Family travel tips: Planning holiday fun

Christmas tree in Love Park, Philadelphia

So we’re all in the thick of it now, preparing for the holidays. Whatever and however you and your family celebrate, you are likely headed for some vacation from school and work next week, an ideal time for some fun family outings. Better still, with all of the holiday doings, there are likely to be loads of fun options in your community. The only problem of course is that everyone else has the same idea, which can lead to that holiday trifecta of crowds, chaos, and crabbiness.

But before you say Bah Humbug and decide to spend the week between Christmas and New Years holed up at home watching The Sound of Music on TV, let’s take a look at what you can create memorable and fun times for your family. Here are some tips for making the most of your holiday outings with children:

  • I’m all for spontaneity – just not during the holiday season. If you can, buy tickets in advance. Nothing can deflate an outing more quickly than arriving at the promised location only to find that you have to stand in line for an hour. And are you planning a meal in a nearby restaurant? Make reservations.
  • Call ahead and find out what the busiest times are likely to be so you can avoid them. In my experience arriving as early as possible is the way to miss the crowds (ten minutes before opening is optimal).
  • Ice sculpture bench at Peeps Fest 2009

  • Dress for the occasion. Those Christmas outfits might be cute and will look great in photos but you’re unlikely to get any good pictures of your child if he or she is uncomfortable. Is it cold? Layers are a key to success in any outing where you might be going from outside to inside and back again. And it never hurts to pack an extra hat and pair of gloves.
  • Don’t try to do too much. Sure you could visit the toy museum, the decorative candy cane exhibit, and the local light display in the same afternoon, but if all are crowded you’re likely to end up losing your holiday cheer.

    Train display at Reading Terminal

  • Beware of redundancy. Even if your child loves trains, Christmas trees, and Santa, there are probably only so many decorations and model layouts that he or she will look at happily. In particular, think carefully about museums that wouldn’t interest your child ordinarily – the simple addition of some Christmas trees may or may not change young minds.
  • Don’t forget the joys of simplicity. A walk to look at some decorated windows and Christmas trees followed by a special treat (do you remember how good hot chocolate tastes when it is topped with whipped cream?) can be just as much fun as an outing to a museum followed by a restaurant meal – and has the added benefit of being easy to schedule and inexpensive. Add even more fun to your walk by making it a scavenger hunt for Santas, angels, elves, and the like.

And the single most important tip for making holiday magic with your kids? Relax and enjoy yourself. Smile when your children smile. And do this in spite of delays, stormy weather, crowds, and whatever else the holiday gods may throw your way. You won’t regret it, I promise.

Reader Responses

2 fellow travelers had this to say

  1. Some simple yet helpful tips here Mara, thanks for sharing! The clothing one is something I often screw up for myself (due to vanity), and am learning the hard way …

  2. Great tips, Mara. They are especially important reminders for grandparents who are planning holiday outings with the grandkids.

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