Traveling with Kids. Don’t.

Kids on Airplane2

Or: How to Survive a Ten Hour Trip with a Ten Month Old

It’s been a long time since you’ve last heard from me. Therefore, you might not be too surprised to learn that since my last post I became the proud mother of two beautiful boys!

As an expert mother of three, and having already attempted what is ‘supposed’ to be a ten hour drive across half the country, I am now overqualified to give you tips on that ultimate of paradoxes – the family vacation.

There’s a reason that ‘family vacation’ is listed as an oxymoron: traveling with kids is usually not much fun. There is lots of extra packing involved, and additional luggage to “lug” around. You are busy supplying snacks, drinks, and numerous inevitable bathroom stops. By the time you actually leave, you’re so tired that it’s hard to keep track of everything at the airport and later, on the airplane. But your job is not over yet! Now you’ve got boarding passes, IDs, bags, strollers, and laptops to account for, not to mention the children themselves. It can make you feel like a chicken without a head.

So how do you make your travels go as smoothly (and quietly) as possible?

I might just have the answers you need, considering that I have traveled by air over twenty times since my first child was born, and many of those flights included stopovers. Our family also drove countless times between New York and Detroit, visiting my in-laws. I’ve picked up a few tips along the way, and though they are not foolproof, (child-rearing never is), I hope they can help you keep your head on your shoulders. Or maybe not – who knows?

1. Sleep the Night before your Trip

A successful trip requires you to do some planning before you start packing up your car.

AY SleepingSome people have advised me to make sure my kids are tired when we start the trip, so they will fall asleep on the plane. I have found that this is not good advice. Tired kids make for cranky kids, and that’s the last thing you want to deal with when you depart on a long trip. It takes a while until the children are settled on the plane and able to fall asleep, and you don’t want them kvetching while you’re checking in and going through security. It makes them much harder to handle, and also takes away one of the biggest advantages kids can bring. Cute kids often make the airline reps and security agents more friendly and helpful. Why lose out on that?

Taking a road trip? You are the one that will have to deal with those cranky kids. So do yourself a favor and (try to) make sure your kids are in a good mood.

Let the kids (and you too, of course) get a good night’s sleep before you embark on your adventure, and they may surprise you with how well they can behave.

2. Arrive Early to the Airport

Girl with Suitcase

It’s always a good idea to arrive early to the airport. When you are traveling with kids, it’s an even better idea. Here are a few reasons why:

If you have a baby, you’ll want to get him a bassinet. If none are available, you want to at least be seated in bulkhead seats, so you can put your infant seat at your feet. Most airlines will only assign the bassinets at check-in, so you want to make sure you arrive in time to reserve one.

Traveling with more people means you need more time to get through security. You have more luggage, strollers, and baby bags, and you’ll probably be held up explaining that the orange juice is for your five year old, the milk for the two year old, and the yogurt is for the nine month old. (Don’t forget to spill out your leftover coffee… before going through security. Nobody’s going to buy that it’s for your kid.)

Once you’re through security, you’ll want some time to settle down at the gate before it’s time to board. You’ll need to give the kids a little something to eat, go to the bathroom, eat some more, go to the bathroom with the next one… you get the picture. Their schedules are already messed up from traveling, so you want to try to keep the kids calm,. They can get disoriented, overwhelmed, and cranky, so you’re best off staying put instead of running from place to place.

3. Pack Activities

Airplane Activities
Now this is one tip I hope you planned on your own. We all know that keeping the kids busy keeps them out of trouble! Bored children equal cranky children. So pack up a bag with coloring books, crayons, an etch-a-sketch, or whatever else can keep your kid’s minds off the long flight (or drive). For older children, a travel version of game like Battleship or a deck of cards is great.

Don’t rely on the movies; your kids might get bored of those faster than you think, or the selection may not be to your (or your kids) taste.

Don’t forget to include a few special toys and treats which you can pull out as rewards for good behavior!

4. Food, Food, and more Food

Goodie Bags

When flying, you should never rely on airline food. Especially with kids. You’re the only one who knows your kids and how picky they are. Do you think they will suddenly be happy to eat whatever is put in front of them, just ‘cuz it wasn’t cooked by yours truly? Forget about it! If your child doesn’t like scrambled eggs on a regular school morning, he’s definitely going to turn his nose up at that block of eggs the flight attendant smilingly offers him for his breakfast. So make sure you are well stocked with kid-friendly foods like sandwiches with spreads, , chicken nuggets, or anything else you know your kids will like. (And hope your children will continue to like them, as you never know when they will change their mind about their “favorite food”…)

You should include some snacks and treats, but don’t go overboard on the sugar. Your fellow travelers will thank you!

If you’re taking a long road trip cross country, try to think of foods that are easily packed, and easily eaten in the car. I like to grill some hot dogs (if age appropriate) – my kids are able to eat them in their seats with no crumbs or mess, and no cutlery needed. Although sandwiches are easy to eat, they do make a mess, so those are best kept for the picnic table at the rest stops. Mayonnaise in a squeeze bottle is a good option as a clean-use condiment.

Even the best planning can go awry, so always be prepared to just grin and bear it. Be gracious to your fellow travelers and try to keep your kids from disturbing their flight. Remember – a family vacation is the perfect time to make memories that will last forever, both for yourself and your children, so don’t ruin it by being stressed out!

Happy travels!

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