With the holidays approaching, many families will travel with their children. Traveling with children can be exciting and stressful at the same time. Here are some tips for traveling with kids.

  1. Plan, plan, plan! Planning on many levels reduces stress. Make packing and to-do lists and share them with a spouse, partner, or other family member to divide the chores. If your children are old enough (ages 4 and above, but even younger for small tasks), include them! Give them a list of things to put together to pack.
  2. Remember medications: Make sure to take any medications your child needs, if not, you could face a health problem in an unfamiliar city. Pack all medications, including children’s acetaminophen or a similar medicine, in your carry-on so that you have it available at all times.
  3. Pack diapers and an extra change of clothes: When it comes to diapers, it is always better to have too many than not enough. You may not be near a store where you can get some at the last minute. The clean clothes will save you in the case of a spilled drink or potty accident.
  4. Have family games ready: Games come in handy for long car rides or flights. Make up games the family can play together; it will help everyone to interact with each other and will also give them a break from technology:
    • Sticker books are great for young kids, as they use a lot of focus and effort to unpeel the stickers and place them where they want.
    • Activity books with coloring pages, mazes, word searches, etc. are great for older kids.
    • Good old-fashioned games like thumb wrestling, Solitaire, I Spy, Tic-Tac-Toe and Mad Libs can be great fun for kids of all ages.
    • Car trips wouldn’t be complete without a license plate challenge (take along a printed map the kids can color in each state as you spot their license plates).
  1. Make rules about screen time for your trip: You can avoid a mid-flight meltdown by explaining very clearly how many minutes of screen time they will have while you are flying or driving:
    • Children can make a choice about whether they would rather play electronic games or watch a movie to “spend their minutes.”
    • When the minutes are used up, have those family games ready! Also, audio books can be more relaxing and less mind-numbing that staring at the screen.
    • Bring an earphone splitter so that several people can enjoy the book together. Maybe a discussion will arise!
  1. Encourage a travel journal: If your kids are older, encourage them to keep a journal of everything they saw. They can even include what they liked or didn’t like. If possible, allow them to take pictures or draw illustrations to add to a journal after the trip.
  2. Check your passports: Make sure all of the information is accurate and up-to-date in advance of your trip, if you are leaving the country. Customs will be more difficult if they are not and may not let you travel. Keep them on hand to reduce hassle every time you need to give them to someone.
  3. Bring baby wipes: Baby wipes are handy for cleaning up messes no matter the age of your child.
  4. Prepare an emergency kit: You never know what can happen. Make sure this bag has first-aid materials along with water, snacks, money and a cell phone.
  5. Narrate what is happening to small children: Small children often get anxious when a new situation arises. Tell your child about the trip a few days before to prepare him or her. Many children will feel more comfortable when they understand what is going on around them. In the case of kids 18 months to 4 years, it can help to make a picture book about the trip, including the “lovie” they can pack to bring along, photos of the airport process and then some photos of your destination. Keep it short and concrete and read it every night for about 1 week before you depart. Reading it again on the plane can be fun, too!
  6. Let kids pack but review their choices: Kids, especially those who are older, like having the freedom to pick their own clothes. Let them pack the suitcase first, and then check to make sure they have what they will actually need.
  7. If there will be a lot of walking, pack a stroller for small children: Little legs get tired easily, and then a child will often become cranky. Take a stroller to reduce this risk. Your child doesn’t have to be in it all the time, but it could reduce the hassle when trying to do a lot in one day. Cheaper, lightweight umbrella strollers are the best bet and can be checked for free right at the end of the jetway.
  8. Eat some familiar foods and bring comforting toys: Children are comforted by things that are familiar like foods they know and enjoy. That being said, travelling to a new place can be a great time to expose kids to ethnic dishes and new flavors. If you treat mealtime as an exciting food adventure, it will be an enjoyable experience for the whole family! Just remember not to force them to eat the foods – even if they just smell them or taste a dab on their lips, their taste palate is expanding.
  9. Encourage snacking during airplane takeoff and landing to relieve ear discomfort: If you’ve ever flown with a cold, fluid in your ears or an ear infection, you know that takeoff and landing can be particularly painful as it’s harder to get your ears to “pop.” Here’s what’s happening: rapid pressure changes result in unequal pressures between your middle ear and the air around you. To equalize the pressure, you have to open up the small tube that connects the nasal passages and the middle ear, called the Eustachian tube. Most adults do this by yawning or chewing gum, but it is hard for babies or toddlers to do this on command. Parents should pack a bottle or snacks (lollipops often work well) to help young children move their jaws and equalize the pressure between the middle ear and the air around them.
  10. If possible, arrange travel times when it works best for kids: This isn’t always an option, but when it’s possible take your child’s needs into consideration when making travel plans. For example, do they sleep well on airplanes or in the car? If so, try to plan to travel during nap time so that the time passes more quickly for them. Or, are they a bad sleeper on the road? Avoid traveling during naptimes or you will have a cranky, unhappy traveler!
  11. Keep routines when possible: Kids operate best when they know what to expect and maintain some routine. Routines will be disrupted during travel and the holidays, but anything that can be kept constant should. This may mean that you do as much of the typical bedtime routine as possible, or serve the usual breakfast or keep naptimes consistent. Anything you are able to manage easily, try to keep as routine as possible.

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