Holiday Travel Tips for Families

Getting to Grandma’s house — or anywhere, really — during the busiest times of the winter holidays can be challenging with kids and luggage in tow. You may wonder: Will all of these gifts get through security? Can I keep the kids entertained on the road? How do I make the season special when we’re not at home to trim the tree or light the lights?

Here are a few easy holiday travel tips to make your season bright, even when you’re far from home.

Pack Smart for Your Holiday Getaway

Fitting everyone’s clothes, toiletry bags, toys and gifts into a few suitcases may seem like a big, bulky task. But you can do it with these holiday packing hacks.

Create space in your suitcase. Using vacuum-sealed storage bags makes it easier to pack and organize bulky winter clothes. To keep things organized, use separate bags for each traveler. Also, wear your heaviest clothes on the plane; carrying your winter parka will keep you warm during the flight and save space in your suitcase.

Leave your gifts unwrapped. Because the Transportation Security Administration has the right to unwrap anything in your suitcase, it’s best to wait until you get to your destination to prepare your gifts. If you’re worried your kids will sneak a peek at their unwrapped gifts when you’re packing or unpacking, put things in gift bags that are easy for TSA reps to open should they need to.

Pack a duffel bag. You can count on your kids getting more gifts than you know what to do with — or certainly more than you have room for. To accommodate the presents and other extras you’ll be bringing home, pack a spare collapsible duffel bag for the return trip.

Rent a car. Having your own set of wheels at your destination means you can safely transport your luggage — avoiding the hassle of hauling gifts, gear and suitcases onto buses and trains — and it gives you the freedom to go where you want to go, when you want to go. For example, renting a car makes it convenient to zip off to the store to buy gift-wrapping supplies.


Get Out of the House (or Hotel)

You might be visiting relatives on this holiday trip, but you can still get away for a full-on family vacation. Here’s how to make the most of your time.

Take day trips. There is a lot more to be done than gathering around the tree or sitting down for a holiday meal. Hop in your rental car and go sledding or ice skating or visit a national park. Ask your Alamo rental car agent for suggestions on where to go, or check out these family travel guides to find local unique, kid-friendly spots to make memories with your gang.

Drive down memory lane. If you’re spending the holidays in your hometown, give your kids a tour of where you grew up, especially any parts that are decked out for the holidays. Show them your old elementary school. Grab a scoop at the local ice cream shop. Stop by the roller-skating rink, bowling alley or pizza place where you had your grade-school birthday parties. It’s good to remind your kids that you were young once, too — and everyone will have fun in the process.

Take lots of pictures. You’ll want to capture memories of your little adventurers zipping down that sledding hill or slinging snowballs in the park. So bring your camera — or, better yet, leave it at home and use your smartphone with a versatile photo or video app for professional-looking shots.

Build a library of useful travel apps. Save time and data minutes by downloading a few apps before you leave town: Charmin’s Sit or Squat app shows nearby public restrooms and rates them on a cleanliness scale; your airline’s app may have free kid-friendly in-flight entertainment; and the Alamo app gives you 24/7 access to customer support related to your rental car.


Add a Dash of Holiday Spirit

Just because you’re staying at a hotel or someone else’s house doesn’t mean you can’t bring a bit of “home for the holidays” with you. “Maintaining traditions will help your kids get in the spirit,” says Parents magazine editor Julia Edelstein. Here are some ideas.

Listen to holiday music in the car. Music has a magical way of getting people in the mood. Reserve a car with SiriusXM, and you can listen to dedicated holiday music channels while you’re out exploring.

Bring seasonal activities and snacks. To set the tone for the festivities to come, Edelstein and fellow Parents editor Karen Cicero encourage parents to bring along meaningful media, such as holiday-themed audiobooks or picture books, and seasonal snacks, like candy canes, gingerbread men, peppermint popcorn or gelt. (To save space, consider packing the snacks you need for the flight and then buying additional festive foods once you arrive at your destination.)

Keep holiday traditions alive. Does Elf on the Shelf visit your family every year? Do you have a favorite menorah? What about special holiday ornaments or decorations? If these treasured items aren’t too fragile to travel, bring them with you to keep the holidays feeling like home. And don’t stop there: Let your kids pick out a few new decorations at your destination to build your trove of memories for seasons to come.

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About the Author

Melissa Heckscher is a freelance writer and mother of three living in Los Angeles. You can read more of her work at