Traveling. With. Children.
Did your heart just beat a little faster? Those three little words need not strike fear in parents. You can do it – with minimal drama and maximum fun.
Let me start with this: My husband and I are, by nature, adventurers. We each had visited dozens of countries and much of the United States before we met and have traveled regularly (together, separately and with our kids) since then.
Summer is peak travel season, so I’ve compiled a few tips for those of you contemplating travel with little ones:
Traveling by Car
With children today confined to car seats, perhaps the most important thing you can do is to dress everyone comfortably – sweats or cotton shorts and a soft t-shirt work well.
When our kids were younger, we kept various toys and books up front, trading a new one for one that the child was temporarily done playing with. If a toy ended up on the floor, that kiddo had to wait five minutes before getting a replacement. This “toy exchange” kept them busy and playthings rotating instead of littering the floor.
As they got older, I fashioned a “toy box” out of two diaper boxes taped securely together (bottom to bottom) and wedged tightly between the middle row seats in our minivan. The boys could grab a new toy and put the old one away with little parental intervention.
DVD players and handheld video games have evolved into the entertainment of choice, prompting us this year to buy child-sized, sound-limiting headphones.
Make every stop count. Rather than pausing at a rest area and later a gas station, fill up at a truck stop, use the restroom, stretch your legs and grab a snack or lunch. If you hit a fast food restaurant with a play area, let the kids play while you eat. They can eat later in the car, killing time and giving them a new activity.
It sounds counterintuitive, but when you want them to sleep, try making noise. Talk. Pop in your favorite music CD, turn it up and sing. It took me a couple of years to figure out that our kids are lulled to sleep not by silence, but by a constant hum.
If you’re staying at a hotel along the way to your final destination, pack a small bag with just enough to get by for a night so you don’t have to haul in all your luggage for one night.
Traveling by Plane
During busy times, avoid the lines by paying a buck or two a bag to use valet check in outside.
Explore the airport while you wait for your flight. Airports are exciting for kids – examine the different airplanes together, ride the shuttle trains and people movers. Get some exercise before you board!
A lightweight travel car seat is more practical than the bulky Britax. But if you must bring the big seat, consider a GoGoBabyz airport stroller – a small, wheeled contraption that fastens to a car seat, allowing you to pull your child like a piece of carryon luggage.
If altitude changes might be a problem, Earplanes are available at many stores, usually in the pharmacy section. These little beauties help reduce ear pressure and excessive plane noise.
If you have a baby, many planes offer fold-out bassinets built into the wall in front of bulkhead seats. Just ask. If your toddler drinks regular milk in a bottle, most coffee shops (even in airports) will warm you up a cup for a nominal fee.
General Travel Tips
Start traveling with your children while they’re very young. It might be exhausting the first couple of times, but they’ll adapt. Our boys have been traveling since they were born and these days, it’s fairly easy for us.
A week out, make a checklist and cross off items off as you pack. Pack a power strip to charge cell phones, tablets and other electronics each night.
A portable Pack-n-Play crib can make bedtime familiar during travel. As children grow older, consider buying a smaller, packable cot or child-sized air mattress. When we have space, we pack our kids’ sleeping bags, too. This helps them feel comfortable, no matter where our travels take us.
It requires a bit more planning to travel with children, but in my experience, the memories far outweigh the effort.