(Flickr, Sydney Treasures Photography)
Traveling with kids can sometimes not feel like much of a vacation! Luckily, there are a few time-tested “parent secrets” to help your trip run smoothly. Want to make your next travel adventure stress-free? Whether you’re taking a family camping trip, road-tripping to visit Grandma and Grandpa, or taking your first overseas trip to a foreign country, here are 7 ways to make sure both you and the kids have a bon voyage!
1. Pay attention to travel times
Remember that anything that is a hassle for you is twice as frustrating for your kids. This includes waking up early to catch a 6 a.m. flight, or making that quick connecting flight without a break for lunch. Traveling with kids requires paying much more attention to meal breaks, rest breaks, and bathroom breaks.
Choose flights that don’t start too early or run too late, and don’t try to strap your kids in for a 14-hour car ride. Yes, that means you won’t be able to cover as much ground in a day, and it probably means you won’t get that really great deal on the redeye heading out of LAX. However, it will mean you have a better chance of enjoying your trip!
2. Pack small presents to keep kids occupied
Traveling often includes a lot of time where kids have to sit still and be quiet. Keep kids occupied during long drives or airport waiting times by giving each child a small present — preferably an activity that can be completed independently and quietly.
For some kids, this will be a coloring book or puzzle book. For others, it’ll be a new chapter book or comic book. Or download a new movie or game to your iPad and let your kids entertain themselves. The trick is to find something inexpensive, new, and time-consuming. Repeat as necessary throughout the trip.
3. Carry your own food
Eating out gets expensive, especially if you have to do it three times a day. Save money by packing and carrying your own food. This is especially useful on road trips, when you can stop at grocery stores and fill up a cooler with everyday foods like bread, juice boxes, lunch meat, and fruit.
You can even pack your own food for long plane rides, as long as it does not include liquids or gels. The FDA has confirmed that it is safe to eat food that has gone through an airport security scanner, so stock up on trail mix, granola bars, and other favorite snacks before you board the plane.
4. Give kids the opportunity to run around
Whenever you can, give your kids the opportunity to get out and play. Highway rest stops are great places for this; try to plan one 20-minute rest stop for every two hours of driving. If you’re in an airport, look for an empty gate, or find out if the airport has a designated child play area. Many do, and they’re great spots for you and the family to stretch your legs and burn off some energy.
5. Explain the plan to kids in advance
Children like routine, and when travel throws their routine off, it sometimes makes them nervous and irritable. Talk to your kids about your travel plans: “Today we’re going to have breakfast in the hotel room, then start driving at 9 a.m., then we’ll take a break at 10:30 and play at the playground,” etc. This helps kids self-regulate and keep track of what to expect.
6. Play classic travel games
There are certain games that only work while you’re traveling. The license plate game, for example, is ideal for a long trip. Family car rides are great ways to finally sing all the verses of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” or other travel classics. Car rides and plane rides both benefit from magnetic travel versions of favorite games like Battleship or Scrabble.
7. Plan how you’re going to react
Even on the best trip, someone’s bound to act up or have a meltdown at some point. Decide in advance how you’re going to react. Stress compounds stress, and speaking harshly to a child who is misbehaving just makes everyone feel worse. Do your best to stay in good spirits, and treat bad behavior or tantrums with a gentle correction or distraction. Remember that the goal of traveling is to have fun — and it’s your job, as the parent, to make sure the trip stays fun for everybody.