Can I ask you a favor? Please learn from me.  Read these 8 mistakes to avoid on your next family vacation and save yourself from the inconvenience, stress, and bad moods that accompany these travel errors.  Two of the following travel mistakes make me cringe in embarrassment. I mean, really, guys – what made me ever think the whole Costa Rica and glass jar things were good ideas?! Hopefully, this brief record of my family travel mishaps prevents you from following in my footsteps! 

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family vacation mistakes

8 Mistakes to Avoid on your Next Family Vacation

And here you go – 

1 – Ignoring sleep 

I’ll admit up front that my kids do not get as much sleep on vacation as they do at home. After all, we’re usually all in the same room and so their bedtime looks a lot like our bedtime. {If you have some of those alien kids who simply lay down and go to sleep without any issue whatsoever, you can skip this section. Also, we cannot be friends. ;)}

Once, we jumped in the car after school to go to Dallas so we could catch an early flight to NYC. The kids went to bed late because of travel and were up before 5 to catch the plane. My son spent the next 3 days with a stomach bug. I’m not blaming the lack of sleep, but that certainly didn’t help the situation. On that same trip we stayed up until almost two, hanging out in Times Square, eating food, and riding the subways. It is one of my favorite memories but my kids were done the next day!

We have burned the candle at both ends many a times on our trips and since our kids are – shall I say – picky sleepers, they don’t just take a quick nap if they are tired. And they don’t sleep usually in either. So if we don’t give them ample time to sleep at night, there’s a good chance that we’ll wind up with exhausted kids halfway through the vacation which can lead to grumpiness and whining.


  • Be realistic and ballpark it. Keep track of the amount of hours your kids sleep and adjust the schedule so that they are still getting a good amount. This does mean saying no to some things – they’ll survive and enjoy the things they are able to do more.
  • Get in bed early. If your kids take time to unwind like mine, make sure they are in bed early enough to read or watch something before you turn out the lights. They  may need more time to fall asleep because of the shift in routine. If you’re lucky, they’ll crash from all the activity.
  • Plan late nights/early mornings at the end of the trip or cushion it. If there is an activity that requires really late nights or early  mornings, do that at the end the of the trip so they can get a bit of rest during travel time. Or, simply make sure that the next day is very low-key with low activity expectations so they can recover.

2 – Bringing too many toys/books/entertainment 

Just thinking about kids being bored in the car can cause parents to break out in a cold sweat. Thinking about kids being bored for 10 hours in a car – holy cow!

To make sure we had enough things to keep the kids – mostly – busy on long trips, I’ve gone seriously overboard with snacks, library books, books on tape, cheap little travel activity books, devices, Barbies, doodle boards, etc.

Bringing tons of stuff in the car causes issues – less room to move, more pieces to keep up with, lots of rearranging, and extra trash in the car – and isn’t necessary for kids to enjoy car trips.


  • Bring a few items that have a lot of playtime in them. This depends on your child but things that have worked for us are: Nintendo 2DS, fun reference books that your kids haven’t seen before, and a Magna Doodle. New chapter books can also work if your child can and likes to read in the car.
  • Take frequent breaks. Stop often, even if it’s just for a few minutes, to move around, get rid of trash, etc.
  • Increase your unplugged expectation. Expect that your child can sit for some time without technology. They can look out the window, close their eyes, talk to someone else in the car, make up a story in their heads, play travel bingo, look for pictures in the clouds, have a snack, etc. 

3 – Packing {way} too much stuff

Haven’t we all been there? Before we had kids, my husband and I took a trip to Costa Rica. We loaded all of our clothes into a huge, rectangular black suitcase that came with a travel set we had gotten for our wedding.

Little did we know that that bag would need to be stuffed into crowded buses, loaded on top of iffy little boats, and lugged everywhere across rocky paths and hills. One time, I swear, the rickety boat we were in was going down and I believed it was our 30-lb. ridiculously stuffed suitcase that was the culprit.

Add kids to the mix and not only do you have more clothes and shoes but you have stuffed animals, entertainment, and all the extras that come with young kids.


  • Pack less of most things. Pack several shirts and bottoms and plan on airing clothing out or washing while on the road. Pack enough underwear so you are never without clean ones!
  • Small size it. Put toiletry items in smaller bottles and label, label, label. Encourage your child to pack small stuffed animals or little toys for entertainment.
  • Buy if need. If you are traveling to a big city, pack less toiletries keeping in mind that you will be able to buy many things easily.
  • Tiny help. Create a small first aid kit along with a thermometer and a few doses of pain/fever reducing medication so that you are prepared in an emergency. Plan to buy larger bottles while on vacation if there is actually an issue.
  • Hook it. Carry these lightweight, cheap hooks with you and hang them around your room so you keep clothes off the ground and let items air out. Use a spray to freshen them up or a small towel to spot clean.
  • Contain it. Keep things convenient and contained in separate cases so you prevent travel sprawl and can find things quickly instead of searching. I like separate cases for cords, devices, and medicine/first aid.

4 – Eating poorly

Eating fun and new food is part of the fun of traveling but, like sleep, good nutrition is a must for sustainable and consistent good moods. You may not see the effects of eating junk followed by junk right away, but eventually, most kids will experience some type of crash.


  • Clear expectations. Set your expectations before the trip so that your kids know that eating fun, treat food is a sometimes thing on vacation.
  • Clean food. Pack clean food for travel times – clean as in minimal ingredients and easy to eat on the go.
  • Eat treat food out. Choose to eat treat food out – such as Beignets in New Orleans or ice cream along the beach – but keep healthy food in your room.
  • Bring food with you. Bring portable plastic containers and keep clean food with you so that there is always something to munch on that is healthy.
  • Pick good restaurants. Plan to eat out at places that offer healthy – or healthier – options and order those instead of heavily fried foods.
  • Snack wisely. Choose fun food that isn’t laden with sugar to avoid sugar crashes.
  • Enjoy a little. If your kids want a treat but they’ve already had enough, buy a small size of the treat and share so each person just gets a few bites.

5 – Over planning and bad planning

It’s so tempting to do just one more cool thing…especially when it’s only a few blocks or hours away. After all, you’re right there – when will you get the chance to do this again?!

We did this recently on a Christmas trip to Alabama. We decided to “swing by” to visit good friends. It was only a 3-hour detour but on the tail end of a long trip, it was 3-hours-way-too-much. By the time we got home – at like 3 a.m. on Christmas Eve – I was an exhausted mess and we still had loads to unpack.

This wasn’t a big problem before kids – going from one place to another isn’t such a big deal. But most kids don’t appreciate museums/statues/restaurants/city streets as much as adults – no matter how historical/important/famous/or thrilling they are. I’ve found this is even true when it comes to kid-centered places like theme parks…my kids have a limit.


  • Be realistic. Things always take longer than you think. Give your family enough time to really be someplace and make the most of it instead of trying to do more.
  • Be aware of timing. As kids get more tired, they will probably be less willing to go lots of places.
  • Pay attention to the weather. Walking on trails in a beautiful park may be wonderful…but not if it’s 100 degrees out. Think about the best time to visit a location and if the weather doesn’t cooperate, consider doing something else.
  • Think about traffic. We go to Panama City often and the traffic on the main street is horrible in the afternoon. Sitting in the car for an hour to go out to eat isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time so we always stay at the hotel during rush hour.

6 – Driving late at night

To be fair, I know some families do this and are able to pull this off just fine! If you can do this well, go for it. If you are like us, avoid this at all costs.

You read about my Alabama situation above. On that same trip, we ended up on tiny back roads in bad weather in the middle of the night in who-knows-what-state. We almost ran out of gas due to a traffic issue, and I was beyond tired so I was irritated and a drag to be around. And then I was wrecked the next day – not to mention how tired my kids were – because I ended up sleeping just a few hours early in the morning.


  • Stop early. Plan on stopping early enough to give the family time to swim, eat, take showers, and relax before going to bed.
  • Choose wisely. Choose an early start over a later night.
  • Night travel. If you do have to travel during the night, plan to do it at the end of the trip so you have time to relax afterwards.

7 – Not thinking things through

“That road looks iffy…but we can make it in our old, big minivan, right?”

These were words spoken years ago when we were at Big Bend National Park. A rocky, unpaved road loomed in front of us and snow clouds gathered overhead. We weren’t used to driving on such rough roads but we really, really, really wanted to check out the trail and come on, what were the chances of anything happening?

Fast forward 30 minutes and there we were with a tired 4-year-old, freezing temperatures, sunset upon us, and one very flat tire. Oh and did I mention that Big Bend is huge and remote – as in really, really huge and remote?

I’d like to say that was the only time something like that happened. But it’s not. There was the mountain-bike-no-water experience and the running-late-to-LaGuardia experience and the scary-hot-desert experience.

Adventures can be fun and they are definitely memorable. But I prefer adventures where I’m not stressing over the safety of my kids or worried about missing a flight. You can’t control everything and none of the above-mentioned situations put us in serious danger, but there was just enough of a touch of it to remind me to think through new situations.


  • Ask people. If you are doing anything outdoors, talk to the people running the place and ask them to give it to you straight.
  • Consider experience and temperaments. Think about your family and be realistic about what their experience and comfort levels.
  • Respect Mother. Don’t mess with mother nature and be realistically cautious when dealing with weather, animals, and different terrain.
  • Use common sense. If you think it’s going to be hot at 2 p.m. in the summer in Texas, you’re probably right. If you think it’s going to be stupidly hot – you’re probably even more correct. Don’t think sleds and sand are going to make the oppressive heat suddenly fun.

8 – Leaving {important} things behind

When my daughter was two she fell madly in love with a penguin at Kohl’s. Madly – as in forever. We bought one for her and her brother and she contentedly fell asleep rubbing her beak for years. {Pengy is still a beloved stuffed animal!}

So, of course Pengy joined us for vacations.  And, of course, Pengy fell between the bed and wall in one of our hotel rooms. That happened to be the time my husband was the last one out of the room and I didn’t remind him to thoroughly check for things we had left behind.

On the way home we realized Pengy was gone but thankfully, thankfully, her brother had a backup. He sweetly gave it to her and it was years before she realized that hers had found a new home.


  • An easy solution. Make sure you do a room sweep before you go and are the last one out the door.
  • Keep loved items in mind. Each time you leave someplace, have your kids check to see if they have their most treasured items. It may be stuffed animals when they are younger and evolve into phones or devices. 

So, there we have it – lessons learned the hard way. Oh, and there’s one more. I didn’t include it in the list because I seriously doubt most people would even consider doing this. My husband thought I was out of my mind when I told him what I was going to do. He was right. 

I try to store most things in glass jars and seldom use plastic. So, I figured I would bring food from home and load it up in the glass jars, wash them in the condo kitchen, and store fresh food in the them for the trip home. None of that happened! I was on vacation and the last thing I wanted to be doing was washing containers and cutting up fruit in the tiny, kitchen area. 

I was wrong.

I ended up lugging stupid glass jars from Texas to Florida and back again.

Yep, another travel lesson learned the hard way. But hey, nothing broke on the way. I consider that a consolation prize. 


I’ve made an infograph to help you remember these tips the next time you are planning a trip. I hope it helps your whole family have a relaxing and fun vacation. (Coming Soon!)

Family Vacation Mistakes