when we are on vacation.   This requires getting 2 bedrooms: 1 for the parents and 1 for the kids.  This allows the kids and parents to go to sleep and wake up at their usual bedtimes, and allows the parents to sleep in (most important factor!).

To get a decent 2 bedroom hotel suite, you would have to pay quite a lot $$$ per night, and the square footage is still quite small.  On VRBO/Homeaway websites, for a similar price or less, you can usually get a full house or condo with own kitchen, separate living room and 2 bedrooms.   Having a kitchen is very convenient, since it allows us to stock on food/drinks, and thus save money on eating out.

We have used these websites for a number of our trips and have had nothing but excellent experiences. You sometimes hear horror stories about people renting undesirable places, but this can be avoided by only renting places that have multiple 5 star reviews on the websites.   

https://www.vrbo.com/

https://www.homeaway.com/

#4: Sani-wipes for Airplane Trips

I’m sure everyone has read countless newspaper reports about how the dirtiest place in the airplane is the dinner tray.  However, how often do you see a passenger wipe their tray before the flight?   Why take the risk?  Especially with children.  Who wants to get sick at the beginning or at the end of a vacation trip?   

US Open, 2017

When my family and I fly on airplanes, we always bring a pack of sani-wipes and wipe down the trays, entertainment screens, arm rests and seat beat buckles before take-off.   In my opinion, airplane seats/trays are basically petri-dishes of germs just waiting to get a passenger sick.  Hand sanitizers are also useful to clean your hands before eating a meal/snack on the plane.

#3: Audiobook for Road Trips

We don’t allow our kids any screen time in the car.   We have always had this rule since they were young, so they never ask for ipads or phones in the car.  What do we do on long road trips?   We find an audiobook based on what our kids are reading, and listen to it while driving.   

New York City, 2017

On our road trip to New York City last summer, we downloaded the “Percy Jackson” audiobooks, as these were the books that they were reading.   We ALL enjoyed listening to the audiobook, and it made the time fly by.   It’s great to be able to talk to my kids about the characters and stories in the book…..it leads to interesting and funny conversations.  My wife and I are now fans of the Percy Jackson series, and have read all the books, like our kids.  

#2: Camping trip

If you are a camper, then you can ignore this “Travel Tip”, as you have already experienced the enjoyment of camping with your family.

Skeleton Lake, 2017

For those who have not camped before with their children, then I highly recommend for you to try it, even if it is just for 1 night.  I’m not talking about camping in the outbacks of Algonquin with your kids. I’m talking about “car camping” at a Provincial Park where you drive your car up to a campsite and set up your tent.   Some campsites also have cabins or yurts to rent if you do not have a tent.  

There are “comfort stations” with bathrooms and showers at these parks, so it’s not entirely “roughing it”, but it’s also not “glamping”.   Maybe it is the area that I live in, but I can’t count how many times I’ve gotten looks of disbelief when I mention that we camp with our kids.   

Yes, it takes time to pack for the camping trip and time to set-up the tent.  Also, you probably won’t sleep that well, since you’ll hear the birds chirping at 6am in the morning.  You’ll feel dirty and smelly, and probably a bit tired after coming home.   BUT, I guarantee that the memories and experience that your kids will have from camping will definitely be worth it.   

Flowerpot Island, Tobermory

As a family trip, camping is unique.  There is something about being out in nature, hiking, swimming, cooking over the campfire, and just being mesmerized by the campfire at night.  And it’s not quite the same as cottaging.  We have also rented cottages the past 2 summers, which is a memorable and fun experience too.   However, we still go camping, because the experience of “kind of roughing it” is quite different than staying in a cottage.

If there was a way to calculate per dollar spent, how much “fun” and how many “good memories” that your child gets from a trip, I would bet that no other trip can compete with camping.  For $45/night, some $$$ for firewood and maybe rent a canoe, that’s all you need to spend for a fun-filled trip!

I would often asked my kids what they remember most about our vacation trips.   For whatever reason, our camping trips are the memories that are most seared into their brain.   When I also look back to my own childhood memories, I similarly find that camping trips bring back fond memories with my parents and brother.

I’m not saying never to go to 5 star luxury vacation resorts, which all parents would prefer (like me and my wife), but once in a while, it may be more worthwhile for the kids, to keep things simple and go on a camping trip.

https://reservations.ontarioparks.com/Home.aspx

#1:  NEXUS  

NEXUS is the best!   I can’t stress this enough.  We have been NEXUS members for the past 6 years, and have saved countless hours by having these cards.

What is NEXUS?  

NEXUS is a Canada-United States program for pre-approved, low-risk travellers entering Canada or the United States.   It allows you to bypass line-ups at customs at the airports and allows you to access NEXUS lines at border crossings.  You can apply online, and it costs $50 for each adult (over the age of 18 years old).  It is free to apply for children under the age of 18 years old.   You will then have to go for an interview and get your photo and iris scan taken at a designated NEXUS enrolment centre (mainly at the airports).

Once you get your card, you are like VIP at the airport.

Whenever we fly out of Toronto’s Pearson Airport, we use the NEXUS line to bypass the line-ups for Customs and Security.   I can’t tell you how great it feels to be able to zip through Customs without any line-ups.

Similarly, you can save time on your return flight back to Canada, although I find that the line-ups for Customs not as bad on the return side.   Flying back from a U.S destination allows you to save time with NEXUS, as you can use their TSA pre-check lines.  

You can also save time when you drive across the border, as there are desginated NEXUS lines, which usually have much shorter line-ups.

FAQ: https://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/prog/nexus/faq-eng.html

NEXUS online application: https://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/publications/forms-formulaires/bsf658-eng.html

What do you think of my tips?   Any of them useful?  Do you have any of your own family travel tips you would like to share?

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2 Comments on "5 Travel Tips for Families"

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Loonie Doctor
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Travelling has always been complicated for our family. We too want a separate room from the kids which usually is impossible to find or crazy expensive. So, the house rental tip is great. Thanks! The other issues for us are that we miss our dogs after about 5 days and that the kids and I like camping, but my wife is not into roughing it. At all. Our solution was to get a bus-like motorhome. We now have a small “condo” wherever we go complete with washer/drier, dishwasher, kitchen, and our dogs. It makes “camping” pretty swanky and there are… Read more »