Traveling with children is a challenge — even for the parents who diligently pack up diaper bags days in advance and plan for every eventuality. What starts out as a quest for relaxation can quickly become a source of stress and despair as you shuffle a twisting toddler through security, try to stop your child from kicking the seat in front of him or attempt to separate squabbling siblings. Traveling with kids may never be a breeze, but we’ve got some advice from moms and dads who have been there and done that — and even managed to enjoy their vacations. Here’s what they have to say:
From Catherine Pearlman, author of Ignore It!
- Schedule less, enjoy more.
- Create a Plan B as needed. If nothing is going right and everyone is cranky make a change.
- If it isn’t fun for the kids, don’t plan it. Dragging children to important places for the sake of going to a must-see location isn’t the way to travel. Your kids can always go back to Italy to see the Vatican. Instead, visit fountains and children’s museums and the best playgrounds. Avoid the fancy, expensive must-visit restaurants, too.
- Keep your expectations reasonable. Being on vacation, away from the comforts and routines of home can be stressful. Give yourself and your kids a break. Loosen the rules a little. Overlook some minor infractions. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
- Give the family a few days to settle in to the vacation. It can take time for everyone to unwind and to get used to family time 24 hours a day.
- Strike a balance with screen time. Allowing some time gives everyone an opportunity to relax and parents to get a little extra sleep. Too much time increases chances of grumpy kids who would rather be playing video games or face-timing friends. Decide on screen hours and hold firm when screens are prohibited. After a day or so of whining kids will see that their efforts have no effect and will begin to engage in other activities.
From Chris Pegula, author of Diaper Dude
When it comes to traveling with the family, preparation is the key along with having the right gear, supplies and above all patience. As a dad of 3, I picked up some helpful travel tips throughout the years and hope you find them useful for your next family excursion.
Tip #1: A lot goes into planning a trip and the packing alone can drive anyone insane. Do yourself a favor and don’t wait until the night before to get everything together. I found that making lists of everything you need to take along with you makes life much easier especially if you tend to multitask like me. A list is a guarantee that you will manage to pack the essentials needed for your voyage.
Tip #2: A great trick I learned from a friend to distract your little one (especially if you are on a long flight) is to pack some surprises like books, Play-doh or little toys. Wrapping them so your toddler gets to experience the mystery will make the experience more fun.
Tip #3: A great way to break the ice with your neighbors around you on a flight is to prepare a survival bag for them. What’s a survival bag? It’s simply a pair of earplugs, a small bottle of aromatherapy oil (preferably lavender to help calm their mood) and a kind note apologizing ahead of time for any misbehaving your child may be guilty of. Your fellow traveler will be shocked and delighted by your effort.
From Tara Haelle, author of The Informed Parent
—A “family vacation” does not mean the family unit has to stick together at all times. It’s fine to split up or stagger activities so that everyone isn’t going to or doing everything. Even if everyone is going to Disney World, families can make plans to split up in the parks, or go in shifts while some stay at the hotel and rest.
—Include at least one activity or site for each family member, but don’t expect every family member to enjoy it, or even to attend it. Everyone should have a chance to form a memory of their favorite activity, but not everyone has to have the “same” vacation.
—Don’t over-schedule. The most stressful parts of a vacation often come when a family is running late somewhere or trying to pack in too many activities. Most of the time, being a bit late somewhere on vacation doesn’t matter. Sleeping in or having a long breakfast together can be better than whatever the next planned activity is.
—Do plan back-up activities. The only thing worse than stress from over-scheduling is the boredom of not having enough to do. Bring a game or some activities, or plan a back-up activity when something falls through or simply isn’t as interesting or fun as you hoped. The back-up activity doesn’t have to be fancy — it could be ditching the boring thing you’re doing and going out for ice cream!
—Plan for pressure valves. Another time vacations may go off the rails is when tempers flare. Some families operate best as a cohesive unit, and others work best because everyone gets some time apart. For the latter families, it may feel intense or claustrophobic to spend a lot of time together, and if that’s your family, plan for those moments by findings ways that everyone can take a break from each other and pursue their own interests. That could mean physically spreading out in a place where it’s safe to meet up later, or each person retreating to their corners to read, play iPad games or take a nap.