When we think of traveling with kids, we often think of kids fighting in the back seat, babies and small children screaming on the airplane, activities that are kid-friendly but not very adult-friendly, and Happy Meals morning, noon, and night. After a week of that, you’ll need a vacation from the vacation, right?
Luckily, traveling with kids doesn’t have to be like that! Here are a few tips to help make your journey bearable, if not enjoyable.
• Choose a vehicle with good seating. It should go without saying that if your child still needs a car seat or a booster seat, to make sure you bring it. Not using a booster seat if your kid is still too small to sit without it can cause him or her to get uncomfortable faster, which means lots of fussing in the car. If your car isn’t very comfortable for long trips, consider renting a minivan, which will provide plenty of comfortable seating for the kids during the trip.
• Don’t forget comfort objects. The biggest nightmare a parent can ever imagine is forgetting blankie, binkie, or whatever other comfort item your child needs in order to settle down in the car or go to bed at night. Chances are you’ve heard from parents who have done this, and suffered through a night or a weekend of screaming and wailing. If there is something your child absolutely cannot live without, help yourself remember it by putting a note on the door or on the steering wheel — somewhere you will see it before you leave.
• Bring along something for entertainment. This is, of course, the justification for cars that have built-in TVs and DVD players, but you don’t necessarily need the TV in order to entertain your kids on a trip. You can also bring books, games, toys, and favorite children’s music for the car stereo (or the iPod and earphones if you are flying). There are also some old-fashioned games you can play on the road, such as I Spy, Slug Bug, and finding the letters of the alphabet in order in the signs you see along the way. Keep your children’s attention spans in mind and provide a variety of things to do to keep them occupied the entire time!
• Plan to take regular breaks. Whether you are driving cross-country or taking a vacation, make sure you schedule regular breaks into your drive. Kids need to get up and stretch their legs occasionally, just like adults, or perhaps even more so. Even if you are moving cross-country, you can look for places to stop, tourist attractions to see on your way. Giving the kids a chance to get out of the car periodically will stave off boredom and make the kids less likely to complain.
• Try to help your kids get plenty of rest and eat regular meals. Kids are most likely to whine or throw tantrums when they are hungry or tired. Make sure you schedule regular meals during the trip, and bring snacks and drinks they can have in the car or at the airport if they get hungry or thirsty between meals. You can also encourage kids to sleep during a trip by putting blankets and pillows in the car, or making sure that you grab a pillow and blanket on the plane; and of course, always make sure they get a good night’s rest the night before the trip.
Whether you are moving, taking a vacation, or traveling for some other reason, you don’t have to dread a trip just because the kids are along. Making sure they have their needs taken care of — comfortable seating, comfort objects, food, rest, the occasional break, and something to do — will go a long way to making your journey more enjoyable and stress-free.
Kara Taylor is a freelance writer specializing in travel tip on everything from resort vacations to car rental deals.