There was the time we kept our three children up until 1 a.m. before flying from Philadelphia to Seattle, hoping that they would sleep on the plane.
Instead, our kids were just plain cranky, awake and fussing all the way across the country.
There was the time the DVD player conked out one state into our six-state trek to New Hampshire. Instead of whiling away the car ride entranced by “Toy Story 3,” our kids griped the entire journey about the broken device.
Then there was the time I forgot to pack snacks for a flight, realizing only after it was too late to disembark that I would have to placate our children with tiny packets of pretzels for the next three hours.
We’ve have had so many mishaps taking trips with our kids that my husband and I have stopped tracking them. But with Thanksgiving week approaching, one of the busiest travel times of the year, I thought others might be able to learn from our mistakes—from the knowledge we’ve gained from nearly 10 years of bungling it.
So I’ve compiled a list of seven perhaps somewhat counter-intuitive tips to help people get real about traveling with kids.
1. Ditch the devices.Our children are fried after an hour on the iPad. What happens when the DVD player malfunctions in the middle of “Kung Fu Panda 3”? Meltdowns. Plus, tablets, iPhones and computers emit a form of light that disrupts sleep and that may prevent kids from dozing off while you travel. So leave the devices at home. Bring coloring books and crayons instead.
2. Reach for the treats.Too many might send your kids into orbit—not ideal for a long car rides or flights. But a few Oreos or a bag of Cheetos won’t do permanent damage and may go a long way toward temporarily satisfying children. Letting kids select a couple of treats gives them a sense of control and builds goodwill. It also helps the trip feel special, which it should. After all, it’s vacation.
3. Don’t keep your kids up late the night before you leave.Keeping your children awake past their normal bedtimes before you take a trip, with the hope that they’ll sleep during the journey, often backfires. Kids can become over-stimulated during travel, making it more difficult for them to drift off. Plus, sleep deprivation leads to irritability. Don’t inadvertently add to your stress by making your kids overtired.
4. Don’t leave your kids in suspense.Children thrive on structure and predictability. Yanking them out of their day-to-day routine can be exciting but also stressful for kids. A morning-of unveiling of a Disney vacation might not please your children as much as you had hoped. So don’t spring travel plans on them last minute. Help your kids prepare by talking about the trip ahead of time.
5. Don’t overdo the togetherness.Being cooped up with siblings and parents in cars, on planes and in hotel and motel rooms can make kids feel claustrophobic. Furthermore, children adore individual attention. So make time to focus separately on each sibling while you travel, planning special one-on-one outings and meals. Intimate moments with each child strengthen relationships and help create a happier family.
6. Don’t idealize vacation.Inevitably, problems will arise. The flight will be cancelled. You’ll get a flat tire. One of your kids will throw a tantrum on the tarmac. You’ll find yourself doing many of the same chores you do at home, just somewhere else. Go into vacation with realistic expectations. Don’t delude yourself that everything will be perfect, and you may be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes the best memories emerge from unforeseen mishaps.
7. Don’t delay that big trip.Don’t wait until your kids are older to plan your European tour or African safari. That’s like locking up the china for a special occasion that rarely comes around. The perfect moment never arrives. Your kids will never hit the ideal ages for a camping trek across the country. Maybe now is the time to go for it.