Tips for Traveling with Kids
“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson
I have always loved to travel. Why do I love travel so much? Well, I’m glad you asked. Travel is about change, newness and adventure. Travel teaches us something about ourselves as well as teaching us about others. I have learned more about myself and my own culture by stepping outside of my life than would ever have been possible while immersed in my everyday routine. Travel can also involve a lot of hassle, inconvenience and discomfort. Add a couple kids to the mix, and you have a new level of complexity.
Being able to travel with my kids in tow has added a new layer of joy to the experience, but it also makes things a little more complicated. As a family, we try to prioritize travel. I almost always prefer to spend money on experiences over things. In 2016, our family moved from Austin, Texas to Sydney, Australia because of my husband’s job. This change greatly increased our opportunities to travel and see more of the world. My kids are well-seasoned little travelers now and are proud to say that they’ve visited four continents. They’ve also been on some of the world’s longest flights. I feel so fortunately to be able to explore this beautiful world with some of my favorite people.
My kids are now 8, 10 and 14. Now that they’re older, traveling is much easier than it was when they were babies and toddlers. Not having to worry about the diapers, strollers, and other baby paraphernalia definitely simplifies things. If you are flying with a baby or toddler, try not to sweat it. Babies cry sometimes, no matter what you do. Many of us on your flight will be fellow parents and have been in your shoes ourselves. We understand. We know you’re doing all you can. Your baby might cry or be loud no matter what you do. Try not to stress about it too much. Worst case scenario, you’ll probably never see the other passengers again. ☺
Even though my kids are a little older, a little planning and forethought can still go a long way in terms of making the experience smooth and pleasant for everybody. Most of my tips are based on air travel, but many will also apply to road trips. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way.
Discuss expectations for the flight ahead of time. I find that it’s better to talk about expectations for a flight before we board the plane.
- Who is sitting where. If possible, talk about the seating arrangement in advance so an argument doesn’t break out once you’re on the plane over who gets the window seat.
- Screen time. The flight from Dallas to Sydney is over 17 hours. If I let them, my kids would probably sit with their eyes glued to a screen the entire time. I am not against using screens on flights. Even if you limit screen time at home, flights are a special occasion. By all means, let your kids be entertained. Still, enough is enough and sometimes we all need to unplug and try to sleep. If you want to limit screen time on a flight, it’s a good idea to discuss it in advance.
- Beverages. My kids are always enticed by the beverage cart. So many sugary drinks! I try to set a limit to how much juice or soda my kids consume, so we talk about those expectations ahead of time. I still let them have a “fun” drink, but then we switch to water.
- Manners. When squeezed into tight quarters with strangers, manners are more important than ever. It’s important to me that my kids are polite to the other passengers, so I always try to remind them to say please, thank you, and excuse me.
Carry on luggage
Children’s carry on bags. My kids pack their own carry-on bags now. They each have a small rolling suitcase that fits under the seat in front of them. I have them each bring an empty water bottle that we fill up after security. I also have them carry an extra shirt, or full set of clothes if there’s room, as well as a jacket. For flights longer than 5-6 hours, consider getting a neck pillow for each child. Even if you let your kids pack their own bags, it’s a good idea to know what they are packing, especially if you’re traveling internationally. Some places are very strict about bringing in fresh foods and nuts and it’s never fun to be surprised when a customs agent finds an apple or bag of almonds in your child’s bag.
My carry on:
- Extra shirt or change of clothes. I always, always, bring an extra shirt in my carry on and I insist that everyone else have an extra shirt too. If you have ever been vomited on during a long flight, you will never forget a change of clothes again. Just take my word for it. Maybe you’ll never need that change of clothes, but if you do you will be so glad to have it.
- A few first aid items. I pack a few BAND-AIDS and age-appropriate acetaminophen or ibuprofen, just in case.
- Snacks. I always pack snacks for myself and the kids. I try to keep things simple and easy to eat, such as grapes, granola bars, and nuts.
- Wet wipes and extra napkins. These can be handy for wiping down hands and tray tables.
- A plastic bag. If there’s a spill or (gulp) vomit, a plastic bag is useful for holding the soiled items.
My best tip for battling jet lag is to try to eat and sleep as though you’re already on the time zone of your destination. This is great for adults, but not always as effective with kids. Your kids are going to sleep when they’re tired. It’s probably pointless to explain to them that they need to sleep when their bodies are telling them it’s too early. Personally, I don’t use melatonin or other sleep aids, but I know people who swear by them on long flights.
Traveling with kids is different than traveling with adults. You might not see the top sites at your location, but that’s okay. Try to imagine the trip from a child’s point of view. It might be a different trip, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun for everyone. Guidebooks are great to use for ideas and inspiration, but try to let go of the idea that you need to see everything.
Look at guidebooks together and let each child choose his or her top 1-3 activities, then plan your itinerary around everyone’s priorities. This ensures that everyone has a chance to see what they really want to see. Your kids will probably choose to do some things that you wouldn’t have chosen, but you might end up enjoying them too. I personally wouldn’t have gone out of my way to see a flaming trebuchet, but that’s what one of my kids wanted to do on a trip once, so that’s what we did. And I have to admit, it was pretty cool.
Allow plenty of time for food and rest. Just like adults, children vary in terms of their energy levels and endurance. We learned this lesson the hard way with our youngest child. Being too tired or too hungry can lead to epic meltdowns. It can be frustrating and leave everyone feeling worn out and irritable. A little prevention goes a long way. Everyone will be happier and many tears will be spared if you can keep everyone well fed, well hydrated and well rested.
As with life in general, some of the best travel moments are unplanned and unexpected. Be sure you allow time to just wander and explore. Maybe you’ll discover a cute neighborhood, or a fun new restaurant or park. If your itinerary is packed to the gills, you might be reluctant to veer from your charted course. Allow yourself some time to just explore and see where the day takes you. Once while visiting New York City, we stumbled across an antique carousel, which my kids wanted to ride. While we were there, a late winter storm rolled in and snowflakes filled the air around us. It was truly magical and created an indelible impression in our memories. Had we adhered to a strict schedule, we might have missed this special moment.
Do you have any tips for traveling with kids? I would love to hear them!
The wonderful Tara Ray shares her thoughts and her life over at 'Done and Left Undone'. Tara's blog encourages you stop for a moment and just sit with your thoughts, explore the subjects that she dives into and all the while feel like you're sitting right next to her having a cup of coffee.
She is a truly warm, kind and compassionate individual and I encourage you to also go and get lost in your thoughts for a couple minutes with her, you will be so glad you did!