Kids add a touch of magic to travel, but for first-time parents they can be a hassle. As with most things child-related, travelling takes some planning and a little extra preparation. Some of these ideas can be applied to many situations and parents will quickly develop their own bag of tricks that works for their youngsters.
Nothing goes downhill faster than a kid who’s hungry, and every trip should start with a full treat bag. Pack some boxed juices – real juice, not the flavuored sugar water – nuts, crackers, pretzels and raisins in a backpack – a separate pack for each child. These won’t squish or leak when the bag gets tossed around and can be taken anywhere. Pack a separate sack with sandwiches, fruit and some long-lasting candy. If your trip includes plane travel, bring some licorice for small children to suck on. The sucking and chewing will keep the pressure from building up in their ears, a major cause of screaming kids on a plane.
Boredom is the second biggest cause of tot-meltdown when travelling. Avoid games with small pieces that can get lost and choose activities that have a long potential for being entertaining. A stuffed animal for comfort is fine, but you want colouring games, books, music or even electronic games that have many levels. And since things often get forgotten while on the road, try not to bring the favorite stuffed critter or blanket in case it is left at the airport - and you’re in the sky with a desperate child who’s lost his best friend.
Wear Them Out
Going to sleep in a strange room is much easier when you’re tired, and this is doubly true for kids. This strategy can even be applied to flights; just get to the airport early and spend an hour walking around. Many airports have a play area for small children and even a toy store near the gate can help keep them busy until your flight leaves. When travelling by car, take frequent breaks and get out to walk for a few minutes. Your trip may take a little longer but you’ll all arrive in a better mood when you get there.
This seems obvious, but it includes not wearing brand new clothes bought for the trip. Sometimes something just doesn’t fit right and kids will usually just get cranky without telling you why. Instead, pack clothing that has been worn a few times and passed the comfort test. Again, think twice before bringing some favourite piece of clothing – leaving it behind is always a possibility.
At Your Destination
Research kid-friendly restaurants and have several options to choose from. If you have a favourite chain restaurant at home, try to find one where you are. Change is hard and a familiar place can be soothing.
Have a well-loved pillow, blanket or soft toy to cuddle with (you may want one too). A strange bed is hard to sleep in and having something reassuring helps.
Know when to stop. So you didn’t make it to see that Picasso before your kid had a meltdown. That’s ok – the park is part of the adventure too. Enjoy the swings or feeding the pigeons and relax.
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Give each child their own backpack with some treats and toys in it. Don’t bother with the pull suitcases since most of them never seem to work well with small kids and you’ll end up carrying it. The same thing goes for those sit-on suitcases – do you really want to haul all your luggage and a small child on a cart? Kid backpacks are easy for a child and can double as a pillow in the car. Bring some small clips along so if you do end up with everyone’s luggage you can clip the kids’ backpacks to your own and not need to somehow grow an additional pair of hands.
Have an extra change of clothing for you and the kids that are immediately accessible. Accidents happen and changing out of yucky clothes is the fastest way to clean up. Be sure to also have a plastic bag to put soiled clothing into, preferably one that zips shut.
Bring tissues, wipes, or a damp washcloth in a plastic baggie. If you’re travelling with a baby, bring more diapers than you think you’ll need and an extra bottle of formula. A trash bag is also a good idea.
If you’ll be taking taxis, call ahead and request infant seats or boosters if necessary. Have a plastic bag ready in case your youngster needs to throw up, and try to position kids so they can see out of the windows to minimize motion sickness.
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Sometimes it doesn’t matter how prepared you are – once your child has passed fussy and dropped into screaming fit there isn’t a whole lot you can do. If you’re driving, now is a good time to stop for a walk. It probably won’t stop the wailing but at least you can be farther away from it. If you’re on a bus or plane, the first thing you do is not worry what other people think. Sure, many of them will be irritated, but kids cry – they’ll get over it. Focus on your child and helping them work through the tantrum instead of trying to get them to be quiet. It may not get them through the trouble any sooner, but you can blissfully ignore the disapproving stares since you are taking care of the problem.
There is no better way to see the world than through the eyes of a child. Ask their opinions and listen to them. You’ll rediscover the magic that we all seem to lose as we get older and you can enjoy being a child again - without the tantrums.