Ahh…the dreams of a big happy family riding blissfully over hill and dale in the packed-to-the-brim SUV, with each child melodically singing Disney songs together, and Mom and Dad glancing affectionately at their lovely travelers, knowing the beach vacation is not far away. WAIT! STOP THE PRESSES! This NEVER happens in real life!
True, but we can dream, can’t we? I don’t know about you, but I remember family trips in my childhood, and those with my own children, as a bit more chaotic, loud, irritating, crowded, and stressful. Long car rides are just not the best setting for children, so sure, there are going to be periods of discontent. Plane trips are difficult for children too, as sitting still, being quiet and dealing with the changing air pressure can be hard for a little one. Even the over-stimulation of the airport activity- loud announcements, flashing lights, lots of people- can be stressful for a child. And don’t get me started about the never-ending wait lines at theme parks… ACK! So what is a parent to do?
With summer vacations almost upon us, planning ahead for these trips with children is so important! Planning ahead will allow you to anticipate some of the potential problem areas and allow you to be more organized and prepared for your trips with children to help ensure a smoother travel experience. Begin your list of what to bring several weeks ahead of your trip, so you can add items as they pop into your head. Children thrive on predictability, so prepare your child by telling them what they can expect so any fears or concerns can be discussed and eliminated before you actually travel. You might even want to show them some videos, maps or read them books about your anticipated destination to help them become familiar with what they will see and do.
In general, when you travel with kids, always bring food and drinks. We all know that children become angry and agitated when their blood sugar is low, or when they are dehydrated. Plan ahead and pack healthy snacks such as cheese, crackers, Cheerios, fruit, water, and juice. Grabbing a candy bar at the closest mini-mart will not be a good choice for your child, or you! To help combat boredom, pack your iPad or other electronic device if you allow your child to watch movies or play games. Don’t forget the earbuds, so others in the car or plane can concentrate on what they wish to do during the trip without the extra noise. Crayons, erasable markers, drawing paper, and coloring books are also good items to bring, as they can keep your child busy and focused during the long drive. Some people cannot read in the car due to car sickness, but picture books for the little ones can also be a good item to pack, as they can still enjoy looking at the pictures. Older children may enjoy reading on the plane to pass the time. Audio CDs or playlists with child-friendly music can engage everyone on board in a little family sing-along. Don’t forget to pack an emergency First Aid kit which includes Band-Aids, antiseptic wipes, First Aid cream, pain relievers, bee sting medication, tweezers, a thermometer, car sickness bags, and any other items regularly necessary for your child. Keep a good supply of pre-moistened wipes with you too, as these can help with cleaning children’s hands, faces and even wiping down tables or toilet seats. If you are traveling a long distance in the car or at night, be sure to pack a travel pillow for your child to help with sleeping a little more comfortably in the car. Finally, be prepared to take the extra time to stop for breaks so children can not only go to the bathroom but can also run off a little energy and work their muscles. A happy, relaxed child will make the trip better for everyone!
Traveling by plane can be a little bit more complicated with children, but it can also be exciting for them too. Prepare them with books and discussions if they have never been on an airplane or in an airport. Tell them about the process of checking in, waiting in lines, and picking up luggage after the trip. Point out the planes and what the staff are doing as you wait by the big windows at the gate. Help walk them through the security screening process before you even leave home so they will know what to expect. If they are 12 or older, they will have to remove their shoes, so help them choose a pair that will easily facilitate this process. Your little ones may be upset if their favorite teddy bear disappears into the big dark tunnel of the screening machine conveyor belt, so be prepared to assure him that he can pick up Mr. Bear on the other side. Plan for some additional time in the airport than you might normally take because walking to and from gates, stopping for bathroom breaks, and having your child stop to watch new people or things can take more time than you may have anticipated. Rushing will not only make the travel more stressful, but it will upset your child and increase any fears or anxiety they already had. Have a safety plan already prepared in case you and your child become separated. Your child needs to know how to ask a shopkeeper or security guard for help. If you have small children and you will be in a large busy airport, consider purchasing a child locator device. Writing your cell number on your child’s arm is also a possibility. It is important to tell your child not to wander off, and watch them at all times. Be sure to hold hands or carry your small child. If you bring a stroller, the crew will store it for you before you get on the plane. Crowds and activity are very distracting for children, so you will have to be the one to ensure that they remain close to you. Do not become so focused on your cell phone that you lose sight of your child. Be sure you booked airline seats together, or request family boarding on those airlines who do not pre-book seats. You will want to be together to ensure oversight of your child. If you can obtain a window seat, this is a bonus! Your child will enjoy watching the plane rise into the clouds and look down on the houses and cars below. Bring sugarless gum, baby bottles for infants, or ask for drinks for your child to help them adapt to the changes in air pressure in the cabin and help avoid any painful earaches. Depending upon your child’s age, secure them in an FAA approved child safety harness to help protect them during any turbulence. Adjust the vents to keep your child comfortable and reduce the lighting if it seems to be too harsh for them. When the airline assistant comes around to offer drinks and maybe even a snack, be sure your child says “Please” and “Thank You” when they’re served. Good manners travel exceptionally well!
Travel days can easily be far from routine for your child. Understand that they can easily become cranky when their afternoon nap is interrupted or lunch is served a bit later than usual. They may demonstrate undesirable behaviors or cry because their “world” has temporarily changed. They may even become ill if their little bodily systems become compromised. Children need time to adapt to anything that is new. Although travel is tiring for adults as well, you need to model ways of effectively coping for your child and give them some leeway in adjusting themselves to a new environment or new people. The old reminder of “Remain Calm” is important when traveling with children.
Just remember to plan ahead as best you can, pack food and entertainment for your children, and be very flexible as you travel. Will your trip be perfect? Maybe not, but chaos and stress don’t have to be your travel companions, too!
Photo Credit: Jason Hall