Traveling with “little ones” can be one of the most joyous events of all–it can also be one of the most stressful. While seeing the wonder in your children’s eyes as they gaze upon some historic or natural wonder may make your heart swell with pride, you must realize they’ll eventually get bored or tired, and you’ll have to revert back to your roles of referee, peace keeper, and entertainment chairperson.
My mother-in-law used to tell the story of traveling in the car with five children under the age of five. Someone was always asking “How much longer?” to which her husband routinely answered “Only 10 more minutes.” When she protested, he responded, “They just want an answer – any answer will do!” As a mother of five grown children, I’ve had better luck telling the truth, and then finding something creative to do.
In order to keep your sanity and actually enjoy some of the travel spots you take your children to, follow some simple pre- planning and travel organizing tips. Before you know it, you’ll be looking forward to family travel–no matter how many children tag along.
1. Go to age appropriate locations. If you want your children to enjoy their travel experience, make sure you take them to places suited to their age. This doesn’t mean every trip has to involve a theme park or sports event; it simply means keep the trip’s educational value at a level they can comprehend and appreciate. If your children’s’ ages span a wide range, have at least one activity geared to each child. Picking a hotel with a pool can make a big difference!
2. Lay the ground rules early. Before you even leave the house, make sure your children know what is and isn’t acceptable behavior on the road. As elementary as this may seem, if you don’t tell your children what you expect, how can they oblige?
3. Let the children pack their own travel bag. Make sure the children’s bag is small enough that they can carry it. If they can read, a parent can make a packing list. Include things they can do on the road or in the air–a Walkman and tapes, comic books, handheld video games, etc. Decide ahead of time about seating arrangements and make contingency plans in case requested seats are not available.
4. Establish a meeting place. Nothing could be worse that having a child get lost in an unfamiliar environment. Whenever you visit a location, identify a spot the family can meet at if you happen to get separated. Equally important, have some current photos of your children available. That way others can help you locate your lost child. If your child can tell time, make sure they take a watch!
5. Make the children a part of the trip by letting them help plan. Your children will enjoy the trip more if they feel they have some say on the agenda. Get books from the library, or do an Internet search, on the area you plan to visit. Give them some options of what to do while away and actually use some of their suggestions. Who knows, you may enjoy their suggestions more than you think.
6. Keep a separate list for each child’s belongings. Keep a running list of everything your children need on the trip. If more than two children will be traveling with you, keep a separate list for each child. Otherwise the items begin to run together, and it’s difficult to determine if you really have enough supplies for each child. It’s amazing how many people forget to pack basic necessities for their children like toothbrushes, socks, and shoes.
7. Pack a first aid kit Face it. Kids will be kids. That means scraped knees, bug bites, and cuts and bruises. When traveling with children, always keep a first aid kit handy. It’ll help get rid of the tears and bring back the smiles and fun times.
8. Check for children travel specials. It’s amazing how many people spend more time planning what they’re going to have for breakfast than how they’re going to spend a week or two on the road. A fun, well-planned travel experience will create memories that can last a lifetime. Plus, pre-planning can save you lots of money. Many airlines, restaurants, and hotels offer discounts for children, whether it’s a “kids stay or eat free” deal or a “half off children’s rate.” If you’re a do-it-yourself-er, surf the Internet for travel web sites. You can usually find some great deals if you’re willing to take the time and look for them. Most important, bring the right attitude. Traveling with children will always present some challenges. Spend more time enjoying the precious memories you’ll be creating and less time fretting over what could go wrong. Keep your sense of humor in full swing and happy traveling.