Traveling with Young Children

Traveling with children can be incredibly fun and…incredibly hard work! But, the rewards of heading out for some big adventures together are worthwhile. 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. Likely the most important thing you will need to “pack” is your sense of humor. When you travel with little ones, things often don’t go as planned. Your flight may be late or your car might be stuck in traffic. Try to accept these possibilities ahead of time. When you are faced with a traveling challenge you can use that sense of humor you brought along and work together to turn these challenges into fun and memorable experiences!

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 and snacks 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 and cranky child. Better to have fun doing less.

Also setting clear expectations will help you all enjoy your trip; young children do better if they have some idea of what to expect. 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!

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 food – 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.
  • Bring a light jacket even in summer to be used as a pillow or blanket onboard
  • Explain to your child that it is not okay to put their feet on or pull the seat in front of them
  • pack diapers if child just potty trained since there are times when the lavatory is occupied or unavailable for use.
  • Something to suck on (like a sippy cup or pacifier) to help relieve the pressure in their ears at take off and landing. Avoid choking hazards like hard candies.
  • You can consider giving your child a pain reducer like acetaminophen or ibuprofen about an hour prior to your trip.
  • Pack change of clothes for young travelers
  • sippy cups can be brought through security empty and refilled at drinking fountain
  • if your child does cry or fuss, don’t worry too much about the other people on board. Remember – they were all children once too.

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 snacks, waters, books and whatever might entertain you all if stuck
  • Travel with a small portable potty to use by the roadside if needed
  • Bring a bouncy rubber ball – at rest stops take an extra few minutes to play together
  • Give each person their own water bottle, toys and snacks within reach of where they are sitting

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