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Tips for Stress Free Traveling with Children

Updated on February 9, 2013
Frequent stops on long road trips are usually helpful.
Frequent stops on long road trips are usually helpful. | Source

Travel with Kids

If you’re a parent or grandparent, you’ve probably done your share of travel with kids. It can be a wonderful experience or a nightmare – and just about everything in between these two extremes. You know the scenario: “Are we there yet?” “How many more miles?” “How much longer?” “I’m bored.” “I’m hungry.” “I have to go to the bathroom.” It can be even more frustrating when you’re traveling with kids – plural. Instead of “the more, the merrier,” it’s usually a case of “the more, the crazier.” I know from personal experience. I often heard things like: “She’s on my side of the seat.” “She’s looking at me.” “She’s touching me.” Yes, I had three girls, all close in age. They’re all grown now, with children of their own. When we take road trips now, I sometimes feel a strong sense of déjà vu. My nine grandkids act much the same as my daughters did at that age. Kids will be kids, as they say, so I’m not sure that totally stress free travel with children can ever be guaranteed. But…if you follow some tips for traveling with kids, it can make everyone in the group a lot happier. And in that case, your travel with kids can be closer to the wonderful end of the spectrum instead of near the nightmare end.

Let the kids in on vacation planning and packing.
Let the kids in on vacation planning and packing. | Source

Vacation Planning

Vacation planning can be the first step in creating a positive travel experience for your kids. Get the children in on the preparations and planning part of the trip! Explain your destination, and describe all the fun things the little ones will get to do. Get on the internet and show them some photos of the place. If the kids are old enough, make it an educational activity by including some maps and perhaps some facts about the history and culture of the area.

Of course, vacation planning includes packing, too, so let the kids help decide what they’ll be taking. Allow the kids to include a couple of their favorite outfits, as long as the clothing is appropriate for where you’re going. Be sure to include a favorite toy or two, especially a cuddly toy that might serve as a bed fellow. For long trips, we always take a blanket and small pillow for each child.

Giving the kids some ownership in the vacation planning stage can really make a big difference in attitude. If room allows, let the child stuff a small suitcase, bag, or backpack with whatever he or she likes – books, coloring books and crayons, games, dolls, action figures, plush animals, small cars, etc. Take him to a store and let him pick out some snacks and goodies for the trip, too.

Babies and toddlers usually do best in their own car seats.
Babies and toddlers usually do best in their own car seats. | Source

Road Trips

I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but road trips are super popular in the United States. It’s my family’s favorite mode of vacation travel, so we’ve taken lots of road trips with kids. I guess part of this is because Americans seem to have a love affair with automobiles. Another reason is probably due to the size of the U.S. and its geographical and cultural diversity. For example, I live in South Georgia, very near a major interstate. We can hop on the interstate and be in a large city in three hours, the mountains in four hours, or South Florida in five or six. If we use one of the numerous state and national highways that criss-cross our town, we can be dipping our toes in the Atlantic in just two hours.

When traveling with kids, I usually follow the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage. If the kids are happily engaged or asleep, we try not to disturb them with stops. If we’re hungry but the kids aren’t, we reach into the treat bag for a quick bite. That brings up a good point: carry a bag of snacks and some drinks. In hot weather, we take a small cooler on long trips, or either we freeze non-carbonated drinks the night before we leave and wrap them in paper towels and foil to keep them cold. If we’re taking road trips in cold weather, we bring along a couple of large thermoses with coffee, hot chocolate, and hot cider.

Another biggie for road trips with kids is the messy factor. Children are sweet and wonderful, but they can be extremely messy. Be sure to have plenty of Kleenex, baby wipes or wet wipes, and a roll of paper towels in the vehicle. A related item you’ll need to include is a box of large zip-loc bags. Use these for trash, for goodie bags, and for soiled clothes. If your child gets motion sickness, the bags can also serve as “sick bags,” and they’re great for making ice packs.

If you have a portable DVD player, bring it along. This not only keeps the kids entertained – movies can also be a way to help kids gauge the trip’s timing. In other words, if a trip is going to take three hours, find two 90-mminute movies for the kids to watch. You can tell them that when both movies have played, you’ll be at or very near your destination. Hand-held video games can be wonderful time-passers, also.

Road trips can be relatively cheap travel, too. Another thing I like about this type of travel is that you’re in control. You decide how fast you want to go, how often you want to stop for breaks, and what, if any, side trips to take. If the kids get car sick, you can let them get out and walk around some.

Rent a Van - or a motor home for long road trips.
Rent a Van - or a motor home for long road trips. | Source

Rent A Van

You might want to rent a van for your family road trips! We’ve done this before and really enjoyed the experience. Van rental is a great idea when more than one family is traveling together on road trips. The first time we did this, we were taking some of the grandkids to the mountains to see and play in snow. Snow, by the way, is a rarity around here. Included on the trip were my husband, two daughters, six grandchildren, and I. we rented a large van that had twelve seats. Since we only had ten passengers, we had extra room for luggage and other stuff.

We found a local car lot that provided van rental, and I thought the fees charged were very reasonable. The big vehicle got better gas mileage than I figured it would, too, so we saved some money there. We split the cost of the gas three ways, which was much cheaper than gassing up three cars for the 260-mile trip. The van rental also proved to be lots of fun. All the kids loved being together with their cousins, and the adults enjoyed the camaraderie, too. We stopped along the way and got hot cocoa, fancy coffee drinks, and pastries. We sang songs and played travel games, which always makes road trips seem shorter.

If you’re planning a road trip that includes more passengers than will fit comfortably in one car, think about van rental. Be sure to do some comparison shopping. We did, and we found a pretty wide range of prices for the same types of vehicles. We used the internet and made phone calls to local dealers and car rental agencies, and we found the best deal at a car dealership. We saved almost $200 by shopping around, so the time we spent was definitely worth the effort.

If your travel budget can afford it, you might even want to consider renting a motor home for long road trips. These are perfect for traveling with kids! They can watch TV or movies, walk around, and nap. You’ll also have a built-in kitchen and bathroom, which can greatly reduce your need for stops.

Our road trip planner usually includes parks and playgrounds.
Our road trip planner usually includes parks and playgrounds. | Source

Road Trip Planner

Your trip will go much smoother if you employ a road trip planner before your vehicle ever pulls out of the drive. Begin working on this several weeks before your vacation is scheduled. Know exactly where you’re going and what points of interest you’ll be passing. Also, look for any long stretches between gas stations, restaurants, rest stops, and hotels.

With a good road trip planner, you can take full advantage of interesting sights along the way. It amazes me how some people only think about reaching their destination as quickly as possible, with no thought at all of what might be less than a mile off their route. Just think of all the fascinating things you’re missing! Occasional stops will give the kids a chance to stretch their legs, and if you find a park, they can burn up some of their pent-up energy.

Our road trip planner often includes picnic sites. Sometimes it’s easier to picnic than it is to drag a group of kids into a restaurant. It also saves money, and it’s more of an “adventure” in the eyes of the kids. They don’t have to be quiet or even especially well mannered when they’re dining outdoors. The movement on solid ground and the fresh air can also be good motion sickness prevention. To make the picnic even more fun for the kids, take along a ball or a Frisbee.

Train Travel
Train Travel | Source

Train Travel

I enjoy train travel, even with kids. I took my oldest daughter on a trip with Amtrak when she was just four years old, and we both had an enjoyable experience. To me, train travel seems like a good cross between car road trips and air travel. Someone else is in charge of the “driving,” so you don’t have to worry about that, but you have more freedom with train travel than you do when flying with children. Once you get your “train legs,” you can get up and walk around to various cars instead of being stuck in the seat for hours on end. The train we traveled on had a lounge car and a dining car.

Longer train travel on Amtrak might also include some real comfort, with sleeping cars. Some Amtrak trains have bedrooms that include showers, sinks, and toilets. You might even be able to get a bedroom suite that sleeps 4-6 people and has two bathrooms. What a great way to travel! Board the train, have dinner in the dining car, and then go to bed. Shortly after waking up and enjoying a nice breakfast, you arrive at your destination.

Motion Sickness Prevention - try chewing gum and gummies.
Motion Sickness Prevention - try chewing gum and gummies. | Source

Motion Sickness

Motion sickness is often an issue when traveling with kids. Heck, it can be a problem for adults, too. I’m 54 years old, and I still get car sick on occasion. If you’ve never experienced car sickness, thank your lucky stars. It’s one of the sickest feelings you’ll ever have. It’s caused by a spatial disorientation problem, as your eyes, inner ear, and muscles are sending mixed messages to your central nervous system.

As with most things, motion sickness prevention is far better than a cure. When I’m worried about getting motion sick, I start taking medication the day before so that it’s in my system. I keep taking it on a regular basis until we reach our destination, too. Such medications might include Dramamine, Antivert, Benadryl, or Bonine. Scopolamine, in the form of skin patches or tablets, might also be effective. Don’t overlook ginger, either. As a natural remedy for motion sickness, it has proven effective for many people. This can include cold ginger tea, ginger ale, or ginger capsules. Instruct your kids to look out the car window, at a distant point ahead. Reading in the car might attribute to car sickness, so it’s best to avoid it. If you don’t suffer from motion sickness, you might want to read them a story or two. Road trips can also be a great opportunity to share family stories with your kids.

Avoid heavy, greasy meals before traveling. Most experts, however, agree that traveling on a completely empty stomach isn’t a good idea. Choose a light meal that’s low in fat. If your child is prone to indigestion, you’ll probably want to avoid spicy foods, too. It’s also important to keep the kids hydrated before and during long trips.

If, despite your motion sickness prevention plan, your child still gets car sick, there are several things you can do to help the situation. One of my most effective motion sickness remedies is simple – it’s getting cool. When I get car sick, I get hot all over, so a cold, damp cloth and cool air blowing on my face usually helps. I also like to stop the car and get out for some fresh air. Sometimes nibbling on some saltines and taking a few sips of ice-cold Coke helps, too. Some individuals find relief with acupressure applied to the wrists, so you might want to give that a try by using motion sickness bands. These work without drugs, as a natural remedy for all types of motion sickness. Motion sickness bands are especially good for kids, as they come in bright colors and fun patterns.

Air Travel

I haven’t done a lot of air travel, and the plane trips I’ve taken were short and weren’t with kids. My best friend, however, has experience with air travel with children, including some very long flights. I’m talking China and Cambodia here, both super long trips. She was gracious enough to provide me with some tips for traveling with kids on a plane.

One thing she strongly suggests for air travel with children is to take along the child’s usual car seat. Babies and toddlers are used to their own seats, and they’ll probably feel more secure and comfortable with it. If the child is used to road trips, sitting in the car seat shouldn’t be a big problem on a plane. If at all possible, get a baby his or her own seat so that you can use your car seat. Seats near the aisle make diaper changes and/or trips to the bathroom easier.

If possible, schedule your flight with your child’s normal routine in mind. Flying with children is much easier when the little ones are asleep. For long flights, coordinate your air travel with nighttime sleep. For shorter flights, try to choose one that coincides with nap time.

Flying with children is restrictive. It’s not like you can pull over for a break when you want, so it’s best to keep the kids entertained. Keep a few toys on hand just for travel, and don’t allow the children to play with them at other times. That way, the toys will seem “new” and more exciting. These don’t have to cost a fortune. Visit a local dollar store where toys, stuffed animals, small games, and art kits are just a buck each. Don’t give all the toys at one time. Provide a new toy and let the child play with it until the “new” wears off and boredom sets in. at that point, it’s time to reach for another amusement.

If your child is small, take a stroller. A portable fold-up type works best for this situation. You might also consider allowing the kids to wear their own backpacks. They can add their own favorite toys and a few goodies. If the terminal has a kids’ play area, take advantage of it. If you tire the kids out before the flight, they’ll be less likely to get restless in their seat. Also, my pal tells me that extra plastic bags and wet wipes are crucial when flying with children, along with an extra change of clothes.

Air Sickness
Air Sickness | Source

Air Sickness

Although I’ve often suffered from motion sickness in cars and on boats, I haven’t experienced air sickness. It’s caused by the same factors that cause motion sickness in cars and on amusement park rides, trains, and boats. The same motion sickness prevention strategies can be used when flying. If you’re flying with children who are susceptible, make sure you located the sickness bag as soon as you find your seats. If you have a choice of seats, sit near the wings, as that part of the plane will usually be the most stable. Chewing has been shown to prevent and relieve air sickness, so be sure to bring some chewing gum, Starburst, gummy worms, or some other chewy snacks.

Some studies indicate that people who are tired or stressed are more prone to air sickness. With that in mind, make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep the night before the flight. Believe it or not, attitude and the power of suggestion can play a part, too. Keep your child happy and excited, and don’t keep mentioning the possibility of air sickness. If he or she starts to feel a little queasy, try to get their mind on something else. A quick trip to the restroom for a splash of cool water on the face might help, too.

Traveling with Baby requires a travel first-aid kit.
Traveling with Baby requires a travel first-aid kit. | Source

Traveling with Baby

Traveling with baby presents its own special challenges. Babies don’t understand instructions like “be quiet,” “wait,” or “we’re almost there.” They can’t voice their specific problems or discomfort to you, either, so it’s best to try and keep them happy for the entire duration of the trip as is humanly possible. You know – the old “ounce of prevention” thing.

Make a list of all the items you’ll need. It should include diapers, a changing pad, extra clothing, bottles or sippy cups, baby wipes, plastic bags, small toys, a light blanket, bibs, and formula, milk, or juice. If the baby is eating solid food, include some less messy easy-to-eat snacks like Cheerios. It’s also a good idea to assemble a travel first-aid kit, with lotion, hand sanitizer, ointment for diaper rash, a thermometer, medication for gas or colic, and baby-safe pain and fever relievers.

Traveling with baby can be frustrating when an infant cries or fusses excessively. Think about what soothes your baby at home. If it’s your singing voice, try singing softly – even if you’re on a plane, train, or bus with strangers. I assure you they’d rather hear your singing than a baby’s screaming. Music might work, too. If you have a small musical toy, be sure to take it with you and make sure it’s handy. If it requires batteries, take some extras. You certainly don’t want your “magic pill” to give out on you in the middle of a trip. Also, some pediatricians believe that smells can play a big role in a baby’s sense of comfort and well being, so dress the baby in a familiar sleeper or use his regular blanket. Traveling with baby will be a heck of a lot easier if the infant feels safe and secure.


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