Years ago when our kids were small we traveled, tagging them along on whatever adventure we planned. The grumpy, tired lot of us often short tempered and hungry. Now that our brood is older, traveling is a breeze. They’ve learned how to maneuver airports; cruise ships, domestic travel, and even have passports. They travel with the ease and confidence of adolescents. Yet my heart goes out to young parents we see toting their tots and mountains of luggage from one gate to the next.
If you’re a parent of “littles” and you like to travel, here are some tips on how to make the traveling with tots experience a positive one.
- Know your limits. If Junior is still taking naps or your litter of six gets irritable if they’re rushed, lengthen your trip to allow for frequent breaks. If you’re taking a road trip, only drive eight hours before stopping for the night or agree to stop and stretch every few hours. Not only will this reduce/prevent meltdowns, but it’ll make the whole adventure much more memorable in the long run.
- Pack pretty. Early on, we learned to pack a backpack for each of our kids. We filled them with necessary items for a fun trip:
o A stuffed animal
o Small fleece blanket/pillow
o Book or coloring book/crayons
o An extra change of clothes
o Travel size toiletries
o Water bottle or sipper cup
Each child was given their bag to carry at all times. This system kept sibling squabbles to a minimum. It also meant less for mom/dad to carry and be responsible for. Snacks and water (or juice) were at the ready for whenever tummies called for them. Our kids also learned to ration out the snacks until the next pit stop. To this day our youngest daughter (almost 15) never goes on a trip without a snack pack of crackers “in case we get lost”.
- Take a head count. If you’re traveling Duggar style or close to it, as we often did with six or seven tots in tow, the head count is important. Simple, easy, and it can be done anywhere. I’ve stood up on planes, trains, buses, and in the seat of a 15 passenger van to take a head count. We rarely forgot anyone and the head count always makes for a quick 2 minutes of entertainment for fellow travelers who pointed out our family. (Note: also be prepared for comments such as “look at that school group” and “Mommy, that’s a lot of kids”, etc.)
- Matching shirt day. Outfitting your tots in matching shirts or hats is a 2 fold tip. The kids get a souvenir and you have a strong visual of all your little ones. (Note: refrain from putting the family name or kids’ names on the shirts –you don’t want strangers calling them by name!)
- The buddy system is another way to keep everyone close by. Holding hands, pairing an older sibling with a younger one or pairing one to two kids per parent. If you pair your kids together, switch up the assignments from time to time to prevent squabbles, boredom, and the unexpected coup.
- Souvenirs and dining out. These are two things you’ll want to give some extra planning to. Too many choices given to young kids can result in frustration, indecision, and tantrums. –In kids and in the parents. The same goes for dinner choices. You don’t want to plan for fine dining at a seafood place if little Johnny only eats chicken nuggets. Plan ahead and swing by the local chicken place first. Some restaurants will allow you to bring in your child’s “packed” lunch that s/he can enjoy while you eat the grown up meal. (Note: call ahead to check on this as some restaurants have very strict rules. If they don’t allow you to bring in different food, feed little Johnny first and then when you get to the restaurant, let him order dessert while the grown-ups feast.)
- Remember that they’re children. They didn’t plan this trip. They are going to tire much quicker than you are. And they are still learning how to express their feelings, thoughts, and opinions. Empathize with them when they’re upset. Validate their feelings. Ask them what they need to feel better. Just like you might need a soothing drink or a time out to feel better, so might your tot.
Traveling with children is a great way to encourage them to try new foods, explore new places, and makes for great family bonding. Planning ahead, packing the essentials, and knowing your kids limits will increase the likelihood of everyone have a great time.