The holidays can be a hectic time, but throw long-distance travel with kids into the mix and you’ve got a recipe for a high-stress experience that’s not so merry and bright. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Whether you’re traveling by car or plane, here are some tips to keep everyone full of joy and good cheer.
IN THE CAR
Anticipate needs. Have these items on hand at all times: Tissues (for nose blowing and wiping), antibacterial wipes (for cleaning hands and faces), disposable plastic bags (for wet items, soiled items or diaper disposal), an umbrella (for rain or to provide shade on extra-sunny days), a sweater or jacket (appropriate for the season), plastic rain ponchos (in case of an unexpected shower), a first-aid kit (Band-Aids, cotton swabs, cotton balls, antibacterial ointment, etc.), treatments for common ailments (headache, upset stomach, car sickness, etc.), a flashlight (with fresh batteries), age-appropriate drinks (in an insulated bag or cooler), nonperishable or properly stored snacks and a change of clothes for babies and smaller children (including extra socks and shoes).
Pack smart. If you’ll be doing a multi-day/night trip, pack one overnight bag with the basics everyone needs for the night—pajamas, toothbrushes and the all-important bathing suits (because you have to stay in a hotel with a pool—it’s the least you owe kids who have been stuck in a car seat/seat belt for hours!). That way you only have to take one suitcase into the hotel each night—no need to unpack the entire car, carry in three-plus suitcases, clutter up the room, and then repack and carry everything out again the next morning.
Consider nap times. If possible, always schedule your departure when it’s almost a baby’s nap time. If you leave one to two hours before they normally sleep, you can get a little bit of chill time with them when they first adjust to the road. You’ll have a little playtime, and then the feeding and next thing you know, they are asleep and you just got a good three to four hours of driving in.
Make it a game. To get your kids to stop asking “Are we there yet?” get them involved with the trip itinerary. Print the fidgety little ones a copy of the directions with the miles, time estimates and map included. Also, carry along a clipboard and colored pencils for each child and an analog clock. Before you pull out of your driveway, give each child a set of driving directions and note the estimated total trip time. Have them predict if they will arrive at their destination earlier, later or just as predicted. During the trip, kids watch the passage of time on the analog clock while they get data at set intervals (parent decided) about where they are along the route. It turns “Are we there yet?” into a fun activity.
Let the music play. Prompt your kids to come up with a playlist of their favorite songs in advance of hitting the road. Then, create your own road trip radio station that will broadcast ‘live’ over the course of your travels. Let your kids take turns in the role of ‘guest DJ’ for a 30-minute block of time and introduce and comment on each of their tunes as the on-air host of their own radio show.
Think outside of the (letter) box. Search letterboxing.org to find letterboxes along the way to break up the monotony of the driving. On the site, there are clues to locations of letterboxes, typically containers that carry a book, a stamp pad and a pen. Once you follow the clues (which vary wildly in the degree of difficulty and the time required), you find the box, in the nook of a tree, a prairie, a library, virtually anywhere. You can stamp your own letterboxing book with the stamp included, and leave a note for those who planted the box.
Listen up. Bringing audio books for the whole family is both a shared experience and entertainment, plus some kids are less likely to get carsick than if watching a DVD. Depending on the age of your kids, bring a book the whole family can listen to together and talk about. It makes for great conversation, both explaining parts the kids might not understand and trading turns giving opinions on the characters, their motivations and actions.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself! To stay alert, snack on healthy foods such as carrots and almonds, and keep water on hand to stay hydrated. Yes, drinking may make for an extra bathroom break, but it can give you a chance to stretch your legs and refresh.
IN THE AIR
Relax your normal rules. If you don’t typically let your kids have sweets, but the flight attendant is willing to give you some extra cookies, take them! Flying with kids may require you to relax your rules to survive the trip with as little disruption to the people around you as possible.
Explain the process to older kids. If your kids have never been on a plane, discuss the security process they will be going through and how it’s for their protection. Kids may be uncomfortable with the process if they were not expecting it, and they may have questions regarding the purpose, which could raise fears. Help eliminate those fears by prepping your kids for what’s to come.
Like a Boy Scout, be prepared. Before the trip, go shopping for small toys (the kind you would get in a dollar store), miniature snacks, etc. The trick is to have enough packed to be able to pull something new out at 15-minute intervals — things like coloring books and crayons, puzzles, miniature boxes of LEGOs, sticker books, etc. By being proactive, you can keep them busy before boredom has a chance to strike.
Relieve the pressure. It’s all about the ears. Have extra pacifiers, bottles and sippy cups ready for takeoff and landing. Older children can chew gum or suck on a straw (pinch the straw while they suck to make them have to suck harder).
Enlist the support of others. Make friends with the flight attendants; they are pros and have seen it all. Sometimes having them pick up your child for a short walk up and down the aisles will give you a break and soothe the child. And don’t be afraid to ask fellow travelers for help in a pinch. Most people have struggled to travel with their own kids, so they understand what you’re going through.
Stay calm. Lastly, remember they’re just children. Travel is stressful enough for adults who understand delays and extra security measures, so children will need extra patience. And try not to be nervous yourself, since little ones tend to feed off the moods of the adults around them.
Haley Shapley loves traveling any time of year, although she did once cry in an airport on Christmas Eve. She blogs about living a life in balance at GirlAboutTheWorld.com.