I've slept on Amsterdam-bound trains and churches turned hostel...Snorkeled with sharks in the South Pacific and hiked through the Caribbean rainforest. But traveling with kids is a feat that deserves an entire handbook. Having family in the Southeast means that at least once a year, my husband and I spend one of the holidays on an eastward bound plane with two kids in tow. And while no trip is the same, we've found that several small things can be done to ease the stress of travel and make the trip enjoyable.
1. Lighten Up.
I'm the queen of overpacking. After going back and forth about the necessity of an infant car seat...for a lap child...on a trip to New York City (think subways and taxis), my husband finally gave in. After gate checking the car seat on a completely full flight, that car seat sat in our hotel room until we checked out and ended up back underneath the plane for the flight home. This is the one and only instance where my husband was actually right about something.
Unless you're traveling to a remote destination, avoid packing the items you wouldn't likely need or use on a trip. You can always purchase those "just in case" items if you end up requiring them and you're less likely to lose something important. Remember that there are only two of you trying to keep up with luggage and children. If you're traveling with small children also, consider renting car seats, strollers, and portable cribs.
2. Think ahead.
At least half of the instances where my children are misbehaving can be attributed to hunger or fatigue. Since traveling can disrupt meal and sleep schedules, build in rest and downtimes. Anticipate your child's needs by packing snacks and toys/activities, winding down before fatigue sets in, and planning activities around your child (rather than the other way around).
3. Don't sweat the small stuff.
Kids stayed up too late? Ate dessert before dinner? Missed naps all week? Tore a hole through nice pants? Lost a shoe? Don't allow the "little things" to ruin a trip that you've planned and looked forward to all year. Be flexible, gracious, and patient. Laugh and make lemonade out of lemons. Vacations don't come around again soon enough so make the most of your time together as a family and realize the memories that even small annoyances can bring.
4. Less is more.
I've done the go-go-go until I'm ready to drop at midnight in the hotel. I made that mistake recently on our last day in New York. Resist the urge to see and do it all. Make a plan with a list of the sights and activities you'd like to accomplish and focus your energy on those. If you plan one or two activities a day, you'll be more relaxed and feel less time constraints to be somewhere else. Planning less gives you the freedom to linger, take photographs, stop and smell the flowers, and enjoy an ice cream.
5. Time it right.
I'm notoriously late for everything. While that may work with preschool or play dates, planes and tours won't wait. We typically build in an extra 30 minutes to account for last minute diaper changes, forgotten sippy cups, and unexpected mishaps. In my experience, traveling with children, even if it's a simple trip to the grocery store, takes longer than expected. If you anticipate needing that extra time, you'll avoid missing that last ride on the Ferris Wheel.
6. Keep them busy.
Restless, bored children begin to misbehave by engaging in attention-seeking behaviors. I like to pack a bag full of entertainment for those times when we're waiting in line, stuck on an airplane, or preparing for the day. An unhappy toddler adds extra stress to an already difficult travel day.
7. Relax and have fun.
You want to remember your vacation fondly and come away feeling rejuvenated. Laugh often, avoid complaining, and remain positive as much as possible. With a little planning and flexibility, you'll be making life-long memories.
By guest blogger, Caryn, Rockinmama.net, @rockinmama