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Planning a family trip or taking your baby camping for the first time?
Million Mile Secrets team member Meghan, who recently returned from a 2,500+ mile road trip through some of the top National Parks in the US. I’ll let her tell you about it!
Meghan: Thank you Daraius! My husband and I love adventure, and with a new(ish!) baby in tow, we decided it would be a great idea to take a road trip to fantastic National Parks like Yosemite, Death Valley, Red Rock Canyon, Zion, and Bryce Canyon. Especially because our daughter is still light enough to carry in a backpack. 😉
I’ll share with you the tricks we learned from traveling with a baby. And tips on making your next family vacation a success!
Family Travel & Camping With a Baby
I’m a new mom and certainly no expert, but I did learn a few things on our recent road trip. And thought these tips could be helpful for newbie parents, or those planning their first family vacation!
Though not specifically about miles & points, they can be useful no matter what type of trip you’re taking.
Plus, if you’re new to the miles & points hobby, I’ve included links to other posts that are especially helpful to families!
1. Choose Your Destination Carefully
This concept has been important for my husband and me to learn since having a baby, because we were used to just picking any ol’ spot, packing up, and going. And most of the time, we chose destinations based on what types of activities they had to offer, like diving, biking, hiking, etc.
But with a baby, you have to shift your priorities! So choosing the “right” destination becomes more important.
For example, if you have a ~4 year old, they’re likely too heavy to carry in a backpack for hours on end (and don’t want to be still for that long ;)). So taking a hiking vacation might not make sense.
But heading to a new city and visiting museums, the zoo, or aquarium, could be an excellent plan!
2. Pack Light
Even without a baby, I’ve always been a proponent of packing as little as possible. It makes everything easier!
There’s no hauling multiple bags through the airport or searching through piles of clothes to find something.
Simplicity is key and will make your job of keeping your kid (or kids!) safe while traveling that much easier.
So take the time to prepare and figure out the items that are necessities and those that are just nice to have.
Plus, the more you venture out, the better you’ll be at deciding what you actually need.
3. Bring a Few Comforts From Home
From our experience, babies and kids find comfort in routine. When you’re traveling, keeping a routine is more difficult. But bringing a few comforts from home can make the transition easier.
For Em, her bear (aka Oso) is of utmost importance. We also brought along a blanket she uses a lot at home.
If your kids are old enough, you could ask them what special item they’d like to bring along!
4. Be Flexible
Being flexible is the key to having a great vacation, even when you aren’t traveling with kids.
In fact, having to overcome challenges while on the road is one of the things I love most about traveling! Because if you can get through whatever “it” is, whether it’s a wrong turn or lost luggage, it usually makes for a pretty good story. Especially if you can laugh about it!
In fact, my husband’s wrong turn on the streets of Bariloche, Argentina, led to us meeting each other nearly 8 years ago. 🙂
So I suggest deciding for yourself that you aren’t going to let any of the unexpected things get in the way of having a great time.
5. Go Slow
You can’t expect to see as much or do as much as when you traveled without kids (believe me!). But as cliche as it sounds, it really IS cool to experience things through their eyes.
So go slow, take breaks, and enjoy yourselves. And don’t forget to take a lot of pictures!
If you’re camping with your kid(s) for the first time, it’s a good idea to take your tent for a test run. We put our tent up in our living room and let our daughter play in it for a few days, so she wouldn’t be freaked out about it once we started traveling.
My husband even loaded up the car a few days early, to make sure everything fit. And to figure out how to keep the items we’d need most easily accessible.
7. Just Go!
The timing will never be “just right” and nothing will ever go exactly as planned (even without a kid), so my best piece of advice is to just go. Because life goes fast and you need to pack in as much fun as you can!
Plus, the more you get out the easier it becomes. After our first trip outside the US when Em was ~3 months old, I was no longer nervous about taking her to the grocery store by myself. Ha!
Bonus – Check Out These Posts
Million Mile Secrets is a great resource for families looking for tips & tricks about how to maximize miles & points for family vacations.
- Disney Vacations Using Miles and Points & How to Save Money While There!
- How to Fly (Almost) Free For Two Years on Southwest!
- Family Travel: What to Look for When Booking Your Hotel
- Family Travel: Use Points, Get Free Breakfast at These Fastest-Growing US Hotels
You Can Do It Too!
1. Camping, Hotels, & Airbnb Stays
If you decide to camp during your vacation, be sure to bring enough cash. Because you can NOT pay with a credit card at a lot of camp sites, unless you’re booking your site in advance.
Just remember, it can be hard to find chain hotels inside most parks. So you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth staying outside the park and driving in each morning.
Or you could even find a great Airbnb nearby!
I like spending as much time exploring as I can during a vacation, so I’d prefer to pay cash for a hotel inside the park to save time, and save my points for another trip.
One of the biggest expenses on a road trip is gas. So use a credit card that earns miles, points, or cash back at gas stations.
I used my Chase Ink Plus (no longer available), that earns 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards on gas. But you could also use a card like the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, that earns 2 AMEX Membership Rewards points per $1 you spend at US gas stations. Or the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express that earns 3% cash back at US gas stations.
Check out this post about how to decide which is the best card to save on gasoline.
3. Flights & Rental Cars
Depending on where you live and which parks you plan to visit, you might need to fly closer to your destination and rent a car.
Using the Southwest Companion Pass can save you LOTS of money on airfare, because you can fly nearly 2-for-1 on domestic paid and award tickets.
Pay with a credit card that earns bonus miles and points on airlines. Or a card that earns a bonus on travel, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard.
And if you need to rent a car, read this series on cheap car rentals, for tips & tricks on saving money on rental cars.
4. More Ways to Save Money
All of the National Parks charge a vehicle entrance fee, so depending on how many parks you plan to visit, it could be worth buying an Annual Pass that costs $80.
I did the math, and if you plan on visiting 2+ parks over the year, an annual pass is likely worth it. Because the major parks, like Yosemite and Grand Canyon National Park, charge $30 for a week-long permit. And the pass grants you access to other National Park Service monuments, like Devils Postpile, that can easily cost $10+ per visit.
Tip: This Wikipedia page lists the areas in the US National Park System. So it’s a good resource for planning your trip.
Plus, if you need to buy gear for your trip, you can go through shopping portals that earn cash back, miles, or points at certain retailers. I like using sites like CashbackMonitor.com that show you what bonuses various portals are offering.
And don’t forget to check out this post on how to plan a terrific road trip!
When you’re taking a family trip or traveling with kids, it’s important to remember to take the time to carefully plan where you’re going and what you’re taking. But also to be flexible and just get out and go!
Do you have any tips or tricks for camping or traveling with a baby? Share them in the comments!