suitcasesTraveling shouldn’t feel like another job. It should be fun, even when you’re traveling with the kids. Here are five tips to help lower your stress level and keep everyone happy.

1. Power up.

Never leave home without a power strip. It will come in handy at the airport and in the hotel. There are never enough easily accessible plugs in either place. At the airport, if the lone plug has already been taken, politely ask if you can plug in your power strip, then plug in his phone and laptop first, before plugging in your phone, the kids’ DS and DVD player. At the hotel, the power strip becomes a charging station. No more need to move furniture in search of an outlet or worry about forgetting the charger you plugged in behind the bed.


2. Take a picture–in the parking garage.

No one wants to ruin that vacation afterglow by a two-hour trek through the parking garage trying to remember where the SUV is parked. Simply shoot a photo of the parking spot before you unload the trunk and you’ll know exactly where to find your car when you return.

3. Bring a map.

It will come in handy if the GPS crashes and it can be great fun for kids. They can follow the progress of the road trip and look for nearby sites that might be worth a stop. The GPS might tell you where the nearest Starbuck’s is, but it probably doesn’t know that you’re only 30 miles from the town where Aunt Sarah grew up. Or, in my case, that we were driving within a half-inch (on the map) of Plaines, Ga., home of former President Jimmy Carter. We took a detour and spent a pleasant afternoon exploring his presidential museum. If we had stopped on a Sunday, we could have heard him teaching Sunday School.

4. Pack one essentials bag.

Put a toothbrush, jammies and one change of clothes for each family member into a single suitcase. If you fly, it’s your carry-on with the necessities in case a checked bag is lost. If you drive, it saves you from unpacking the entire car for every one-night stop. Don’t forget to toss in the bathing suits so the kids can head to the hotel pool and burn off some of that pent up energy.

5. Bring snacks.

Whether you’re flying or driving, food and drink is the key to keeping kids happy. Choose water–it doesn’t stain when it spills–and leave the salty snacks at home. They just increase thirst, which increases drinking, which increases the need for potty breaks. My family’s favorite snack: frozen grapes. They taste great and help keep the cooler cool.

Check out these tips for finding a kid-friendly bed and breakfast.