My husband and I were driving with our two children to Northern Michigan for a long weekend to visit their grandparents not long ago. I mentioned that I needed to think of material for a blog on traveling with kids. My husband just laughed and replied, “Tip #1 – Don’t do it!” Now to understand a little of his thought process, I’ll give you some backstory. We originally planned this trip to be a quick summer get-away to spend time with family. Unfortunately, our extended family live almost 600 miles away, so the thought of spending more time in the car than actually at our destination led to the decision of booking a flight. Not the best decision we’ve ever made.
Thursday afternoon I left work early to pick up the kids from daycare, pick up my husband from work, drive to the airport in rush-hour, park the car, take out the car seats, check in, get through security, and then sit in the terminal for three hours due to weather delays only to be told there was no available connecting flight for us that night. I don’t know who was more steaming – me, my husband, or my 3-year-old daughter who completely lost it when I told her we wouldn’t be going to Michigan that night. My 16-month-old son on the other hand was his usual joyful self, running back and forth down the terminal hall with his little “happy feet” as my husband calls them.
We make it to baggage claim and my daughter is still in the midst of a meltdown as I’m trying to sing Daniel the Tiger’s mad song. We eventually get our luggage, put the car seats back in, and make it home. We have about five hours to sleep before we have to head back to the airport for a red eye flight to Chicago and then hopefully onto our destination. I couldn’t help feel proud when I hear my daughter in bed sing, “When you feel so mad that you want to roar- take a deep breath and count to four.”
The next day was basically a rinse and repeat of the night before except this time we were delayed in a terminal with a kid-friendly area (thank you, Magic House!) and our flight eventually took off. But after missing our connecting flight yet again, we were told that there were no flights anywhere near our destination within the next 12 hours. A whole day at O’Hare with two rambunctious children waiting on standby – no thank you! And this brings us back to our 5-hour car trip in a one-way rental with rental car seats (since we were not reunited with our luggage until the night before our flight home). Tip #2 – Stay at home!
But, in all honestly, we got home, unpacked, did laundry, and got ready for a trip the following weekend (that time, though, we didn’t drive!). After all, it is summer – the most popular time of year for road-trips (and road construction). So, for those of you like me with no extended family within a 200+ mile radius, or for those moms or dads who just like an adventure and want to see the world, traveling with kids is just a part of parenthood that needs some careful navigating at times. For those times, I give you my tips for traveling:
A little planning and preparation can go a long way.
- Most kids do better with prep and advanced warning. Explain your trip. Where are you going? Show them on a map or globe. Who will you see? What kinds of things will you be doing? What transportation will you be taking? How long will it take to get there? How long will you be staying?
- Pack well in advance. Look up the weather to prepare for a different climate, rain, etc. Think about the types of activities you’ll be doing.
- Get your children involved. My 3-year-old loves to choose her clothes and pack for herself (with a little guidance from me). But, be careful when packing around really little ones because you may end up with only one shoe like I did! For older kids, have them pack, but maybe double check to make sure they didn’t forget any essentials. When I was a kid, I was on an airplane halfway to Hawaii before I remembered that I had left my glasses on my nightstand. Suffice it to say, my parents were not happy, and I missed out on seeing a lot of great stuff!
- There’s nothing wrong with a good old checklist to make sure you’ve covered all bases. I used to tease my mom for making so many lists, but my last-minute packing list has saved me from forgetting my phone charger many times.
- Don’t forget snacks and entertainment (which sometimes can overlap for young kids!). More on this topic below…
But you can’t plan everything, and that’s okay.
- Traveling will inevitably involve bumps and swerves that you don’t expect. You may get a flat tire. Your child may have to pee just after you passed the last rest area for 50 miles. Your child may get sick in the car. You may miss your flight or lose your luggage. Expect that you can’t be prepared for everything.
- As the popular logo shirts say, “Keep Calm and …” Keep Traveling. Even though your first instinct may be to yell at the airline attendant who announced a third delay or give the guy who just cut you off in traffic the finger – remember: children are like sponges and they seem to always be watching at times like these.
- Talk about your frustrations using appropriate words and encourage your children to share how they are feeling about the situation. “Yes honey, I am feeling very frustrated too that we can’t get on a plane tonight.”
- Use unexpected interruptions in travel as a fun excuse to have an “adventure!” While someone is changing the tire, maybe the other parent could take the kids and eat at the restaurant with the world’s largest pies.
Kids are kids no matter where they go.
- If I had only a quarter of the energy my children do, I could get so much done in a day. If your children are anything like mine, then you know that children love moving, getting into things, exploring and learning, and doing things – anything! Whether you’re going on a short or long road-trip, riding a bus or train, or flying, keeping kids entertained is important!
- Allow stops along the way for your child to let some energy out, whether this be a playground at a rest stop, play area at McDonald’s, or small area of grass next to a gas station to do jumping jacks. Even an airport terminal can be an exciting place to explore for a young toddler!
- Pack some of your child’s favorite play things, including action figures, dolls, books, games, coloring/drawing kits. Depending on their age, have them be involved in packing their backpack or other personal bag.
- Bring comfort belongings, especially for young children. Don’t forget pacifiers, blankets, and favorite stuffed animals.
- There’s a time and place for electronics, and in my opinion, traveling is a perfect time for use of DVD players, tablets, iPods, e-readers, Leap Frogs, and any other fun electronic device. Just don’t forget personal earphones so the whole car doesn’t have to listen to three Sofia the First shows in a row. And don’t forget that just because you bring and allow electronics while traveling doesn’t mean you can’t set time limits on them.
- Surprises and new activities can be loads of fun. My daughter spent almost two hours straight in the car coloring with a new princess marker set I surprised her with for a road trip last month. A friend of mine goes to the dollar section at Target and buys little, goofy toys for her daughters to open on each hour of long road-trips. She says they get so excited and usually have a big count-down when the next hour draws near.
- Never underestimate the entertainment value in snacks and different food options. I personally never leave home without a container of Cheerios. Pack different types of snacks or stop for food along the way to break up the drive.
- But, entertainment does not always have to involve toys, electronics, or food that costs money. My favorite game lately to play with my daughter is “I’m thinking of an animal that starts with the letter __ and lives/eats/has ___”. We all take turns coming up with different animals, she gets practice with early phonics and reasoning skills, and we always end up laughing! An older version is the 20-question game.
- Turn up the radio and sing along! Take turns adding to nursery rhymes or folk songs like, “Old MacDonald” or “Wheels on the Bus.” Or make up your own songs. My daughter loves to take the tune “B-I-N-G-O” and replace it will the names of various family members.
- Use traveling time to spend quality time with your family. What a perfect setting for conversation. What has your child/teenager been up to? What is something you don’t know about them? What is everyone excited to do on the trip? Even for the way home – play the high-low game where everyone says their favorite and least favorite parts of the vacation.