Icy and snowy roads, canceled flights, weather delays, and crowded roadways and airports – be prepared for a busy holiday travel season. In the midst of holiday travel stress, don’t forget the kids.
For adults, the delays and frustrations of traveling during winter or summer can be stressful for many. However, adding kids to the mix can make this time even more more difficult. From kids young to old, traveling can be a huge burden on them as well.
I spent some time traveling at Thanksgiving with my kids (Thanksgiving is my favorite travel holiday). One of the things that most people worry about when traveling with kids is how those kids are affecting other passengers. However, making travel fun for kids is just one of a few important family travel tips.
I have talked to other parents who have kids of various ages and asked them for advice when traveling. Based on the advice and experience of others (including some travel tips from traveling dads), here are some useful family travel tips on things you need to know and how you can make traveling with kids fun:
Family travel tips – Airplanes and airports
Bring identification for your kids – For kids under 2, this is essential. Believe it or not, airlines are not as worried about whether the kid is yours as they are making sure you pay for a seat for a child over 2. While the airlines may not request to see if for your young ones, you may not be allowed to board if you don’t have it. A birth certificate (for children under 2) or photo id is sufficient. If you are traveling overseas, ALL children (regardless of age) must have a passport.
The airport - The airport can be a stressful place for the holidays, especially with little kids running around. For families, it can start with airport security but here are some airport security travel tips to make this experience a little easier. Once you are inside the airport, make the experience fun for the kids as they check out the airplanes and have fun before you get on your flight.
Family travel tip for airports- check to see if your airport has a family security line.
Pre-flight entertainment - If your kids are really young but mobile, an airport can be a fascinating place. Get there early, show them the planes arriving and taking off, and allow them to wander around (safely) and explore. Crowds of people and busy airports may be a necessary frustration for adults but can be fascinating and entertaining to young kids.
Snacks, drinks, and food - If you are still breast or bottle feeding your child, you are allowed to take as much breast milk or formula “as necessary” for the trip. Remember that delays or missed flights could mean hours of crying if you don’t have enough.
Plan ahead, pack it in a lunch cooler, keep it cold with some ice once inside security, and pack as many snacks as you want. Remember that all other drinks must be bought once you are through security. If your child is drinking whole milk, this can be hard to find at fast food places and restaurants in the airport. So pack that to take with you as well and say you are still feeding your child.
For all kids, pack some snacks and food and maybe some sandwiches if you don’t want to pay for expensive airport or airplane food. And remember that the rule for all other liquids still apply (the 3-1-1 rule).
On board entertainment (3 and under ) – Kids age 3 and under may not really understand what is going on so the flight, while something new, may be a major interruption to their schedule.
Family travel tips for young kids – Be patient and spend a lot of hands-on time with them. Trade off with your spouse, partner, friends, or family if they are traveling with you.
For younger kids, pack a bag just for them filled with new toys, games, coloring books, and snacks. Give them something to eat or drink when you take off and land to help the pressure in their ears. Entertain them by pulling out new things to play with. And when they are tired of that, pull out something else new and exciting (dollar store gifts are great for travel). Take the little ones for a walk up and down the aisle if necessary (and when safe to do so) and meet the flight attendants.
If you can afford it, bring along the car seat if it will make your child more comfortable (it’s also safer). The key is to be creative and make this as fun as possible. There may be some rough moments but realize that sometimes a tired child is just going to be fussy.
On board entertainment (3 and older) - For older kids, this really isn’t a problem as they have their iPods, iPhones, video games, and in-flight entertainment to keep them entertained. If you have kids still used to a nap time, set aside a nap time on the plane.
While long flights can be tough, be creative. Make up stories using the safety manual giving the characters names. Make your air sickness bag a puppet and have your child draw and color it. If they are old enough, provide some reading material on your destination and learn some facts about where you are going. Make up games or plan “to do” lists for when you arrive and let your child have input.
Family travel tips for older kids - While they can keep themselves entertained, make sure you include them in the trip as well.
Family travel tips – Road trips
Plan ahead - Take your time, plan ahead, and don’t be in a hurry. With rain, snow, and a lot of cars on the road, holidays and summer are busy times of the year. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination.
Plan breaks for long trips - Adults may be able to take turns driving and go hours without taking a break. Kids need a break and parents will be thankful they took one when traveling with kids. From babies to older kids, they need a change of scenery.
For little ones, taking a break and running around may tire them out for a nap in the car. Stretching the legs, grabbing a bite to eat, or changing a diaper can help re-fuel everyone and make for a more pleasant journey.
Family travel tip for long road trips – Stop and smell the roses along the way as you take breaks to stretch, eat, or even play.
Entertainment - Older kids are able to sit still for longer periods, know what is going on, and have numerous things to entertain themselves. Young ones may need to be fed, changed, or entertained. Toys, games, and movies are often good ways to entertain kids for hours. However, make them a part of the journey.
Play games where you find things with each letter of the alphabet or see who can find the most license plates from different states. Sing Christmas or holiday songs. Be wary of being the “boring” parent – let them come up with ideas for what to do in the car. Plan it ahead of time. Talk about your destination and play games. Rotate seats after each stop (make sure your kids meet the height and weight requirements to sit in the front).
Have playtime with the baby in the back seat. Talk about things you are thankful for. Technology and toys can be a wonderful thing but keep them engaged as well. It might surprise you how much the kids will remember and appreciate the things you did on the trip.
Family travel tips – Arriving at your destination
Plan time for the kids - Holidays with family or summer vacations can be extremely busy as you have a lot to do and a lot of people to see in a short amount of time. However, plan time for the kids to have fun as well. Make a special date to take them out to a restaurant or fast food place of their choice. Take them to see a movie. If the weather is nice where you are going, spend some time at the park. Give your kids time to still be kids.
Family travel tips for the kids – Set aside some special time just for them to do something they want to do.
Know your kids and make them a part of the trip - This can vary a lot based on where you are going and who you are with. If your kids are really active, give them an assignment once they get there – let them be in charge of passing out the Christmas gifts or setting the table with a name tag for each person (you may know all the relatives there but they may not).
Set aside an hour of quality time for each kid to watch a movie, play, or whatever they want to do. Give them a “small” gift to say thanks for being a part of the family and for being so well behaved. Know your child, what motivates them, and do what you can to make this time special for them as well.
Family travel tips for the kids and trip - Make them a part of the planning process and they will look forward to the vacation since they feel like they are a part of it.
Make holiday travel and summer vacations with kids fun
Enjoy the holidays and vacations with your family and realize that traveling with kids doesn’t necessarily mean stress, frustration, or yelling. Despite all the hassle, the holidays are a good time of year to give thanks for travel.
Family travel tips are a way to help you and your kids enjoy holiday travels and summer vacations.
Take the time to spend with them and let them be a part of the trip. Years from now, their best memories will be the time you spent together as a family!