I have no idea how my mom did it. She had three kids and took us from California to New York twice a year. And that was on top of other vacations to places like Big Bear, Palm Springs, and Miami. I’m sure they happened, but I can’t remember any meltdowns or tantrums. Either my sisters and I were angels outside of the house (highly unlikely) or my mother’s traveling tricks actually worked. I can barely make it to the grocery store some days with a toddler.
What were her tricks? Here are my mom’s 10 tips to traveling with kids.
- Snacks, snacks, and more snacks. Did I mention snacks? And food? Seriously, there are few things worse than a hungry child. With their blood sugar dropping fast, they turn into feral animals. Dominik has thrown his most epic meltdowns because he was hungry and there has only been one time that we forgot to bring a snack while traveling. Never again did I forget food. So when you are traveling, bring a nice variety of snacks and food. It’s a good idea to separate them out into different containers so that you have something new and exciting every time you pull out something to munch on. And a special treat works as well. My mom only allowed us to have Lunchables if we were on an airplane. It kept us occupied and full, plus it was exciting enough to keep us appeased for a bit. If your child is a baby, breastfeed if you are able. It’ll keep their ears from popping in airplanes and keep them happy. Finger foods for older babies are also great.
- Have a special “traveling toy kit”. This includes a variety of special toys only for traveling as well as a few new ones. My mom always had a few awesome new toys for us while we traveled. New toys as well as special toys saved for traveling will keep kids occupied for at least a little while. Interactive toys like coloring books, games, and easy crafts are better for keeping kids busy longer. But this is important: Don’t take them out all at once. Take out one thing at a time, saving the next for when they are bored or restless.
- Be early and plan ahead. Being prepared for travel is so important when you have kids. This means having everything packed ahead of time and arriving early. Getting out the door is tough enough and I guarantee you will need extra time for bathroom and diaper breaks. Plus, if you are flying, getting to a terminal early gives kids some time to walk around or a baby to check out some new sights. If you are driving, plan those pit stops at locations like restaurants and parks. The kids will appreciate the food and a chance to run around.
- Technology is your friend. I don’t normally advocate for screen time for kids, but we are focusing on survival here. When I was little, we didn’t have ipads for movies, but my mom always had headphones ready for the in flight movies as well as tape and cd players with some fun tunes. A favorite movie will keep many kiddos occupied for a good while and older kids enjoy the computer games. Getting through a long drive or flight calls for desperate measures somethings, and the extra screen time won’t do lasting harm.
- Bring extra clothes for the whole family. Spills, diaper blowouts, and accidents happen all at once on airplanes and in cars. This includes underwear, pants, shirts, and diapers. I remember how nice it was to have a fresh pair of pants one time when I spilled soda all over myself. And parents, don’t forget a pair of leggings or shorts for you too. Especially if you have an infant that will sit on your lap (yep, learned this the hard way).
- Offer rewards. Everyone loves getting a reward and being recognized for doing something right. Kids are no different and absolutely love the positive attention. Make sure to explain ahead what the reward system will be. The details are up to you. Older kids can be offered a favorite meal, a particular toy, or a special treat if they make it through the day. Younger kids may need a reward every hour or so. Even something like a favorite treat will do the trick. For my son, it’s cuties (clementines). Offer praise and remind them throughout the day what their reward(s) will be. You can use the Traveling Toy Kit as the reward system as well.
- Bring medicine. Like with accidents and blowouts, days of travel also happen to bring runny noses, tummy aches, and allergies. Have a little travel medicine kit ready just in case. It’ll keep everyone feeling their best during all the stress.
- Two words: baby wipes. Remember what I said about accidents and blowouts? Yea. Even if you don’t have babies, bring baby wipes. They are awesome for cleaning up gross and sticky messes and for wiping fingers and surfaces.
- When you plan or book, choose times wisely. It’s probably not a good idea to book a redeye flight if you are traveling with kids. Not only are the rest of the passengers hoping to get some rest, you have no idea if your kids will actually sleep. If they do, they probably won’t sleep enough anyway and will be tired or cranky. Plan a trip according to your child’s schedule. I like to plan traveling around Dominik’s nap time because he usually sleeps a bit and is happy when he wakes.
- Breathe. It’s hard traveling with children, especially when dealing with not so understanding people around you. If you are driving, take your time, even if it means an extra stop or too. If you are flying, sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. You are doing your best. Even if other flyers are annoyed, just focus on yourself and your family, they’ll get over it and often there is nothing you can do. It’ll be okay.
Safe and healthy travels!