Traveling with children — especially during the holiday rush — can seem like training for an Olympic sport. It will push your endurance (and sanity!) to the limit. But there are some things you can do to tone down the madness and limit the “Bah, humbug.” The better organized you are, the easier it gets.
I write from experience. I have worked with children for more than 20 years, and I have a master’s degree in education. While I’m also a modern-day princess, I come from modest means and met my Prince Charming, Adriano Pignatelli Aragona Cortes, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, while on scholarship at Pepperdine University. My most valuable source of education by far is my experience as a mother to our two children.
As an American who married an Italian, I frequently fly with my family. I’ve learned a lot of travel-disaster lessons in the School of Hard Knocks, and I’ve developed crisis-averting strategies that have been real lifesavers. The following survival tips will help make your family trip the wonderful adventure it should be.
1. Plan ahead...and plan some more.
Make a list of everything you’ll need for travel, and check it twice. Give yourself plenty of time to consider your schedule and all possible scenarios. How many nap times and mealtimes are there? If a nap happens mid-flight, make sure you have sleep essentials handy. Pack a distraction like a portable DVD player in case sleep doesn’t occur. Check connecting destinations for kid-friendly restaurants and areas.
2. Travel light(ish).
Start packing at least a day or two before departure. Consider whether your vacation spot has items you can borrow or buy to maintain light luggage. Consolidate as much of your luggage as possible. If you’re checking most of your bags, don’t forget a carry-on with extra outfits for the little ones in case of spills!
3. Organize your Mary Poppins purse.
Choose a bag with plenty of separate pockets and compartments for storage of snacks, baby gear, wipes, etc. Make sure the things you’ll need most often are easily accessible. Keep essential travel documents in a noticeable wallet. Use a carry-on Ziploc bag for medications the family might need, such as infant fever reducer, throat soothers, and gas and allergy relievers.
4. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination.
It always takes longer to get out of the house than anticipated thanks to traffic, airport lines, tantrums, and dirty diapers. Leave a half-hour or more earlier than you think you need.
5. Ace airport security.
Use the “Green Circle” lanes, which offer extra time and assistance to get through the lines. Know the latest TSA regulations, available at www.tsa.gov. Encourage the family to wear slip-on shoes and easy-to-remove jackets.
6. Fill their bellies.
Make sure you have plenty of snacks (like infant formula and finger foods) for your brood to enjoy en route. If you’re flying, have a baby bottle ready for take-off and landing as swallowing helps your baby’s ears adjust to pressure changes. For older children, a low-sugar lollipop works great. Don’t forget to fuel yourself. Drink plenty of water and eat when the kids do.
7. Make time fly with entertainment.
Whatever your travel method, chances are you’ll have a lot of downtime. Buy a new toy for the trip. Bring books and an iPad — whatever it takes to keep your children from reaching octave levels that break the sound barrier. A few “new” things will keep kids occupied longer. Music is a great soother, so kid-friendly headphones are a great investment. And don’t forget comfort items like a favorite stuffed animal, sleep pillow, or soft blanket.
8. Map out your road trip.
Traveling by car with pint-sized passengers can be just as stressful as flying, but many of the same rules apply. Have plenty of snacks and toys on hand to keep your children occupied. A DVD player and headphones may just save your sanity, too. When planning your route, account for rest stops such as parks that give the kids a chance to run around. And always have extras on hand when it comes to diapers, pacifiers, and wipes.
Remember, holiday travel with children doesn’t have to mean you reach the end of your rope before the end of the road. Simplify your vacation through planing and preparedness. Travel safely!