Family travel is one of those rare things that can both fill a parent’s heart with excitement and dread at the same time. You’re about to have an incredible trip away from work and the stresses at home - but you’ve somehow got to survive getting there with kids in tow. Insert shiver.
The truth is the dread is sometimes warranted. Testy fellow passengers on flights, kids who are still learning how to manage being in a confined space for several hours and the hectic nature of packing everything you’ll really need versus all the things you think you need can all add to the stress.
But the fact that my family traveled around the world with one bag each and survived, should fill you with hope. It can not only be done, it should be done and it is so worth it.
Here are some helpful tips by age group to help make the trips easier:
Babies and/or Toddlers:
1. Keep it Separate: You’re going to need to feed, entertain and change the baby in a confined space (back seat on the road; tiny airplane washroom). Pack several large Ziploc bags with only the things you need for one change (one diaper, a disposable mat…) in each. Keep one of those along with a small makeup bag with wipes, ointment, and a distraction toy in the seat pocket in front of you. It’ll make it easy to grab and go.
2. Bring extras: It is a guarantee that the day you only pack 2 diapers for the flight will be the day your child proves to you that they can do better. Bring an extra of the things (pacifier, bottle nipples, baby biscuits…) that you won’t be able to get easily on the road or in the air.
Pre-School/ Early School Age:
1. Keep them entertained: The day you assume you’re getting on the plane with in-seat entertainment is the day they switch your plane. Be ready by bringing along your own entertainment for the kids. Choose wisely though: Things that either have no volume or good volume control are best bets or you’ll risk annoying everyone around you and minimize your own chances of getting a break. Things with small pieces or that will require your interaction to be enjoyed should also be avoided.
2. Bring your own headphones. Even if they do hand out buds on the plane they are often the wrong fit for little ears. And you do need to keep an eye on what they’re watching: Often there’s adult content you may not want them to see in the airplane movie. Bringing your own devices along with a DVD you can slip into your laptop or pre-downloaded movies you can pull up on your iPad can keep their eyes where they should be.
3. Bathroom Breaks: Whether it’s on the plane or on a road trip, you’ll want to be prepared for bathroom stops that aren’t as clean and sanitary as your kids might be used to. We used to travel with our own portable potty seat for those situations. A small bottle of hand sanitizer is a great idea too You can also bring a small pack of antibacterial wipes for trays and armrests as well as a roll of toilet paper.
School Age Kids:
1. Put them to work: Choosing the right luggage in terms of handle height, bag size and weight will make your life a lot easier. Kids like being responsible and with a little supervision kids as young as 4 can help you pack that bag too. “They pack it, they carry it” is a rule in my house and it worked as we traveled for a year. Let them walk you through what they’re packing and you can gently nudge them towards including a few less transformers and a few more pairs of underwear. I sometimes hand mine a checklist and they can simply pick what they like to fill that list.
2. Travel with more than one child: Bring a few small items that they can go between to entertain themselves. Include games that allow siblings to work together and self-entertain (deck of cards); books they can read solo and have been waiting for; travel versions of games they have at home (magnetic Sorry; Uno). Also, these toys are great ice breakers if there happens to be another kid across the aisle and then their parents will love you too.
3. Keep them comfortable: That goes for clothing and food. For the plane dress in layers for the cooler air and have them wear easy-off shoes for security. And don’t even think about not bringing snacks with you. My two boys just want to eat all the time. There’s nothing worse than a child continuously telling you how hungry they are when there isn’t food handy and the food cart is nowhere in sight. Remember you can’t bring bottles of liquid through security and I’ve even had fruit cups taken away for that reason. Stick to solids and pick up a bottle of water for each of you once you’re passed security.
Heather Greenwood Davis is the Globetrotting Mama. Her family of four traveled around the world for a year stopping in 29 countries on six continents. Their trip earned them the inaugural Travelers of the Year designation by National Geographic Traveler Magazine and they were also featured in Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine. You can read more about their travel adventures and tips at www.globetrottingmama.com .