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Family Travel

10 Fun Activities & Tips to Reduce Holiday Travel Stress

10 Fun Activities & Tips to Reduce Holiday Travel Stress

There is some good and bad news about the Thanksgiving travel season.

The Good: According to AAA, the national price of gasoline has fallen below $3.00 per gallon for the first time since Dec. 22, 2010. AAA predicts most U.S. travelers likely will pay the cheapest Thanksgiving gas prices in five years. More than 89 percent (41.3 million) of holiday travelers will drive to their destination, a 4.3 percent increase from 2013.

The Bad: AAA also cautions that the Thanksgiving holiday travel volume is expected to reach the highest level since 2007, with 46.3 million Americans taking a trip.

That’s a lot of people on roadways and in the air.

Don’t miss our travel tips for staying sane this holiday season!

Family medicine kit. It never fails: When I fail to pack vitamins and medicine, someone inevitably gets sick. So, I’ve started packing beyond just our first-aid kit and include everything but the kitchen sink. Some things to consider: Sunblock (summer and winter) * Cough/cold medicine *  saline spray for stuffed noses (particularly helpful when flying) * pain reliever such as Tylenol/Advil * anti-allergy cream for cuts and bites *  *Vicks for nasal congestion *Otrivin for stuffed noses * Thermometer * Bandaids *Antiseptic cream like Neosporin or equivalent. For babies: diaper rash cream * teething gel for teething pain *earache drops * colic/gas drops *syringe.

Healthy snacks, individually packaged. In the past, our trip offerings have been solely junk food. While we still love treats, my goal is to take plenty of fresh fruit, nuts, trail mix and granola bars. I also give each child their own snack bag so they don’t fight over the food (I speak from experience.)
Dollar Store. I am convinced the Dollar Store was made expressly for traveling kids. The week prior to our vacation, I assign my kids various chores around the house. With the money they earned, I set them loose at the Dollar Store to relish in the glory of cheap plastic toys that I do not care if they get broken. Or, if you have a long flight or drive, buy them inexpensive toys and surprise your kids at the moment they need it most (or right before that precarious moment!)
Books and Audiobooks. We have fallen in love with audiobooks and often take a trip to the library or download them from iTunes before long road trips. This article from Mashable is a great resource for free audiobooks: 10 Free Audiobook Sites to Get Your Bookworm On. If you need book ideas, Travel Savvy Mom has a fantastic age-by-age guide to the best audio books for kids

In the Car

  • Winter driving kit. For our first winter road trip, I always update the emergency kit we keep in our car. For winter, we not only stash blankets, extra warm clothes, food, water and pillows but also items in case of a mechanical emergency.  Make sure you have jumper cables, a flashlight with fresh batteries (there’s nothing worse than a dead one when you need it most) first-aid kit, ice scraper, roll of paper towels, duct tape and if possible, a small shovel. Stop and buy a bag of salt or sand at a gas station before you get going.
  • Balance between electronics and old-fashioned games. Sure, we love to watch movies and play with our iPods/gaming devices but my best road trip memories are when we’re singing our favorite camp songs and classic games like Would you Rather?, I Spy, the License Plate Game, 20 Questions and for for younger kids, the Alphabet Game where it’s a race to find letters A-Z visually written on billboards, store signs and street signs. Check-out more ideas here: 50 road trip ideas for kids.
  • Make toys and devices easily accessible. This one seems like a no-brainer but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to stop the car and dig in the trunk for a book or toy that was forgotten. Every summer, I take a 50-hour roadtrip–solo with my kids–to Canada. I put a big laundry basket in the middle of both of them with their toys and snacks and it is marvelous how little they needed Mom to entertain them.
  • Let Them Move: Plan frequent pitstops into your travel time. Experts say it’s a good idea to get out and stretch every hundred miles or two hours.

In the Air

  • Plan ahead and get to the airport early. According to Denver International Airport, Sunday, Nov. 30 will be the busiest travel day with 166,000 passengers traveling that day (the daily average is 145,000). Today (Tuesday) and Wednesday are expected to have 10,000 more people than usual while the least busy days will be Thanksgiving and Friday. Check parking availability at
  • Bring travel packs of antibacterial hand wipes. We all know airplanes and airports are filled with germs so fill purses, diaper bags and carry-on bags, with wipes to fend off microbes and don’t forget to wipe down your sticky airplane tray and arm rest.
  • Less is More.The less luggage you take, the better.  Don’t waste precious space on bulky items like diapers that you can easily buy at your destination. Bring an extra duffel bag, in case you need to haul extra presents home. Keep your holiday gifts unwrapped. TSA is stressful enough with kids; remember that TSA may open wrapped packages to check the contents.

Most importantly, be flexible, have fun and enjoy the adventure of family travel!


Amber Johnson
Author: Amber Johnson

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

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Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.


  1. Travel on less busy days. Avoid the crush by not driving or flying on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or on Dec. 24, traditionally the heaviest travel days. Consider departing early by plane or car on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day if you can make it to your destination for the heart of the family celebrations. The actual holidays also tend to be the cheapest days to fly.

  2. My tip: Make “what if” plans. When meeting friends or relatives at a destination or airport, don’t rely only on cellphones. Go low-tech too; just in case your phone dies or service isn’t available, develop a Plan B on how to meet up and what to do in case of missed connections.

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