Tips to Make Traveling with Kids Less Stressful:
The idea of traveling with kids can strike terror in the hearts of inexperienced parents everywhere. Traveling can be stressful at the best of times. But when you add kids into the mix, it can be even more stressful. However, there ARE ways to make vacationing w less stressful. Less stress traveling with kids is about keeping everyone happy, entertained, and relaxed. And happy, engaged travelers of all ages are the result of careful preparation as anything else.
As those of you who follow me on Facebook (or follow me on Instagram) know, I’ve spent the past two weeks road-tripping with the girls and my mama. This is hardly our first foray into family travel. My own first trip was at 5 months, when my mama and I flew to a work convention with my dad, and Kimmie’s first major road trip was when she was barely 3 weeks old.
But still – how do you travel with little ones WITHOUT having a super-stressful time of it? Thinking long and hard BEFORE your trip about what will make life easier for everyone involved is the key. Therefore, here are some of the tips we’ve learned over time to get you started.
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Top Tips for Less Stress Traveling With Kids:
Estimate time needed, then double it
Our biggest mistake, that first time we blithely hopped in the car for the 350-mile drive to my mama’s house with 3-week-old Kimmie, was not fully understanding this rule yet:
- There was traffic. And road construction. (These are pretty much par for the course.)
- But there was also a little person in the backseat who didn’t sleep well, even when at home. (She’s never been a great sleeper, really.)
- And who (we learned later) was what they call a “colicky” baby – i.e., hard to console.
- Even when not whizzing along superhighways, or stuck in traffic.
- And who required feeding (or a diaper change, to handle the output on the other end) at unpredictable, and frequent, intervals.
- And whom we’d overdressed for what turned out to be an unusually hot winter day. Requiring (once we figured out that she was overheating) pulling over the car, and pulling apart the trunk, to find an appropriately lightweight alternate outfit.
Long story short: Pre-baby, by being efficient about our stops, we were able to make this trip in as little as 7 hours if traffic weren’t bad. First time with Kimmie, it took us about twice as long.
So learn from our new-parent ignorance, and plan PLENTY of extra time. Your days of running through the airport to make tight connections are over. Ditto your days of driving 900 miles in a day, if that’s something you used to do – or, until you have much older kids who can entertain themselves, even 500 or 600. There will be diaper emergencies, bathroom emergencies, and hunger emergencies. Not to mention lost-thing crises, can’t-walk-another-foot slowdowns, and epic meltdowns.
Until your kids are at least school age, take the amount of time you think something will require – then double it.
Plan your itinerary ahead (but stay flexible)
Pre-kids, maybe you traveled spontaneously, and/or by the seat of your pants.
Those days are also over. Trust me, it’s harder to find a place to crash for the night (or grab a meal that makes everyone happy) when you add little people into the mix. And kids with special needs often either a) require special accommodations that you HAVE to lock down ahead of time, and/or b) will not function well unless you can tell them every single minute what you’re doing and where you’re going next.
This is not to say you HAVE to have every last detail nailed down ahead of time. (In other words, don’t book yourself a week of nonrefundable sightseeing tickets before you even set foot in that faraway destination.) This can also include even things so basic as hotel stops on a multi-day road trip. You may not get as far as you’d hoped in that first day of driving. If you’ve got a nonrefundable reservation for that night that’s still 300 miles away by the time you’re all exhausted, you’re out of luck.
But the more you can figure out ahead of time – say, at least the mileage from point A to point B on each stop of your cross-country tour – the better off you’ll be. (For what it’s worth, this is a great job to delegate to your kids, if they’re old enough. My girls had a blast asking Siri how far it was between each of our destination cities on our recent vacation.)
Which gets to my next step:
Loop your kids into the planning
The older your kids are, the more buy-in you should get from them, on every possible aspect of your travels, before your trip. Doing this will give them a sense of ownership and responsibility over how the trip goes. And that ownership will go a long way toward making them happy campers (or flyers or backseat drivers or whatever you’re going for).
This is not to say you should cede all aspects of trip-planning to them. But as two small examples from our own family’s travels this past year:
- Before our long-awaited family trip to Hawaii this past winter, we got several guidebooks on Hawaii, and encouraged our 7- and 9-year-olds to look through them. We found Hawaii on our globe, and figured out that it was a long, long way from home indeed. They’d seen Disney’s Moana many times, but we also had them watch the older Disney film Lilo and Stitch, which gave them their first taste of the Hawaiian language.
- And as we worked our way through our recent two-week cross-country road trip, we had the girls follow along with our travels in a large back-seat road atlas. They thus got to “help navigate.” And occasionally (e.g., lunch was a little late and no one was hungry for dinner), we let them “decide” whether we should just have ice cream for supper. (Needless to say, they always voted yes!)
The more small input opportunities you can give your kids along these lines, the happier they’ll be about the whole process. Even at the start of our recent road trip, when we were attending our national church conference, we gave the girls choices about how they wanted to spend each chunk of their time – with the youth in the ages 6-12 room, or visiting the exhibit hall and plenary sessions with us. What they chose at each opportunity wasn’t important; the important thing was that we gave them the choice.
Think outside the box on lodging, especially overseas
Especially if you’re traveling outside your home country, think carefully before you just assume you’ll need to find a hotel – and then go hunting for hotels in your country of choice.
As seasoned travelers know, there’s only so much you can learn about local life from staying at a hotel in tourist or resort areas. And especially if you’re traveling as a family, a hotel may not be the most economical or practical choice for your trip. Depending on how many kids you have and how old they are, you may do better with renting a private home, a condominium, or something in between.
For example, if you’re traveling to Europe with tweens and/or teens, consider whether you might save a ton (and learn a lot) by renting a small room in a youth hostel. (My first visit to London was possible in part because my family spent a week at the international Girl Scout/Guide center there. Next summer, my mama and I will take my girls to London for the first time in part by staying there again.) Or if you’ve got younger children, consider whether a private residence or extended-stay location, with access to refrigeration and cooking facilities, might be a wise choice.
Then think outside the box on how you might FIND these sorts of places to stay.
I’m guessing your first stop when planning an overseas trip isn’t researching the local real-estate agents? No, you don’t have to be planning to buy an overseas property to find them helpful; many also oversee rental properties, including vacation rentals. So if (for example) your next family adventure is to Indonesia, you shouldn’t just limit your online research to hotel reviews. You might find something much better suited to your family’s needs by seeking out a company that specializes in “jual beli rumah,” which roughly translates to “buying and selling homes.” In other words, a real estate agent who can help you locate the perfect family vacation rental unit.
Stock snacks and diversions
Finally, don’t forget that the happier your littlest travelers are, the happier everyone will be. Just think how hangry you can get sometimes; multiply that by about a thousand, and that’s your kiddo when he/she is at the mercy of the grownups, the airlines, the traffic and construction workers, the weather, and goodness only knows what else.
Whether flying or driving, I always travel with an emergency stash (or two or ten) of snacks. I cannot tell you how many times a late-arriving flight has caused us to dash for our connection, or a lousy set of choices for the next meal in transit has left one or more of us hungry. Before hungry becomes hangry, a well-timed snack break can help everyone keep their moods (and blood sugar!) stable. And that alone can help ensure less stress traveling with kids.
But keeping kiddos engaged and entertained is another key part of the battle. We prefer to avoid electronic babysitters as much as possible, so our kiddos have to keep themselves entertained using more conventional methods. Besides tracking our travels in an atlas, I always pack several sets of books for each child for car trips, and several small diversions for car and plane trips alike. And instead of giving them to the girls all at once, I roll them out slowly over the course of our trip. That way, there’s always something new to grab their interest just when they start to get “bored” with the options they have.
Even with the best-laid plans, things won’t go right. You’ll be at a standstill for a half-hour or more due to a road accident. You’ll get lost, or will be unable to find a path around road construction and washed-out roads. Someone will get carsick in the back seat, or have an accident.
If you or your kids are as fond of the Disney-Pixar Monsters, Inc. movies as mine are, you may recall gravelly-voiced monster Roz and her tagline, “Always watching you. ALWAYS.” Think of your kids that way: They watch and mimic your every move, especially in unfamiliar settings where they look to you for guidance.
So, if you love travel, what kind of kiddos do you want to raise: those who can be flexible and roll with whatever happens? Or those who’ll let a flight delay or closed-road detour throw off their whole day?
Your ability to take things in stride, no matter what happens along the way during your trip, will go a long way toward teaching your kids how to manage the inevitable ups and downs of life away from home. And honing their ability to cope with the unexpected will, in turn, make everyone’s trip go more smoothly.
Which tips did I overlook for having less stress traveling with kids? Let us know in the comments!
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