The holidays can be stressful when you’re trying to balance work, school, and family. Throw in a trip to see relatives or escape to someplace warm, and it gets even more complicated. With these seven holiday travel tips for families, you’ll have a much better experience and save some money. That way, you won’t get a nasty post-holiday surprise when your credit card bills arrive.

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Holiday Travel - InterContinental Presidente Cozumel with Timothy Scarlett Anna
We visited the InterContinental Presidente Cozumel after Christmas in December 2021.

7 Holiday travel tips for families

In this podcast episode, Anna and I talked with our kids about holiday travel tips for families. These are the strategies we use to reduce stress, save money, and keep everyone happy… Ok, maybe not always happy. But, at least we minimize the drama and emotional damage for everyone involved.

Balancing work, school, and family responsibilities

Between work, school, sports, and other family responsibilities, it can be a challenge to balance it all. If your kids are young (pre-high school), missing a few days shouldn’t matter as long as you give the teachers advance notice. In our district, we’re allowed five parent-excused absences per semester without question. Teachers may allow kids to do make-up work before leaving or when they get back to ensure that your students don’t fall behind.

Many kids play sports or have other extracurricular activities (like band, STEM classes, or dance) that dominate their schedule. Most of these services avoid scheduling practices or events around the holidays because they know so many kids will be traveling. Talk with your coaches ahead of time to get the calendar to avoid any mandatory events.

Getting time off from work around the holidays is tough in normal circumstances. And with so many unfilled positions, companies need workers to be present more than ever. Talk with your boss ahead of time to plan out your vacation. And, if your position allows it, consider working remotely for part of the trip if needed to ensure that you get approval. However, make sure you get credit for those days worked instead of counting them as vacation days.

Avoid peak travel days

Our family tries to avoid peak travel days, like the weekend before Christmas or the day before Thanksgiving. Not only does this help us avoid crowds, but it also saves us money. Airfares and hotels are typically cheaper when you avoid the peak days. And it also makes it easier for us to use miles and points to pay for our trips.

Using miles & points to cover travel expenses

Airline miles and hotel points have been a huge win for our family. We’ve been able to travel the world for a fraction of the cash prices thanks to our travel and credit card rewards. While it can be a challenge for some families to book, one of our favorite tools for finding flights is called Point Me. Use our Point Me referral link to start your account today.

Remember that it’s still a win for your budget if you can pay for a portion of your trip using miles and points. Maybe you can cover one way of your round-trip flight using miles, or you have enough hotel points to cover half of your hotel nights. Either way, you could be saving hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars by using travel rewards. Check out our free email course called 7 Days to Your Dream Vacation For Less to start saving more money on your trips.

Sign up to speed past airport security and customs

Airport security lines can be frustratingly slow. And taking off your shoes, removing liquids from your bags, and putting your iPad in a separate bin is a pain-in-the-a$$. When you have TSA PreCheck, you can use dedicated security lanes that have a less-intrusive body scanner and are typically faster than normal lines. Plus, you can keep your shoes on and leave your electronics and liquids in your bag. Compare the difference between Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, and CLEAR to determine which membership program is best for the way you travel. And you can get Global Entry or TSA PreCheck for free when you sign up using one of these credit cards that reimburse your application fees.

Freeze liquids to get through security

By now, we all know you cannot take liquids larger than 3 ounces through airport security. But did you know that if they are frozen solid, it is totally fine? Yes, this is true per the TSA website. This is a great way to bring your favorite drink on your flight without paying for overpriced drinks at the airport or waiting for the flight attendant to take your order.

Best time of day to fly with kids

The answer to this question depends on how old your kids are. The best time of day to fly with babies is during their natural naptimes. If you time it right, they’ll settle in and nurse or bottle-feed for a cozy nap. Toddlers can sleep anywhere and often do best with red-eye flights. Just run them around the airport for a little while before your flight (or use the airport playground, if they offer one), and they’ll knock out on the plane.

Older kids aged 6 years and up also do well with later flights. We typically show up at the airport with the kids in jammies, let them watch movies on their iPads for a little while, then go to sleep once the flight is in the air. And when they get to around 10 years old and older, go ahead and book the early-morning flights. It may be a challenge getting them to go to sleep before their normal bedtime, but they should be good about waking up early. They may even catch some additional Zzzzz’s when they get on the plane.

How to keep kids entertained & well-behaved

When traveling, it’s time to pause normal parenting rules. Kids can have the food they don’t normally eat, and they can watch more TV than usual. Whatever it takes to keep them entertained and well-behaved. You don’t want to be “those parents” who don’t have your kids under control at the airport, hotel, or wherever you’re at.

We make sure that their iPads are fully charged, loaded with games and shows, and remove the time controls that normally limit their consumption. Anna and I also bring portable batteries that can recharge devices in case the plane doesn’t have power, we’re too far away from plugs at the airport, or the rental car doesn’t have charging capabilities. Most subscription services (like Netflix, Disney, Amazon Prime, and Hulu) allow users to download shows and movies to watch without an internet connection.

It’s also a good idea to download the airline’s mobile app before leaving for the airport. Most of them offer free music, TV shows, and movies while in flight. However, you can’t download the app while flying. The apps usually have a map and distance remaining icon, so you don’t have to listen to your kids say “are we there yet?” or “how much longer?”

We also bring our kids’ favorite snacks when we travel. This avoids overpaying for snacks at the airport shops and ensures that we can have some healthy options within reach. And we also buy some cheap presents from the dollar store that we can surprise our kids with. Coloring books, toys, stuffed animals, and other goodies are a great way to keep them entertained. Just stay away from things that have small parts that are easily lost, like Legos. Otherwise, the fun surprise could turn into a major meltdown in a hurry.

Big thanks to today’s podcast partner – Bluffworks

This episode is brought to you, in part, by Bluffworks. Whether I’m traveling for business or pleasure, it’s important to have clothes that make me look good AND feel great. I wear Bluffworks jeans, slacks, dress shirts, and blazers because they’re wrinkle-free and are designed for the modern traveler. And if they get dirty, a quick spin in the washing machine and they’re good as new.

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Save 10% with promo code “LEE”

Go to WeTravelThere.com/bluffworks and use the promo code from the image below to save 10% off your order. There are many styles to fit your needs so you can stay wrinkle-free when you travel.

Holiday Travel - Gulf Shores Alabama OWA with Timothy Scarlett Lee
The kids and I visited the beach at Gulf Shores for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony in November 2019. We were lucky to have amazing weather in late fall.

Stay tuned for our next episode

Listen to the next episode when Tim Grossmann, the founder of the Explo App, shares the best things to do in Kiel, Germany. In this episode, Tim and I talk about visiting the Laboe Naval Memorial, exploring the U995 submarine from World War II, and attending Kiel Week, the largest sailing event in Europe. We hope you’ll join us when We Travel There.

What’s your favorite part of holiday travel? Send us a Tweet, let us know in the comment section below, or continue the discussion in our Facebook group!

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Related episodes

If you want to learn more about family travel and saving money on your next vacation, please listen to our other episodes.