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Kids running to the end of the dock near Cancun, Mexico. (Photograph by Tracy Connery, My Shot)

Tips for Planning a Trip with Kids

If you think pulling together a complex trip is the kind of organizational nightmare that’ll make you feel like you’re in a bad remake of a National Lampoon’s Vacation movieNational Lampoon’s Vacation movie — don’t worry.

Here are a few strategies we picked up along the way:

Don’t overplan. It’s possible to do too much research and plan for each moment. Leave some things to serendipity, otherwise your itinerary will get too cluttered and nothing about your trip will be spontaneous. And the spontaneity can be half the fun. After a few cross-country trips, we felt more comfortable winging it, and we made some great discoveries as a result. Like Deschutes National Forest, the dormant volcanic near Bend, Oregon, which we didn’t know about until we decided to pull over for a picnic lunch.

Simple is better. No matter how complicated your itinerary, there are ways to streamline the process to include the important information and exclude the extraneous details that will be insignificant until you arrive at your destination. For example, we whittled a list of recommended restaurants down to a hyperlink that we could access later, instead of trying to save everything to a document.

Share your itinerary. Letting people know where you are is helpful when you’re on a multi-stop itinerary. When your hosts know where you’re coming from, where you’re supposed to be, and where you’re going, you can avoid all kinds of trouble. That’s why car rental companies ask for your flight itinerary – they aren’t really interested in which airline you’re using. They want to track your flight so that if your plane is late, they can hold your rental vehicle.

Pad your schedule. Remember the 15-minute rule: For every one hour on the road you should plan 15 out of the car. (And not necessarily every hour; we would drive three hours and pull over for half an hour or so, give or take.) You need to stretch, eat and take a break from sitting. Also, you can never plan too much time for meals and national parks. If someone recommends half a day in a national park or forest, take a whole day. You won’t regret it.

Be flexible. Life is too short (and so’s your trip) to lock yourself into a schedule. If you see an opportunity to do something interesting, to make an unexpected detour, or to extend your trip – do it! Just don’t forget to share your new itinerary with everyone along the way. Our favorite detour? The Grand Canyon, a day-long diversion on a road trip from California back to Florida. It was way off our designated route. And so worth it.