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Tips for Traveling with Kids During Thanksgiving

Traveling with kids in tow is an adventure in itself, whether you’re going by car, plane, or even boat. Add in the element of taking your clan out for a holiday weekend, and you have a whole new level of “fun.” I’ve learned a few tips along the way to making life easier when we travel with kids during Thanksgiving.

Travel with kids over ThanksgivingMy family travels once each holiday season. We’ve been doing this for 19 years! Hubby and I established the holiday tradition of trading Thanksgiving and Christmas between each family every other year just before we married.

My in-laws live 550 miles away and my family is local. So for one holiday, we get to pack up 4 kids, a dog, and all our necessities and brave the (sometimes treacherous) roads. The other holiday, we stay home and let our local family come to us so we can enjoy our home. We’ve done this with itty-bitty nursing babies, teenagers, and every age in between. It’s not my favorite tradition, but I’ve figured out how to make this work the best that I can for our family.

Here are my favorite tips for when we travel with kids during Thanksgiving.

Leave early Thanksgiving morning.

Whether you drive or fly, the Wednesday before the holiday is usually one of the busiest travel days of the year. Rather than deal with every other Thanksgiving traveler on I-80, we leave early Thanksgiving day. We have found the traffic to be much easier to deal with and have no problems finding gas stations or restaurants open for our stops. Historically, it’s actually cheaper this way if you are flying vs. traveling on Wednesday. When you’re traveling with kids, this is especially important!

Since our trek is about 8-10 hours (our travel time depends on the age of our youngest kiddo each year), we usually aim to leave town by 6 a.m. Luckily, my in-laws prefer to do a Thanksgiving dinner in the evening, so this draws us into their town by mid-to-late afternoon. This gives us time to unpack our car and help with any dinner preparations.

Pack light—for real.

I know that traveling with kids and packing light doesn’t exactly go hand in hand. However, considering that you’re looking at a 3-4 day weekend at the most, realize that you don’t have to take the kitchen sink with you. Bring just enough clothing for one day per person, nightwear, a jacket or coat, and a few toys for the littles if there aren’t any available where you are going. An extra outfit or two for younger kiddos are good, but there’s no need to overpack. Of course, bring activities to keep the kids entertained in the car.  Other than that, don’t bring 78,942 other things you don’t need.

We usually only stay 2 nights (I’ll get to that in a few), so there’s just no need to pack for a lengthy trip. Reduce your stress by worrying less about the space in your vehicle!

Return Saturday.

This draws so much criticism from my in-laws, but I honestly can’t do more than 2 nights in someone else’s home—especially with kids! Plus, now that our kids are getting older, we prefer to get home with a day of downtime before we launch them into a new school week.

Arriving home on Saturday gives us Sunday to finish any homework, catch up on the laundry we accumulated from the trip, get a few groceries to lead us into the week, and tidy up the house that we most likely left a disaster in a fit of getting out of our house at the crack of dawn on Thanksgiving. Bonus points if there’s enough time to put the Christmas tree up while we’re at it! 

This helps me feel more centered in my household as we swing into the holiday season.

Be flexible in your travels, but firm in your plans.

We’ve traveled with our youngest kiddos over Thanksgiving. Our third was just 5 weeks old, and our fourth was only 7 weeks old. They both HATED the car with a passion. We made several stops along the way to nurse, change diapers, and get up to walk around. Meals were planned last minute at sit-down restaurants so we could just have the extra time to cuddle the baby. It made our trip a bit longer in each direction, but we didn’t stress about it. We chose to be flexible with our time and communicated that with our family.

After traveling with kids for nearly 16 years, we know that our kids travel better in the early morning than evening. Meltdowns happen as the day wears on, especially with the infants and toddlers in our family. So, we established a firm departure time that we’ll leave by a certain time to return home. Otherwise, with all our stops, we’ll arrive home at midnight—after making several extra stops because our kids are melting down.

Of course, with new babies and kids in general, come guilt trips from family when we “only stay for 2 days.” Rather than giving in to guilt trips, we encourage the family we’re visiting to simply enjoy the time we do have together. After all, we traveled with our kids in tow to enjoy Thanksgiving with them. 

The weather may change everything.

traveling with kids over ThanksgivingWe live in the midwest, and weather around here is never certain at Thanksgiving! This is where being firm in your plans and flexible in your travels really takes hold. Be aware of the weather. If a snow or ice storm is coming in, by all means, plan your trip around it.

We’ve cut trips short to miss snow and ice storms over Thanksgiving weekend. Again, you’ll draw criticism. If your family values your safety, though, they’ll support your plans to keep you and your kiddos out of harm’s way.

You’re an adult now. It’s OK to set healthy boundaries when it comes to traveling over holidays to visit family—whether it be Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other holiday!

What are your favorite tips when you travel with your kids during Thanksgiving? 

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