Older kids' duffle bags may not be brimming with disposable underwear and pacifiers, but it is still is important for them to have their items within arm's reach. Fill their packs with healthy snacks, drinks, electronic games, music players, books, puzzles, playing cards, crayons, paper, and maybe a special surprise to be opened after a couple of hours into the journey. If you do go by car, let all of the children take their own special pillow or blanket along to snuggle next to, no matter how old they are!
Use older kids' skills as much as possible while traveling. If a little sister and big brother are sharing the back seat, consider asking him to entertain the younger child from time to time, for 10 or 15 minutes at a stretch. Bring along fun books that he can read to her or have toys that they both can play with. Lots of colorful, entertaining dolls and cuddly characters are wonderful for babies, and "Dr. Toy," Stevanne Auerbach, lists dozens of age-appropriate vacation games and activities on her website, Dr. Toy.
Another way to break up the monotony of a long car trip is to let everyone get out and stretch for a while at a rest stop. While mapping out your trip, check for cities that have parks with swings, slides, and water features—with enough appropriate play space for younger and older kids—or look for local fast food restaurants with play structures.
The biggest part of planning your trip revolves around the type of vacation you want to take. Mom and Dad might be dreaming of lounging around at a five-star hotel with room service, while the kids have visions of speeding roller coasters dancing in their heads. On the other hand, the whole family might want to forego cushy beds and modern conveniences and spend their days hiking through the woods and their nights sleeping under the stars.
No matter what you decide, there are numerous hotels, campgrounds, cruise lines, and resorts that recognize the needs of every family member, from mother to child. Many have activities geared for all ages, and others offer childcare throughout the day and into the night, which can allow you some time to spend doing something special with your older child (or even as "date night" with your spouse!). Some places have kitchens, refrigerators, microwaves, playpens, and cribs, making you feel right at home.
One important aspect to keeping all age groups happy is to limit the number of planned activities. Although sightseeing is great fun, constantly being on the go can wear everyone out. Consider taking a day in between outings so all family members can regroup. Venture out to splash about in the hotel's pool, stay in your room and rent a movie, or visit a nearby mall where you can casually window shop and stop off for some ice cream. The most important aspect to making vacations successful, no matter how old your kids are, is to work together so that everyone has a good time.