Traveling with Children

Gregg and Hallee in New Orleans
Gregg and Hallee in New Orleans

Gregg and I LOVE to travel.  We always have.  We don’t think anything to loading the car down and driving several hundred miles to visit a sister or brother or parent or friend.  We don’t mind buying plane tickets and traveling 3,000 miles to attend a cousin’s wedding or a sister-in-law’s baby shower.  We are currently planning a cross-country train trip and get so excited talking about all of the different sites to see on the trip and how fun meeting fellow travellers will be…I want to get one of those big, framed maps on top of corkboard so that we can use different colored stick pins and color-code places we’ve been and things we’ve seen.  I want a world-map, though, because as the kids get older, we will be less bound to these borders, and I’d like to see the map full of pins.

All three of my kids have been on airplanes by 5 months old, and none of them are unaccustomed to hours in the car. Over the years, I’ve learned several tips to making traveling with children easier:

  • Find fun ways to entertain them during the journey.
    • We enjoy books on tape.  The library has a great selection.  We’ve often used Cracker Barrel, too.  You can buy it at full price, then return it less a couple of dollars that they charge as a rental fee.  Over the years, we’ve listened to everything from Boxcar Kids to Judy Blume to Agatha Christie.
    • We have several CD’s that are children-song-specific.  I can sing almost any VeggieTales song word-for-word, and we also have different toddler Bible songs, or favorite Sunday School songs, or anything the kids would enjoy singing.
    • For flights only, I get special new toys.  A little pack of cars or trucks for the boys or a new game or book for Kaylee.  The “new” occupies them for some time.
    • Read.  We’ve read out loud everything from an hour’s worth of Doctor Seuss to the Harry Potter series.  Gregg and I often read out loud to each other when we’re traveling alone or when the kids are sleeping.
    • Play games.  “ABC’s” license plates; circular round games (A, person’s turn, B, person’s turn, etc.) If you can’t think of any games, there are a wealth of ideas online.  Here’s a terrific resource.
    • Have snacks available.  I don’t like things like crackers or cookies in the car, because they’re very crumby.  But, apples, grapes, cheese sticks, Slim Jims – anything like those are perfect for car trips.

      hour #2 on a 4-hour leg of a flight to Oregon
    • I actually broke down last year and bought a DVD player.  I swore I never would, but never say never…we flew from Kentucky to Oregon for my cousin’s wedding.  I flew with all 3 kids and Jeb was 5 months old.  Gregg couldn’t fly with us – he had to fly in for just the weekend – so I flew alone with the kids.  I had a broken tailbone and a nursing baby and just out of fear for what the 4-hour leg of the flight would bring, I bought Scott and Kaylee each a DVD player.  I restrict them the same way I restrict watching television at home, though.  One show at a time then it gets turned off and we do other things.  Scott and Jeb share it now and enjoy having the option to watch something.  I don’t know if Kaylee’s ever used hers again since that flight.
  • If you’re staying in a hotel, try to make the surroundings as familiar as possible.
    • Bring your child’s pillow and blanket.  That way, when they lay down to sleep, it smells like home and feels like home.
    • My children have a bath as part of their bedtime routine.  I bring their bath toys from home so that it is all familiar and part of the same routine.  I’ve noticed that the times that I’ve forgotten bath toys, they’ve had a harder time adjusting to the hotel.
    • Unpack.  Even if you’re only there for one or two nights, unpack.  With adults and kids and combined suitcases, you will end up with a cluttered mess digging through suitcases.  Unpack, put clothes and toys and toiletries away so that the environment is calm and organized.
    • When we travel with the children and will be staying more than one night, we try to stay in a hotel with a kitchenette.  Restaurants and sitting quiet and being still isn’t easy for young children, and three meals a day in that environment can be really hard on them.  I try to cook as many meals as possible while we’re traveling so that when we do go to a restaurant, we can all enjoy ourselves.  I even fill a fruit bowl (or a colander converted to a fruit bowl) just to add a touch of home.

      I used a collander from the hotel's supply to make a fruit bowl for the table
      I used a colander from the hotel's supply to make a fruit bowl for the table
  • Remember that children don’t typically like change.  They’re going to resist a different environment.  There will likely be a breakdown or two.  Be prepared for that.  Shore up some extra patience and have an exit strategy.  For instance, we recently went to my inlaws for Thanksgiving.  We arrived, after a 10-hour drive, on Wednesday.  Thursday evening about six, both of my boys had a meltdown.  As soon as I saw the signs, I packed them up and left, promising my father-in-law that we would come back first thing the next morning.  One of the boys didn’t start calming down for quite a while.  They had over an hour to just chill with their toys in the hotel room before it was time to start bedtime.
  • Try to keep as much of their original schedule as possible.  Try to plan outings around nap times and bed times.  Watch for meal times.  My children don’t do well if they are late for a meal.

Most importantly, enjoy your travel!  This is a beautiful world crafted by our amazing God’s hands and every location has something new and exciting to offer.  If you’re patient and enjoy yourself, your kids will likely pick up on your vibes and relax a little more, too.


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