Traveling with kids opens your eyes to the world, allows you to reconnect and reboots your family’s internal bandwidth. It can also test your patience. But if you’re prepared, you and your children will enjoy seeing the world together one glorious state and country at a time.
Remember that children have energy to burn, which doesn’t disappear when they’re strapped into a car or plane for many hours. In fact, their energy levels might actually multiply when they’re restricted. (They always want something they can’t have!) So if you tap into that excitement and engage their curiosity, you’ll all be happy when you arrive at your destination.
Here are some tips for traveling with kids to guide you through your voyages together, and ensure there will be plenty more kid-ventures to come.
Preparation and Logistics
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Long trips on the road or in the air, this mantra can be the parents’ salvation. So I spend a little time in advance planning the journey and we’re all better off.
For long road trips or air travel with kids, I assemble special goodie bags of snacks and activities. This cool new novelty appeases my 3-year-old when we’re delayed or sitting for what seems like an eternity. Other friends of mine wrap a few things in newspaper or gift wrap, either old toys their kids haven’t seen in a while or something small and new. Let kids open one treat per hour. “It’s important not to unveil all the great games right away,” said mother of three Heather Hawes, of Cohasset, MA. “There needs to be a strategic order and timing schedule to make it last!”
Don’t forget: For families that use electronics, download movies, music or audio books in advance so they’re ready when Wi-Fi isn’t accessible. Make sure to have some of your kids’ favorites as well as special new video items. Plus, a dual car charger is a must!
For more helpful tips, check out our posts on flying with kids for the first time and how to survive a road trip with little ones.
Less is more. Less is more. Less is more. You don’t need a week’s worth of clothes for a few days away, so stick to the basics for everyone. I do laundry at our hotel so we keep our vacation’s contents to a minimum. “After traveling with kids for many years, I discovered they always wear the same few outfits,” said Michelle Leys of Newport, R.I., whose children are 3, 5 and 7. “I got sick of carrying too much stuff they didn’t use. So I always just pack their L.L. Bean tote bag. Even for a monthlong road trip to the Grand Canyon, all they took was one small bag.”
Don’t forget: Pack a convenient extra outfit change for everyone to ensure you arrive fresh despite spilled milk or the effects of upset tummies.
Easily accessible snacks are essential. I fill a cooler in the back seat with healthy treats in kid-size containers to easily grab and snack. Baby carrots and hummus, mini cucumbers, string cheese, blueberries, chunks of apple and cubed cantaloupe are low-sugar options that appease our family of three. On long car trips, we stop to stretch our legs and get a quick bite to eat, but if my son is asleep, we skip the pit stop and carry on. Sandwiches or leftovers to-go guarantee that the adults don’t starve!
Don’t forget: Save a few salty or sugary snacks for inevitable meltdowns: Goldfish crackers, fruit chews, pretzels and jelly beans are a quick cure for the traveling-with-kids blues.
What you skimp on clothing make up for in the activities department. A few new games will keep them occupied and excited about getting in the car or plane. Water-based Water Wow coloring books from Melissa & Doug were my son’s favorite while going to Turkey. Couple these with two new monster trucks, favorite books in his backpack, and he’s good to go. Meanwhile, he hardly touched the tablet.
Mothers of two boys Katie Hewett, of Middletown, R.I., and Jessica Torre of Higganum, Conn., agree that audiobooks are great for car travel. “We drove to Maine and the boys were completely mesmerized by Dr. Seuss audio books,” Torre said. Apps like OverDrive or Audible allow you to download books, or you can rent discs from your local library.
Additional tips for traveling with kids include playing interactive family games together, like the license plate or alphabet game. It diverts energy outside the car and allows them to engage with the natural environment. “My 3-year-old also likes making binoculars out of toilet paper rolls and playing I Spy – ‘find a red car” or ‘find something green,’” said Allyson Burkett of Ponte Vedra, FL.
Don’t forget: If you have multiples, get one of each thing for each child. Inexpensive digital cameras, for example, are a great tool, and at the end of your trip, you can make a digital photo album on Shutterfly. But each child must have their own to prevent disputes.
The Last Resort
If all else fails, try bribery. “I have given my two kids $10 in singles, and told them I got a dollar back every time they misbehaved,” said Christy Lafontant of West Bend, WI. “At the end, they kept what they had left. Worked like a charm for 7- and 8-year-olds.”
Don’t forget: Taking a slight detour to keep the peace is more important than maintaining your itinerary. Sway them with ice cream and hide-and-seek in the next highway rest area or layover.