There’s nothing better than watching a child run towards the ocean for the first time, meeting Mickey Mouse, or enthralled by some other wonder. The experience of travel brings the opportunity to see new things, taste new foods, and learn from other cultures.
That’s the best part of traveling kids. The worst is the tears and tantrums, ruined expectations, and crises that snowball into emergencies. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize the likelihood of disaster and ensure stress free travel with kids.
Ask a kid what their favorite part of a vacation was, and they’ll often describe something rather mundane. Stereotypically it’s something like the pool at the hotel rather than some big ticket attraction. There’s a reason for this!
These seemingly ordinary events often resent periods of time where kids are simply allowed to play. They aren’t expected to walk here or there, pay attention to a tour guide, or use their indoor voices. Kids need unscheduled free time to run and play. Adults can also use this time to regroup and unwind.
Make Sure There’s Something For Everyone to Enjoy at Each Stop
No kid is going to love every moment of a vacation. This is even more true if you have kids who have different interests, or are spread out by age. It’s not much fun to be a tween sitting through something you find babyish. Neither is being a toddler at a pizza and video game place where the games are all too advanced for you
The trick is to find or create some element that each kid can enjoy during each outing. For a little one that could be a trip to a nearby playground before or after the boring event. An older kid might be more amenable to sitting through something boring if they know it’s going to be followed up with a trip to a really cool shop to pick up a souvenir or two.
Take Frequent Road Trip Breaks Where Kids Can Stretch And Run
Stave off fighting and whining by pulling over to take breaks every few hours. Keep in mind that a 10 minutes sitting inside a fast food restaurant or walking in and out of a gas station aren’t enough to burn energy.
Instead, map out parks and rest stops along your route that are safe places for kids to play for a bit and burn off energy. Bring along picnic stuff for a cheaper, healthier alternative to burgers and fries.
Keep Expectations Age Appropriate
If your nine year old is a nightmare if she goes to bed after 10, that’s not going to change because you go on a trip. In fact the added stimulation and stress can lower kids’ frustration tolerance. Little ones may even regress.
Adjust your expectations accordingly. Kids may need more one on one time, or they may not have the same patience with one another that they normally do.
Kids Are Unpredictable: Try to Keep Everything Else Together
Don’t discount eliminating other sources of stress when traveling with kids. Stay on top of things and keep organized. Make a packing list and double check it before you leave. Get the car checked out by a mechanic before you leave to take care of any problems that might crop up.
Are you going overseas? If so, you have a host of things to manage. Plan ahead for passports and other important documents. Also, don’t forget to contact your bank to let them know you’ll be using your debit card overseas.
It doesn’t matter how you’re getting to your destination, food is going to be an issue if you don’t plan ahead. Meal schedules will be thrown off track. Kids may pick at unfamiliar foods, or simply won’t be hungry at meal times. If you’re flying there may not be a suitable in flight meal option, if there’s one at all.
Carry a variety of snacks to keep kids occupied and to prevent them from getting ‘hangry’. Cheese sticks, whole grain crackers, orange slices, homemade granola bars, grapes, and the occasional sweet treat will go over nicely. Consider personal bento boxes for kids who can be trusted to manage their own snack distribution.
Consider Relaxing Screen Time Rules
Lots of parents have pretty strict screen time rules. There’s a lot of great reasons to do this. It keeps kids on track with school and homework. It also teaches them to prioritize other things. These rules serve everyone well nearly all of the time.
At least they do until vacation time. Then things change. It might be a good idea to change some of the rules accordingly. During a vacation, kids are expected to sit for inordinate periods of time.
Parents spend much more time engaging with kids and keeping them entertained. Kids need a way to be quietly occupied. Parents need downtime to recharge. Sometimes, the whole family needs some time to occupy the same space without interacting with one another. An extra 30 minutes to an hour watching videos or playing games can keep everyone sane.
Make an Emergency Travel Bag
What will you do if the airline loses your luggage, or if you’re delayed in returning to your hotel for several hours? Imagine spending time hunting down toothbrushes, underwear, medicine, pullups, and other supplies in an unfamiliar place. Now imagine doing that while tired and jet-lagged.
When you plan your travels, think about what you might need overnight or for an 8 to 12 hour period if you had no access to outside resources. Depending on your situation that could be a change of clothes, food, needed medication, extra batteries for devices, or a credit card reserved for emergencies.
Your best day of traveling with kids will be amazing, your worst not so much. That’s okay! These tips will help you keep things on track. Stress free travel with kids is absolutely possible. It just requires sensitivity and pre-planning.