10 Tips for Travel with Kids You’ll Wish You Read Sooner

Photo: Kerry Cushman

The thought of traveling with kids has sent many a parent into an all-out panic. Despite mishaps that may happen, flying with children is basically parenthood at 35,000 feet. Which means prepare as much as possible and then just buckle up and enjoy the ride. Yep, it might get messy and someone might cry, but with a few tricks you’ll be reading that book while they snooze the flight away. Just kidding. That probably won’t happen, but what will happen is you’ll wonder why you worried so much to begin with. Here’s ten tips for easy travel with kids. Bon voyage!

1. Start them young.

While it may seem terrifying to take your littlest one on an extended plane, train or road trip, the earlier you start traveling with them, the better. You might have a few uneasy moments soothing a crying baby on a crowded plane or lugging strollers and car seats on a busy shuttle bus, but by the time they are old enough to sit in their own seat or carry their own suitcase, they will know the drill.

2. Visualize success and pack like a pro.

The key to easing through the airport is to prepare in advance and not over pack. Take a stress-free moment to think about your trip before you go, including the getting-there part. Before I pack, I visualize traveling with my family. I picture us getting to the airport, passing time on the plane, boarding the metro, the whole deal. This helps me imagine what we will need and pack like a pro. Before we have even started the trip, I am already mentally prepared.

3. Go hands free.

I once went on a multi-country adventure thru Europe with a rolling suitcase. It was a big fail. Trying to navigate cobblestone streets with a wheelie is not unlike traveling with kids, a potentially bumpy ride. Keep your hands free for parent duties by wearing backpacks instead of lugging tote bags. If your little one is old enough to walk, have them carry a little backpack of their own. Pack it with snacks and toys, but keep it light and size appropriate so you do not end up lugging it for them.

4. Leave the guilt, take the electronics.

We have pretty strict time limits about electronics at home, but all bets are off during extended travel. With so many educational apps available, use long plane trips as a time to explore a new program together, like the PBS app or Kodable, which explores early coding.

5. Snack attack.

Do not underestimate the power of snacks to pass travel time. Or underestimate how many you need. Many a flight we had already consumed all our snacks I brought by the time we hit our cruising altitude. Bring a variety and don’t forget about TSA rules.

6. Give yourself plenty of time.

There are always moments when we need to race from point A to point B, but if possible give yourself plenty of time to travel at a toddlers pace. While airport travel may be old hat to you, it is new to them. Allow extra time to let them soak it all in and ease your stress levels in the process.

7. Let them be a mini-tourist.

Discuss the trip plan and let them be a participant instead of passenger. On a recent extended train trip, I gave my four year old my old digital camera and said it was his to use for the trip. He loved having a grown-up camera. It not only engaged him in the scenery and adventure of the trip, he took some pretty great pictures!

8. Layer it on.

Layer easy-on clothes (like tees and elastic waistband pants) to account for varying temps and bathroom breaks in tiny toilets. Bring a backup outfit for inevitable mishaps and spills.

9. Catch some Zzzz’s.

When flights fall during nap time or bedtime, I tell my son it’s a sleeping airplane. To my surprise, it works like a charm! It lets him know that sleep is expected on the plane. To seal the sleepy-time deal, I stuff a small bag with a sweater to make a pillow without having to bring along extra stuff.

10. Attitude is everything.

Give them a pre-game pep talk to let them know that you are going on an exciting family adventure and everyone is going to work as a team. When the inevitable moments of stress do come up, instead of getting frazzled, keep it upbeat. On a recent trip to Vancouver we had a crazy tight flight connection. As we deplaned one plane and headed to the other, we “prepared to race!” Our little one thought it was a hilarious thrill to run through the airport. Embrace the whole adventure. If you make it fun, your kids will too.

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