Little Boy with Toy Airplane; Courtesy of Evgeny Atamanenko/
All Ages

12 Mind-Blowing Vacation Hacks You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

See recent posts by Wendy Helfenbaum

Before you had kids, you likely left for vacation with just one thing to do: relax. But once children come along, your days of winging it are pretty much over. Now, you need a battle plan. From exploding diapers on long plane rides to discovering you left your only phone charger at home, the adventure never stops. That’s why we’ve compiled the ultimate list of (little-known) smart travel hacks to make parents’ lives way easier when traveling.

Kids Playing with Stomp Rockets; Courtesy of Amazon

Road Trips

1. Make Frequent Stops

To avoid going stir-crazy inside your packed car, make regular stops during which your gang can run around (and, hopefully, tire themselves out enough to nap afterwards). Pack active games like Frisbee Rings, Stomp Rockets or giant bubble wands. These short breaks will go a long way to avoid meltdowns—trust us.

Hanging Shoe Organizer with Clear Pockets; Courtesy of Amazon

2. Create an Activity Center

Make your own activity centers for the car: Pick up a hanging shoe organizer with clear pockets, and fill each one with art supplies, decks of cards or magnetic games. Hang it from the front seat headrests. Or, have one organizer for activities, and another for water bottles and snacks. Your kids can then grab what they want without whining (well, one can always hope…).

Scavenger Hunt Game for Kids; Courtesy of Amazon

3. Personalize Games

Create a road trip scavenger hunt game before you leave: Gather clip-art images online of things your children are likely to spot on the road, print out a few copies and have prizes for whoever finishes the page first.

Joto Waterproof Case; Courtesy of Amazon

On an Airplane

4. Entertain Effortlessly

On many short-haul flights, there’s no TV smack in front of your child’s face. If you didn’t think to pre-load a tablet with movies or shows, grab a clear zippered plastic bag, slip your phone in it and hang it off the table tray hook for instant screen time! If you don’t have a tablet but like this idea, consider purchasing a waterproof pouch for your phone—not only will it work the same way as the zippered bag on the plane, but it will also be useful when you’re heading to the pool or out on a boat ride.

Paper Straws; Courtesy of Amazon

5. Prevent Spills

In addition to making sure everyone in the family has a complete change of clothing in their carry-on bag, bring along a few silicone toppers, straws for your children’s cups, or a reusable water bottle so they don’t spill their drinks and have to use said change of clothing.

Related: Must-Haves for Your Kids’ Carry-On Bags 

Art Supply Box; Courtesy of Amazon

6. Pack Snacks

Fill a couple of small plastic craft supply boxes with snacks such as crackers, pretzels, dried fruit and cereal. These can be refilled throughout your trip and tucked into your daypack. Looking for snack ideas? Check out 13 Healthy Road Trip Snacks Your Kids Will Actually Enjoy for more ideas.

USB Port; Courtesy of Amazon

At Your Hotel

7. Charge It

No phone charger? No worries! Most hotel TVs have a USB port in the back that can be used in a pinch.

Pool Noodles; Courtesy of Amazon

8. Think Outside the Box

Rather than pay to check another bag with your baby’s safety rail for the hotel bed, pack a couple of pool noodles inside the perimeter of your suitcase, or pick up a couple at a surf shop upon arrival. Slip them under the fitted sheet, and voilà: instant bed rail.

Time Tokens; Courtesy of Amazon

9. Limit Screen Time

Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean throwing all family rules out the window. If you prefer to limit your children’s screen time, but don’t want to nag them throughout the entire trip, here’s one solution: Time Tokens are colorful paper vouchers that help kids and parents select how much screen time is appropriate at the moment. A husband-and-wife team came up with this innovative (and very portable) way to manage electronic device usage for children ages 6 and up, inspired by their own struggles with their two kids.

Milk; Courtesy of Amazon

At the Pool or Beach

10. Soothe Sunburn

Your child gets sunburn, despite you re-applying sunscreen several times during the day—it happens! But you forgot to pack aloe vera gel and there’s no drug store nearby. No problem. Soak a washcloth in milk, wring it out and gently hold it on the affected area. The protein in the milk will relieve the pain and soothe the skin.

Related: Does Natural Sunscreen Actually Work?

Table Vinegar; Courtesy of Amazon

11. Be Prepared

Speaking of skin irritations, keep a few packets of vinegar from fast-food restaurants in your beach bag; they’ll come in handy if someone in the family gets stung by a jellyfish.

Related: How to Make Your Own Travel First-Aid Kit

Balloons; Courtesy of Amazon

12. Prevent Discomfort 

If your child practically lives in the pool—and whose kids don’t?!—chances are some water will stay in her ears afterwards. Bring along a pack of balloons. Blowing helps unblock ears, and filling up a whole balloon will ease the discomfort.

Montreal-based Wendy Helfenbaum is a journalist, content strategist and TV producer who writes for dozens of digital and print magazines, as well as many brands. Wendy loves cruising, adventure travel and venturing off the beaten path with her husband and teenage son, and she can pack a carry-on bag like nobody’s business. Follow her @WendyHelfenbaum.

What to Pack for Your Next Trip

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

Our team of parents and travel experts chooses each product and service we recommend. Anything you purchase through links on our site may earn us a commission.