“Are we there yet?” It’s a phrase that’s all too familiar to parents when it’s time to travel with children.
Whether you’re planning a spring break vacation or have exciting plans in the works for summer, we want you to look forward to your family vacation wherever you’re headed.
Rather than dread the road ahead, here are some stress-free, tried-and-true tips to keep in mind before your next family vacation.
1. Allow Plenty of Time
Alleviate travel stress right out of the gate by planning ahead and allowing plenty of time to get there. If you’re traveling by plane, get to the airport at least two hours early to get through security during the summer without worrying about missing your flight. If you arrive at your gate early, relax and pull out a game or art supplies from your travel tote to keep kids happily occupied. Remember that once children are on the plane, they’ll have to sit and entertain themselves for awhile. Take advantage of being at your gate and let them explore or take them on a walk to get out any last-minute jitters.
If you’re traveling by car, plan on frequent rest stops (every hour or two) to to let kids go to the bathroom, run around, and blow off steam. Figure out how many 15-minute stops you will need to make along your journey and calculate your departure time to allow plenty of time for rest stops. Most GPS apps today will alert you to rest stops or even playgrounds should you need to pull off for an emergency stop.
2. Pack Plenty of Snacks and Water
Pack healthy snacks with lots of protein. Snacks high in protein, like nuts, peanut butter, or hard boiled eggs, will stave off the crash that comes after consuming high-carb sugary snacks and can lead to meltdowns. No one wants to witness a tantrum on a plane, especially your seat neighbors.
Keep your child well-hydrated during flights which are notoriously dry. Dehydration can lead to headaches and crankiness.
If you’re in the car, pack a small cooler of drinks and snacks and even lunches that you can enjoy at a roadside stop.
3. Play Games
Share the driving games you remember from your own childhood with your children. There is the classic “20 Questions” in which players try to guess what someone is thinking of by asking no more than 20 yes-or-no questions.
And there’s the “Alphabet Game” in which players try to spot each letter of the alphabet in sequence while driving down the highway—on signs, license plates, and billboards. The first person to get to Z wins.
For younger children, games like “I Spy” are great introductions in the car. And when in doubt, put on some music or a story podcast to keep kids entertained.
If you are allowing older children a little screen time to break up a long drive or flight, make sure to set a time limit and involve them in other activities.
It also helps to bring a family travel tote filled with things like magnetic puzzles, books, and games to keep children more quietly active.
4. Arts and Crafts
Art supplies are wonderful to bring when traveling! A pad of paper, crayons, and colored pencils get a child’s creative juices flowing, but can also be used for playing games like Tic-Tac-Toe or Hangman. You can even ask children to draw what they see from their window.
Crafts like knitting or crochet will occupy a child’s head, heart and hands on the road and produce a beautiful handmade item by the end of the trip! For younger children, Modeling Beeswax is another great option for creating works of art from the road.
5. Listen to Recordings of Stories
There are lots of wonderful audio books of stories for children of all ages. The storyteller Jim Weiss offers a wide variety of stories for preschoolers (fairy tales and animal stories) to stories of Greek Mythology and King Arthur Stories for older children.
The whole family can listen while traveling by car, or a child can listen to an audio device with headphones when traveling by plane.
Remember that even if you feel you’re able to go-go-go, your child needs to feel calm and rested in order to be a happy traveler. Allow your child to be quiet with her own thoughts when she is calm. Time spent looking out the window and daydreaming are healthy activities and eliminate stress. And even if a nap happens at an unusual time, go with it. A well-rested child is a happy one.
7. Toys and Supplies to Keep Kids Occupied
Here are some of our top recommendations for keeping kids busy on the road, by rail, or in the air, based on their age: