For many families, summertime means travel time. Whether it be by car, plane, or train, traveling with children can have its ups and downs. Long days, irregular schedules, and unpredictable events can make traveling stressful for children and parents. However, the benefits of travel for broadening children’s perspective and experience are unmatched. So, despite the stresses, many of us continue to prioritize travel in our children’s lives. Making traveling with children more fun and less hassle is possible with some careful planning and preparation.
Preparation is Key
As most parents know, traveling with children really does not begin on the first day of the trip. It begins days or even weeks early as you begin planning for the adventure. There are some key parts of planning a trip that can help the whole process go more smoothly with children along. First, discuss your travel plans with your children and offer them some (age-appropriate) input into the plans. This doesn’t have to mean that children choose everything, but offering them a few choices can help. They might have input on sights to see or stops to make along the way. This also helps in getting children excited about the trip. They can look online for information about the destination. Perhaps you can even order brochures about the destination to help children see the possibilities. This planning time is also the perfect time to gather any items you will need for the trip, especially for children. This could mean a variety of items⏤special clothing, extra snacks, or other items to make travel more comfortable.
Planning might also involve educating children about the process of travel. If you’re traveling in a new way, like an airplane, it’s helpful to explain to children what to expect so they aren’t caught off-guard. Additionally, if you will be going through any security procedures 1 (like in an airport or train station), it’s helpful to explain this process to children so they won’t be frightened. Like adults, children can sometimes become anxious about travel, especially if there are a lot of new experiences for them. This is also a great time to talk through with them any worries they have about traveling. Are they worried about flying or the possibility of sitting next to a stranger? Do they have concerns about the weather or the lodging where you’ll be staying? It’s helpful to talk through all these issues with them before the trip even begins.
Once all your preparations are complete, the fun really begins. Traveling can be a wonderfully educational experience for children. However, children and travel both have an element of the unpredictable, so everything might not go as planned. Here are a few tips that can help your trip with children go as smoothly as possible.
Safety: Although we don’t want to instill fear in our children, it is helpful to be aware of possible safety risks while traveling. It can be helpful to remind young children that they need to always stay with an adult family member while traveling. This is especially important in large, crowded areas like airports, train stations, or popular attractions. Remind children frequently about what their plan should be if they were to get separated from family members. If there are safe adults like security guards, police, or staff members that they can contact for help, inform the children where they can find these helpers. Sometimes parents like to write their contact information on a tag or paper that the child keeps on their clothes or shoes so that they can be reached if their child gets separated from them. All these safety procedures will help you and your child feel more confident in traveling.
Food and Activities: Many family trips involve long periods of waiting or riding in various forms of transportation (e.g., planes, cars, buses, etc.). This has the potential to be the most taxing time for parents and children. Children are often bored and restless, while you may be tired or distracted trying to focus on directions or travel details. During these parts of a trip, it’s crucial to have plenty of activities and snacks with you for the children. Bringing along plenty of your children’s favorite travel-friendly snacks can not only keep hunger pains at bay but also serve as a good distraction for them. In terms of activities, the possibilities are numerous. Many of the items your child normally enjoys playing with at home can be brought along on a trip. Younger children often enjoy coloring books, dry-erase boards, fidget toys, and, of course, electronic devices or audiobooks. Older children might enjoy card games, books, journals, simple crafts (like knitting), or drawing materials. Ensuring that you have plenty of activities and snacks on hand can make long periods of waiting much more enjoyable for all involved.
Scheduling: Prior to having children, many of us were probably seasoned travelers. We knew exactly how long it took to get through the airport or the most efficient car route to our primary destinations. Traveling with children, however, often requires a bit more flexibility. When scheduling travel plans, it’s helpful to allow for extra time and accommodate the need for more stops. Children often move slower than adults and need more time in between transitions. Building this time into your schedule from the beginning will help keep you and your children calmer while traveling.
Mindset: Perhaps the most overlooked tip to consider when traveling with children involves parents’ mindset. Given that travel and children both tend to involve a lot of unpredictability, a mindset of flexibility is key. It’s often helpful to go into a trip expecting that things may not go as planned. We don’t want to expect the worst, but it might be helpful to prepare for mishaps⏤a child might get motion sickness, a car or bus could break down, a plane could be delayed, or a child might have a tantrum in public. Keeping these possibilities in mind helps us stay calmer when something does not go according to plan.
Keeping the Big Picture in Mind
Despite the stresses that can be involved in traveling with children, the wonderful aspects of the journey are still present. Traveling with children can be an opportunity to bond as a family, to foster wonderful (and sometimes amusing) family memories, and to help children open their minds to new places and experiences. With advanced planning and a flexible mindset, traveling with your children can become a favorite family experience.
- Wright, L. (2022) 10 Tips to Get Your Child Ready for a Trip. Understood, 2022. https://www.understood.org/en/articles/10-tips-for-helping-your-child-prepare-and-pack-for-a-trip