Someone once told me when I was pregnant to start traveling with our child when she was young so she would learn to do great with long distances in the car or airplane. That was pretty easy for us: we never really had a choice about traveling if we wanted to see our families! My family is about a ten hour drive away in Tennessee and my husband’s family is about a 30 hour drive to Oregon…which we haven’t tackled with a child yet, but we have flown there several times! We’ve had several shorter road trips to neighboring states and we even took her to New York City with us when she was eight months old. And now, even at just 4 years old, I honestly think she is by far a better traveler than me already! Here are some things we use to help us pass the time on trips along with some travel advice.
Snacks. I don’t know what it is about traveling, but it gives my daughter the munchies. As soon as we leave the driveway or tarmac she is already asking for food! I try to pack lots of healthy options like fruit, raisins, crackers, dry cereal and nuts. (But, if we pass a Dairy Queen on our journey there, we WILL stop for a Blizzard as well!) Small Ziploc baggies or snack containers work well for passing back to her or for packing on the plane. For babies and toddlers those squeezable pouches sure come in handy!
Toys. You can’t pack too many usually because of spacial issues, especially on a plane, but we always have a little backpack of some of her favorite toys, stickers and activity books to keep her entertained. To keep it exciting, you can pick up some new items from the Dollar Store that could be opened up while on the journey. We’ve even borrowed toys from friends that they didn’t mind loaning us for a few days. Be sure to think outside of the box – my daughter once played with Bubble Wrap in the car for over an hour. Best toy ever! For older kids there are lots of travel games made especially for trips. If you are driving alone with a child and need to hand things back to them, you can count up how many hours of driving time there should be, then put various toys and snacks in that many gallon ziploc bags and pass a new bag back every hour. My mother in law did this with our daughter once and it really worked out well!
Books and Music. The great thing about these is you don’t have to bring your own. You can get them easily from a library! We like to check out a few new books before a journey, but if reading makes you or your littles car sick then get some books on CD to listen to together. Our library even has audio devices that your kids can plug headphones into and can follow along with. When listening to music, it’s important that every family member gets to pick out music choices though…my husband can only take so much of Disney Princess songs!
Travel sickness items. If you travel with kids you will no doubt come in contact at some point with an upset tummy on a winding road (after too much queso at a Mexican restaurant from the night before…it was BAAAD) or ear trouble from high altitudes in an airplane or diaper blow outs while in a construction zone or just plain ol’ scream fests for no reason. To help with sickness in the car we always have an old towel handy (usually on the floor directly below the car seat), ziploc bags, wipes and a change of clothes in the glove compartment box or carry on bag. For ear pain on planes have chewing gum or a drink handy, for babies nursing does wonders to relieve ear pressure or have your bottle handy! Sometimes though there is no rhyme or reason to why kids are upset while traveling and the only way they let it out is through screaming. If you’ve already stopped and can’t solve the issue and need to get on the road, then I advise everyone just have ear plugs or headphones handy! But most important of all, when troublesome times happen, try and breathe deep, remain calm, comfort your kids as best you can, and pull over for a break and some fresh air if need be. Doubtful you can convince an airline pilot to do this but that would be helpful too!
Creative games. I Spy, ABC games, License plate games, Guess what Disney Character I’m thinking of, Fortunately Unfortunately, Travel Bingo, etc. Yeah yeah yeah, I know it’s what you and your parents did when you piled up in the station wagon to go see the Grand Canyon, but before you call me old fashioned just try playing some of these with your kids. It exercises their brains, it’s fun, and it promotes conversation. Vacations are a great time to be together as a family and if you’re all wearing headphones and doing your own thing the whole trip, you’re less likely to bond as a family!
Electronics. iPads, iPhones, Nintendo DS, headrest screens, leap pads, etc. I know we are in the digital age and you would think I would have listed this one first right? It’s so easy to hand kids our gadgets and they do keep them entertained and quiet but they aren’t necessary for traveling. Some families may not have enough gadgets to give each kid one or may not have one at all! I personally don’t mind using electronics on long journeys, but I don’t like for them to be used for long periods of time so we limit our daughter’s use of the iPad on trips. It’s important to explain to her what the rules and time limits are and if there is attitude or complaints then we eliminate it all together. I do try to find a few new apps or download some new shows for her before long trips.
Don’t watch the clock. Traveling with small ones often makes the journey longer than you think it should take. But don’t let extra stops or surprises drag you down. Try and enjoy the time together and know that you’ll be at your destination soon enough!
Those are a few snippets of advice I have for traveling with younger kids, but I know you have some tips to share as well!