Tips for Traveling with Your Kids

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Family trips make great memories, but travelling with kids can be quite the challenge. Parenting expert Kathy Buckworth shares her top tips to keep your kids smiling through your next vacation.


Kathy says the biggest thing parents must do before a family vacation is lower their expectations. We bring our same personalities, quirks and habits with us on holidays and when our routines are changed, we don't always react positively. Think the trip through with a lot of "Plan Bs" in place and allow for some breakdowns — both for the kids and the adults.

Infants and Toddler

Travel Must-Haves for Infants and Toddlers

Biggest Challenges

Infants are just starting to establish their sleep patterns, so it can be a good or bad thing to disrupt them with travel, particularly with time differences. The unpredictability of a baby's temperament can be hard when on a long plane or car ride, in a hotel room or staying with friends. Keeping them happy, and doing diaper changes in strange places can be tough!

What to expect

Expect their sleep and feeding routines will be thrown off, and that you will have to work hard to maintain routines — but it will be worth it.  Allow plenty of time to get to the airport, transferring flights,and to get to hotels. Take comfort items such as snack and special toys, and a good supply of diapers and cleaning items. 

Must-haves for travel
  • Wet wipes
  • Extra baby blankets (for changing, when they're sick, putting down on dirty surfaces, etc.)
  • Important note: Split up some of their "must haves" into different suitcases in case one goes missing.
  • It’s a great idea to have comfort items from home. Whether it's a favourite blanket, doll, book, or even a TV remote they're normally not allowed to touch (they can't change the channel from 30,000 feet)


Travel Must-Haves for Pre-Schoolers

Biggest Challenges

Pre-schoolers want to move around, so long car and plane trips are particularly painful. Often the whole goal of the trip is to wear them out during the day so they'll pass out early at night. While on vacation it's really important to stick to regular bedtimes, mealtimes, and basic rules (no candy for breakfast!). Kids like routine. When they have one they feel calmer and in the end, and they’re easier to manage. Also, if you're flying, do not board the plane early with the other kids; it's just more time for your child to sit still. Not fun.

What to expect

Know that tantrums and meltdowns will happen.  The excitement of travel often translates into stress for these little ones, so plan downtime every day for everyone to recharge their batteries. Start early in the morning so you can take a mid-day break after lunch and not worry you're missing too much. Keep a naptime in the daily schedule if your kids need it.

Must-haves for travel
  • Snacks, snacks, and more snacks
  • During the journey, make sure you've prepared and packed an assortment of healthy (and maybe some not so healthy) snacks for the trip. Sometimes you need some treats on hand to bribe this age group into good behaviour.
  • Kathy’s favourites are sugar-free lollipops. The kids can't talk or cry when the have a lollipop in their mouth!
  • Pack lots of distractions if you have a long flight or car ride such as non-marking colouring materials.

3. School Age Kids

Travel Must-Haves for School Age Kids

Biggest Challenges

The biggest challenge with this age group is keeping them entertained and busy so they don't resort to fighting amonsgst themselves when they're bored. It's a good idea to talk to the kids before the holiday and find out what they really want to do, and try to accommodate that, if possible. They're old enough to understand what is expected of them in terms of manners and behaviour, so reminding them that house rules will apply while on holidays is a great idea.

What to expect

Give them the responsibility to pack their own things and choose items for entertainment. Get them involved in the maps/planning stages so they're excited and invested when you get there. Again, stick to pretty routine bedtimes and meal times to avoid crankiness.  

Must-haves for travel
  • While technology is an easy fix at this age, I'd suggest something they can use which isn't as interactive, so they're not gaming, per se, or texting their friends for the entire trip.
  • Kathy prefers electronics like e-readers which you can preload with books and magazine/comic favourites.
  • Some non-paper, non-marking crafts and activities to break up the technology like a jewellery making kit or trivia cards.

4. Teenagers

Travel Must-Haves for Teenagers

Biggest Challenges

They don't always want to be on the trip. They'd rather be playing videogames with their friends, or sleeping in.  Adjusting to their schedules while on holidays can be frustrating for parents who want to get the most out of each day. Try to plan a few sleep in days and do poll them for what they want to do on the holiday. Picky eaters are tough at this age, combined with the huge appetites of teenage boys, so be prepared for that.

What to expect

Teenagers aren't going to want to keep the same hours you do. They’ll want to be sleeping in and staying up late. If you can accommodate that for a few days then do it — it's their vacation too.  Keep in mind t not all teens love a Teen Club, so don't count on that as their source of entertainment.

Must-haves for travel
  • Headphones for their iPods or phones. Let them bring them, but establish rules.
  • Gaming devices. Let them bring them, but establish rules.
  • USB charger with a car adapter, so none of the tech dies leaving the teens bored and cranky

Above all, remember we all travel with our own personalities, so that doesn't change. Expect a few meltdowns, arguments, and tantrums (might even be mom and dad) and roll with it.


Video: Tips for Traveling with Your Kids

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