Travel Channel expert Tracy Gallagher offers a wealth of insider information for every aspect of leisure travel, from family vacations in the United States to exotic trips around the world. She is best known as the host of the upbeat interstitials that have aired for years on the Travel Channel to promote various aspects of the network’s programming.
Tracy also happens to be working with Hanes and is helping to provide parenting tips for their website.
We got the chance to interview Tracy on traveling with children and asked her how to make those family trips a tad more bearable… and even really fun!
It’s all in the mindset. If you start off worrying how hard it is going to be instead of focusing on the adventure, it will be more trouble. Stay calm – if you get stressed, your kids will get stressed. Get your kids involved from the beginning: ask them to help plan and depending on how old they are, carefully explain that traveling can be tiring and hard and that you as parents need their cooperation. There will be times when everyone is tired, possibly can’t understand the language, and when the kids get a bit bored, but they really need to do their best to not get grumpy.
First thing’s first – make sure the kids are comfortable! Long gone are the days when moms dressed their kids in dressy clothes just for a plane ride. Get your kids in comfy clothes – I always make sure mine are wearing Hanes underwear; they love the super-soft waistband and the tagless design to eliminate in-seat squirming, especially on long trips. I also encourage them to wear layers; from airports to rental cars to trains, everywhere has a different temperature. A Hanes hoodie lets them put on or shed a layer whenever they want. Finally, I always pack an extra t-shirt or pants depending on how much room I have. That way, if your kids spill (and chances are they will!) you’re prepared and won’t have to face any future complaining.
Get the kids in on the action by having them carry something, especially if you’re traveling by train or plane. It makes them happy and involved and it can also help spread the burden around, especially if they are bit older. Even younger children can carry their own kid-sized backpacks with all their stuff. Kids love to emulate their parents and having their own suitcase or backpack actually makes them feel empowered and like a big kid!
If you have more than one child, be strategic with how you sit on the plane or train. If your son loves to poke your daughter on a regular basis, it might make sense to separate them into two rows (if you can) to cut down on time spent both refereeing and apologizing to nearby passengers. A car poses closer quarters so try to keep your kids entertained with fun games and toys – code words for distractions.
Once you’ve arrived, give your kids choices of things they’d like to do on the trip- they are less likely to complain about something they choose. I also encourage my kids to start a scrapbook, so while we’re visiting different places, they can also keep busy looking for things to fill their scrapbooks. Last resort – it is always good to have a portable DVD…or now you can even play movies on a computer or iPhone! Kids are kids and can only take so much moving around. Some downtime in front of a movie to unwind isn’t a bad thing, and if you are in a hotel it gives you a chance to plan the next day of your trip…or just relax yourself!
One of my biggest concerns with traveling is the amount of money we are spending on our travels. Do you have any money-saving tips that you could offer to parents?
Spend some quality time preparing for your trip by looking for things that are free to do in each destination. Look for locations that might be hosting free concerts, carnivals or festivals during your stay; research local trails to hike or free beaches to explore; determine which zoos or museums have free admission and when. Use your hotel concierge – ask when the best and least expensive time is to visit local tourist hot sports. Or, inquire about those hot spots off the beaten path – maybe there is a local bookstore that hosts a reading for children or an arts & crafts store that holds a free class each week – you never know!
Try a home exchange – that gives you free lodging, plus a house with a kitchen so you don’t have to eat every meal out. Travel off-season by going when the crowds are thin, especially if you can take your kids out of school a few days. Get a hotel room with a sofa bed for the kids so you don’t have to get an extra room.
What are some fun ways to keep children entertained when going on long trips?
In our car, we pack all kinds of music so the kids can sing, which helps keep them engaged and happy. We also do brain teasers. We talk about our destination and what each member of the family is excited to do once we get there. At the top of each hour, we break out special present or snack (but, no chocolate! If it melts, it gets everywhere!).
On planes, word searches, magna doodles, a deck of cards, are all invaluable. I also like books that allow kids to change the endings allowing for multiple reads. And once again, a movie is not a cop out.
One of my favorite ideas, no matter how we’re traveling, is putting together customized travel kits for each of my kids themed according to our destination. Just grab a brown paper bag, put their name on the front and fill them with all sorts of goodies. From healthy snacks to stickers to comic strips, their travel kits don’t have to cost much and are like spontaneous presents.
Finally, no matter how we’re traveling I like to encourage my kids to take something from home with them. Kids love the routine of home and so a favorite doll, pillow or blanket will put them at ease while on the road.
How can parents save money when it comes to dining on their travels?
Again, do your research. Look for hotels where kids eat for free or offer kids menus. A lot of places also offer free breakfasts. Stay in a home or hotel room with a small kitchenette so you can cook some meals yourself. That is a big money saver – even if you just eat one meal here.
Try not to order room service – that translates to higher prices and service fees…instead, pack your own snacks and put them in the hotel fridge. Explain to your kids (and husband) that the mini bar is off limits!!!
What are some fun and family friendly destinations that families should definitely visit?
Alaska – for the great outdoors…kayaking next to otters and bald eagles is amazing.
Washington DC – so many things are free like the National Mall and all its beautiful monuments.
The U.S. Mint is so cool to see money being made and the Smithsonian museums are top notch.
Hawaii – on Maui, we went zip lining, hiking, kayaking…it’s not just about sitting on a beach, but you can do that too! Lots of hotels also offer morning or all-day camps for the kids.
Galapagos Islands: for older kids.
And of course – Orlando and San Diego! C’mon! It may not be that original an idea, but they are only kids once
Do you have any tips for keeping your children safe when embarking on trips?
I make copies of their passports and keep an extra copy at home and another copy in my suitcase. I try and dress each child in the same color each day, so if in case anything did happen to one of them, I could tell the authorities what color they are wearing by looking at my other children.
Always talk to your children about the dangers associated with being in a new place…unfamiliar surroundings, new way around, etc. Make sure to come up with a plan if someone gets lost, and also give your child the name of where you are staying and a phone number on a piece of paper for his or her pocket.
Sound Off: Is your family embarking on a trip for spring break? What is your best travel tip?