How to Have a Great Family Trip

Note: I originally wrote this in 2012 for my (no longer active) Houston Field Trips blog. -Rachel

At the time of this post, our family has been traveling, camping, and enjoying field trips with our children for over 12 years.  We’ve found two things significantly contribute to the “success” of a trip.

1. Being Prepared

2. Don’t sweat the small stuff & just enjoy the adventure.

Be Prepared

Know all you can about the event/location.  Where is it?  When is it?  Where is the parking?  Is there a cost or time limit for parking?  Are there bathrooms?  What is the target audience?  Is there a place inside or nearby to picnic?

Can they accommodate any special needs you have?  Can you bring outside food?  Is it appropriate for strollers or wheelchairs?  Is there an area for diaper changing or nursing?

Prepare your children for the event.  I’m not talking about “schooly pre-test” here.  Just have conversations with the children about the plans for the day.  It’s an excellent idea to cover proper etiquette for the venue.  Practice your “museum voice” together.  Discuss any family rules about distance from the parent (holding hands, arms reach, line of sight, etc.)  Plan where they should go or who they should talk to if you’re separated.  If applicable, let them know of any specific times for presentations, snacks/lunch, exploring or at least the order of events.     If it’s a family-led tour – sit down together & discuss what they’re most interested in seeing.  If there will be “extra costs” once inside that you’ve decided to skip (like the midway games at the fair), be clear with your children that it isn’t in the budget this time around.  Oh, and our kids’ favorite, “How long is the drive?”

Stock the car.  Nothing dampens a trip (and everyone’s mood) like having to leave because you ran out of diapers or the 4-year-old spilled his drink & doesn’t have another shirt.  Depending on how much room you have in your vehicle, consider keeping these things on-hand all the time.  If you’re tight on trunk space, prioritize on what is most important (or most likely to be needed) and be sure to bring it along.  We regularly bring: medication, first aid kit, change of clothes (even an extra shirt for Dad & Mom), extra snacks, picnic blanket, rain ponchos, camping chairs, Kleenex, a roll of paper towels, beach towels, and a collapsible wagon.  For longer car trips we also bring books, magnetic games, BrainQuest decks, and Audio Books.

Set a budget.  If you plan several trips a month, this will help you prioritize which trips you want to take and still stay within your means.  On more than one occasion we’ve been sad to have to cancel an event we really wanted to do because we “jumped” at other events in the meantime & spent all our Field Trip money.  Some questions to help you decide: What is the cost of the event for the family?  Do you have to prepay?  Do they accept cash, checks, &/or credit cards?  Are there any additional costs for extra activities/experiences once there?  What are the fuel costs?  Will you be bringing or buying snacks & meals?  How much do you have to spend on souvenirs?   Are the kids allowed to spend their own money?  Consider keeping envelopes for each event & putting the cash needed as well as what it’s for inside.  We have a separate checking account and a running ledger of what the money put aside is for.

Enjoy the Adventure

At some point, decide that you are as prepared as possible and you are just going to enjoy yourselves.  Don’t stress over small hiccups, be flexible, and keep the attitude that everything is a learning experience ~ even if it doesn’t go as planned.

Wondering Why Take Field Trips? or interested in Tips for Planning a Group Trip.


Learn more about Rachel on our Contributors page.