Traveling with children can be an intimidating challenge, to say the least. The very idea of traveling with kids in tow can conjure up an image of diaper disasters, temper tantrums, and the dreaded repetition of “are we there yet?” However, taking your kids on a trip doesn’t have to be the nightmare it may sound like. With the right plans and attitude, traveling with kids can be fun, or at least not the fraught experience many imagine it to be. Here are some great tips for making traveling with your kiddos less stressful:
Traveling in General
The first step to making your journey the best it can be is to adjust your attitude. If this is your first big trip with your children, you may have a too-rosy outlook involving your kids being perfect angels the entire time. Or you may be experiencing the opposite: nightmare visions of constant screaming from the children. The reality is likely to be somewhere in the middle.
When traveling with your kids, it is reasonable to expect some acting out and crying, and you should be prepared to placate fussy children, possibly with techniques that you may not be accustomed to (for example, if you’re used to more discipline, a long trip may be the time to go a little easier on a cranky child). However, you don’t want to be so prepared for misbehavior that that is all you focus on when looking forward to your trip. Be ready to be flexible in the event of a crisis, but be ready to have fun, too!
Snacks! A hungry child is a crabby child. That goes for adults, too; don’t forget to bring enough snacks for both yourself and the little ones. When packing snacks, make sure you have enough space for the snacks in what you’re carrying and that the snacks are easily accessible.
The Best Travel Snacks
Kids love candy, but you don’t want a hyper, sugar-high child on a long car ride or a flight. The best snacks create a minimal mess, taste good, and are actually filling. Peanuts and other nuts (assuming no one is allergic) are a great source of protein and are easy to tote. Granola bars, dried fruit or fruit snacks, trail mix, and peanut butter crackers are some other winners.
Toys! Buy a few new toys for the trip. The novelty of new things to play with may keep children entertained better than old, familiar toys. It’s also a good idea to bring some tried and true favorites, especially if there are one or two toys that your kiddos are particularly attached to.
Also, don’t be afraid to use modern technology. Are you a parent who usually limits screen time? You might want to relax that policy during a trip. If you’re in the car or on a flight that doesn’t have in-flight movies, games on phones and movies on tablets can keep the little ones well occupied during the long hours spent in transit.
Dress everyone appropriately. Yes, that means the parents, too! Start out by dressing your kids in pajamas, maybe a nice cozy onesie. If they’re not at that age at which think they’re too cool to wear pajamas in the daytime, not only will they be comfy, they might get a kick out of it. Your kids will be more comfortable for a long stretch of sitting, and a onesie is easy to quickly unzip in the event of a mass emergency.
Speaking of a mess emergency, it’s a wise idea to not only pack spare pajamas for your kids (and keep them in an easily accessible place) but also, don’t forget to pack an extra T-shirt for yourself in the event that a kid’s mess emergency gets on your clothes.
Are your kids in diapers? Prepare for one-by-one diaper situations. It might be tempting to stick an unopened bag of diapers into the back of the car or at the bottom of your carry-on and consider diapers packed, but your trip will be much easier if you keep diapers on hand. And don’t haul around an entire cumbersome bag of diapers; pack individual diapers in plastic baggies and keep a few close to you.
Road Trips in the Car
If possible, make stops. It may be a good idea to map out where you will stop ahead of time to break up the tedium of a long car ride. Be prepared to stop on short notice if a kid needs some fresh air or a bathroom break, though. Speaking of bathroom breaks, pay attention to the frequency of roadside rest stops. The last thing you want is a child screaming that they have to use the bathroom when there isn’t a rest stop for miles or, worse, a child not making it to the next rest stop bathroom.
Not only will occasionally stopping break up the tedium, sitting in the car can get uncomfortable, and stretching after long periods of inactivity can not only feel great at the time but make everyone feel less cramped and sore later. During a break from driving, you can take your kids through a brief and easy stretching routine and make a game of it.
Stretch It Out!
Stop somewhere scenic and walk with your kids for five minutes or so. Not only will this help make everyone’s legs feel better, it will improve circulation. Necks and shoulders can get stiff, too, so try leading your kids through some basic shoulder-rotating and neck-stretching exercises.
Get creative with your seating arrangement. If two parents are traveling with the children, one of the parents should sit in the back of the car with the kids. This will provide a little entertaining novelty for the little ones, and they might better behave with a parent right next to them. Also, you can play games like patty-cake with your kids if you sit next to them. And speaking of games…
Road trips lend themselves to some great games. If you’re in the States, license plates can provide entertainment; enlist the kids to help you spot as many different states’ license plates as possible. Making up abbreviations for the random letter combinations one sees on license plates can be fun, too. For example, say you see a license plate that reads “1048 WOB”. Ask your kids what “WOB” stands for and see what they come up with; maybe it’s “witch on broom” or “world of blue”.
Of course, there are plenty of other games that you can play when it’s too dark to see outside the car or you’re on a lonely road. Word association is always fun: start with a random noun like “pickle” or “mosquito”, and the next person playing has to blurt out the first word that comes to mind when they hear that word. For example, if the game starts with “mosquito”, the next player might say “bite”, the following player might come up with “vampire”, and so on. A slightly easier game is the alphabet game, which involves taking turns thinking of nouns in alphabetical order fitting a particular theme. For example, if the theme is Disney movies, the first player could pick Aladdin for A, the second player could pick Beauty and the Beast for B, and so on.
Planes, Buses, or Trains
It may be tempting to save money by having your child sit on your lap instead of buying a seat for the kiddo. But if you can swing it, your kids will probably be a much happier camper (or rather, traveler) if they have their own seats. This is especially true for buses, which are notoriously cramped. Having their own seat will allow a child to assume a position that is comfortable for them, and the same goes for the parent or guardian who is spared the trial of having a squirming kid on their lap for hours on end.
Warn your kids ahead of time about interruptions such as airport security and what these interruptions will entail. Do you have a layover or are taking multiple forms of transportation? Make sure to let your kids know that after you get out of the first vehicle, the trip isn’t over. Are you in for a long ride on a train that stops for refueling? Make sure to tell the little ones that when the train stops for a long time (and, depending on the train service, passengers may be able to get out and stretch their legs—which is a good time to remember the stretching from tip six), that doesn’t mean the trip is over.
Airport security can be particularly upsetting to kids who don’t understand what’s going on, so make sure to give them a thorough explanation of what’s going to happen with security ahead of time so they aren’t surprised by having to take off their shoes or put the favorite teddy bear they’re clutching through the scanner.
Follow these ten tips and you’ll be set for fun with travelers of all ages! And as mentioned in point one, be prepared, but don’t stress too much; set your mind on having a great time.