There is a little known secret to success for travel with young kids: don’t do it. Don’t go anywhere. Just stay where it’s safe, where things have a place, and where routines thrive! DON’T EVER LEAVE THE HOUSE!!!
Ok now that I have that out there, let me say that going places with your kids is actually amazing. Trips with dad are easily the most cherished memories as we grow up. Seriously, ask anyone, do they remember the time they sat and watched Transformers (the cartoon, not the movie. Get real!!!) or the time they saw the freaking Hoover Dam after an eleven-hour road trip?! Having spent a great deal of time traveling with my kids, I've put together a list of some suggestions for traveling with kids where you don't pull our hair out or resort to the bottle!
1. Be Logical and Prepared
The easiest way to ruin your trip is to expect unreasonable things from your kids. Think it through! What can your kids tolerate? What is their breaking point? What is YOUR breaking point? Be prepared to handle the consequences if you take them past that point. If it’s a really long flight, you’re going to be up bouncing babies or dealing with irate toddlers. If it’s a long car ride without any breaks or things to keep them busy, your kids are going to turn into evil little torturers of their siblings and/or you- and that is on you. Just know what your family's limits are and adjust to those. Don't worry about what other families do or how they successfully drugged their kids for an 18-hour road trip. No one gets an award for traveling to destination X in the shortest amount of time.
DadTip: I love letting my kids choose a few treats that they normally don't get to get from the grocery store that are ONLY going to be consumed in the car or plane. They'll look forward to a plane ride or road trip if they know they FINALLY get to eat a Nerds Rope or box of Captain Crunch. Now I've got younger kids, so this tip is more specific to them, but I remember only getting to eat Krispy Kreme donuts when on vacation even as a teenager which made the long road trips back East much more exciting (There is a story about a challenge where my family tried to eat 100 Krispy Kreme donuts in a week and it ended up with some pukage that I'll spare everyone the gruesome details of... and no, this is not a paid post from Krispy Kreme).
2. Enjoy the Trip AND the Destination
Road trips are horribly difficult if you do them too fast, so find stuff to do and see along the way. You’re going to have to make a thousand potty breaks anyway, might as well let your kids make some memories while they’re at it. This is part of the adage, "Enjoy the journey as MUCH as the destination." Google places to visit between X and Y and you'll be surprised at what people have done or found. I also love hitting up a craft store or two and getting those random little crafts (stickers, books, etc.) for my kids to do on the plane or in the car. They typically are in a dollar bin and you can really help ease the burden of the long travel with some fun things in the car/plane. In fact, I remember my parents putting in a mini TV with a VCR in the car so that we could watch movies while we drove to Disneyland. This was back in the day when cars didn't come with TVs. Oh, side note here, if you're flying and want your kids to use your handheld electronic device, download the appropriate app beforehand so you don't get stuck without wifi on the plane.
DadTip: I'm a huge fan of putting feelers out on social media about places to stop or eat at when planning a road trip or when traveling somewhere. Not everyone is going to give you super helpful advice, but for the most part your friends and family and even complete strangers can give you some really practical tips and suggestions to help you survive getting to your destination!
Side note on getting through security with kids. I've traveled across the country with my kids for years now. I don't want to say I'm a security pro, but I mean, they did offer to give me a cape and superhero mask. While in line before I even get to the security checkpoint, I take everything out of my pockets except for my ID and put it in my carry-on. I also pull out my laptop and have that ready to go. That way when I get to the trays all I have to do is plop my computer in a bin and take off my shoes. #boom Then I can make sure my kiddos are set with their stuff. I also don't worry if it's taking me a hot minute to get it all done. Guess what, 99% of people end up making their flight and getting through security. So take a minute or two and BREATHE. Don't freak out on your kiddos if they start taking off their shoes or if they decide to lick the wall while waiting. If it takes you an extra minute or two or three to get through security, keep a level head and know you're going to spend the flight with your kids and not the TSA agent, so who should you REALLY be trying to get along with?
3. Find Time for You and the Kids
Balance. Ying Yang. Give and Take. Up and Down. Listen, there is so much to be said about finding balance and equilibrium in your life, and a trip or family vacation is no different. The best trips I've been on are ones where I can say we did a little bit of everything. The worst trips are those in which we tried to do too much of one thing or another and then were just "off" the rest of the time.
Growing up my parents took us on what my sister affectionately referred to as "field trips" instead of vacations. My dad is an LDS Church Historian and so our trips often came with a syllabus and study guide. We would visit historic sites and learn about influential people for a few days at a time. My mom's job was to put in some FUN activities along the way so that we didn't go too crazy! I loved going to amusement parks or playing at a playground in between historical sites. I'm glad we had that balance in our trips and firmly believe that's why everyone, including my parents, enjoyed them so much!
Plan some specific time for your kids to do KID things: parks, playgrounds, anywhere where they can just run wild! Especially if they just spent several hours in a car, plane, train, or boat, be sure to let them get their wiggles out! At the same time, also plan for some personal time. Trips don’t have to be all about your kids. You need to plan to recharge when you're able, so PLAN for it! Enough said.
Logistics and tips
Kids fly free until they are two, adjust accordingly (and you may need a birth certificate when you check in to prove that they are under two).
Check the airline's regulations for traveling with kids. This is a PLAN AHEAD moment. Call the airline, tell them how you're traveling (with a newborn or with five red headed kids) and see what they suggest for helping make the flight the most enjoyable.
Boarding: If you have young children, the airline will let you board early to make sure you get situated before the onslaught of other travelers board. Know your kids! If getting on first and getting them with their iPad and snacks is the right move for them, then do it. But if your kid needs to get wiggles out and you know you'll be wrestling them into their seats, then be the LAST on the plane. The flight staff will help make sure you have plenty of storage for carseats/strollers and whatnot, but don't feel pressured to go on first if you know you're just going to battle your nugget the whole flight.
If you have an “infant in arms” ticket, check with the gate AS SOON AS POSSIBLE if there are any open seats, you may be able to get one next to you to put a carseat in. Baby in carseat > baby in arms the whole stinking flight.
Do not underestimate the pacifying power of handheld devices or tablets in the hands of small children.
Have diapers and wipes everywhere. Stash them everywhere, in every piece of luggage, behind every seat, in every possible nook and cranny.
The older the kid, the more they help. This is just good advice all the time, but when traveling it’s huge. Have them help pack, help tote bags, entertain the smaller kids, and whatever else you think they’re ready for (chances are it’s more than you think)
Relax. You may think people hate you for traveling with kids (some do and we hope the airline looses their luggage #karma), but you will find TONS of people who have been exactly where you are, some will offer to help, some will give you words of encouragement. It’s actually pretty awesome.