As the mother of a four-year-old daughter, Cincinnati-based family travel blogger Stephanie Taleghani knows a thing or two about getting her family ready to hit the road, skies, and seas. Her daughter, Sophie, has already been on more than 40 trips in her life, including a cruise. So when it comes to planning and packing for a family vacation, Stephanie has a few tips to help any parent make sure things go off without a hitch.
To get her daughter ready to embrace a life of travel, Taleghani started taking her on short trips at a young age.
“Sophie started traveling at one month old – it was her first road trip,” says Taleghani. “We started small with only about an hour and a half drive from our home in Cincinnati, Ohio to Lexington, Kentucky.”
Road tripping helped make her daughter's introduction to travel seamless. She recommends keeping introductory trips within a two-to-three-hour radius from home.
“If anything goes south, you can hurry up and get back home,” says Taleghani. “In the early days, we were more interested in the destination. Our daughter wasn’t mobile. She was easily entertained, but by rattles and mirrors. We could easily put her in a carrier and do a historic tour. As she’s gotten older and more active, we’ve had to shift our planning to find ways to help her burn her energy.”
Trips these days are focused on what her daughter enjoys.
“We look for things like hiking and outdoor activities,” says Taleghani. “When we’re choosing a destination, we look at other activities like a zoo, amusement park, water park, and other fun, quirky things that would be fun for her to explore.”
Taleghani’s daughter is now an active part of the trip planning process.
“She gets to help plan the destination that might be a good fit for our family,” says Taleghani. “It’s actually been a great lesson in geography and budget. We can’t go to Disney World for every trip, but we do teach her planning, things to pack, and some life skills.”
Taleghani has a checklist for when she selects hotels on her trip. She considers it essential for her family for a hotel to have nearby parks, roadside attractions, and a pool. She recommends that each family develops its own checklist of hotel priorities.
Taleghani's daughter Sophie explores a park overlooking the Ohio River on a recent trip.
FACING YOUR TRAVELING FEARS
When Taleghani first started traveling with her family, one of her biggest concerns was where she would change her daughter. Like any mother, she knew an emergency accident would happen eventually, and she wanted to avoid using a dirty gas station bathroom.
“I realized I could pull a suitcase out of the back of the car, and I had an instant changing table," says Taleghani. “As long as you have your car, you’re good.”
Another fear Taleghani faced while traveling was the inevitable meltdown and the judgment she was afraid to face from others when this occurred. But to her surprise, others tend to be more supportive and helpful when this happens.
“So many people are grandparents, parents, uncles…and they’ve been around children,” says Taleghani. "They know it's the nature of children, and it's something not to even worry about. People are actually more of a help than anything during our travels."
The view on a recent family trip with the Taleghani family
PREPARING FOR A ROAD TRIP
Having completed so many road trips with her husband and daughter, Taleghani is prepared for nearly any situation imaginable.
One of her first packing tips is to expect the unexpected.
“What if you get stuck in traffic for hours and have a hungry baby?” asks Taleghani. "What if you're in a cold area and the heat goes out? You want to make sure you pack things accordingly, like having extra blankets, water, food, and always have an atlas with you."
Taleghani also suggests packing other safety items, like a road kit and flashlight.
Another unexpected surprise Taleghani suggests preparing for is your child growing a size overnight by packing a size up.
“It feels like children grow overnight when you’re traveling, and now nothing fits,” says Taleghani. “I also always pack for different temperatures, even if it means bringing a jacket to a tropical destination in case a night gets chilly for a little one.”
Taleghani has learned through numerous trips that kids, and other family members, can get sick just about anywhere. That’s why she also suggests packing a sick kit based on her past experiences.
“We were on a lovely beach vacation in Gulf Shores,” says Taleghani. “My husband came down with a stomach bug, and it put him out of commission for a few days. Of course, I had no medicine, and I have a baby. We're driving around trying to find medicine, trying to find a pharmacy. As soon as he gets better, my daughter comes down with a 104-degree temperature and starts vomiting. We have to be on a plane in less than 24 hours. Once again, no medicine. So now, [a sick kit] is a priority.”
To be prepared for any situation, Taleghani recommends packing items in the sick kit like ibuprofen, Tylenol, and Benadryl for adults. For children, her biggest recommendation is packing stomach medicine. In addition to the sick kit, a first aid kit should also be included, according to Taleghani.
Sophie Taleghani explores a boardwalk
KEEPING LITTLE ONES ENTERTAINED
As a master planner, Taleghani has learned some impressive methods to keep her daughter entertained while traveling. Her first suggestion is to pack a series of goodie bags.
“To make our travels pass by faster, a goodie bag is essential,” says Taleghani. "I pass out a little bag with a treat and an activity, or just a small toy, and we either hand them out hourly on the trip or state-by-state. Each time she's excited to have something new to open."
Taleghani suggests basing the goodie bags on the child's interests but has included items like stickers, coloring books, crafts, travel games, fruit snacks, granola bars, and other small items are regular choices for her goodie bags. Still, she usually selects a larger item like a doll for a "halfway point" goodie bag on longer trips.
FAMILY TRAVEL IS EASIER THAN YOU THINK
For parents convinced that traveling with small children is impossible, Taleghani encourages them to reconsider their point of view.
“I would say go,” says Taleghani. “Go take all of the photos to remember those precious moments, make those incredible memories – even if you fear your child won’t remember it. You will get to tell them the stories of what you did as they get older. Plus, you’re exposing them to new cultures, languages, sights, smells, and tastes that they won’t get to experience any other way.”