While traveling with young kids can often induce a certain level of anxiety, for many of us it is an extremely important part of our lives; and often a non-negotiable if we want to see family. I recently took the plunge and traveled solo with my two boys (who will be turning five and two in June), and I’ll be the first to admit I was “out of shape” when it came to traveling with kids.
I learned a lot through this recent experience and decided to pull together my top seven tips for traveling with littles. Whether it’s a day trip to the beach or a full-fledged excursion through the airport, these simple tactics are meant to help reduce common travel stressors, allowing you to more fully enjoy the journey alongside your children.
1. Prepare Your Kids Ahead Of Time
I cannot stress enough the importance of preparing your kids as much as possible in advance of traveling. How you do this will of course differ by age, but I truly believe our kids understand much more than we give them credit for, and will more often than not rise to the occasion as a result.
I started an open dialogue about our plans several weeks in advance, preparing both boys mentally for what they could expect. I discussed with them how we would get to the airport, what flying would be like, where we were going, and how much fun we would have.
With my four-year-old, I also discussed expectations. We talked about listening and specific rules within the airport and on the plane, and how he could help mommy with his little brother. We talked about waiting in lines, security, and the boarding process. He had a lot of wonderful questions that sparked great discussion, and a lot of “whys” (which I was so thankful to be able to talk through with him in advance, vs while I was trying to navigate security screenings with two littles). Both boys were superstars throughout our travel experience, and I believe part of it was because they had an understanding set in advance.
Headphones, mask wearing, keeping shoes on for long periods of time … you name it, we practiced it. I assumed I might need to rely on technology, so I downloaded a few shows and games to my tablet and phone, and both boys practiced wearing headphones while watching, making for a smoother transition when I leaned on this during our flights.
I also had my oldest practice wearing a mask, and while it’s not a new concept for him, he has never had to wear one for such a long period of time. Explaining why it was necessary really helped him understand and cooperate. (I was also really glad I thought to bring extra masks. My kids’ mask always gets really wet – how and why, I don’t want to know – and therefore extra uncomfortable. So I packed three in my son’s pouch for quick and easy swaps).
3. Organize Your Carry On Bag(s)
Keeping yourself and your kids organized will make for a lower stress experience for everyone. I packed each of us a little bag (in an 8×10 zippered pouch) with essentials I knew needed to be easily accessible. I attached the pouches to the outside of my book bag so I didn’t have to go digging through snacks or sweatshirts in order to swap a mask or change a diaper.
Each boys’ bag included a change of clothes and a small/simple toy or book. Extra masks went in my four-year-old’s pouch, and a spare pacifier, diapers, and wipes for my one-year-old. My bag contained my wallet, gum, and hand sanitizer.
This was truly my saving grace – and it’s a lesson I actually learned on car trips. Having just the essentials for each kid (or mom and dad!) in an easily accessible place is going to save you so much time and energy!
Special snacks that we don’t typically eat were packed in a snack pouch to add some extra excitement to our time in the airport. I hit a home run with a bag of cheese-its, homemade trail mix, and mini bags of chocolate chip cookies. I also kept their empty water bottles accessible, and stopped at the first smoothie stand I saw for organic apple juice to mix with water (this saved me money, as they charged me $1 for the juice in a cup vs. bottled apple juice that would have cost $4).
The boys were thrilled to have such special treats, and remained content on the walk to our gate, while we waited to board, and on the plane. I’m convinced yummy snacks are the key to an easier travel experience with young kids!
5. Contain What You Can
If you’re traveling with younger kids like I was, one of my biggest recommendations is to determine the best way to keep them safe and contained while navigating an airport, or during public stops along your drive.
Whether it’s babywearing or a simple umbrella stroller, this tactic keeps the kids (and bags) off the ground. It also minimizes them touching all the things. After all, it’s much easier to navigate these spaces without having your hands full of BOTH bags and babies. Our sit/stand stroller was the perfect accessory, and the boys took turns in each spot, allowing for unexpected variety, which occupied them as well!
My youngest often still wants his pacifier and lovey, and after many drops in the airport on our way to our destination, I decided to eliminate the possibility of this hassle on the way back, and physically attached them to him with paci clips. His special items remained clean and contained, which made us both very happy!
6. Embrace Adventure
Although it’s sometimes tough, my number one tip is to encourage you to really allow your kids to take in the full experience and sense of adventure that is travel. Not just at the destination, but during the “getting there” part.
It’s so easy to get overwhelmed when traveling with kids, wanting them to behave just right, and I think we often too quickly whip out the iPads or technology in hopes to keep them quiet or to appease our fellow travelers (I know this has been me in the past!). But mama, you and your children have every right to experience travel and adventure as much as the next person. Our kids are not robots, we simply cannot control their every move, and I encourage you to let them surprise you!
I let go of my need to try to control every little thing, and in return, my kids exchanged smiles with strangers, explored all around the seats on the plane, looked out the windows, excitedly examined the changing terrain below, and asked really insightful questions.
They didn’t play with a single toy I packed – there was just so much for them to see and observe. Yes, they used the iPad some, but not nearly as much as I thought they would. And when they got really excited about the air conditioners above each seat on the plane, I let them play and giggle to their hearts’ content. They were able to fully embrace the travel experience – what a gift! Especially after the past year.
7. Have Fun
Take a deep breath, release expectations as much as you can, and enjoy the experience that is summer travel with your children. They are gaining experiences and memories that will last a lifetime, and so are you! Relax as best you can, and enjoy it with them! I believe travel was so fun for us this time around because I simply told myself that it would be! My outlook was one of fun and adventure, and preparing in advance made for a much calmer, level-headed mama.