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“Resort” to Bribery: How to Keep Your Kids Happy on Vacation

Okay, okay. I know what you’re probably thinking: “Is she actually admitting to bribing her kids while on vacation?”

Why, yes. Yes, I am! That’s because going on vacation can be a seriously stressful process.

First, you pick the perfect vacation spot, the perfect time to go on vacation, and then the perfect place to stay.

Then, you spend months, maybe even a year or so, gearing up for the perfect family vacation. Yet, there’s one thing you cannot perfectly plan for. And, that’s how your kids will behave.

That’s right. No amount of planning, organizing, perfectly-scheduled flight times, or Google Map timelines will prepare you for the adventure that will be your family vacation.

I say that because I’ve come to realize that kids are creatures of habit—much like adults. And, when you take them out of their everyday routines, they can sometimes go a little cray cray.

For that reason, today, I’m not just sharing my favorite ways to keep your mini travelers happy. But, also, how to ensure you stay relaxed as possible while on vacation. And, that might just involve a little bribing here and there…

1. When You’re on a Long Car Ride

how to keep your kids happy on vacation

For the majority of families, traveling by car is the best way to go. You’ve got plenty of space for all your luggage. And, as an added bonus, you only have to pay for gas versus airline tickets for the entire family.

The downside? The travel time to your desired destination can be downright excruciating. Nothing makes your kids (and other travel companions) grumpy like a long car ride with whining and “Are we there yet?” on repeat.

But, what if they had a fun incentive to be happy versus anxiously awaiting the next state line? A friend of mine recently shared a brilliant idea with me. (Obviously, we share a love of keeping ourselves sane and our kids happy.)

Here’s how it works: every time you cross a state line, give the kids a small treat, toy, or activity to stay entertained until possibly the next state. This does require some pre-planning, however.

I imagine the conversation during the car ride going something like this:

“Hey, kids! You did such a great job while we were driving through North Carolina. And, great news—we’ve made it to South Carolina. So, here’s a LEGO Blind Bag to keep you busy on our next stretch.”

Only traveling through one state? This idea can easily be adapted for driving by major cities or towns.

2. When You’re On an Airplane

how to keep your kids happy on vacation

Because not all travel destinations are within driving distance, let’s talk about a few ways to keep your kids happy on an airplane. My first experience traveling with a toddler on a plane was when my daughter was almost two years old.

I remember attempting to change her diaper in the teeny, tiny airplane bathroom, while also being six months pregnant. It wasn’t until I came back to my seat all flustered and frustrated that my sister informed me of the tiny changing board on the back of the door. Thus, I went back to the bathroom, only to find a changing pad that looked like it was intended for a baby doll.

Needless to say, airplanes aren’t exactly built for keeping kids or parents happy. But, luckily, we’ve come a long way in technology and there are now plenty of ways to keep everyone in good spirits until the plane lands.

One being, before your flight, you can download new movies, games, or shows your kids like—straight to your iPad. Remember, however: save it to the “cloud” or you won’t be able to access it in-flight. Next, invest in some really fun headphones.

And, be sure to pack plenty of their favorite snacks (non-liquids, of course) and hand them out as you reach certain milestones throughout the flight—takeoff, halfway point, prior to final descent. Also, a lollipop is a great way to help their little ears with the changing of air pressure during take off.

Just be sure your bag of goodies and entertainment is small enough to carry on the plane with you and easily accessible.

3. When You’re In a New Environment

how to keep your kids happy on vacation

Nothing throws a kid off more than a new place, a new bed, and a long day of travel and sightseeing. My family and I took a trip to the beach last year to celebrate the end of summer. I had everything perfectly planned for our trip (I pride myself on my organization and frugalness)—a few lazy days at the beach, relaxing by the pool, and just enjoying some quiet time away from our everyday life.

In my mind, it was the perfect vacation. What I failed to plan, however, was for my five-year-old—aka a creature of habit—who all of a sudden went bananas because we took her away from home. And, plopped her into a beautiful two-bedroom suite with her very own bed and bathroom. The bed wasn’t like her bed at home (how dare the sheets be white and not pink!), she couldn’t find the toilet paper in the bathroom—the list went on.

My best bet in saving our vacation? Again, coming up with fun and creative ways to keep her happy (and myself sane). It was as simple as, “If you don’t sleep in this bed tonight in these white sheets….we can’t go to the fun water park tomorrow.”

Thus, my takeaway from this experience is to go in prepared. A few comfort items from home can make all the difference. For example: No, you might not like the plain white sheets. So, let’s bring your hot pink polka dot blanket and your own pillow to keep you comfortable and happy.

Or: Oh, you can’t sleep because of the noise from the nextdoor neighbors? Look! We brought our own portable sound maker to drown out the noise. It’s all about balancing compromises and the right bribes!


Yes, vacations are fun and can definitely be stressful. You are, after all, taking your mini travelers out of their element and plopping them into a new one, which can create a new list of challenges.

So, remember to have fun, stay calm, and the true purpose of the vacation: to relax and make happy memories together. Kids can sense when you’re stressed. Thus, if you have the right tips and tricks to remain relaxed, they’ll hopefully follow your lead.

There’s also nothing wrong—in my opinion—with rewarding good behavior by way of ice cream, a souvenir, or a fun activity. Let’s be honest: as moms, we’ve all done it before. And, I say, if the challenge arises, reach into your bag of tricks and pull one out!

What are your thoughts on today’s topic? And, do you have a handy trick or tip you like to use to keep your mini travelers happy while on a family vacation? Share with us in the comments section below!

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