When I was a new parent the thought of traveling with children made me cringe. I remember going on vacations with friends or with my boo and observing other travelers with their children who were losing their minds. Screaming, crying, fighting with siblings, not listening, and whining, oh the whining. But, I absolutely love traveling, it’s one of the things I love doing the most. So when I became a mother, I knew I had to find a way to make it work because I couldn’t stop traveling, but I didn’t want to deal with the drama I’d seen many times in the past. Through trial and error and asking questions of other parents traveling with kids who seemed to manage the travel experience well, I have come up with some best practices for traveling with kids.
- Get Organized and Start with a Checklist: I have found over the years of traveling with my kids that part of the planning process should include creating a checklist. It sounds super basic and maybe even time-consuming bit it can be a total lifesaver. Here is a great example of a checklist from Travel Mamas.com that covers everything you need to do leading up to vacation, from checking with your kids’ school about missed work to coordinating pet sitters and packing travel snacks, games, and necessary medications.
- Book Ahead: No matter the type of trip you are taking, from camping to hotel stays to Airbnbs, it pays to book ahead. Last-minute planning and reservations don’t work when you travel with children because you are less likely to get the type of accommodation most suitable for your family’s needs. By making a reservation ahead of time you’ll have one less thing to worry about.
- Do Your Research: If you know you are planning to go overseas for example, make sure your documents are in order. First step, make sure you have a passport and that is has more than six months of validity left. Know which websites can help ensure a smoother trip, such as the U.S. Department of State (DOS) travel website. This website provides a wealth of knowledge from renewing or applying for a passport, to how to apply for a visa, updated travel warnings, country profiles and much more. Also visit the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website for tips related to getting through the airport security process, and traveling dos and don’ts.
- Don’t Overpack: One mistake parents often make is to over pack. The best way to approach packing is to only pack the essentials. Today, most anything you could possibly need can be bought overseas should you need it in a pinch. The brand may not be one you are terribly familiar with, but it will do. When it comes to packing for a trip with kids, pack flexible clothes. By flexible clothes, I mean clothes that you can easily mix and match, that can transition from day to evening activities, that can be easily hand washed and air dried, etc. Also, for kids only pack the shoes they will actually need. Unless you are traveling for a long period of time, defined as a month or more, stick to the script of one pair each of sneakers, sandals, and water shoes.
- Don’t Let the Kids Pack Their Own Activity Bags: An activity bag is essential for kids under 10 when traveling, but what you don’t want to do is to let them pack it themselves. I’m not saying pack it for them, I am saying edit their bag heavily. Make sure there is a good mix of activities, including things they can do individually and with the family. In our family, we tend to encourage our kids to bring a few reading materials, coloring or activity books (i.e. puzzles, mazes, dot-to-dots, mad libs), a variety of card games, an electronic device of some kind to be used sparingly, and earphones. Trust me on the last one, having a device with earphones is a godsend.
- Remember the Medicine:This point should be a top item on your checklist. Anytime you travel, and especially with kids, it is important to have a small first aid kit with all the essentials and to bring along all prescription medications. A useful tip on the latter is to call in your prescriptions well in advance so you will have enough for the duration of your trip and once you return. If you are planning to be away for an extended period, also consider having your doctor’s office call in your prescription to a pharmacy at your travel destination just in case.
The biggest tip I give for traveling with kids is don’t overthink it, just do it. Get out there and travel and don’t make excuses that will make you put it off. Be prepared to accept that things may not go exactly as planned but what ever does when kids are involved? The opportunity to bond and to make new connections with your children is unparalleled when you travel and seeing new places will help shape and open your children’s minds to new and excited experiences. Now get out there and get going!