With the holiday season approaching, there is a good chance that you and your family will consider doing some travel. One of the first questions you probably have is, “Can we do this with the kids?” Let me tell you, as a mom of two, it can be done! We have traveled with our kids from the time they were infants and I am going to share some travel tips I have learned along the way that will make your trip what it is supposed to be–FUN!
Being prepared is one of the best ways to make sure your trip is relaxing and less stressful.
1. Roll clothes and pack by outfit.-Rolling clothes can save a lot of space in your suitcase. Putting complete outfits together in the suitcase (including underwear and socks) for each member of the family as you pack can make forgetting items less likely. It also makes it much easier to hand a stack of clothes to a kid to change in the morning.
2. Put things needed right away on top of bag. Think about what time of day you will arrive at your destination. Will it be time for the pool? Put swimsuits on the top. Will it be bedtime? Have pajamas ready to go on the top. It is much less frustrating when things you need are on hand after a long day of travel.
3. Bring plastic bags. This is a must have item while traveling as a parent. I always stash a plastic grocery bag or two and a few quart sized bags in my suitcase. They work great for wet swimsuits or wet shoes (when your kid decides to splash in every puddle!). Quart sized bags are great to put shampoo or lotion bottles into in case they start to leak; they are also helpful to have if you want to pack some snack bags during the days of your trip.
4. Pack a cooler bag. I was so grateful to have our cooler bag this summer when we flew out west and then took a car trip across Death Valley. (We got our bag at Trader Joe’s.) It folds flat, and I put it at the bottom of our suitcase. When we arrived, we packed frozen water bottles as our ice packs and had plenty of space to store snacks and drinks while driving. Bonus: You have an extra bag to bring home souvenirs that has a little bit of extra padding for breakable items.
5. Pack a beach bag or gym bag. If you don’t carry a diaper bag anymore, you may want to have an extra bag on hand for times when you need to bring a few things along, but don’t want to bring a suitcase. You might need to bring a bag to the beach or pool; for extra jackets, sweaters, or gloves for cold weather; or you could also use it to keep toys and activities for a car ride.
6. Have your kids bring a book bag. If your kids are old enough, give them a book bag to carry their belongings they’d like close to them while traveling. This works especially for plane trips. Children can bring carry on piece onto the plane with them, and book bags can be easily stashed under the seat in front of them. Have your child include snacks, a water bottle, a thin jacket or sweater, and some things to entertain them during travel (iPods, DVD players, music, etc. can work wonders to pass the time for kids, even if you normally don’t let them use electronics.)
7. Bring a small travel pillow and blanket. I was surprised to learn this summer that airplanes don’t provide free blankets and pillows anymore–even for red-eye, cross country trips. We were told they were available for purchase. Save yourself the trouble and bring your own for your kids. Travel can be exhausting and the last thing you want is a cranky kid who can’t get comfy.
Having lived in Florida most of my life, it can be easy to forget how mild our climate can be. We are used to moderate temperatures and humid air. Traveling to other parts of the country can bring uncomfortable situations.
8. Cold Weather: If you have been here for any length of time, you don’t realize how very, very cold it can get other places. I remember how bone-chilling 17 degrees was one year when we went to Boston, and how I naively had thought my jeans would be enough. Remember, your children will have even less tolerance for the cold weather than you do. Without spending lots of money on outerwear that will most likely be worn for this trip only, consider buying thermal long johns or fleece lined tights. When possible (for example, when visiting family or friends), borrow jackets and snowsuits. You may also want to consider going to a thrift shop upon arrival to find inexpensive heavy coats.
9. Dry Climates: Florida air provides high levels of moisture. Traveling other places, especially out west can bring extremely dry air. It is critical to your family’s health to stay hydrated in such locations. In addition, the dry air can be so harsh that you can end up with a bloody nose. To battle dry air this summer while traveling through the desert, my family and I used cocoa butter scented Vaseline to coat the inside of our nostrils. Sounds a little disgusting, but it helps–a lot! I used an old contact lens case to store the Vaseline and brought along plenty of cotton swabs to apply.
On Your Way
10. Find the power outlet at the airport. If you are counting on electronics to keep your kids (and who’s kidding, yourself) occupied, you are going to want to keep those devices charged. Take every opportunity to get them recharged. Charging stations have been added to airports, but often they are all occupied. I will hunt for extra power outlets in the floor, on posts, in restaurants, near the boarding station, or even in the bathroom. On a recent trip, a fellow passenger had a power strip (Quirky Pivot Power Mini) that was designed with two outlets and two USB ports. She politely asked if she could use our power outlet and suddenly, we could get four things charging at once. I highly recommend this little device. I found mine at TJ Maxx for $12.99, but local retailers carry it for around $20.
11. Bring along wipes and hand sanitizer. Stash a small package of baby wipes (even if your kids are out of diapers) and some hand sanitizer in your purse or carry on. Being able to quickly get your kids (or yourself) clean can make traveling much less stressful.
12. Prepare for travel related discomforts. Especially when flying, kids can suffer while traveling. Ear pressure and motion sickness can make your kids uncomfortable. For children who are old enough, bring along gum to help relieve ear pressure. For younger kids, sucking on lollipops can do the same thing. For kids with upset tummies, chewy mints like Mentos can be a relief. Check with your doctor about OTC medicines like Dramamine or Bonine for Kids to alleviate motion sickness. One thing I’ve found that helps is aromatherapy with ginger spray (designed for morning sickness for pregnant mamas) that can reduce queasiness for kids and parents alike.
When You Arrive/During Your Trip
13. Get groceries when you arrive. When you travel, a big expense can be eating most of your meals at restaurants. We try to find hotels that offer free breakfast in the morning. We also will shop at the local grocery store and stock up on snacks and some easy to fix meals (PB&J, cereal, fruit, juice, soda). This way you don’t depend on room service if your kids suddenly get hungry in the evening or you are too tired after a day of adventure to go out to eat.
14. Eat local food. If you do decide to eat out for meals, skip the chains restaurants and try out the local cuisine. Find out what foods are regional and make it an adventure with your children to enjoy something different!
15. Decide on your kids’ spending money ahead of time. When on vacation, there’s a tendency to splurge. My kids love to buy souvenirs. Setting a budget for your kids ahead of time before you even leave your house can reduce the guilt when they plead for yet another toy or stuffed animal at that day’s adventure location.
16. The day before you leave, sort laundry into darks/lights. I know, it sounds crazy to think about laundry while on vacation, but I promise, you will be much happier to sort your laundry as you put it into your suitcase surrounded in your lovely hotel room the night before you leave than when you are waking up exhausted the next day at home. I love being able to throw all the clothes from the whole suitcase into the washing machine as soon as I get home and not think about sorting it.
Things to Keep in Mind
17. Travel is exhausting. Schedule down time for both you and your kids. It can be tempting to schedule something for every second of every day. Don’t. Vacations are supposed to be relaxing along with fun. Keep in mind time zone changes as well. (Especially if your little one still takes a nap.)
18. Be willing to let the kids see what they want. Be flexible while on vacation. Often you have the places you want to go to while traveling. Talk as a family about where you are going. Pull up maps and travel guides online. Let your child select a place or two that they would like to visit or something they would like to do. Making it a family vacation, with input from everyone, can make the trip more fun. Along the way, be willing to stop at those unexpected places…just because your kid wants to see it.
19. Set the expectations. Make sure your kids understand the expectations ahead of time. Being in a hotel room or staying with relatives might require different rules than at home. Talk to your kids before the trip about safety rules (what to do if you get separated), noise levels (Grandma doesn’t usually have boisterous kids around), and behavior expectations (what do you do when you eat something you don’t care for). This is especially true if you are staying with family. Explain that different families may have different rules. Tell your children what you expect from them.
20. Take pictures. When the trip is over, make sure you have plenty of pictures. Hand your kids the camera, too, so they can capture the trip from their perspective.
Above all else, enjoy your vacation. Keep in mind that these are the memories you will have to look back on…make them ones to remember fondly. Happy travels!