Traveling for the holidays is often stressful, with traffic jams and long lines at the airport. Traveling with kids adds another layer of stress to the situation. Planning your schedule carefully and taking extra measures to keep your kids happy will put everyone in a better mood, making for a more enjoyable holiday season.
Involve your kids in the planning process
Kids are more likely to get excited about a long car trip or multiple flight excursion when they help plan it. Let your kids select the clothing and toys they’d like to bring, choosing a few favorite items for the backseat or carry-on bag. Embrace opportunities to let them make decisions about the trip, such as picking a restaurant to stop for lunch on the way to your destination or selecting music or a book for the car ride.
Prepare your kids for the travel experience
During the month leading up to holiday travels, prep your kids for what’s coming. Letting them know what will happen minimizes stress over the unexpected and gets them excited for a road trip or flying adventure. For little kids, it may be helpful to read books about travel or look at pictures related to the holiday travel, such as photos of Grandma’s house or their cousins during the last holiday gathering.
Get as much done as you can ahead of time
Once you’re with family for the holidays, the last thing you want to worry about is finishing the dish you’re supposed to prepare or wrapping a few more presents. With young children, it’s even harder to accomplish these tasks, particularly in a new environment. Check off as many holiday tasks as you can before hitting the road to limit stress and make the most of your time with family.
Build in extra time for delays
Inevitably, there will be delays while traveling for the holidays. The roads and airports are more crowded than usual. In many parts of the country, there’s an increased chance of bad weather. Delays become even more stressful with kids who have less patience for waiting. Build in extra time for driving and getting through security at the airport, so you’re not rushing with kids.
Look into childproofing where you’ll be staying
Grandma may be excited to see the grandchildren. However, she may not be thinking about how to childproof her home before your arrival. Talk to the family you’ll be staying with about basic kid safety measures, such as covering outlets, putting a baby gate at the top of the stairs, and moving breakable items out of reach. If you’re staying at a hotel, discuss your concerns with them as well, so they can take steps to prepare your room ahead of time.
Pack snacks and drinks
Kids are going to get hungry during long driving trips and flights. Pack more snacks and drinks than you think you’ll need, especially for young children. Take them grocery shopping before traveling or let them pick their own snacks from the pantry or fridge. For driving trips, consider packing a cooler, so you can bring milk, fruit, raw veggies, string cheese, and yogurt. Choose healthy snacks and drinks that won’t be too messy.
Bring along a selection of new toys and books
One of the best ways to keep kids entertained in a difficult situation is to give them toys and books they’ve never seen before. Surprise them with their goodies right before getting on the road or heading to the airport.
Pack extra supplies for medical emergencies
You don’t want to find yourself ten minutes into a flight or an hour from the next rest stop with a minor medical emergency. From a scrapped knee to vomiting, injuries and illness will quickly elevate everyone’s stress levels. When you’re flying, bring a small medical kit and keep a few changes of clothes in a carry-on bag. When you’re driving, consider bringing extra towels as well to clean up spills and bodily fluids quickly.
Don’t overload your schedule
When you don’t see family very often, it’s tempting to pack as much as possible into your holiday travels. Be realistic about what you’ll be able to do with kids. While young kids may not stick to a regular nap schedule in a new location, they’ll still be in much better moods if they have quiet time built into each day. Consider that you won’t have the energy levels that you did before kids either. When your kids go down for the night, most likely you’ll be happier staying in and watching a movie or playing a board game than hitting the bars.
Be conscious of your own stress triggers
Keeping your own stress level under control goes a long way toward keeping your kids relaxed. You may be thinking of your kids’ best interests when you’re picking out new books for the trip or putting extra clothing into your carry-on bag. However, these measures will contribute to your personal sanity, too. Go one step further and think about additional tactics to limit your own stress. For example, if you hate driving at night, arrange your schedule so you can complete the bulk of the driving during the day.
For driving trips, equip your car for emergencies
In addition to packing supplies for medical emergencies, pack gear for emergencies with the car. At a minimum, you should have jumper cables, road flares, a small fire extinguisher, a flashlight with extra batteries, blankets, and a few rags. You’ll also reduce stress while driving for the holidays with kids by planning to avoid rush hour and to take regular breaks for everyone to stretch their legs.
For flying trips, sign-up for pre-check and wait to wrap your presents until you arrive at your destination
Signing up for security pre-check is a relatively inexpensive, straightforward procedure. If you fly once or twice a year, it’ll easily pay for itself with the time and energy you’ll save skipping the long lines. When you’re traveling with multiple children, especially small children, pre-check will make a huge difference for the entire flying experience.
You’ll also have a smoother security experience when you hold off on wrapping holiday gifts. Wrapped presents are allowed in both checked and carry-on luggage. However, TSA may decide to unwrap gifts, which will delay security and present more of a headache when you must re-wrap them later. Pack your wrapping supplies or plan to purchase them when you arrive.
Don’t beat yourself up when your holiday travels with kids don’t go exactly as planned. Even with the best of intentions, you never know when a flight will get delayed or someone will get sick. Go with the flow and make the best of the tough situations. A not so funny incident now may make for a very funny story in future holiday seasons.