At first, there was near silence except for the pervasive constant rumble of the jetliner's pressurized cabin. I could see the other passengers, but they were more silhouettes than fully-formed human beings. It must have been 3 a.m. as we raced through the clouds back to the East coast from California. I glanced to my right, discovering my wife fast asleep with my two young children who, despite their deep-rooted sibling rivalry, found a way to coexist within the tight confines of coach class airline seats. Although barely awake myself, I managed to crack a smile at this blissful sight. We collectively survived our first week-long family vacation in a state of happy exhaustion.
Without question, traveling with young children over an extended period of time requires planning -- especially if the vacation destination will be new for everyone involved. By default, children view parents as resident experts of the universe. Although kids possess the capacity to thrive when exposed to new experiences, they still seek the security of Mom and Dad when dealing with the unknown.
As your children's travel guides, parents need to be able to adapt. In other words, expect the unexpected. Packing extra patience along with a sense of humor should be a top priority on any trip with kids. Giggles defuse even the most stressful situations. Besides, a departure time may be delayed, but you're still going to get to travel in the sky on an amazing flying machine.
Overall, I learned a lot from my experience traveling with my own children. Below are some useful travel tips I'd like to share with you:
At the Airport
- Explain the whole airport security process to the children, including the removal of shoes, etc. Plan ahead in respect to carry-on items. If managing more than one child, decide beforehand which parent will assist each child.
- Provide healthy snacks to the children. Steer clear of giving candy to the kids prior to the flight. Besides being overpriced, the added sugar can heighten a child's nervousness, irritability and disrupt sleep routines. Kids as well as fellow passengers will appreciate a meltdown-free flight.
- Make sure, if time permits, to factor in a couple of bathroom breaks.
- Bring activities such as small coloring books, etc. to kill time. An iPad or equivalent tablet device can offer a wealth of useful distraction.
- Have the kids look for their seats.
- Emphasize the importance of staying buckled in one's seat.
- If it's your child's first flight, reassure your kid by describing how taking off will feel ahead of time. Also be certain to provide details about the bumpy nature of turbulence during the flight.
- Look for hotels offering free continental breakfasts. Taking the pressure off needing to find a restaurant each morning provides tremendous value as well as better time management.
- Seek out local grocery stores in order to be able to stock up on a small supply of your children's familiar snacks for day trips as well as for the hotel room.
- Map out the are ahead of time. Local area maps provided by hotels can be useful of course, but having a foundation of knowledge will make life easier for the whole family.
- Use GPS as an additional tool. Complete dependence on GPS will only lead to frustration. If you have access to trustworthy local directions, use them.
What vacation travel advice do you have for parents with young children?