Traveling With School-Aged Children

Traveling with children can be incredibly fun and…incredibly hard work! Finally your child walks, eats, sleeps, plays all on her own –so, it is time for you to go have some adventures! In this article we will try to help you have more fun and less work when traveling.

The first way to accomplish this goal is through careful planning on your part. The more you spend time thinking through your trip and anticipating your child’s needs the easier it will be. Start with sitting down and writing out a packing list; as you write think through each stage of your journey. Say you are taking a long car trip to go camping. Plan for the car trip – snacks, water, books on tape or movies. Go to the library and find a book of songs to sing in the car and around the campfire or a book of travel games. Then think through the clothing you will need – daytime, nighttime, cold, hot wet weather … And finally cross off the items as you pack them. At this age your child should be given some responsibility as well. Work with them on a packing list of what they need and then let them do the packing. Have them pack and carry their own backpack on the plane or in the car.

Even though your child is bigger now they are still just a child; traveling is hard on everyone and, especially on children. So, don’t be surprised by the occasional meltdown while traveling. However, there is much you can do to prevent meltdown by sticking to your usual routine as much as possible. When on vacation we all like to loosen up or relax a little but with kids – too much loosening leads to trouble. So have fun but – try to stick with their usual sleep routines when possible or plan time for breaks into your day. Don’t stray far from their normally nutritious food. Sure, a few treats are fine but, try to sneak in the healthy stuff too. For example when traveling on a plane or, in an amusement park carry a backpack with water, apple slices, nuts, cheese sticks and carrots so that you can keep your child full and happy. Try to enjoy your adventure at your child’s pace. Going to far, too fast and doing too much will only lead to an exhausted cranky child. Better to have fun doing less.

Also setting clear expectations will help you all enjoy your trip. Before you go, talk through what will happen. For example explain: “Tomorrow we will get up very early and drive an hour to the airport. When we get there we will have to wait in a line to check our bags and a line to go through security. It is important that you are quiet and calm while we wait – I bet bringing your doll and book will help you be quiet. Then we will wait for the plane. Once we get on you will have a seat that you sit in for the whole 5 hours….” And so forth all the way through the trip. Repeat this before each new part of the experience. Add in your expectations for their behavior whenever you can; children usually live up to your expectations – if you expect them to be well-behaved and give them the tools to succeed they will! This is also a good time to talk with her about how traveling is full of changes out of our control; cars break down and planes are late. Let her know that these things happen and if they do you will work together to make these challenges into fun and memorable experiences

One classic time for problems when traveling with children is when they want to buy toys or souvenirs. You can avoid problems by deciding ahead of time whether you will buy them something. Then let them know the plan. You can say that at the end of the trip or at a special place you will buy them one thing that costs no more than a set amount. It can also work well to say that the trip is their present from you and their souvenirs are pictures and memories so you will not be taking them to gift shops at all. Kids can adjust to any plan if they know in advance what it is!

If you are traveling out of the country get your passport and necessary visas early and know that children’s passports expire every 5 years. Call your doctor to review your family’s travel plans and get any necessary immunizations.

Bon voyage! And, before you go here are some additional brief tips for travel:

By Air:

  • Bring lots of books, games, small toys to keep them entertained
  • pack cereal, sandwiches, apples/oranges, cheese sticks etc.- sometimes there’s not enough time to grab something in the terminal and airlines can run out of snacks that they sell on board
  • Carry gallon ziplock bags for soiled clothes, vomit, etc.
  • sugarfree gum to let them chew for take off and landing to help their ears adjust to the pressure change
  • light jacket even in summer to be used as a pillow or blanket onboard
  • yummy treat for an emergencies bribe!
  • explain to child ahead of time that it is not o.k. to put feet on seat in front
  • water bottles can be brought through security empty and refilled at drinking fountain prior to boarding plane
  • explain to child ahead of time that it is not o.k. to put feet on seat in front

By Car:

  • Put gallon ziplock bags in your glove box for carsick kids to use
  • Cars do breakdown and traffic jams happen so, be ready. Pack a deck of cards, snacks, waters and whatever might entertain you all if stuck
  • Bring a bouncy rubber ball – at rest stops take an extra few minutes to play four-square or soccer together
  • Get a book of games to play in the car from the library
  • Give each person their own water bottle and snacks within reach of where they are sitting
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