Restless little ones strapped into a seat for hours doesn’t sound like a fantastic start your family vacation, but with a little planning you can avoid many of the pitfalls of traveling with young children. Use these tips to make your summer road trips and plane rides as smooth as possible.
Rules of the Road Trip:
Leave early and be prepared for multiple stops. Whether it’s for meals, getting the wiggles out or bathroom breaks, young kids are going to want to escape from the car every few hours. Build in an extra hour of travel time for every three hours your trip would take sans kiddos. Hit the road early in the day to avoid traffic and ensure you have plenty of well-lit and populated rest stop, gas station and restaurant options for stops along the way.
Plan to be in the car around naptime. If your kids are young enough to be napping, it doesn’t hurt to time your departure so they will sleep during the ride. Naptime will provide you with some much-needed quiet, and your little one will (hopefully) arrive at your destination well-rested and in a good mood.
Research the route. It’s tough to beat a playground three hours into a car trip—think fast food joints with indoor play areas, or if the weather cooperates, a park. A picnic lunch also makes for a nice break in the monotony of a long drive. Think about these options before you get in the car, do some research and know where you want to stop ahead of time.
Make the road part of your trip. Regardless of where you’re headed, there’s probably something kid-friendly to see and do in the towns you’re passing through, so don’t be afraid to plan your route with side trips in mind.
Flying the Kid-friendly Skies:
Consider the pros and cons of family boarding. It’s tempting to take advantage of early boarding for families, but if you have assigned seats, allowing your child more time to roam around the terminal before the flight can buy parents extra squirm-free time on the plane. If you’re traveling with your partner or another adult, one adult can board first and secure adequate carry-on space. However, if you have multiple children, family boarding will give you time to get everyone seated and situated. Weigh the options in advance and decide what’s best for you.
Spring for a separate seat. If you have a child under 2, you have the option of holding him in your lap during your flight. While saving money sounds enticing, unless your flight is less than 90 minutes, it might be worth springing for the separate seat. You and your child will not only be more comfortable, you’ll also be able to bring a car seat with you on the plane. According to the FAA, “The safest place for your child on an airplane is in a government-approved child safety restraint system (CRS) or device.” Learn more about bringing a car seat on a plane.
Don’t over-pack the toys. When packing for your flight, resist the urge to stuff your carry-on with toys. A few books, one or two favorite toys, and an activity or coloring book with crayons for older toddlers and preschoolers should get most kids through flights under 4 hours. Focus your child’s attention on everything that is new and exciting on the airplane—page through magazines and play “I Spy” out the plane’s windows.
Don’t skimp on necessities. Keep extra diapers for babies and toddlers, pull-ups for newly potty-trained children, a change of clothes (or two) and snacks within reach while on a plane. Motion sickness, bathroom accidents, blowouts, tantrums—if you’re dealing with one (or more) of these mid-flight, you don’t want to be caught without supplies.
General Tips for Traveling with Kids:
Arm yourself with a surprise. When the going gets tough, a surprise book, trinket or even a fun snack can save the day—or at least buy you a little more time with a content child. Sticker books, a magnetic doodle board and homemade busy bags are all good options.
When all else fails, watch a video. Traveling is a perfect opportunity to allow screen time as a special treat. Keep in mind that apps like Netflix and Hulu won’t work on a plane without Wi-Fi, and connections can get spotty on car trips through less populated areas. Download a few movies onto your device before you hit the road.
Relax. Traveling with young kids, especially babies and toddlers, can get intense at times, but try to keep your cool. The more frazzled mom and dad are, the harder it will be to calm an upset kid. And remember, no matter what the trip throws your way—vomiting, tantrums, accidents, incessant whining—you will eventually reach your destination.