Traveling with the kids is one of the most wonderful things you can do as a family. It's also one of the most stressful. Any experience with kids can be very unpredictable. Just when things seem to be going well, your little cutie may vomit all over you, and that's when you'll be especially grateful that you over-prepared for the trip. Note: one can never be over-prepared when traveling with kids because anything is possible. To help you cover all your bases, here are some insider tips for traveling with kids that will hopefully make your experience as smooth as possible.
Since my kids were infants, we have traveled with them — as much as three! —all over the world. No trip was perfect; there were always bumps along the way. But as time went on we learned to anticipate said bumps and prepare for them. Smart phones make travel much easier, with everything from the traffic app Waze for finding the fastest driving route to mobile boarding passes to thousands of apps that provide hours of entertainment for the kiddies in transit. That little computer in your pocket can sure come in handy.
Some of our tips have to do with trip planning, others with the actual travel. The overriding message, though, is: be flexible. And patient. As with everything in parenting, try to imagine all the bad scenarios, prepare for them, and realize that some things are just out of your control.
1. A Sleeping Child Is A Mellow Traveler
Many people try to time their flights around nap time. Certainly a sleeping toddler is a much better travel companion than a wired and ready to play one. On long flights, Quantas Airlines recommended that you try to fly overnight with kids. I know many families who plan their road trips to start at 10pm, with the parents taking turns driving through the night and the kids in pajamas sleeping through most of the trip.
2. Schedule Everything In Advance
But leave room for flexibility. My sister-in-law Amy is famous for her five page itineraries, complete with subway routes, restaurant choices and links to attraction websites. She then creates a Google Map to accompany it, color-coded by day. You don't have to be that specific, but it's often easier to have things planned out than to have to wrangle dinner reservations or figure out what you want to see that day, while also managing young kids. Also, try to get tickets in advance for attractions that may be popular. If you are traveling to certain cities, the Leisure Pass company has cards you can buy that allow you to save money and skip the lines at many local attractions.
3. Give The Kids Some Control
If the kids are old enough, give them a few choices of sites to see and allow them to help in the trip planning. Include them in the packing process by letting them pack their own carry-ons for the airplane or back seat bag for a car trip. This is best done with supervision and parental veto rights, as the rock collection probably shouldn't make the cut and they likely don't need 10 stuffed animals.
4. Screens Are Your Friends
Even if you try to limit screen time in your house, Wired suggests there's a lot of value to keeping them busy with technology. Hand them your iPad or iPhone (get a really sturdy case), pre-loaded with fun (new) apps and movies.
5. Prep Your Carry-On
In addition to snacks and entertainment, your airline carry-on or easy-to-reach car bag should have the following: pain reliever, antihistamine, hand sanitizer, Band-aids, wet wipes, tissues, spare clothes for everyone (even the grownups, as a vomiting child is not picky about where they vomit), and plastic grocery bags for garbage and for vomited on clothes.
Another hint is to pack anything you might need in the first few hours at your destination in an easy-to-reach front suitcase pocket. Nothing's worse than having to tear through the whole suitcase to find your bathing suit when your kid is dying to jump into the pool.
Trip Savvy has put together vacation packing lists for all sorts of trips.
6. Never Lose A Sippy Cup Again
I spent many a vacation hunting around for sippy cups, because I lost them all by day two. Babble suggests stashing away Gatorade or water squeeze bottles in your travel bag. Fill them with water when you get past the security gate and use them for the trip. Lose them? Just go to the 7-11 and get another Gatorade.
7. Use A Point System To Bribe Them
These are useful on any trip, but especially on road trips. In an attempt to keep the peace but also keep the trip flowing, we would give points for trying to pee, points for actually peeing, points for throwing out their own garbage at McDonalds, points for not poking their brother, etc. At the destination, they could trade in their points for rewards.
8. There's No Such Thing As Too Early
It's much better to be two hours early to the airport or train station then to be sprinting through security with a stroller and a baby in a backpack. It's always good to leave wiggle room for traffic, difficulty parking and long lines at security.
9. If You Are Too Early, Explore the Airport
Since you've arrived really early, you'll have time to spare before your flight. Keep the kids busy. Kidventurous compiled a list of best family friendly airports. If your airport doesn't have anything official for the kids, consider riding the tram or doing an airport "I Spy."
10. A Rested Parent Is A Happy Parent
If you are traveling with another adult, Babble suggests you try to take turns caring for the kids while in transit. Tag team bathroom breaks but also allow the other parent to walk the terminal, read a magazine or skim Twitter.
Similarly, if there's a way to take turns sleeping in each morning, it allows each of you some extra rest and may work to keep you both sane.
11. Don't Cram Your Whole Family Into A Small Hotel Room
We learned many trips ago that everyone got along much better if we had a little room to spread out. We've rented condos in Turks and Caicos and Sedona, flats in London and villas in Jamaica, Italy and St. John. It's usually cheaper than staying in a hotel room, you can make your own breakfast and even have food to pack a lunch, which will save you so much in the long run. The extra room comes in handy if you want to put your kids to bed, but still have a place to hang out. Not to mention, it's never bad for the parents to be able to close their bedroom door and enjoy some private vacation time. Start your search with VRBO and Airbnb, but be wary. If a listing promises you a discount to pay in advance and has you wire the money to a bank in London, they could be a fraud (yes, this happened to me, but we figured it out before I sent the money).
12. Give Them A Camera
13. Take Joy In The Journey
Find the adventure in the travel, but once you get there, remember that everything doesn't have to be a race from site to site. My kids once spent a half hour watching the magic fountain at Disney and they were enchanted by the glitter in the sidewalk. We were rushing to the next ride and they wanted to linger through their surroundings.
14. Keep Track Of The Wanderers
Though we never used it ourselves, we certainly could appreciate the whole the kid-on-a-leash thing. Many trips have been filled with "Where's Eric?" moments, as my toddler would wander off the second we turned away. If you worry about this, or even have the possibility of abduction in the back of your mind, a GPS tracker might be the solution. These come in a variety of forms, from wearable watches and bracelets to trackers you can put in their pockets or backpack. Or seriously, just get the leash.
15. Label Them With Permanent Marker, Just In Case
If you opt for the low-tech route, Rough Guides suggests printing your cell phone number in marker on your child's arm in case they get lost. If you're not comfortable with a permanent marker, look for non-toxic options, or write it on the inside of their sleeve.
16. Don't Forget Your Sense Of Humor
And pack a giant suitcase full of patience. The Gee family of The Bucket List Family who traveled around the world with their two young kids told Business Insider that it's all about perspective. "A 15-hour flight can be 'a dreadful restless headache' or it can be 'an adventure on a giant spacecraft that is taking us to a new world to explore!'" So if you and your partner find yourself in a very inconvenient situation, like your baby has a blow out and you're tired beyond belief, just think of how amused you'll be when you're recounting the story to the date said baby brings home in 15 years — pretty funny, right?
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