While Santa may be packing a sleigh that can cover the world in just one night, many of us are planning to travel by plane, train or automobile in the next two weeks. If you’ve got little ones, your holidays could be less than merry and bright if you don’t plan accordingly. While we’ve can’t recreate the magic of reindeer and a Jolly Old Elf, we’ve got our 6 top tips for traveling with kids during the holidays.
Make it a group thing: Wherever you might be going this holiday season, loop the kids in on the action so that everyone feels like part of the plan. From the smallest to the tallest, get everyone involved. For your older children, give them a list – and check it twice – of items to pack, and even get the little ones in on the action, picking out some favorite toys, stuffed animals, blankies and outfits to bring. Give everyone a job and make them a part of the action.
Give them a Sneak Preview: If your children haven’t traveled before, get them excited about it. There are great books that you can find online or at your local library so that your kids better understand the road trip or airplane or train you’ll be taking. Airports can especially be an overwhelming experience for both adults and children at the holidays, so be sure to explain to your little ones so they understand ahead of time. Even at a young age, they can understand the Super Hero XRay Machine, aka Security Checkpoint, the Magic Train (terminal tram) and some of the other new experiences they’ll have in an airport.
Eats, Entertainment and Easy-Does-It: Holiday travel is typically a long process. Explain to your children — as best they can understand for their age – that your trip may take some time. As a parent, you want to come prepared with snacks, entertainment and a great attitude. An extra-large dose of patience doesn’t hurt either! Bring along some good travel snacks (finger foods work best) like fruit, cereal, granola bars, snack crackers and other easy-to-carry items. While liquids aren’t allowed through airport security, have empty, refillable water bottles or sippy cups you can use once you’re at the gate. If you’re traveling by car or train, definitely pack a supply of liquids but keep in mind that means potty breaks. As for entertainment, you definitely want to bring an assortment of toys or games, keeping in mind that one book or Hot wheels car is NOT going to keep a child entertained for long. It’s always a good idea to pack a new toy or book, as the novelty can go a long way. Last of all; expect frustrations, some fatigue and even a temper tantrum or two. It’s normal and natural – as long as it’s not yours!
Patience, Grasshopper: This phrase, coined from many a Kung-Fu movie, may be trite but true. Family travel is not you pulling up to the airport last minute and jumping turnstiles to get to your gate in time. Rather, it’s chock full of “speed bumps” so go slowly and plan accordingly. Try to schedule flights during the less busy times of the season – avoid days like Christmas Eve and travel in the middle of the day, rather than mornings and evenings when business travelers are en route. With car trips, don’t hit the highway during peak times or you’ll be sitting in the middle of rush hour, going nowhere. Additionally, plan on delays – with heavier congestion there’ll be accidents, slowdowns, winter weather and a myriad of things that can prolong your trip. Know this and be prepared, with a pleasant attitude. Been there and done that, but you don’t move faster when everyone in the car (including the driver) is having a meltdown.
Build in Breaks: While some families can do it, most prefer not to drive through the night or go full-steam ahead with no stopping. Rather, build in some downtime. Stop for a real meal and get out of the car, rather than doing the drive-thru and tossing fries throughout the car. Take advantage of a layover or a long delay to move around, and maybe get some food team management tools. Definitely plan for the bathroom and if you have babies or toddlers, some outfits and diaper changing, even a chance to put on PJs for the last leg. It may make your trip a bit longer, but everyone will be more comfortable throughout it all.
Play It Safe: In our fast-paced world, we tend to cut corners – when it comes to your family and safety, don’t! The extra car seats or baby carriers may be a royal pain, but you’ll want these on the plane, or in the shuttle vans, rental cars or wherever you might be heading. If you can’t bring yours, look into renting at your destinations. Don’t forgo seatbelts or child harnesses just because several of you are crammed into a small spot. Think about this when you get to where you’re going, too. Your house is fully baby- or childproofed to meet your needs but is everyone else’s? The holidays bring lots of breakables, electrical outlets, things that little people like to – but shouldn’t – touch. Be extra vigilant and childproof as you can. Also, be on the lookout for buffets, serving trays, chafing dishes and other food items that can be within a toddler’s curious reach. It might be a holiday for some, but a mom’s job is never done!
As you pack up the presents, finish the laundry, and stock the diaper bag from H-E-double hockey sticks, know that it is travel like this – the stress, the crying, the frustration and traffic jams – that also lead to the laughs, the conversations, some of the best photos and memories that last a lifetime. Some of my family’s most favorite memories are taking 45 minutes to change 3 children in a Cracker Barrel in Toledo, Ohio; or the time we flew on Christmas Eve, all the kids in strollers and car carriers; or my son’s first memory of flying and how it was “so cool” because I let him chew gum!
To paraphrase author Kurt Vonnegut, “Remember the little things in life. For one day, you may look back and realize they were the big things.”
Happy Trails and Happy Holidays!