Whether you’re headed over the river and through the woods or up, up and away this holiday season, traveling with kids can be daunting. When Big was a baby, we took to the skies most of the time. But once we had two kids, driving—even 8 hours—just seemed easier. While we have a long way to go to perfect our trips, these are some things that have helped us along the way.
Tip #1: Pack Day by Day
Rather than throwing a bunch of clothes in the suitcase, take time to figure out an outfit (or two) per day. (Don’t forget underwear, socks, hair accessories, etc.) Slip each grouping in a gallon-sized zipper bag, then roll the air out and seal it. Not only will you maximize space, you can just grab a bag (or have your older, more independent child do it themselves) and get going each morning rather than riffling through half dirty/half clean mis-matched clothes. After each trip, store the empty bags in your suitcases to use time and again (I’ve been using the same ones since Big was just a few months old).
Tip #2: Keep Creativity Under Control
Art supplies are always a good bet for keeping kids entertained, but they can be hard to keep track of. If your artist insists on the real deal, wrap a piece of scotch or masking tape around the crayon/marker/pencil near the top, leaving a small tab, so they don’t roll all over the place. (I actually have a set like this in my diaper bag for restaurants too.) My kids really enjoy using magnet pads (like Travel Doodle) and water drawing toys (like Aquadoodle) so they can draw and erase for hours without needing many supplies. We talk about what we see out the window, where we’re going, etc. for artistic inspiration.
Tip #3: Kid’s Choice
While I often let my kids pick a few clothing items to pack, their backpacks are all theirs. (And, yes, even a 2-year old can carry a tiny backpack—it was Big’s pride and joy at that age. Carrying that thing made the trip feel like an adventure he was leading, rather than being dragged along on.) If we’re flying, I limit the number of items they can pick to bring along—say three special toys. Oh, and they have to be willing and able to carry whatever they pick through the airport. If we’re driving, I give them a bit more flexibility to stuff the bag with their favorite things. It’s also fun to slip something new inside for them to find along the way—stickers, a matchbox car, a coloring book.
Tip #4: All Snacks Should Be Created Equal
To avoid fights about who gets the last package of goldfish, I like to put together a snack pack for each kid to put in their backpack. I usually include a couple healthy snacks (e.g. snap peas, raisins), a couple fun snacks (e.g. gummies, graham crackers) and one special treat (e.g. a small container of m&m’s). They decide what to eat and when, but once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Tip #5: Give Yourself a Break
If you’re at the airport, ask if they have a family security line (SFO does and it probably saved us 45 minutes); ask a TSA agent to help you collapse the stroller and lift it onto the xray belt; ask the airline if they can block a seat on a flight that isn’t full to give you a bit more space. It doesn’t hurt to ask for help and I was amazed by how friendly and willing the people were on our trip last month.
If you’re driving, know that it’s going to take longer with kids. When you stop for food or gas, let everyone move at their own pace and eat as much as they need to—they’ll feel less trapped when it’s time to hop back in the car and won’t ask to stop again in an hour. And don’t forget to find things to keep yourself occupied. Lenny downloads podcasts to listen to when he’s had enough of the kids’ movie dialogue or Justin Bieber beats. I use the time to organize my thoughts and type lists on my phone.
No matter where you’re going or how you get there, I hope you have the happiest of holiday travels with your family.
Do you have any strategies for traveling with little ones? Please share!