Whether it’s a much-anticipated beach vacation or a somewhat less-anticipated trip to Great Aunt Thelma’s house, the holidays are a time when travel is more or less inevitable. If you’ve taken trips with the little ones before, it should come as no surprise that travel is fraught with pitfalls, many of the tantrum-inducing variety. So if you want to make your next trip with the kids fuss-free, here are some tips to help.
At-home preparation can make or break your trip. Intelligent packing is key. When you help pack your kids’ suitcases, try and choose outfits that could pull double- or triple-duty. Explain that it’s OK to wear the same pants a few days in a row when you’re on the road – truckers do it all the time! Besides clothes, you know better than anyone what items your little one needs to have around to feel comfortable, but one thing you should always remember is a kit of essential medicines. If your daughter gets a sore throat in Peru, it’s unlikely the local farmacia will have her preferred flavor of cough syrup (and last time we checked there’s little in the way of conventional medicine up on Machu Picchu).
Another thing to bring is toys, preferably new ones your kids haven’t played with before. For a delightful surprise, bring out a bag of new toys during the first few minutes of any car or plane ride. Voila! Several hours of distracting fun. Packs of cards and travel-sized boardgames are great too, because they can involve everyone. Car rides have their own set of multi-player games: I-spy, the license plate game, every family has their staples. These kinds of games can be great, for a while, but don’t be offended if your kid wants to tune out for a while and listen to their headphones. Maybe they’ve just counted enough blue cars for one day.
If a family plane ride is in your future, providing lasting distractions will be particularly important – books are a great idea. To kids who have never been on an airplane before, explain what they can expect in grueling detail. Make sure to talk them through airport security, as that can potentially be a scary situation for young children. Also, it’s best to lay down your own personal rules for plane etiquette: rules like no sound on gaming devices and no blanket forts in the aisles are perennial favorites. Lastly, remember that airlines have severely cut down on the services they provide, so if you’re expecting to be able to board before everyone else or get an extra bottle of warm milk on the plane, it’s best to check your airline’s policy first.
Travel can put you and your family in close quarters with lots of coughing strangers and bad smells and general stressed-out-ness. But becoming a Holiday Travel Casualty – one of those desperate dads stroller-sprinting to make a gate check-in, for instance – is avoidable. All it takes is a little planning and a LOT of understanding. Understanding your family’s travel needs, before and during the trip, isn’t hard: just look, listen, and care. It’s the best way to keep “getting there” from getting ugly.