Robert Townsend said, “Getting there isn’t half the fun—it’s all the fun.” He’s obviously never been stuck in traffic with cranky kids yelling, “Are we there yet?” Traveling with children is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Here are some tips to smooth your journey.
Pack Your Bags
- Pack as much as possible the day before.
- Send the kids to a friend’s house while you finish packing and loading the car.
- Pack plenty of plastic storage bags for those inevitable spills.
- Include a change of clothes for each family member in every suitcase—if the airline loses any of your luggage, you’ll each have a clean outfit to wear.
Time To Go
Traveling on off-peak days and avoiding rush-hour can cut back on travel time and temper tantrums.
- On the Road: If the car’s motor lulls your kids to sleep, travel during that nap-time window. Or transfer your pajama-clad, sleeping kids into the car and leave before dawn.
- In the Air: Don’t book the last flight of the day. If it’s cancelled, you could end up spending the night in the airport.
Let Me Entertain You
Kids love goody bags. Giftwrap some dollar-store items (books, washable markers, doodle pads, stickers, etc.) and travel versions of favorite games (like Battleship, Yahtzee, Connect Four, and checkers). Don’t give all the goodies away at once—dole them out as boredom or good behavior dictates.
- On the Road: If you didn’t spend the extra money for that built-in car DVD player, not to worry. Rent a portable player for as little as $6 per day. And if you just can’t listen to the Dora the Explorer theme song one more time, your kids can use headphones.
- In the Air: Many major airports rent portable DVD players starting at around $12 per day. If your departure airport doesn’t have them, order online for home delivery. Drop it off at your destination airport (if they have this service), or return it in a pre-paid mailer. DVD players must be switched off and stored during take-off and landing. Headphones are recommended.
When Do We Eat?
Pack non-messy treats like animal crackers, boxes of raisins, fruit roll-ups, and cheese sticks. Put juice or water in non-spill cups or bottles. Skip the soda—caffeine (a diuretic) makes for frequent pit stops. Disposable, adhesive-backed placemats shield tiny hands from less-than-clean eating surfaces.
- On the Road: Stock a cooler and make sure it’s easily accessible.
- In the Air: If a meal will be served on your flight, reserve children’s meals when you make your reservations. Children are served before adults, but pack your own snacks in case meal service is delayed. During take-off and landing, offer your older kids something to eat and either feed your baby or give her a pacifier. Chewing and sucking regulate ear pressure during altitude changes.
Bring a basic first aid kit and prescriptions for any medication your children will need.
- On the Road: Buckling up your kids is a no-brainer. But many parents don’t realize that loose objects are also hazardous if the driver needs to slam on the brakes. Store toys in plastic, see-through boxes that slide under the seats.
- In the Air: If you plan to hold your infant on your lap, you can buy a baby vest that attaches to your seatbelt. Carseats should be FAA approved. Frequent flyers may want to invest in a carseat that coverts to a stoller.
Accidents do happen, even to the already-potty-trained. Pack some extra changes of clothing in large, plastic bags—just in case. You might find disposable potty-seat covers packets of tissues, and anti-bacterial gel or wipes handy for public restroom use.
- On the Road: When you’re miles away from the nearest rest stop, the last words you want to hear are: “I have to go—now!” Bring a portable potty and limit drinks.
- In the Air: For older children, explain in advance that there will be certain times when they won’t be able to use the bathroom (during take-off, landing, and turbulence). Remember that kids should drink more frequently to compensate for dry, re-circulated cabin air.
Stretch Your Legs
Factor in breaks at least every few hours.
- On the Road: Look for fast food restaurants or rest stops with playgrounds and let your kids burn off some energy. The American Automobile Association (AAA.com) helps members plan trips that include kid-friendly stops.
- In the Air: FAA rules prohibit children from sitting in the emergency aisles. Instead, reserve bulkhead seats for extra leg room. When booking a transcontinental or international flight, request a bassinet for your infant. The bassinets, available on a first-come, first-served basis, hook into the bulkhead wall. Airlines usually let travelers with small children pre-board. If you’re with another adult, one of you should board early with the bags and stroller (check your stroller at the gate so you’ll have it when you disembark at your destination). The other adult can stay with the kids and let them run around in the waiting area right up until the last boarding call. Take advantage of airports with children’s play areas.
With some extra planning, your family’s journey can be (almost) as fun as your ultimate destination. So make your list, check it twice, and bon voyage!
Natalie Lorenzi and her husband have flown over 40,000 miles with their three children, and have managed to retain their sanity. Natalie currently lives in Trieste, Italy.