Responsible Kids On the Road: My Top Tips for Travel

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Do you have responsible kids on the road?

Maybe you’re thinking, Hah, I can’t even get my kids to be responsible for their own stuff at home, let alone when we’re traveling. (I hear ya; it’s an ongoing struggle.)

But take heart. Being away from home is a great time to mold responsible kids. You’re far from all the at-home “stuff” and distractions. And chances are, at some point you’ll find yourself improvising new routines on the fly anyway.

Seize those opportunities. Plan for them, even. Call those new routines a part of the traveling game. Then work to keep the new habits intact when you get home.

Ready to give it a go? Pick your next holiday travel adventure – road trip, day trip, plane trip, whatever – and give these techniques a try.

Responsible kids on a road trip

Now that our girls are past the permanent-mess-of-baby-toys-in-the-backseat phase, each of them has a tote bag hung from the backseat in front of her, with a few amusements in each:

The purple bag on the right has Kimmie's road-trip stash ready; this pic also shows her old leakproof sippy plus leash.
The purple bag on the right has Kimmie’s road-trip stash ready; this pic also shows her old leakproof sippy plus leash.

Each one also has a water bottle that fits into her booster seat’s cup holder, and a travel pillow clipped onto the strap of her tote bag.

Each girl is therefore responsible for keeping track of her own stuff, within the realm of the backseat. If she doesn’t put her water bottle back in the holder when she’s done with it, and I’m the only grownup in the car, it’s not MY problem. (And she knows it.)

Before their booster seats, when they were still in harnessed car seats, each girl’s leakproof sippy cup was attached to her car seat harness with a sippy leash, so that she could always retrieve it. In my book, having responsible kids on the road begins with anticipating potential problems and then eliminating their causes.

Responsible kids at Someone Else’s House

lined-up-shoesWhen we’ve reached our destination, we try to follow the same rules we have at home, whether we’re in a hotel or Someone Else’s House:

  • When we go inside, our shoes come off and go neatly by the door.
  • Our coats, hats, etc. also go neatly by the door, in the same place every time, so we can easily find them when it’s time to go out.
  • When we’re done eating, we clear our dishes.
  • At bedtime, our dirty clothes go in the laundry bag – not all over the floor.

These rules not only reinforce what we try to practice at home, but they also help keep us from accidentally leaving stuff behind at the end of our trip.

kimmie-with-backpack-and-rolling-bag
Five-year-old Kimmie in the airport, ready to roll

Responsible kids on a plane

Plane travel has its own special challenges, especially for those of us who remember what air travel was like pre-9/11. My kids have flown about once per year since birth, and I’ve found that flying offers several useful opportunities for molding responsible kids:

Essie, age three, boarding a plane last winter with her own luggage.
Essie, age three, boarding a plane last winter with her own luggage.
  • As soon as she was old enough to walk, each child had her own size-appropriate backpack as a carry-on item. At bare minimum, the backpack of the child(ren) still in diapers held the contents of a diaper pouch.
  • As the girls – and their backpacks – got bigger, so did their responsibilities. Their load always stayed within the limits of what is age- and size-appropriate. But at the same time, each girl knew she was responsible for carrying her own water container, sweatshirt/jacket, and entertainment for the flight (see Road Trip bag above).
  • Most recently, each girl has also been responsible for managing her own wheeled “suitcase,” with a little navigational help from the grownups. They were SO proud of themselves for handling their own luggage. (And tempting though it was to buy them kiddie-sized suitcases, we instead repurposed grownup wheeled carry-on bags that we already had.) With each girl managing her own clothing and gear for the trip, we eliminated most of our checked bag fees.
The girls' beach bags, stocked and ready
The girls’ beach bags, stocked and ready

Responsible kids on vacation

Is there a small set of things that your kiddos don’t need at home but use every day on vacation? Put THEM in charge of handling that little-pile-of-stuff wherever you go:

  • For a beach vacation, each girl has a clear plastic tote that she’s in charge of. The tote is just large enough for her sunglasses, water bottle, and hat. Each morning before we hit the beach, I have each girl check her own water bottle to make sure it’s filled, and her own tote to make sure it contains what it’s supposed to. If an item has gone missing, it’s up to HER to find it and replace it.

    Waiting to board the subway for a day of sightseeing
    Waiting to board the subway for a day of sightseeing
  • For a sightseeing trip, each girl manages her own backpack. Sunglasses and hat go into the outside pocket; water bottle and jacket/sweatshirt go inside. Each girl needs to check her bag’s contents before we leave for the day, restock as needed, and get her bag into the car.
  • Since Kimmie is bigger and can carry a little more weight than Essie, she also gets to carry the can of wipes and the sanitizer in her bag, which makes more room in my backpack for whatever lunch or snacks we’re bringing, as well as extra water to refill their bottles.
  • And as noted above, at the end of each day, the girls need to “take care” of their things when we get “home.” This means being conscientious about depositing their gear in a designated spot near the door, so they know where it is when it’s time to head out the next day, and restocking their bags as needed.

A final caveat

Teaching your kids to be responsible for their own stuff while they travel isn’t instantaneous. Just like any learning process, it takes practice, and you’ll need to silently check up on them while they learn. Translation: it’s ultimately up to you to make sure that carry-on makes it onto and off of each plane.

But the more you turn over responsibility to them, the more you can help them build habits that will last a lifetime. Yes, each kid having her own suitcase means one more bag to manage through airport security. But before you even leave home, figure out with your kids how many bags each person is supposed to have. Then have them count with you as you go through security to make sure that EACH family member collects the right number on the other side.

Are you and your kiddos traveling this holiday season? If so, what are your favorite travel tips for cultivating responsible kids on the road? Let us know in the comments!


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