Traveling families face many challenges during the holidays. Here are some  tips to keep spirits bright, safe and sane this busy travel season.

Article Contributer Kit Bernardi

Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go … all because of a highway detour. ’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the airport, not a plane was departing … because of a snowstorm. Keep your chin up, though. There are ways to anticipate Grinchiness and make the most of your family vacation.

Take the “lug” out of luggage.

Ship bulky outdoor clothing, pre-wrapped presents and any special family needs to your destination to lighten your load and avoid airline extra baggage fees. On the way home, instead of hauling unopened goods with you, gift them to a local day care. Also, ask family or friends if they have kids’ toys and baby gear such as car seats, cribs and strollers you can borrow. 

Shop when you stop.

Consider gift shopping and the purchase of baby formula, diapers and any other kids’ essentials at local retailers in your destination. Besides supporting them, you’ll experience the holiday like a local, from browsing festively decked-out stores to community Santa visits. If gift recipients want to return something, it will be easy to do right in their hometown.

Make a list and check paperwork twice.

If traveling internationally, check passport expiration dates for everyone in the family. Some countries require six months validity remaining on a passport to permit entry. In the U.S., standard passport processing takes up to five weeks and up to three for expedited service. Make sure that you have the right visas and any required (or even highly recommended) immunizations. If parents, especially those with different last names, are traveling separately with their children under age 18, each must carry signed and notarized permission letters authorizing children’s travel , as well as the children’s birth certificates (a worthwhile security measure to thwart child abduction). Checks really do happen. 

Include kids in travel planning.

When kids share ownership in the travel planning process, they are much more likely to participate in a trip’s joys and pains. Show them maps, mileage, time zones, seating charts and more. Let them choose their own books and download movies for the trip, and join in selecting holiday activities on site. Invite them to take photos for the family album and caption them for use on Facebook and Instagram.

Manage tick-tock travel day anxieties.

Whether catching a flight or pulling into a driveway in time for dinner, watching the clock creates travel day tension. Allow extra time for heavy traffic and long lines. If driving, plan for rest stops so kids can expend energy.

Snacks, wipes and pockets make everything easier.

Surprise snacks head off meltdowns. Forego sugary foods to keep energy levels manageable. Bring your own water bottles to refill (after security screening) thus making it easier to supply kids with beverages on demand, versus when flight attendants serve. Carry travel-sized hand sanitizer and wipes for quick cleaning of seats, tabletops and hotel room surfaces. Always remember that misplacing important stuff like favorite toys and cell phones can trigger travel stress, so take extra care with them. 

Cash in on holiday savings.

Try traveling on the actual holiday, as opposed to the day before and after. It usually offers attractive pricing and saves time due to smaller crowds. Check travel purveyors’ websites to take advantage last minute deals. 

Relieve worries about leaving pets at home.

Make a kennel-stay, holiday goodie bag for your dog. Have kenel staff text you photos of his tail-wagging. 

Keep little believers’ holiday spirits bright.

Little ones worry about missing Santa when not in their own homes. So consider traveling on Christmas Day in the afternoon, or the next day. But sometimes that’s not possible. 

What’s your favorite family travel tip for the holidays? Share in the comment.