AKA how to show them the world and maintain your sanity
The idea of traveling with kids–no matter how many there are, how young (or old) they are, or how long the flight (or drive) is–seems to be one of the most common sources of anxiety among parents. Put it up there with “should my baby’s poop look like this?!” and “should I call Poison Control if my six year old ate an unidentified object on the floor?”
Though there are 50 ways to freak out when it comes to each parenting challenge, traveling–whether enjoying a vacation, visiting family, or bringing baby on your work trip–should not be a cause for cataclysmic meltdowns.
In a former life, I traveled extensively: the South Pacific, Europe, road trips in the States. I only ever had to worry about packing for myself, keeping myself entertained, and making sure I didn’t forget anything–for MYSELF. Like much of the rest of my life before children, I lived pretty selfishly–which was totally OK. I only ever had one thing to worry about: ME.
When my first child was born in 2013, my husband was deployed, and I decided to visit his family on the East Coast for a few weeks before he got home. Having traveled while pregnant, I mistakenly thought I had it all down pat, only to realize that I had NO idea what I would need or how much of it, or how the heck I was going to keep my four-month-old baby from losing his mind (and taking mine with it) on a multi-leg travel adventure.
I scoured Pinterest, mom blogs, forums, and basically the entirety of the available Internet for suggestions, lists, and tricks for traveling with kids. Many had great, though sometimes conflicting, suggestions: make a packing list, don’t over-pack, don’t under-pack, arrive an hour earlier, don’t arrive too early, etc. With so much conflicting advice, what was I supposed to do?
Tailor Your Travel
First, I needed to start with my OWN travel plan: one tailored to my own needs, number/ages of children, and duration of the trip. A cross-country flight with a four-month-old baby requires different things than a four-hour roadtrip with multiple school-aged children.
So what does a travel plan look like for you? Are you traveling by air, boat, car? Will you make it to your destination in a few hours or days? How many kids do you have, and how old are they? What is the purpose of your journey? Though you don’t need to write any of the answers to these questions down, it helps to keep them in mind while you’re figuring out what to pack and how to keep everyone entertained.
Be sure to pack what you need for each person traveling, including entertainment (soft toys and books for the littles, audiobooks and games for older kids), a change of clothes, and special/unique items to help keep the kids relaxed; but there needn’t be any super complicated packing list for your carry-on/at-hand bag.
Learning = Less Boring
It’s common knowledge that kids are curious, so why not use that to your advantage during a stressful situation like travel? Simple activities, like counting the number of wheels you see, or “seek and find” type car ride games, can help time pass quickly. Recognizing letters and colors is a great activity for preschoolers, and even exploring different textures in the airplane can entertain young children.
For older kids (the “Are we there yet?!” crowd), an audiobook talking about or taking place in your destination town or city is a great way to keep them engaged during your trip.
Expectations: Lower Them
No matter how quick and easy you may expect your travel to be, something is bound to go wrong–big or small–so keeping your expectations realistic will help lower tension levels all around. Flights will be delayed, toddlers will meltdown, something will get lost, but keeping your head above the cloud of stress and frustration will go a long way in maintaining the over all sense of fun and adventure that is SO important when traveling with kids. Whether you’re going to a family reunion, a destination wedding, or a theme park, your children are experiencing everything in the moment–so help make sure each moment only affects the next in a positive way. How? Lower your expectations. Of your kids, your partner, the airlines, how quickly you can get from point A to point B. Lower them again. And then lower them once more for good measure. I like to start with “everyone made it to our destination alive and mostly unscathed.” That way, anything else is just an added bonus, ha!
Lower them again. And then lower them once more for good measure.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where you are going or how many people you’re bringing with you–things will not go according to plan, problems will be out of your control, someone is bound to get bored/tired/frustrated–what matters is keeping an open mind, setting realistic expectations for travel, and including the kids you’re bringing in any plans.