June 14, 2012 at 8:41 AM ET
Traveling with kids doesn’t always feel like a vacation, but these tips for summer flights and road trips will make things easier for your family.
When/what to book: To pick the best seats for your family, consult a site like SeatGuru.com. Planes will be more full this summer than before, so book your flight early — six weeks or more is a good rule of thumb — to improve your odds of getting seats together. If you use social media, follow @airfarewatchdog and @smartertravel on Twitter to learn about last-minute deals. Both carefully vet price drops and unadvertised sales. As for flying, Saturday mornings at airports are more quiet and flights can often be cheaper. Plus, the first flight out in the morning usually takes off on time.
Plan ahead: United announced last month that they will no longer allow pre-boarding for families with young children and more airlines are following suit, so plan accordingly. If you have extra time before your flight, most airports have play areas that you can find out about on the airport websites or on a site like iFly.com. Purchasing an airline lounge day pass (usually around $50) will ease the stress of being in the airport with the family while flying coach — be sure to buy the pass online ahead of time to save money.
Know the rules: Remember that the new TSA rules mean that kids don't need to take off shoes at security. To save money on checked bag fees, keep in mind that each person with a ticket gets to carry-on a personal item and carry-on size bag — even your 2- or 3-year-old! Your stroller doesn't count as an item as it's checked at the gate.
For the car
Plan ahead: No matter where you are going, plan out your route in advance with scheduled stops every few hours. Try to work in something fun for the kids to look forward to at each stop as this will help break up the journey. Use Yelp to find local restaurants along your route, and download an app to help you find the cheapest gas along your route. As for hitting the road, getting up and out early is key — you’ll avoid traffic and kids won't be as tired and fussy as they could be late in the day.
What to do in the car: Give your kids a fun assignment that involves them in the trip. For starters, ask them to help you plan and chart the course and check off what they've seen. Don’t forget games, videos, and snacks to keep them busy.
When to fill up? Once you find the places with the cheapest gas, be smart about when you fill up your gas tank: Gas prices rise around holidays and long weekends. So don't wait until July 3 to fill the tank for your Fourth of July road trip. Fueling up can also be more expensive on weekends, so head to the gas station in the middle of the week.
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