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8 Tips for Maintaining Structure while Traveling with Kids

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Taking our children on adventures and having the opportunity to share new experiences together as a family is something we value highly as parents.

It is FUN to go and do and see the world together!

It surprises people when they learn we are equally hardcore about maintaining the structure and sleep schedules as we are about traveling.

Don’t those two concepts conflict?

In order to be a “good traveler” don’t your kids have to be super flexible?

Don’t they need to be able to sleep on the go?

Be easy-going and not rely on a strict schedule or daily routine?

It is possible to have amazing travels AND maintain the daily structure kids are used to.

In fact, it’s the best of both worlds.

Pinterest image of mom with young children walking through the airport traveling with young children.

*Post contains affiliate links.

Prioritizing Schedules While Planning Travel With Kids

In order to set your family up for travel success, it’s important to plan out your trip and travel plans in accordance with the schedules your children are used to.

Want your babies to sleep great and have a well-structured routine?

—–> Read this post on how to start Babywise.

Once your kids are set up on their schedules you want to stay consistent with that routine as much as possible.

A cheap red-eye flight? Probably not the best bet when traveling with kids.

Lots of long layovers? Again, not the best option.

Leaving for a long road trip first thing in the morning when the kids wake up?

You’re setting yourself up for some quickly bored kids!

Book Travel Length Around Schedule

When planning your trip consider how far away you will be traveling from home and how long the trip needs to be in order to allow for schedule adjustments!

Travel days to and from the vacation destination are tough for kids.

Long rides in the car wear them out as do long days of flying and airport sitting.

It’s important to have enough vacation days to justify the travel time and allow for kids to adjust to the location.

Most kids do not sleep well the first night or two when in a new place.

For us, all of our babies have taken a good day to really get used to sleeping in a new place.

We have found that a three-night trip is our minimum when traveling with younger kids.

Three nights allows for a travel day to the destination, two days to enjoy the destination and a travel day home.

If you are traveling across time zones I’d recommend adding one night per time zone change.

When we flew to California from Georgia with our kids we agreed we couldn’t justify the trip without a solid week at our destination in order to account for the time zone changes.

—-> Tips for what to pack when flying with kids here!

Traveling with young children, picture of a little boy traveling on airplane all buckled up.

Plan Travel Time Around Schedule

Just like you want to map out your vacation length around your children’s sleep needs, you also want to consider your travel time around what will best suit their schedules.

With young babies, we have found it’s best to do as much driving as possible at naptime.

We will feed the baby then leave, giving a bit of wake time in the car before they (hopefully) sleep for the next nap.

We then stop when it’s the next feeding time to allow for us to feed the baby, have a bit of awake time, then back in the car in hopes of another good nap.

—–> How to travel with babies

With older kids, we find that having a meal in the car works nicely as it helps prevent boredom and can allow us to maximize drive time while minimizing stops.

Speaking of minimizing stops: we have a rule for bathroom breaks…when we stop to use the bathroom EVERYONE must try to go!

Sometimes you learn by trial and error and all kids differ on whether or not they will sleep in the car.

I have two that sleep easily in the car and two that don’t.

Therefore we never try traveling in the night or early in the morning.

I know many families who travel this way and have kids who will sleep soundly but we prefer to drive during awake times and arrive at our destination before bedtime sleep.

We also try to plan road trips that are closer to home when we have young children.

The longest road trip we’ve taken with our kids is eight hours and the youngest child was three at the time of travel AND we made sure to drive halfway and then stay in a hotel room for the night.

With airplane travel, you’re more limited on the flexibility for times to fit your schedule so pack all the snacks and toys and distractions and hope for the best 😉

Traveling with young children, a picture of a little girl sitting on the opened trunk of a loaded up car holding on to her hat.

Plan Vacation Days Around Schedule

Once you decide the length of your trip as well as map out your days of traveling to and from the destination the next step is to plan out the days of your vacation.

We sit down and write out a rough schedule for each of our vacation days as a family, breaking each day into two blocks “before nap” and “after nap.”

Depending on the ages of our kids when traveling we will also have 1-2 days of “no naps” if needed but try to space them out with at least one nap day in-between.

When traveling with infants who take more than one nap a day we will usually have them either miss the morning or evening naps, have them nap on the go, or trade-off with one parent keeping the infant at the hotel for that nap.

Even when we travel with only our older children, we still keep days with downtime for naps.

We are also always mindful of bedtimes as well and will make sure later nights are followed by days with naps and that days, where naps are skipped, are days that have earlier bedtimes if at all possible.

And yes, we also map out bedtime plans when traveling with the older kids too!

Traveling with kids is exhausting for EVERYONE – including us parents.

Early bedtimes and chunks of time in the afternoon for naps/rest allow US to have a break, to recharge, and to have some quality time together too!

This is a BIG reason my husband and I decided to purchase a large rental home near Disney World – we love being close to the theme parks and able to come back mid-day for naps and rest time.

If you’re planning a Disney World trip be sure to learn more about our property and the discount we offer here!

When planning a trip as major as Disney World it’s tempting to push kids beyond their limits and skip naps and night time sleep.

Time is money at Disney and it’s easy to get caught up in wanting to take full advantage of every minute the parks are open in order to make the money spent on tickets more justifiable.

However, this backfires. Big time.

The “Disney Meltdown” is a REAL thing and it’s crucial to take those breaks and plan your days at the parks as strategically as possible to allow kids to be at their best and have the most magical time.

—–> Planning a Disney Trip? Read this post for all the secrets to help your park days go smoothly!

Maintaining Structure for Kids During Vacation

The majority of the ability to BE structured while on vacation comes in the preparation phase of traveling.

Preparing sets you up for success!

Stick to the Plan

During the vacation, stick to your game plan.

If you previously decided to have the kids nap on a certain day, have them nap.

Even if they don’t seem tired!

It’s MUCH better to take time aside for resting than it is to push through and end up with an overtired child (or husband…or both).

Sometimes things happen, especially when traveling away from home, and it requires some flexibility.

Be open to that too!

Recognize those moments and make adjustments when possible to allow everyone the rest they need in order to be the best versions of themselves for your travels.

Provide As Much Regularity as Possible

If you want your kids to sleep great on your trip…make sure you recreate their home sleep environment as much as possible.

When we travel we bring dark sheets to cover windows to keep the room as dark as we can.

We bring our sound machines and any special items our kids are used to sleeping with.

We also bring favorite toys to provide entertainment during downtime moments on the trip.

Mommy can get ready MUCH easier when the kids are happily playing and what better to offer as a play item than a toy they already love at home?

Keep Mealtime Routines

Not only is eating around the normal times you eat at home important when traveling with kids to help them maintain their schedules, but it’s also important to keep in mind what they are eating too.

We always bring all of our kids’ vitamins with us when we travel.

This helps keep their systems used to what they typically have each day and helps keep up their immune systems in a new place when they will be exposed to new germs.

While you space out late nights and skipped naps you also want to spread out the junk food too.

If possible, pack some food from home or visit a local grocery store to pick up items your kids typically have in their routine.

Even if you’re eating more fast food or quick options having healthy side items can help keep their systems in check!

No parent wants to deal with an overly tired child while vacationing…or one with an upset stomach either!

Constipation is a common issue for young ones when traveling.

—–> Read this post on how to help your constipated toddler

Final Thoughts

So many things go into planning the perfect family vacation and it’s so important to take steps both prior and during traveling with kids to ensure a FUN trip for EVERYONE.

By planning ahead and organizing your trip around keeping your kids’ schedules and routines and then sticking to that plan during your vacation your kids will enjoy the trip and you’ll create happy memories as a family to last a lifetime!

Emily is obsessed with all things Disney and can’t resist a good deal. She’s a firm believer in always being open and transparent (total “over-sharer” right here!). Parenting is her personal passion and she strives to raise my children up in the Lord and for them to look back on their childhoods’ with fond, fun memories. She blogs over at The Journey of Parenthood.

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