If you have ever traveled with small children, you know how nerve-racking it can be. The stress level kicks up a notch when you are flying. Even short trips can be exasperating with an inconsolable toddler or multiple children. Maintenance delays and aircraft issues, traffic jams and construction, and many other unanticipated issues often extend an already exhausting experience. Luckily, with a little bit of pre-planning there are some easy ways to keep the kids occupied and happy while traveling, even on long trips.
Here are five tips for maintaining your sanity while traveling with small children.
Pack a "travel kit" and include some new toys: The dollar bins at large retailers or other discount stores provide an inexpensive way to load up on new toys and activities. Stock up on crayons and coloring books, small dry-erase boards, flash cards, books, etc. To make this even more fun and exciting, individually wrap each item and mark it for the order in which it should be opened. Start with the least exciting (which will still be exciting to them because it's a present). As they get bored with an item, progress through the "presents." As a side note, be sure you do not tell the children in advance that you have packed a bag full of presents, or they may just be interested in getting to the next one.
Carry on the car seat and "boppy" pillow: If you are flying with small children, consider carrying their car seat onto the plane. Sitting in their own car seat provides a sense of safety and familiarity to a toddler, and it also keeps them better restrained than the seat belt in the airplane seat. From experience, it does not take a toddler long to figure out that they can escape from the belt by simply lifting the latch. If you are traveling with an infant, the "boppy" pillow can be used to support the baby in your arms, which is much more comfortable during the flight.
Invest in portable technology: If you do not already have a portable DVD player, a tablet, Leapsters, or other similar forms of entertainment, these are invaluable for a trip. Download some new games and pack some new movies prior to traveling.
Pack plenty of snacks: Fatigue and hunger are usually the culprit behind many meltdowns (even for adults.) Be proactive by packing a variety of snacks to keep your child occupied while warding off a hunger induced tantrum. Carrying your own snacks will also save you a ton of money.
Plan to make frequent stops: If traveling a long distance by car, try to travel at night or early in the morning, when the children will likely sleep. For daytime travel, plan some stops at attractions along the route to break the trip into smaller chunks. If that is not an option, pack a ball or Frisbee and burn off some energy while running around for a little while at a rest area. The trip may take a little longer this way, but it will be more enjoyable for everyone.
The most important element of traveling with small children is to have realistic expectations for the trip. The children may be overly excited, perhaps nervous, and after the excitement wears off, bored. Make the trip fun for everyone by playing with the kids. With a little bit of pre-planning, you can make the trip into an adventure for everyone rather than a stressful and unpleasant experience.
Alexa Bigwarfe is the mother of three children under seven. She and her husband frequently travel long distances with the children and put these tips to use often.