Traveling with kids has its share of stresses, but it can also be one of most enriching experiences a family can share. While the parents of generations past often suppressed their wanderlust during their children’s early years, modern moms and dads relish the opportunity to hit the road with their little ones in tow.
Jacqui Gifford, editor-in-chief of Travel + Leisure magazine, is a prime example. As she explained on a recent episode of the California Now Podcast, she and her husband often travel with their four-year-old son. She’s learned through her experience as an international travel editor and a parent that smart planning—and sometimes no planning at all—can make all the difference when traveling with kids. Here are Gifford’s strategies for a meltdown-free California vacation the entire family will enjoy.
Make Kids Part of the Experience
Instead of just taking the kids along for the ride, Gifford recommends making them part of the experience. Talk to them about your travel destination and ask them what they’d like to pack. During the trip, involve them in decisions about where to go for dinner each night—even if it sometimes means having pizza when you’d rather eat sushi.
Balance Kid and Adult Time
Family travel is a balancing act, so plan activities throughout the day that appeal to both kids and adults. Go ahead and visit an art museum in the morning, Gifford says, but limit your time there to less than an hour to keep the children from getting bored. Then, in the afternoon, spend some kid-friendly time at the beach. Most important, don’t pack too much into one day—free time and flexibility are great crankiness-prevention tools.
It’s also important to schedule some adults-only time during family vacations. Gifford and her husband often take advantage of hotel babysitting services, which allow parents to have a couple worry-free hours to decompress over a romantic dinner.
Go With the Flow
California is the ultimate destination for family vacations, because there’s so much to do for kids—and parents—of all ages. Gifford’s upcoming Southern California vacation will include time exploring Los Angeles, along with a visit to the San Diego Zoo and beachfront Belmont Park. “My son is at that age right now where learning about animals is endlessly fascinating,” she says. She also plans to hit LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad and visit the sea lions at La Jolla Cove.
The most important thing to remember, Gifford says, is that even the most perfectly planned trip can have unexpected detours—especially when traveling with kids. “The best thing to do,” she says, “is just laugh if things go wrong.”
For more family travel tips from Gifford, listen to the full episode of the California Now Podcast.