Some of the tips for traveling with children you already know: Bring snacks, gadgets, something to read, headphones, something soft to sleep with. Get some rest and eat well, expect to miss friends and make once-in-a-lifetime memories. Prepare for tantrums and later than usual bedtimes.
But enough about you. How about the kids?
We kid, we kid. But whether you’re a seasoned traveler or an infrequent traveler, whether you’ve traveled many times with your teenage kids or are taking junior on her first flight, here’s what you need to know about traveling with kids this summer.
Before you go
Talk to your kids about what to expect…
…and try to make your family trip sound fun, including the parts that might not be.
For example, even if you dislike air travel, that doesn̵7;t mean your kids have to. Aspects of the travel experience that are over-familiar and boring to you may be new and exciting to them.
Letting the kids know what to expect from a family vacation will help nervous kids be less anxious, because they know what’s coming, and it can make more travel-savvy (and perhaps jaded) kids embrace the boring reward aspect of travel. (“Yes, we’ll be in a tin can for 12 hours, but after that we’ll see lions!”)
Talk to self about what to expect…
…and try to accept it. Everything will take longer than if you are traveling alone or just with your partner.
Some things will go wrong. Your children may lose it at some point. You may lose it at some point.
If you know this at the beginning, it will be much less bothersome when it happens. And you can plan accordingly to mitigate the effects of any breakdowns, no matter how old the breaker may be.
Give your kids some (travel) agency
If your offspring are old enough to express opinions beyond “no,” let them have a say in what your trip entails. Let them choose from several options that make you feel good — different tours or museums; beach vs. snorkeling – will make them feel good and more likely to be happy with whatever you do.
As a rule of thumb, the older the child is, the more input they are likely to want and be able to give in a useful way. (Not that your young children’s proposal to visit the moon via rocket ship isn’t worth considering.)
Take your medications
Meaning: Take medicine with you, whether it’s for you or your children. This is especially important if you are traveling internationally, where what is available, when stores are open and whether you need a prescription can vary unexpectedly.
But really, that’s true wherever you go. Depending on your kids’ ages, pack accordingly, but consider Benadryl, baby Tylenol, a baby thermometer, headache meds, allergy meds, upset stomach meds, and, of course, any prescriptions your kids need. (For those, try to use original packaging and/or bring the prescription, in case baggage is searched.)
Also, since this guide is about summer, stay hydrated and don’t forget sunscreen, bug spray, and something against heat rash. Even if you’re visiting your parents (or other family members) who live a five-minute drive from a 24-hour emergency center, is that a trip you want to make once you arrive and find your child has a headache?
Some visits to the pharmacy are, of course, unavoidable. Fortunately, eligible Haven Term policyholders have access to Haven Life Plus, a bonus rider that includes access to a range of free and low-cost services, including CVS MinuteClinic. These are available in much of the country, and Haven Life Plus includes a 15% discount on a single CVS MinuteClinic service annually.
Another thing: If you’re traveling across time zones, jet lag is real, especially for kids who have limited experience with it. Eligible Haven Term policyholders enjoy free access to Timeshifter, a jet lag-fighting app backed by NASA-level science that can help you adjust your sleep patterns before your trip to ease the transition to wherever you are walking.
Another thing: Being life insurance people, we often think about worst-case scenarios. (Comes with the territory!) Unfortunately, the reality is that something unexpected can happen to you when you travel. Make sure your estate plan is up to date before you go – this includes having life insurance in place and having a will or trust, along with a health care directive.
Maybe don’t take it all
Younger children need a remarkable amount of things just to function – cribs, strollers, highchairs…
Some of it you can bring with you, and some may be available at your destination. (Relatives who have a child a little older than yours will have a few things, as will well-equipped and/or family-friendly hotels.)
For anything that isn’t already there, consider renting from a company like Baby’s Away, which operates in cities across the US and has reasonable prices (especially compared to an extra checked bag). As for diapers and wipes: If they can be easily purchased where you’re going, bring enough for a couple of days, then buy more upon arrival (or, if practical, have them shipped to where you live).
On the way
Traveling by air
Get there (somewhat) early
Getting through the airport will take longer than usual, so arrive early enough, but not so early that your children are tired of the journey before it even begins. Some airports have playgrounds, others don’t: find out in advance and plan accordingly.
What to take with you
Whatever you bring with you, take enough of it to cover you in case of travel delays. Please note that formula, breast milk, infant drinks and baby/toddler food (including puree pouches) are not subject to the 3.4oz/100ml fluid limit for air travel.
That said, bring snacks, water bottles (to fill up at the airport once through security) and – crucially – things to keep your kids entertained during the flight. New toys are always good, better if they are wrapped (the unwrapping can be as captivating as the toy itself).
If you’re okay with a tablet, charge before you go. Airplane Wi-Fi quality and the rules for what it can be used for vary. Also consider drawing materials and good old-fashioned paper books.
Re: Strollers and car seats
Most airlines allow you to check a stroller and/or car seat for free. Many will also let you control your stroller, which will almost certainly be more convenient for you. Find out before you fly.
Where to sit
Aisle seats give toddlers plenty of opportunities to wreak havoc: tiny hands and feet connecting with passengers and food carts, for example. If possible, put them in window seats (entertaining view) or between you and your adult travel companion, if you have one (damage control).
Traveling by car
What to bring and what to do
Some of the above (snacks, toys, being ready for delays) applies to your summer vacation trip, but maybe not the tablet: Some kids get motion sickness when they use them in cars, but maybe more importantly, the car has some non-screen fun for them or for you as a family.
Yoto offers a screen-free kind of books/stories on tape that can be listened to through the speaker or in headphones. You can also play your children’s books through the car stereo, so you can all listen to and talk about them together. Car rides also offer the chance for games like looking at license plates and group activities like singing. Whatever you need during the trip, make sure it’s in the main part of the car, not in the trunk.
If the journey is more than two or three hours, look at the map in advance and plan breaks (plan them more often if your children are particularly restless). If your kids are young, don’t worry about making these breaks particularly awesome: a few minutes of running around pretty much anywhere will feel good after hours in the car.
Once you are there
Lives with relatives
If your children have specific feeding or scheduling needs (such as naps), discuss them in advance so you and your relatives can figure out how to best accommodate your child without making them the center of the visit. Also, think of activities in the area that your child would enjoy that will get them out of the house to burn off some energy and avoid going crazy (this will benefit you as much as them).
Stay in paid accommodation
Contact your hotel or vacation rental in advance to ask for whatever you need, such as cribs or high chairs. That way, you know what to bring (or rent) on your own. If you want a quiet hotel room so your child can sleep, ask in advance. If you will be arriving early, see if you can get an early check-in, so your kids have a more comfortable place than the lobby to rest.
To make the best of it
If you enjoy traveling, it’s in your best interest for your kids to enjoy family vacations, too—whether you’re exploring a treasured national park or visiting a kid-friendly theme park.
For that to happen, be prepared to deal with mishaps calmly and try to make things as fun as possible for everyone. And remember – it will be easier next time.