Here's my top ten list of ways to make things go as smoothly as possible (in no particular order):
- If you're not staying with friends or family, try to book a hotel room with a small kitchenette or at least a fridge. You'll be better able to accommodate early morning hunger or mid-afternoon snacks. If your budget allows, a small efficiency or cottage will be even better. The extra cost may be worth it if you can save money by cooking in.
- Plan your travel based on your kids needs, not yours. (Ultimately, they are the same, after all. If they're miserable, so are you). If you have to take a long journey and your kids are very physical kids, plan a layover to allow them to move around. Or, maybe getting there as fast as possible is best, so book a direct flight. Also consider the best time of day to travel. My son can sleep anywhere, so red-eyes work well for him. If your kids won't sleep on a plane, avoid red-eyes at all costs!
- Set clear expectations for the journey (Your own expectations, that is). Do not expect the travel time to be relaxing. Sure, you may have slept on previous plane trips, but don't expect that to happen now. If you go in expecting no sleep and end up getting some, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
- If traveling by plane or train, book seats for your infants/toddlers if you can possibly afford it (even though they're usually allowed on your lap until age 2). This is particularly true for long trips. Seriously, spend the money. You'll be glad you did. Many airlines offer discounted seats for children, especially infants. Bring your car seats and install them in the plane (make sure they are plane approved). The kids will be more comfortable and also be more likely to sleep in their familiar, supportive seat than in an adult-sized seat. We took our daughter's car seat to India solely for the plane ride, since there are no seat belts in most cars in India. But that plane ride was LONG and we wanted her to be as comfortable as possible. Caveat: One airline we flew with (I believe it was Alitalia) did not allow us to install the car seat. Check with your airline first.
- Plan and pack well for entertainment while traveling. Packing your carry-on is the most important part of successful airline (train) travel with kids. Remember to bring books, activity books, travel games or other items that your children enjoy. If appropriate for your children, have them pack a favorite stuffed animal or snugly toy for comfort. They also substitute for pillows.
- Related to #4, if you have an iPod or similar device, download audio books for your kids. Bring along headphones (and a splitter if you have more than one child). My kids will listen to the same audio books over and over again. It's educational and keeps them occupied for hours. If you're driving, you can play them through your car speakers, or choose to use the headphones and splitter so you can listen to what you want while they listen to their audio book. (Trust me... after hearing The Absent Author several times, you'll be sick of it!) You can probably download books free through your library. If you don't have an iPod, check your local library for a "play away." The device comes with the book already loaded. You just provide ear buds/headphones.
- If traveling by plane, pack something to help with pressure in their little ears. For babies, nursing or sucking on a bottle, or pacifier helps. For older kids, gum works well but isn't the only option. Try chewy foods like raisins or dried cranberries.
- Pack snacks for the trip. There's nothing worse than a hungry kid and the plane has no food left. Trust me, I've seen it happen, especially now that most airlines charge for food. You may try to order and find they only have the cheese box left which is filled with artisanal cheeses your kid won't eat. Fruit is always a good choice since it fills bellies and helps them stay hydrated. (If you're traveling to another country, pack a few familiar foods that your kids like- a box of mac-n-cheese, some dry cereal or granola bars. My kids loved the food in India but were ready for a break from the spiciness now and then. They also woke up hungry at random times due to the time change. Having familiar foods on hand for 3 am snacks provided some comfort to them and us. You can always purchase things like eggs, fruit, peanut butter, or bread once you arrive).
- Drink loads of water. Make sure your kids drink loads of water. You cannot be happy, patient people if you aren't hydrated. We bring our empty stainless steel bottles through security and refill them inside.
- Plan to relax when you arrive at your destination. For kids, that may mean running around outside or playing quietly with their LEGOs. Allow them to guide your relaxation. Don't try to rush off and go sightseeing.
Finally, as I've mentioned before... remember to pack patience and your sense of humor. You'll enjoy your children and have a much better time.
Do you have any tips to add to this list? Please leave them in the comments.
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