Expert Tips for Traveling With Young Children
Many parents are so afraid of traveling with young children that they avoid it altogether. Avoiding travel with small kids is a mistake, though, because travel creates opportunities for education, enrichment, and family bonding.
With the right mindset and a few tools in your toolkit, you can make traveling with your kids a, dare we say, enjoyable experience for parents and kids alike.
Lower Your Expectations
The most important thing you can do before traveling with kids of any age is to lower your expectations. If you envision a perfect, Instagram-worthy vacation, you’re inevitably going to be disappointed. Family vacations rarely resemble what we see on social media.
However, if you go in with little or no expectations, there’s nowhere to go but up. You shouldn’t expect things to be bad, but you should expect things to go wrong. You should also be flexible and willing to change your plans if things aren’t working out. If you’re willing to go with your child’s mood, you’ll be surprised at how much fun you all have.
You can go minimalist if you want, but it’s probably a good idea to bring a few extra outfits. If you have early mornings where everyone will be tired, you can save yourself some time by putting each outfit (with socks and underwear) in a gallon-sized plastic bag.
You may want to avoid packing light-colored clothing as it’s easier to stain. Also, try to pack outfits that can mix and match in case of an accident. Don’t go overboard, but pack a variety of clothes in case of a change in weather. If you’re going swimming, be sure to pack two swimsuits so that you’ll always have one dry.
If your kids are old enough, they can each pack their own small backpack with a few small toys and snacks. You may also want to bring a few new toys and books—sometimes, the novelty can keep kids occupied on long trips.
Airport / Airplane Tips
When booking a flight, try to choose a time that works with your kid’s schedule. You may want to time the flight with their nap or choose a time when they’ll be in a good mood and less likely to fuss. Don’t get to the airport too early, but make sure you have enough time in case of incidentals.
You may want to pay a little extra for TSA Precheck, so you don’t have to wait in line. Board early so you can get everything in the overheads before others start to board. Be sure to bring some small toys and activities along with plenty of snacks to keep your child occupied. Also, dress your child in layers as you don’t know if the plane will be hot or cold.
Lastly, a flight may be a good time to loosen up your screen restrictions. If your child is getting fidgety or disrupting others on the flight, a tablet may be the best thing to keep them busy and quiet. For long flights, videos can help to pass the time.
Road Trip Tips
Road trips can be a recipe for disaster, especially in those last few hours before arriving at your destination. Just as with the plane, you should back fun snacks, toys, and activities to keep your kid occupied. You can also play some fun games such as I Spy.
Be sure to give your family plenty of time to get where they’re going. You’ll need to take frequent stops to give your child a chance to run around and burn off some energy. If it’s a long trip (more than nine-ten hours), you may want to consider splitting the drive up between two days.
Consider leaving either at night or early in the morning. You may get lucky, and your kid will sleep for at least part of the way. You can also make the trip a little less boring by giving your kid something they don’t usually get, such as a sweet treat, dinner at a fast-food restaurant, or a new toy.
Start by booking a kid-friendly hotel. Most kids will be excited about a pool, but some hotels also have games and scheduled activities that will add to the fun. Consider booking a suite so you won’t be stuck in a cramped room with wild kids. Also, try to get on the first floor, so your kids don’t disturb people on the floor below.
If you can get a room with a kitchenette, that can also be helpful. There may be times when you don’t feel like going out for dinner with your kids, so it’ll be convenient to make an easy meal in your room. You can also keep things like milk and other essentials in the refrigerator. Be sure to pack a few things from home to make your kid comfortable, like a special blanket or pillow.
Once you’re in your room, check everything to make sure it’s child-proofed. You’ve probably had your home child-proofed for a while, so you may not even think to check the hotel. Make a plan for sleeping arrangements. Do you feel safe for your child to sleep in a separate bed, or would it be better if they were with you? If you feel like the beds are too high, you can always bring an air mattress.
Be sure to do some research and planning before the trip. While you don’t want to have a rigid schedule, you also don’t want to go in the opposite direction and have no schedule at all. Kids can get wild when they have nothing to do, and they can get frustrated if they’re stuck in the hotel waiting while you’re figuring out what to do.
If you do have a schedule, don’t be afraid to deviate from it. You may have researched a place and chosen what looked to be the most fun activities, only to get there and find other things that interest your kids. Spontaneity is one of the best things about travel, so be prepared to change plans if you stumble onto something interesting.
Even if your trip isn’t to a kid-centered place like Disney World, try to come up with at least a few activities that are just for the kids. Even an evening of mini-golf or the arcade can go a long way with kids. If you spend the whole trip doing something your kids hate, prepare yourself for a lot of whining and complaining.
If you’re on a cruise or another destination that offers childcare activities, be sure to take advantage of these services. You can get some free time to do some grown-up activities, and your kids will probably enjoy the childcare. Cruises and resorts often fill these evenings with fun activities and games, so it’s more than just babysitting.
Most kids don’t like surprises, so be sure to go over the details of the trip with your child before you leave. If you are doing things for the first time, like flying on a plane or going to an amusement park, prepare your child beforehand. Talk and watch videos to get your kid ready.
Traveling with young children doesn’t have to be a trainwreck. It can actually be a great way to expand your child’s horizons and make wonderful memories. Just remember to lower your expectations and have a flexible plan. The most important thing is for you and your family to go into the trip with the right mindset.