Whether you’re going by car, plane or train, traveling with children of any age isn’t always easy, but it is nearly always rewarding.
1. Plan Ahead, But Be Flexible
There is no substitute for looking at your options before you go and making a plan. But, since children are involved, build in alternate possibilities and expect that there will be changes while on the go. Because expectations are such an important part of results, don’t think that you’ll only have fun if the plan you came up with. That may include your best options but it does not always end up being exactly the way the trip pans out. Go in with the attitude that as long as you all have some new experiences (even some that aren’t the best!), create some memories, teach some lessons along the way, and bond as a family, and the trip will be worth it.
Also, including everyone, especially the children, in the planning phase will certainly help them “be on board” with the final results. Show your children where you are going (on a map, in pictures) and tell them why you think it will be a good place to visit (even if it’s just to see relatives). Print out a map for them to take and follow during the trip. Discuss things to do and let them choose a few—with backup options, so the trip is “theirs,” too, and so that at least some of the time, they can feel in control. “Today, we are doing what your sister chose, tomorrow we’ll do what you picked, and the next day is Daddy’s day!” Of course, be realistic in the choices, but explaining what might not be possible before you go should lead to less disappointment when you are there. Print an itinerary for each member of your family to avoid future arguments, but leave room for flexibility, because things change, including what children think that they want to do before the trip starts!
2. Where You Stay May Be As Important As What You Do
If you aren’t staying with relatives or friends, thoroughly research hotels in the area. Any new environment is stressful for kids, and especially at the end of the day, when they are tired, the hotel and room(s) you choose should make things easier, not harder. Check out reviews, especially from parents. Is the hotel near the sights you’ll be seeing (to reduce destination travel time)? Are there restaurants and/or activities within walking distance (so you don’t have to pile into the car for every excursion)? Is there space in the room(s)/hotel to play? Is breakfast provided and at what time? Is there a laundry on-site? Is there a kitchenette? Does the hotel have a kids’ program, and, if so, at what time (hours are often seasonal)?
Once you are there, not only should you use anti-bacterial wipes to clean surfaces, remote controls, etc., but consider child-proofing your hotel room. While there are a number of travel kits available, you can also get creative: use masking tape to wrap wash cloths around door knobs, loose cables, etc.; bring sliding glass door locks; use Band-Aids to cover electrical sockets; etc.
3. On the Road
Consider the time you are traveling. Is it going to be during nap times? If so, and the children can sleep, that could make the trip seem shorter for them, and for you. If they can’t sleep, and for the time they are awake, “distractions” can be an effective way to keep them happy.
Of course, entertainment is a good idea. It might be easier to load what you can on to a digital device, including books, rather than having a bag stuffed with lots of little toys. Bring extra batteries and a car charger. On the other hand, some physical toys can be helpful to keep little fingers and hands busy and to provide a break from the screen. Drawing, too, can while away the hours, but crayons are easily lost, so a magnetic drawing board might be better. Buying some new toys or digital games and giving them out one-by-one during the trip there and back is also often a way to keep kids occupied and excited (and rewarded?) as they play with something new for the first time.
For the trip and once you are at your destination, buy your children a disposable camera (and try it out at home first so they know what pictures will look like); bring a journal where they can keep a record of and write or draw about what they did each day. Collect picture post cards for an album of the trip.
If you are on the road, stop often—for bathroom breaks, nursing, diaper changing, stretching legs, running around to burn off energy. However you are traveling, bring a variety of snacks (offering children choices is helpful), maybe in pieces so one whole snack isn’t consumed all at once. If you can bring pillows and blankets, that will help relax the kids and having their pillow at the destination may give them a better night’s sleep.
4. On the Plane
Bring a change of clothes (spills happen when traveling) and an extra shirt for you, too! Pack extra plastic bags in your carry-on for dirty clothes/diapers, broken toys, etc. Bring empty water bottles that can be filled with water or juice by the flight attendant once you are on the plane. Establish a relationship with the flight attendant and those around you before your child might become a nuisance to other passengers. Sometimes other passengers are more forgiving if they know that you are aware that they are there.
If you are changing flights, maybe sit closer to the front so you have more time to get to the next flight. If you are going non-stop, maybe sit closer to the bathroom, etc. You can ask gate agents or flight attendants to switch seats if you need to. Check the TSA website for what you can and can’t bring on board.
Steel yourself ahead of time to tantrums and recalcitrant behavior. You are in new situations; eating times will be disrupted; rest times change; etc. So don’t be surprised when it does happen, no matter what age the children are and no matter what you try to do to avoid it. Again, managing expectations may be half the battle!
4. Additional Safety Ideas
Write contact information on your child’s forearm and/or give your children temporary tattoos, which can be purchased on-line. Such tattoos might wash off in the pool or shower, so buy several. You could also purchase travel ID bands if your child has allergies or needs medication.
Other ideas include: picking a meeting place at every new location; having your children wear bright clothing; taking a picture of them every morning so you’ve a record of what they are wearing; child-harnesses; keeping a small emergency first aid kit with you; and putting on child-safe sunscreen several times a day, even if it’s cloudy.
5. Babysitting At Your Destination
You’ll be more likely to enjoy your time together if you and your children have time away from each other. Unless you can bring a nanny with you, you’ll need to find a qualified babysitter at your destination to come to your hotel. Concierges can be a good source of information, but also look on-line to check out what the concierge tells you and to see what services are available. There are no state standards or licensing for temporary babysitting agencies, and not all babysitting agencies are created equal, so make sure to ask every agency how your babysitter has been vetted (for example—background checked with state/federal agencies, drug-tested, random drug testing, health checked (TB), currently CPR/First Aid certified, experienced, bringing toys/books, acceptable ratio of sitters to children…). Speak to the agency and look through their website. Doing both will help you get a sense of how professional the agency and the babysitters it refers are.
6. When You Get Home
Make an album of the trip, including the photos the children took, excerpts from their journal, post cards and writings or drawings as they think back on the experience. What was their favorite thing? What are three things they learned? What would they want to do again and do new if they go back? You, too, could write a summary paragraph that they’ll have to cherish when they’re older.
For any trip, keep in mind that this time with your children is special and to be treasured. It may not seem so now, but too soon, they will be going on their own trips—without you!
Yvonne Wonder, who has traveled the world with her children, is the Managing Director of Destination Sitters, LLC, a hotel babysitting agency with local offices and sitters in nine cities and referred by over 1,000 hotels across California and the US. For more tips, download her free Ebook on Traveling with Kids at www.destinationsitters.com.
By Yvonne Wonder