Traveling with Kids Made Easy
By: Dr. Nadia, The Mindful MD Mom
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Does the phrase ‘traveling with kids’ cause you to break out in a cold sweat, give you palpitations and/or anxiety? Have the travel misadventures of other parents convinced you to never leave your house or at least appreciate stay-cations on a whole new level?
As a seasoned traveler with two kids (ages 3.5 and 1.5 years old), let me just say that traveling with kids can actually be fun–but you have to plan it right. Here are some of my tips to make traveling with kids a fun experience both for you and your kids.
So why travel with kids? Is it worth the effort?
Travel gives exposure to other places, people, and cultures helps broaden perspectives, enhance world view and experience things we may not have before. It makes one realize that the world is large and we as individuals are just one small part. Most importantly, it humbles us to realize that the world is a beautiful place with beautiful people and cultures. We are more similar than different.
Travel expands the heart and mind and fosters curiosity and adventure. Beyond that, it helps kids realize that the world really does not revolve around them. They are just a small part of something great. It helps them adapt to different conditions, try new foods, maybe even learn different languages.
All that from just a vacation? Not too bad, huh?!
Hopefully by now I have convinced you that travel important. But the bigger question is how to cultivate all these positive points in your kids (and yourself) while maintaining your sanity?
Challenges with Travel
Common concerns about traveling with kids include the following:
1. The change of routine and structure
2. Too many (unknown) variables
3. Tantrums and concern about how others will respond to the child’s behaviors
4. Sleep schedule disruptions
5. Lack of previous experience/kid hasn’t travelled before and unsure how to plan a ‘kid friendly’ getaway.
These are very valid concerns.
However, how do we expect our children to learn how to work on life skills– creativity, flexibility, willingness to try new foods, improve sleep, manners, etc– if we do not provide them enough opportunities to build on these skills?
Just like any other skill, the development of life skills takes practice. Each experience may not be perfect but it is a valuable learning experience.
We have two kids 3.5yrs old and 20 months and both have been traveling with us since they were 2 months old. We’ve flown in planes and taken road trips with the kids including the beaches on the coast of Texas (5+ hours away), Chicago, Houston, Washington DC, Phoenix, San Antonio, Grand Canyon, Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, Disney World in Florida, and most recently and our longest trip to Maui, Hawaii–to name a few!
So, let me share some of my travel tips to make travel with kids easy and fun!
Tips for Travel
Prep them for travel by going over what to expect. This is a great time to discuss travel expectations and ‘plane rules’. This gets them excited about the upcoming trip and sets them up for success by knowing what is appropriate and what is not.
Travel Rules can include:
– Speaking softly
– Sit in seats.
– Enjoy the activity bags.
– Let mom or dad know when you need somethings (ie. hungry, sleepy, potty time)
– Have fun just being in the experience
Use positive affirmations before, during, and after the trip
My favorites include:
‘I love traveling with you guys”
‘You are my travel buddy”
“We have so many fun adventures, don’t we?”
“What was your favorite part of the vacation?”
It seems simple but often times we forget that our grumbles are heard by our children. And they respond accordingly.
Make travel fun and something they get excited about. Our kids have their own rolling pilot suitcases which they love to pack with toys and take w us on our travels.
Pack for ease
Pack light at the airport. Have a stroller and a roll-on suitcase in which you can have diaper bag, snacks, kids on-flight goody bags. The stroller is multipurpose and functions as a changing table for diaper changes, cart to keep extra luggage/food, or maintains its original purpose of hauling a child.
For infants, keep them in a carrier and have older kids walk to get their energy out.
Bring a blanket
You can put the light blanket or shawl on the floor near your feet. That way, if toys fall down on blanket it’s still ok to play with them.
Another idea is to have kids take off shoes and let them sit and play on the blanket near your feet when the pilot allows seat belts to be removed and passengers to freely move around cabin.
Using naptimes and bedtime to your travel advantage
Try to incorporate your travel at least one naptime and/or bedtime. If possible, keep naptimes/bedtimes around same time as home time zone. If you are going somewhere that crosses multiple time zones, keep them up the first day to be on the schedule of that location.
Aim for good enough, not perfection. Leave the “perfect filter” at home and try to relax and enjoy the experience.
The goal is to have fun and make memories.
Remember that everyone has their own attention spans and interests. Additionally, not everyone enjoys following a strict schedule on vacation. Plan 1-3 activities and the rest of the day can be activities everyone picks together.
I recommend having a general schedule of some activities you’d like to do during the trip. However, be ok with switching around the activities depending on the moods of the fellow travelers.
Help the kids recognize their emotions
Recognize that emotions and energy will change during the trip and that it is ok.They may feel happy, or frustrated at times, or every fussy. That’s ok.
Recognize that Energy Needs Out
Find ways to constructively use their energy. Use the connections between flight changes or breaks during road trips to your and their advantage. A few minutes of mindful breathing, stretching, yoga, jumping jacks in place, walking to the terminal, etc.
Sometimes I get creative and give them a HIIT-worthy workout in 5-10 minutes at the airport during flight changes. We find an empty row at the terminal and encourage the kids to walk on the chairs, jump down, climb up, and then sprint back. They have so much fun during the activity and by the time we get back to our seats on the next flight, they are ready to do some calm activities.
Keep it low tech
If we are flying, we have an activity goody bag: Playdoh, crayons, notepad, stickers, books to read, small toys, cars, pen with multiple colors. We keep the actual contents of the bag a surprise and they get to open in the plane. It’s usually the things I mentioned above but the novelty of not knowing exactly what could possibly be in their little backpacks gets them so excited for the trip.
Keep the ipad away to use only in case of emergency or when they have exhausted all other forms of activity. Give them a chance to get creative instead of passively staring at a screen.
Manage your own emotions and stress levels
Kids are really good at picking the energy around them. If you guys feel/look stressed, kids tend to act out more. Read more on my meditation on letting go of perfection and making space for self compassion.
The most important part of travel with kids is that the parent sets the tone of the experience not the child. Kids will be kids. Of course they will be silly, goof around, maybe even through a tantrum or two. Read more on how to respond positively to tantrums.
The secret to fun travels with kids is to remember that you, the parent, are in control of your reactions and therefore, the situation.
If you decide in your mind that this experience will be tough, hard, stressful, you are also guaranteed that experience.
However, as long as you stay calm, manage your own stress and expectations, recognize that it will all be ok, it will be ok.