Traveling – with kids. Those three words are enough to make any parent break out in cold sweats! Getting through an afternoon at home can be a challenge with toddlers, much less getting through an airport. Or how about long hours in the car with a couple of cranky kids for a “fun” cross country road trip? Unfortunately, many of us live across the state or across the country from our family members – so traveling for holidays is unavoidable!
Not to worry – we have some great tips for how to survive traveling with toddlers.
It’s all about Pre Production
Do your homework. If you’re flying, research the airports you’ll be visiting. Plan your route from car to terminal to minimize time spent shuffling kids and luggage through the airport. Some airports are tiny and it’s a short walk from check-in to the gate – some are huge and require tram rides and multiple escalators!
Show up early so you have PLENTY of time. Waiting at the gate with toddlers and kids can be tiring, but it’s so much better than panicking as you try to hurry an obstinate toddler through security.
If you’re driving to your destination, plan out regular stops to get out of the car and move around. Even if it’s just for 10 or 15 minutes, letting your little one run around at a rest stop will help use up their restless energy. You can even go over a map with your toddler to show them the planned stops – this will let them know there’s something to look forward to, and teach them how to read a map!
Distract and engage
Even the most mellow toddler is going to get grouchy and whiney at some point during traveling. The hectic pace and unfamiliar routine is stressful! Make sure you pack a variety of toys, books, and games to help distract your child when they start to get cranky. You can download audio books to your phone, tablet or computer and listen to them with a headphone splitter if you’re on the airplane, or everyone can listen together if you’re driving.
Do a little research ahead of time so that when your little one is bored of the toys and games, you can talk with them about the things that they are seeing and experiencing – fun facts about the airport, the airplanes you’ll be riding on, or the cities and states you’re driving through. There’s a lot for a curious toddler to learn about – from history to plants and animals.
As a last resort, you can pull out the iPad and let them play games. Don’t make a rookie mistake and let them have screens first! Not only is it passive learning instead of engaged learning – but you won’t have an ace in the hole for the final stretch.
Meals and snacks can also be a great way to distract from a meltdown. Instead of succumbing to airport gift shops or gas station treats, pack your own snacks. It will be cheaper and you can pack healthier food.
Divide and conquer
Divide up the tasks with your partner. One of you is on kid duty and one of you is on navigation/leadership/decision making duty. Switch when one of you needs a break. The division of responsibility will keep you both sane – and allow you to be more patient and engaged with your child. When your little one knows that they have the full attention of one parent, they will be less inclined to nag and whine for attention.
It’s pretty unrealistic to assume you won’t have to do any bribing. Plan ahead of time so you won’t feel parental guilt about letting them eat a whole bag of gummy bears. Plan to do one fun thing when you’ve reached your destination – whether it’s eat at a special restaurant or visit an attraction. When your toddler seems to be getting worked up, you can bring them back to a positive place by talking about how fun it will be. It’s important not to make the treat conditional – you should do it whether or not they act perfectly. After all, that’s near impossible, and there are only two outcomes. You don’t treat them and they throw a fit, making everyone stressed out - or you do, and then they know that you won’t keep your word.
Even though they are young, your child will get so much more out of trips if you make them teaching experiences. There’s so much that can be learned about every destination and journey – talking with them about the places you go will instill curiosity and a passion for learning. You can game-ify the experience by giving them quizzes and making games out of learning. There are classic car games such as identifying license places from every state, or counting the number of a certain color of car. You can take photos of things you see such as airplanes or flowers, and look them up together to learn more about them. You can even bring a picture guide book to read together.
Most importantly, remember to praise your little one often! Thank them for behaving well or being patient. Tell them how strong and mature they are when they carry their own luggage. Tell them how much you appreciate their good attitude. When you instill a feeling of pride and accomplishment, they will view travel as a fun experience to look forward to!
Traveling with toddlers can be stressful – but it doesn’t have to be a disaster! Make sure to plan ahead and set expectations for yourself and your kiddos. You’ll get through it and so will they – and you’ll make cherished family memories!
We hope you’ve found our travel tips useful – and we’d love to hear about your tips and tricks for traveling with toddlers! Let us know how you keep travel fun and stress free in comments.