How I Survived Traveling with Kids
Before having kids, I remember thinking I would never travel on an airplane or do a road trip beyond an hour’s worth of time. The stories I recalled hearing from co-workers as they painfully described the hair-pulling experiences of their littles screaming the entire 5 hour flight cross country or the 3 hours it took for a one hour road-trip because of all the stops that had to be made were enough to make me want to lock myself in the house until my kiddos were adults.
Then Neaka, my oldest, was born. When my parents who lived 3 minutes away invited us over for dinner, we began packing the car 30 minutes before we wanted to leave. We packed everything from the playpen (yes, for the newborn) to 4 different outfits “just in case” to a week’s worth of breastmilk and formula... “just in case”.
I remember our first flight with a baby. The prep was similar to how we packed for dinner at my parents, but on steroids. We packed the baby carrier, stroller, a backpack full of the contents of our pantry in case she needed a snack - or ten and in case this hungry mama needed a snack - or ten. We packed sanitizer, toys, books and burp cloths. Then of course, there was the diaper bag with the usual overflow of diapers, clothes and even travel size baby wash.
The beautiful thing about traveling these days is you’re never more than .5 miles away from Johnson’s Baby Wash, and diapers for that matter. After breaking a sweat (and our backs) carrying all these “supplies” we got to our seats and stowed our bags. The flight attendant came around with drinks and we finally took our first breath that day. I looked over at Neaka sitting in John’s lap to find her captivated by the plastic water cup John had finished. She played with that on and off for about 30 mins. She then signalled for me to read her the “story book” (the safety pamphlet) she found in the seat back pocket. She downed a bottle and passed out on me for the rest of the flight. Just like that 3 hours had passed and we hadn’t used any of the items we packed for the flight. John and I exchanged an ah-ha moment, as Oprah would call it, and changed the way we prepared for travel. We went to the complete other extreme.
Gone were the days of diaper bags and extra outfits. All I carried with me was my purse that held wipes, an extra diaper, a spitty and that was basically it. Literally. I was a total rebel when it came to going out with the kids or even traveling. Looking back, traveling with one was cake. With two, it took a little teamwork between John and myself, but we managed. By the time Ellie was born, Neaka was 12 and Kian was 10. Now that she’s 7, there is still some preparation that needs to take place, however, it doesn’t need to consume us.
Here are some of the things I do and have done in the past when traveling with the kiddos:
One would logically think it’s better to pack more than not enough. Not necessarily. I have learned that when I overpack, whether clothes wise or distraction wise, it tends to become overwhelming. When traveling, there isn’t much time to return to your room and do outfit changes, so why bring too many outfits for the little one(s)? In terms of distractions, I found too many can overwhelm the kids and sometimes over-stimulate them which is counterproductive and leads to more stress. Also keep in mind that if you’re traveling to visit family in their home or staying at an Airbnb, you can likely do laundry so you can pack less.
Relax and Don’t Be Nervous
Did you know kids can sense when you are nervous and basically feed off of that? If you’re relaxed, laid back and not flustered, most kids learn to relax and go with the flow. Delays, hotel room/car rental mix-ups and bad weather are bound to happen when traveling, but it’s up to you as the parent to stay calm and deal with situations in a cool-headed way and not stress over things that are out of your control. It’s a great opportunity for your kids to observe you managing these situations.
Pack Distractions with Intention
Several days before we traveled, I would either purchase a small toy or book, and hide it somewhere along with toys, books, coloring books, etc that were not played with for a while. Once in the car or on the plane, I would try to keep the littles distracted with small snacks, storytelling and worse case scenario, I would pull out one of the distractions. For me, this was a real life saver. The kids loved having a backpack that had “surprises” in them. Doesn’t have to be a lot!
Of Course Watching Videos is Ok
You are not a bad parent if you let your kiddos watch movies during a long trip or plane ride. I think the point is that we are not trying to “shut our kids up” but rather have them enjoy the things that we adults do while traveling. Young or old, there’s only so much reading and activities you can do before you’re bored to tears. Pick your battles and hand your kid an iPad! Put on a cute pair of kid headphones like these and let them watch a movie. We even purchased a splitter so multiple people could watch the same movie. Now that the kids are older, John and I utilize the splitter and watch a movie together while the others watch their own shows.
Pack Something Comforting
Especially for the babies and toddlers, if there is a special small stuffed animal, or blanket that helps make your little one feel secure, don’t forget to bring it with you. Not only will it help during the actual traveling, but it will help when they are sleeping somewhere new.
A Word About Packing for Weather
Of course any traveller with or without kids checks the weather of their destination before they pack. But weather forecasts can change and it’s important you don’t pack for every possible weather scenario. For example, rubber boots take up a lot of space and can be heavy while in reality if it rains will you really be tossing your kids out to play? Probably not. You’d find an indoor activity or check out a museum. So leave those behind. In case of chilly days, pack a light jacket or windbreaker with a sweater and shirt to layer instead of heavy coats. You can always swing by Target or Old Navy to pick up jackets if it ends up getting that cold.
The goal is to pack things that give you the most use for the least weight. And remember not to frantically pack things that are available for purchase if needed (barring medicine of course).
All of these are simple points that helped me when my kiddos were growing up. Ellie is, of my three kids, the easiest going and I still do all of the above when we are traveling. Why stop a good thing now? Make sure to comment below if you have any tips or tricks that help you when traveling with kiddos.
Hugs, Mama K