Traveling with Children
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, alligator..next person’s turn, B, bear..next 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.
- 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.
- 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.
I’m so grateful for your visit, today.
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great tips! btw, have you ever traveled to nyc with little kids? (a will be 3, Q will be 1ish) any ideas on where to stay or do?(possibly going for a weekend, bil is getting married) and im dreading going all the way there with 2 kids…it will likely be a 2 hr car ride, and 2 hr train ride i think.
i’m defintely adding this to my favorites! :)
Sure – I’ve been several times – Chicago, too. Went to NYC last year, in fact, to my brother Jim’s wedding. I have a picture somewhere of Gregg with Jeb in the Bijorn and Scott in the backpack at the same time. We stayed in the city at a Hampton Inn or something Hilton that was in the flower district. The only thing I’d say is that strollers aren’t too convenient – if you can backpack and Bijorn, that’s best. A few weeks ago, I had the kids in Chicago and used the double stroller. It was hard to maneuver off and on the train.
Scott was a baby one year when we were there. Kaylee was 4 the first time we went. We’ve been all over some pretty big cities with all of the kids. NYC, Portland, Chicago, D.C. Keep what you carry to a minimum – a backpack that you don’t have to fool with. A diaper bag would just be inconvenient. I’ll look up the hotel – it was reasonable for the city and the rooms were a nice size.
thanks! i have a mai thai i was going to use b/c i can use it on the front or back and it rolls up pretty small. i figured the stroller was going to be pretty inconvient. ds1 would probably either walk(which also makes me nervous) or dh can put him on his shoulders. luckily he doesn’t weigh much…i doubt he will in a yr either. i figure if we are going there id like to make it a weekend so i can see some of the city.
We have traveled with Austin with no problems! He was 3.5 weeks old on his first camping trip to Yosemite! :) We have incorporated a lot of your tips into our own travels. The biggest one for us, is to work things around naptimes and what not. If it means us missing out on that side trip, or that hike, fine. That nap is probably the most important thing for all of us to keep our sanity! Mark and I both traveled a lot in cars as kids. A lot! I think our families were the kings and queens of road trips. I played a lot of the games you suggest as a kid, and we plan on doing the same with our kids as they get old enough! Thanks for a great post!
Hallee, do you try to get your younger kids to adjust to local time? I, as and adult, have always struggled with that adaption (especially for short business trips), so I am curious which is easier on the little ones. When we went to Missouri last year, it was only 2 hrs different so I just let them split the time difference. But this week we will be 3 hours different and I don’t know how they will adjust!
I’ve never forced the adjustment to the time – especially when we fly. I have spent many days in my grandmother’s house at 4AM, quietly making breakfast for the kids, and putting the same kids to bed at 5PM local. But I discovered that over a few days or a week, they gradually adjust on their own so that maybe they’re going to bed a little bit later and are ready for breakfast by 6AM, etc.
One thing that may work in your favor is jet lag. Losing 3 hours on top of jet lag may send them to bed earlier than their bodies normally would, and might force an adjustment out of them. Jet lag is kind of a detriment when you gain 3 hours – which might make your first few days home a little rough.
Kristina: I think I remember you camping with him at 3.5 weeks! That’s so fun.
What a great post! We like to travel a lot with the kids. Being over in Germany we pretty much have to. I traveled with my two boys from Germany to CA and then back again using Space-A. Man it was hard but we did it.
My brother and I were both born in Germany. My mom traveled with us a few times alone, then the trip home with my dad. She, thankfully, has no horror stories to tell about us traveling.
Now, after the terrorist attack in Munich during the 1972 Olympics, the airport was a very interesting place. She does have some stories about that – getting strip searched to board the planes, etc.