6 Easy Ways to Keep Your Kids Happy on a Family Vacation

These tips will help you up the fun factor and lower the stress level on your next family trip.

Two Kids Looking Out Window of Airport Terminal

by NEA Member Benefits


Every parent knows how important it is to pack your patience and sense of humor when traveling with children—but sometimes, they’re not enough. On your next trip, make room in your bags and on your itineraries for diversions that will keep the kids entertained—and Mom and Dad sane.

1. Pack surprise gifts.

Young children with short attention spans are more likely to develop a case of “Are we there yet?”-itis. To keep them occupied and distract them from the clock, pick up several inexpensive items at the dollar store—such as coloring books and card games—to dole out as surprise gifts at intervals along the route. If traveling by car, you can gift wrap them to add to the excitement.

2. Minimize the mess with self-contained games.

Space is at a premium, especially when traveling by air. Self-contained games that don’t rely on scads of small pieces can help contain the mess. For younger travelers, think Etch-a-Sketch and Melissa & Doug’s Memory and Hangman. For older kids, opt for trivia games, such as the Brain Quest series or National Geographic’s Quiz Whiz books. Don’t forget classic travel games, too, such as Travel Bingo, I Spy and Twenty Questions.

3. Choose destination-focused books.

Generate excitement for your journey by bringing along books—paper or digital—about your destination. Yes, guidebooks are great resources for the facts, but remember fun fiction titles, too. The family travel website Ciao Bambino! lists reads for 12 destinations, such as the Capital Mysteries series for Washington, D.C. For other destinations, check your library or Amazon.

Remember audiobooks, too. In addition to your library’s titles, Tales2Go offers a free 30-day trial to sample thousands of audiobooks for children from preschool through high school.  For example, if you’re heading to Florida with middle schoolers in tow, the whole car might enjoy listening together to the Kingdom Keepers series set at Disney World.

4. Up your app game.

For many families, electronic devices rank as high on the packing list as toothbrushes. In addition to your children’s usual favorite apps, download engaging travel apps onto your devices.

Stack the States and Stack the Countries (both available on iOS and Android) combine trivia questions with a Tetris-like challenge. Roadside America points out strange museums, quirky statues and other unusual or odd places to visit along your journey. And don’t underestimate the power of Google Maps to answer the evergreen travel questions: “Where are we?” and “When will we get there?”

5. Maximize your meal stops.

While fast-food outlets along the highway can be convenient, you can turn a meal stop into a cultural lesson for your kids and a favorite trip memory by seeking out stand-out local spots along your route. Try the website and app TV Food Maps, which lists 5,000 restaurants that have been featured on more than 40 television shows.

6. End the day with a swim.

When asked about their favorite part of a vacation, young children are just as likely to say “swimming in the hotel pool” as any other activity. Many campgrounds and hotels at a range of price points offer pools as an amenity. Travel-booking websites, such as TripAdvisor, let you filter your hotel search so the results include only properties with pools.

Travel deals exclusively for NEA members