Well, it’s here.
There’s no more putting it off.
All those things you swore you’d do better “next year” are no longer patiently waiting for your attention.
Start with an easy one.
If you’ve been trying to make your family travel experiences less like a three-ringed circus and more like those Club Med ads you see on TV, I’ve got news for you!
It’s not going to happen. Ok, that was harsh. That TV perfection is a pipe dream but something good is going to happen. It just takes time.
The key to making travel with your kids better this year lies in being a realist.
Every parent knows the car seat fight, right? The wrestling match to get them in, then they want out; the crying, the screaming… Multiply that a few times and you have a toddler on an airplane.
The cruelest part is that at first, you’ll think it’s going to be a piece of cake. But somewhere right around take off, it happens: They’re tired of playing with the buttons and tearing up the magazine and have just realized they have to stay in their seat with their seatbelt on forever (about 20 minutes in adult time) and they lose it.
My kids are great travelers now, but when they were little we had our fair share of in-air puking, diaper explosions and “who knew the kid could scream that loud?!?!” moments. Now that they’re 8 and 10 things are much easier.
If you’re struggling with those first travel days, these five steps I shared on a recent visit with Ottawa Morning Live will help:
1. Be prepared: Your child can’t sit through 30 minutes of Dora without fidgeting, there’s no way the road trip, train ride or airplane is going to change that. Be ready to help keep them calm with plenty of entertainment options.
– For babies, you’ll need rattles, pacifiers, toys they love, just remember to keep noise levels to a minimum
-For bigger kids, DVD players, colouring books, surprise presents – all work wonders. Bigger kids should also bring their own over the ear head phones on board. The tiny earbuds you get on the plane are going to be more annoying than useful. Pull things out as you need them. This is your arsenal, make it last.
2. Acknowledge the bad moments but don’t over do it : You know your kid’s a seat kicker. We know your kid’s a seat kicker. The worst thing you can do is pretend it’s not happening. You need to make sure you aren’t being willfully blind to your kids’ bad travel habits but that doesn’t mean you have to hand out candy and apologize to passengers like one family did recently. Kids are kids, even passengers who don’t have any, were one once. Adults can find ways to deal with small annoyances. Meet eye-rolls with big grins and remember there will be way more people who have “been there” and are feeling your pain, than not.Just work on teaching the kids the right behaviour before and during the flight – no kicking the seat, no throwing things, inside voices – and remember their age means that you may have to tell them more than once or up the number of aisle walks during the flight.
3. Start the trip at home: Want your kids to sit properly at the Four Seasons restaurant ? Start practicing at home. Set the table properly. Work up to having glassware on the table. Correct them now and compliment them on how well they’re doing. Feeling brave? Maybe take them out for a test run at a local hotel. Pick a small dining room where mistakes won’t cause too big a fuss and it’s easy enough to cut things short and try again later if things go off the rails. Even if it’s just the local pizza joint, kids can learn not to talk with their mouth full and the proper way to use a napkin. Ditto for airport security lines when they may have to take off jackets and shoes or walk ahead of you through the scanner, or let go of their favourite bear for a few moments. Prep them at home and it’ll make life easier.
4. Keep your sanity: Chances are it’ll be a while before you get all the way to enjoying an in-flight movie while traveling with the kids, but you can take steps to make sure your life is less frantic up there.
I’ve sung the praises of Eagle Creek Organizing Pouches before. You can colour coordinate according to kid or item (one for bathroom breaks, one for snacks, one for toys) and that way you’ll be able to find what you need when you need it or enlist the help of a flight attendant with clear directions. Ditto for the car or the train – you want to keep the things you’ll need along the way handy and easy to reach. The trunk is no place for that extra pacifier.
5. Adjust your Expectations : Your energetic 2-year old isn’t going to become a sedate 8 year old just because you will them to. There may be trying times ahead but if you go into the travel expecting it, you retain the opportunity to be pleasantly surprised. When you’re planning the trip, expect the worst but hope for the best.
- Forget the fancy outfits and stick to easy on/off, comfortable clothing for both of you. The airport washroom when you land will give you plenty of space to change you both into your fancy meeting-the- in-laws-for-the-first-time clothing. Don’t test fate on the plane.
- Have a just -in case first aid pack (baby advil/tylenol, baby thermometer, tissues, ziploc bag, wipes, sanitizer, etc. )
- Never assume your flight has in-seat entertainment or that the movie they’re showing will be suitable for kids’ eyes. The day you do that is the day they have an R-rated extravaganza. Bring your own entertainment.
So, the key to surviving those first trips with kids? Focus on the destination. Soon enough you’ll be at the beach or the ski hill and the ride there will be a distant memory. Your kids are little and the memories you’ll make traveling together can’t be beat. One day you’ll be so glad you put in all this effort early.
Been there, done that? What’s your best tip for young family travel?
Great article, Heather! Your tips are perfect. I would say my best tip for family travel: the extra cost for a DIRECT flight is worth it. (And, make sure you request a kid’s meal when you book your flight). :)
Agreed! If the flight is super long then I liked having the break in the middle to give them a chance to run off steam but if you can grit your teeth and get through it, it’s over that much faster when you fly direct. And the kids’ meal tip is a good one too. Thanks
Great tips! One tip I have is pack their comfort item. For our kids, it’s their own pillow pet and blanket. It makes them a feel a bit like home on the long flight and are able to fall asleep easier.
Great tip Amy! Thanks for sharing.
We’ve done a few things to help with long airline travel. If kids have portable game systems, like DS, there are cooperative games that require the kids to work together. Lego makes some great ones.
We’ve also conducted scavenger hunts when we know we will have layovers and long waits.
Finally, Rubberneckers: Flying Rubberneckers: High Flying Fun for the Airport and Plane is a great card game that we’ve shared with many families over the years. It gives kids very specific things to look for when they are in the plane and airport.