The Movable Circus: Traveling with Family

Here are a few smart tips to make life easier and your adventure more fun.

Picture this: You have two weeks off and want to hit the road, or beach or trail. The good news is that your parents are game for an adventure, as is your family. The bad news is that you’re going nuts trying to plan a trip that will be interesting and entertaining for travelers from toddlers to teenagers to retirees.

Here is some expert advice on how to make the most of family travel:

Divide and Conquer

If you have a big group, consider the divide and conquer approach to travel. Some people like to start the day early, and move quickly through activities. Others prefer hitting the snooze button, lingering over coffee, window-shopping and taking the day one step at a time. Propose a schedule A and B; one can be for the fast and furious crowd, and the other for the more mellow, laid-back travelers. Then plan on meeting for lunch or rendezvousing for cocktails and Shirley Temples before a big group dinner. For outdoor activities, like hiking, biking and paddling, consider two groups as well; one for the recreational group and the other for those who move fast and go long.

Pack Smart

Make a packing list before you leave. Pack light; travel is always easier if you have just what you need and nothing more.  Once you’ve packed, take time to go through your duffle a second time to pull out non-essential gear. The must-bring list should include a brimmed hat or ball cap, rain shell, lightweight jacket, and comfortable walking shoes. Everyone should have one “dress up” outfit, just in case. Small daypacks are great for the car, train, boat or plain. When you are not in travel mode, you can repack these for a day hike or afternoon of sightseeing and shopping.

Keep Kids Busy

If you have young children, spoil them and yourself by staying for a night or two in a hotel that has kid’s clubs and even babysitting services at night. Places like the historic Sagamore on New York’s Lake George have extensive activities for kids that are fun, educational, and offer a quick immersion into the cool local you’re visiting. Others, like the stately Broadmoor in Colorado have pee wee tennis, canoeing, and even hiking and zip-lining. Many bigger hotels offer movie night or have an A-list of on-staff babysitters available who will watch your children in your room. Fancier hotels do cost more than the standard travel lodge, but many times you’ll save money by having a host of fun activities at your fingertips.

Save Money by having Slumber Party Nights

Mixing up accommodations when you travel can save money and be fun. For quick stopovers while in transit, like that airport hotel or by-the-interstate motel, save money by packing into a single room. Turn the evening into a slumber party, complete with pizza, popcorn and an old movie. You can often put kids on the floor in sleeping bags, someone on the couch, and the usual two-people per double bed. Use the money you saved on that extra room to splurge on a historic hotel or special dinner.

RELATED: Essentials for family car camping

Balance your Food Budget

Practice the 2:1 rule for eating out. You can save money for really nice dinners by buying fresh food in local stores (or bakeries) for breakfast and lunch. Compile a shopping list for muffins or croissants, fresh fruit and juice. Most of these items can be stored without refrigeration so you can stock up for a few days. Everyone should have a water bottle, but for group meals on the go, consider recyclable paper cups and plates.

Start Early

On days when you are sightseeing, especially if you’re visiting iconic tourist attractions, get an early start. While much of the  rest of the world is glued to the standard workday, you’re on vacation. That means you can get up early and go to bed early, if that fits your schedule. Of course you could sleep in, but to make the most of your trip, plan on getting to museums, monuments and beaches early. Then there’s less waiting in line—and you can always take a nap before dinner. Don’t forget to check operating schedules in advance if there’s a place you don’t want to miss.

Get Outdoors

Make exercise a priority. Even if your vacation is more urban than backcountry, there are bound to be places where you can rent a SUP or bike. Plus everyone will feel better if they’ve gotten some fresh air and hiked, biked or swam. Do some research in advance to see if there’s a local hike that delivers you to a spectacular viewpoint. Tailor activities to people’s level of physical fitness but set aside a few hours a day for physical fitness.