By Anna Fishman
We’ve all been there on a family trip – a relatively pleasant plane or train ride ruined by a cranky toddler in the midst of his or her oversized outburst. Screaming, throwing things, with frustrated parents failing to quiet their precious child. The only thing worse is when the child is yours, and the frustrated parent is you.
Traveling with kids is difficult enough without the tears and tantrums. So how can you avoid these aggravating scenarios on a family vacation? Here are the best travel tips for vacations with kids.
It’s all about the three P’s for parents: packing, planning, and patience.
There are some essentials you always want to have with you on trips short and long. And make sure you have enough of everything (this is the one case where it’s better to overstuff your carry-on), especially traveling with more than one child, to avoid them fighting over the goodies.
- Snacks – any small dry finger foods that won’t make a mess will serve you well. Pack each into a separate small ziplock bag and distribute them as your trip progresses. Go with the favorites (this is not the time to try out new things that your child may reject) – raisins, crackers, cereal, chewy bars, apple slices.
- Water (or milk, or juice) – just keep your child hydrated, especially in the dry recycled air of an airplane or a train. Make sure you have a no-spill container that’s easy to refill – a straw cup is best.
- Wipes, wet and dry – lots and lots of these. You will need to clean up so much more than you expect.
- Diapers – more than enough diapers to last the whole trip, or a portable toilet seat if your child is potty-trained. This is the last thing you want to run out of.
- Change of clothes (or a couple) – let’s face it, children are messy. You may need to change them before your plane even takes off. Not to mention that some children may turn out to be motion-sick, and the last thing you want is to have a smelly stained toddler in your lap for 6 hours. While you are at it, pack a change of clothes for yourself.
- Blanket – a friend for any climate-controlled environment. Even if your little one is not freezing, she may appreciate the coziness of being snugly wrapped up.
- A favorite toy – whatever “lovely” toy your child has her heart set on, you don’t want to forget it, or you may be in for a very unpleasant few days. Any trip brings upheaval to a small child, and having her best friend teddy bear coming along might be the only stable constant that helps her keep it together.
- Carrier – if your baby is not walking yet, a carrier will be indispensable as you shuffle through the bag check-ins, ticket counters, and security. You will needs your hands free for a myriad other things. Even if you have a toddler who can get around by herself, it might be much easier to carry her anyway, and not worry about her getting separated from you and lost in the crowd. As an added bonus, once you are settled into your seat and your trip begins, a soft unstructured carrier (such as Mobi), will help your baby cuddle up to you and keep her stationary even as you move around.
- Entertainment programming – this is where a tablet or a smartphone with a large screen come in very handy. Pick some beloved cartoons or children’s shows with short segments that will keep your little one entertained. Don’t forget to bring headphones out of consideration for those around you.
- Books – you don’t need to bring an entire bookcase but do pick a few tried and true favorites that will put a smile on your child’s face. It’s likely she will want you to read each one a few times. Sandra Boynton and Curious George are a few of the classics.
- Goodies – this is what I call brand new small items to play with. I would suggest going to the dollar store and filling up a bag with cheap little knick-knacks. Crayons, coloring books, wind-up toys, soap bubbles, a bouncy ball, some yarn, a flashlight, stickers, a toy phone handset, skin paints or stick-on jewels. Keep them a secret from your little one until your trip begins; this makes it that much more exciting as you uncover the new items one by one. Since most kids don’t have much of an attention span, they will need a variety of things to keep them occupied for any prolonged period of time.
And trust me, if there is any time to bend the established rules (or even briefly break some of them), it’s while traveling with your kids. If you have to allow for a longer TV-viewing time than you usually would, or do frequent snack times, or have your little one sleep in your arms instead of her own seat, you should. Being away from home breaks routine, so breaking it a little further with additional modifications will not ruin your child or undo any of your hard work.
It’s essential to plan out your trip as well as you possibly can. This includes the actual scheduling of travel. Does your child go to sleep at 8:30 pm every night? Then you want to make sure that your departure is around that time, so she could sleep through most of the trip. Is a particular flight less booked than the rest? It will help if the plane is not entirely booked, and you have extra seats to potentially spread out to and extra space to move around (and fewer people to annoy).
The point is that you should schedule the circumstances of your trip around your little one and around what’s best for her.
This one might be the most important one of all and the most difficult to maintain.
If your child does throw a tantrum or turns on the waterworks, it won’t help if you match the child’s screaming with the screaming of your own. That kind of behavior from a parent typically just escalates things and leads to a more protracted scene (not to mention the public embarrassment of being that parent). A calm tone of voice may help soothe your child and a low speaking volume may have her quieting down in an effort to hear better. Even if nothing helps, you just have to be patient and wait out the tantrum. Our little ones are full of big emotions and sometimes just need to let them out. Your child will tire out sooner than you think and cool down, while you might meet with more sympathy than annoyance from your fellow travelers (especially if there are other parents among them).
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