How to make trips with little ones more simple, creative + enjoyable. (No more wincing when thinking of schlepping your kids through an airport!)
A common refrain I hear from parents expecting a baby is, “There goes our dreams of traveling.” But those dreams don’t have to dissolve as little humans pop into your family. While traveling with children obviously comes with a slew of challenges, it actually makes me savor travel more, as I get to see the world through Hudson’s eyes. The crabs that used to annoy me in Costa Rica are now fascinating critters to chase… and then run away from. And an airplane with built-in screens is now the most exciting discovery ever.
However, without certain preparations and considerations traveling with kids can easily slip back into “dream killer” mode. Here are tips to help you stay on the sunny side of family travel.
Prep your kids for the new locations.
Some kids get super uncomfortable in new environments, which is why it can be helpful to show them photos and/or videos of the locations you’ll be visiting before you leave, in addition to teaching them a bit about the local culture. You can also see if there’s any children’s books set in that area. This will all help the destination feel more familiar to your littles, and hopefully minimize meltdowns.
Pad your itinerary.
One of the biggest stressors of travel is time. Running late for the plane. Trying to get to that group tour before they leave. And the list goes on. Avoid the need to constantly tell your family to hurry up by leaving plenty of time to get from point A to B. In addition, plan ample free time between outings for rest or spontaneous activities.
Loosen up on some rules.
Because travel changes the tapestry of your days, it may be wise to analyze your set of rules (for example, one-hour of screen time each day) and see what you can bend, in favor of having a more enjoyable trip. Be sure to manage expectations by letting the kids know this is a temporary arrangement.
Bring just-in-case meds.
In addition to the medications you know your family will need, bring those that might come in handy. For example, Hudson and I are prone to motion sickness, so I always pack motion sickness patches. Allergy and OTC pain meds are also regulars in my suitcase.
Let kids have a say in the itinerary.
While you likely have your finger on the pulse of what your kids will enjoy, it can be empowering for them to have a voice in what you do on the trip. You can let the kids get a say by providing a list of activities you think the whole family would enjoy, then asking each child to select two or three options.
Pack layers for the plane.
A plane can be sweltering on the tarmac, then frigid in the air. Help the kids (and yourself!) stay comfortable during travel by packing layers that can accommodate these temperature shifts.
As much as possible, avoid switching up your accommodations. Not only does relocating take a lot of time, but it also requires the kids to have to acclimate to new sleeping quarters.
If your kids are picky eaters, or sensitive to certain types of foods, always have a supply of some of their favorite nosh in your travel tote. Sadly, we didn’t do this on a 14-hour flight to Australia, and arrived with disgruntled digestive systems.
Write down how to explain dietary needs in the language spoken in your destination.
If you’re going to Italy and your child has a peanut allergy, for example, look up how to explain the allergy in Italian, so there’s no miscommunication when purchasing food.
Bring something new.
Kids love novelty – at least when it comes to stuff. Keep an ace up your sleeve by packing a few toys, books, or (non-messy) art supplies that you can whip out when the going gets tough.
Load up the electronic entertainment device.
Whether we like to admit it or not, many of us rely heavily on screens to entertain children while traveling. Because reliable Wi-Fi is not a guarantee, download audio books, shows, movies, and games before you leave.
Bring headphones with a jack.
Even with a fully loaded device, there’s something about a built-in entertainment device on an airplane that’s irresistible to kids. Ensure they’re able to use it by bringing comfortable headphones that can be plugged in. We were recently on a flight with such a screen, and Hudson was devastated that his wireless headphones couldn’t be plugged in. Devastated.
Create a wind-down song.
Prep your kids to mellow out in a foreign environment by singing a super soothing song to them every night, starting about two weeks before you leave. If they have a hard time focusing on your sweet tunes, ask them to close their eyes, watch your face, or focus on a calming object, like a stuffed animal.
Make a safety plan.
Travel is ripe with opportunities for kids to get lost. For older kids, set a plan for where and when to meet if you get separated. For little kids, emphasize the point that they need to always be able to see one of their adults. And of course, make sure an adult is always assigned to keep an eye on them.
In addition, when you’re exploring, put a note in their pocket (or tie it on their wrist) that includes your name, local phone number, email address, and location of your accommodations. Remind your kids to show this note to an adult if they get lost.
If you’re tech savvy, get a GPS tracking device like The Tile and attach it to your child so you don’t have to rely on others to get them back to you.
Start your day with positivity.
Because the moods of parents can drastically impact the moods of kids, help yourself (and your partner, if you’re traveling with one) start the day on a positive note by spending five minutes every morning in a calm location visualizing how you would like your day to unfold. Really savor the positive emotions attached to these visualizations.
If your kids wouldn’t scoff at the idea of a few minutes of guided meditation, get them in on this morning practice.
Spice up sightseeing with special projects.
Because many kids like sightseeing as much as they love Brussels sprouts, keep your minis from rioting whilst you explore a new area by giving them a special project, like a scavenger hunt or taking pictures for a photo journal. We’ve also had luck downloading audio books on our phones, and keeping headphones stashed in our backpack, to have go-to entertainment when Hudson starts protesting our itinerary.
Scavenger Hunt Tip: Make a list of common plants, animals, structures, or objects you’re likely to see at your sightseeing locales of choice, then read them to the kiddos on the way to stoke their excitement. And offering a reward for those that complete the scavenger hunt never hurts.
I used to think there was little benefit to travel challenges until I realized it was making our kid more resilient. However, that resilience only showed itself if Eric and I could keep our cool. So, help your kids learn valuable lessons about staying calm in the face of sh*tty luck by doing so yourself. A few deep breaths, and reminding myself that no amount of anger, blame or regret will change the situation, usually prevents me from becoming a travel monster.
Consider hiring childcare.
Because there will likely be aspects of a destination you’re dying to explore without the kids, hiring a sitter can infuse added joy into your trip. While many parents are hesitant to hire a sitter that hasn’t been vetted by friends and family, services like Care.com and Nanny.org only connect you with carefully screened childcare providers.