During my childhood—we’re talking about the 60s—we usually traveled by train and bus. Joint families, traveling with kids. My Mom always made sure I carried a blank notebook to write down my experiences—essays about the trip. And that kept me focused mindfully on everything I saw and did. It also kept me happily occupied. I suspect that’s how I developed my love for travel!
After my son was born, we traveled quite a bit and had some fantastic experiences. I realize that we did certain things that facilitated this.
While planning a family trip traveling with kids, much of our thought, focus, and preparation tend to be consumed by the destination itself. We think about the places we want to visit, how we can keep our children comfortable while out exploring, the hotel amenities we will need for a pleasant stay, and so on.
We get so caught up in the excitement that we can sometimes tend to overlook one aspect of family travel: the traveling itself. We become so busy planning what we will do when we reach our chosen destination that we can forget about the “in between” section of the trip – the journey from our home to wherever we plan to stay.
Of course, this seems like just a logistic. The “commute”, whether it is by air, train or road, especially with kids, can be quite stressful as it means keeping them from being bored for those few hours. Think of those stressed out families you’ve sat next to—where the kids wouldn’t stay put in their seats or go stir-crazy. Wouldn’t it be great to get that holiday off on the right foot by keeping those children happy?
The good news is, with a little foresight, you can!
Here are seven simple tips that have worked for us as a family traveling with kids.
Consider travel-specific health needs
There are certain health and well-being related issues that are more likely to happen when you’re journeying to your chosen destination. There’s dehydration, for example, especially when flying, so keep water bottles on hand and encourage your kids to drink frequently. In addition, regardless of the type of transport you are using, there’s motion sickness; so these tips for managing motion sickness can help to ensure everyone is able to enjoy a pleasant journey from start to finish.
Keep wet wipes close at hand
When on a long journey, wet wipes can be a complete savior if you travel with kids for cleaning up spills and even providing a quick refresh if needed. Try to keep at least one full packet of wet wipes in your hand luggage or purse and a second, back-up pack in your suitcase. You’ll also need to make sure you can dispose of any wet wipes you use. Wet wipes should never be flushed down a toilet, so add a few sealable plastic bags to your purse also.
Plan frequent breaks
When it comes to travel with kids, the idea of simply getting through the journey as quickly as possible can seem like the best option; rushing from one type of transport to the next, eating on the go, and never pausing for longer than brief bathroom breaks. While rushing does sound eminently sensible, you just want to get to your destination, after all! This can add extra stress to what is already likely to be a highly stressful experience, and you may find that your journey is nevertheless delayed by unintentional stops anyway. As a result, it’s usually preferable to build lengthy stops into your itinerary, especially when it comes to meals. By doing this, you can look forward to two benefits: the journey itself should feel far less hurried and stressful, and your family will arrive at your destination feeling relaxed and ready to have fun.
Use the journey for educational purposes
If you are traveling by a mode of transport your kids are likely to be unfamiliar with – such as a ferry or airplane – then it can be helpful to see your journey as something of an educational opportunity. You could, for example, explain how boats stay afloat or how aircraft stay in the sky, which helps to enrich your kids’ understanding of the world while also providing a helpful distraction for a portion of the journey. In the same vein, you can also encourage them to keep a diary of everything new that they see, experience, or learn over the course of your journey.
Download TV shows and movies from Netflix
While educational activities can help to while away a decent amount of your journey when you travel with kids, ultimately, you’re probably going to be left with more time than you can reasonably fill with such efforts. Netflix is your best friend in this regard thanks to the number of different titles available, and the fact that you can download titles to watch offline if needed – which is a great way to prevent having to find a Wi-Fi hotspot or spend on data if your kids need a distraction. To do this, you will need to sign in to Netflix via the app when you have Wifi access and then download any TV shows or movies you think might be suitable. Mac users will need to find out how to watch Netflix offline on Mac via alternative means, as no app is currently available.
Stick to your kids’ sleeping habits as closely as possible
Obviously, some journeys make it very difficult to keep to the same sleep schedule your kids would usually have – if you’re going to be on a long flight that then lands in another timezone, for example, there will inevitably be an element of disruption. However, do what you can to arrange your journey in such a way that you can keep to their usual sleep schedule as far as possible – even if that means taking a later connection or adding an extra day to your journey to allow for this.
Focus on comfort when it comes to sleeping on the go
As well as thinking about when your kids will sleep during your journey, it’s also helpful to consider how they will sleep – particularly in terms of comfort. While some children can quite happily fall asleep pretty much anywhere provided they are sitting down, others may need an extra pillow or even a blanket to encourage them to drift off. Travel pillows can help with this, though do be cautious of size; ideally, the items you buy should fold – or be able to be squashed flat so they are easier to carry when not in use.
Bonus Tip when you travel with kids: If your kid needs her favorite blankie, favorite bedtime storybook, favorite T-shirt, sippy cup or soft toy, please do pack it; you’ll be a happier parent for it!
With the tips above in mind, you and your kids should be able to enjoy a stress-free journey that sees you arriving at your destination feeling refreshed, relaxed, and ready for all the fun and excitement the rest of your stay is sure to bring.
Travel with kids CAN be enjoyable and happy!