No matter how seasoned a traveler you may have been before having children, traveling with the family brings its own set of challenges. Many parents feel anxiety at the mere thought of traveling with their children. However, travel can be hugely beneficial to children – whether by broadening their experience of the world or strengthening their bonds with family members who live far away. There is no doubt that traveling with the family is more stressful than traveling alone. With the right preparation, however, Family Travel can be a pleasant and enjoyable experience for kids and parents alike. The key to surviving family travel is preparation, mixed with a healthy dose of patience and good humor.
Preparation begins when you are planning the trip. Choose your destination and means of travel wisely. Consider the ages, temperaments, and interests of everyone in your family, and be realistic about what you can expect, especially from younger children. For instance, when choosing flights, consider how the timing of flights will affect your child’s usual sleeping and eating schedule, and choose the least disruptive that you can. If you have special considerations (food allergies, sensitivity to noise, developmental delays), consider how those will affect your travel plans.
Allow sufficient time to plan and prepare in advance of your trip. Packing just for yourself might typically take an hour and happen the day before leaving, but packing for an equivalent trip with the family will likely take far longer. You don’t want to forget any of the essentials in your rush to get out the door, so be sure to make a packing list well in advance and devote sufficient time to packing in the days before the trip. If your children are older, involve them in packing their own items to both save you time and teach them responsibility. In addition to the essentials, be sure to bring some comforting items that remind them of home.
Be sure to prepare for the journey as well as the destination. Whatever means of transport you take, sure bring plenty of snacks, drinks, and entertainment. Hungry, bored kids confined to a seat is a recipe for disaster – or at least an unpleasant time for all involved. I recommend you bring some familiar favorites (and some electronics if you allow them), as well as some brand new items that the kids have never seen before. Some parents even wrap each item because the unwrapping process adds excitement and prolongs the entertainment. If you are flying, be sure to check TSA regulations regarding what items can be brought in your carry-on. Don’t forget in the busy last few days of your trip to prepare for the trip home.
Make sure you prepare your children as well as yourself. Start talking to children in age-appropriate ways well in advance of the trip. Get them excited about things they will see, people they will be visiting, and exciting things they might do. Also prepare them for the less pleasant aspects of the trip, such as the fact that they may have to wait for certain things. Give them strategies for coping with wait times and if you can, help them practice these at home ahead of time. Most kids are comforted by routines, so try to keep some things consistent from home. For instance, although you’ll likely be eating different food in a different place, try to stick as close as you reasonably can to their usual meal schedule. Bedtime routines that closely mirror those you use at home can also usually be replicated in a hotel or someone else’s home.
Although it may seem like a lot of work, the preparation you put into Family Travel is likely to pay off for happier kids, smoother transitions, and ultimately, less stress for you. Keeping a sense of humor and being flexible about those inevitable few things that do not go according to plan will also help you survive the trip with your sanity intact.
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