Terrific Travel for Tots: Take Time to Prepare!

Since the age of eight weeks old, my children have had the opportunity to travel with me extensively by air and by ground. Now, at just eight and six years old, they are seasoned travelers, but this took some training along the way – for all of us!

The key to a fun family trip is planning ahead. A few tips for ground travel with children are:

  • Pack favourite toys, stuffies and blankets. The comfort factor is very important during long trips.
  • Keep leak proof water bottles (or sippy cups) within reach. These can easily be handled so you are not constantly interrupted while driving.
  • Be sure to stop every three hours or so for bathroom breaks and to stretch those little legs; there are rest stops along most major highways. Many young children are not comfortable using the outdoor toilets. A tip for dealing with this is packing an ice cream bucket with a sealable lid – an idea that sounds crazy, until you’ve traveled with a child who is terrified of the alternative!
  • Pack food for lunch or snack time, in case there are no restaurants or stores nearby when hunger strikes.
  • Keep a chewable anti-nausea tablet on hand just in case the motion of the vehicle does not agree with little tummies.
  • Portable electronic learning games and DVD players can be used for longer trips, to help pass the time.
  • Playing games in the car like Eye Spy or singing songs also makes a long drive much more fun. You can download lots of great children’s stories to CD for listening as well.
  • Let go of getting to your destination in the minimum time allotted. Be flexible and allow for time to enjoy the journey.
  • Make a map of where you are and your destination so your kids can see progress is being made when you’re asked “Are we there yet?”

Air travel is a bit more challenging because you can not stop the plane and get out for a break when you please. Preparing for a plane ride can be fun, and the process can really help your child to understand what to expect on an airplane. Arriving early at the airport is a very good idea. This will give everyone plenty of time to check-in and go through security. If you arrive with a lot of time to spare, there are always a lot of things to see and keep your little ones entertained. Children tend to go slower when they are rushed, and running for an airplane with a child in tow is not fun! Arriving at the airport early helps to make the air travel process a lot less stressful.

Some tips for air travel with children are:

  • Practice with kitchen chairs at home. Take turns being the passengers, flight attendants and pilot. This is a great way to make a game of the sitting still with seat belts on and understanding why they’re needed. Use skipping ropes for seat belts and any other props that help them bring this to life and prepare for the real deal.
  • Many airlines no longer serve food, so bring some snacks that your children like. Liquids can not be taken through security, but you can fill water bottles once you’re through security, or purchase drinks. Remember the plane is pressurized so flip top drinks and juice boxes are not recommended (I soaked my son twice in one trip until I got that one!).
  • Be sure to have gum in hand, an extra drink, or soother, to help clear little ears when the airplane is landing. This can be a painful and frightening experience if they do not understand what is happening and have no way to resolve the issue.
  • The tray on the airplane provides a great coloring table that you won’t have with ground travel. Use this to play age appropriate games or make simple creations.
  • If you plan on using a car seat for travel in the plane, be sure to check with the airline before hand to make sure you have a make and model that meet their standards.
  • Children’s schedules may be slightly off during travel days, so there needs to be concessions for tired toddlers.

Traveling with children who are newly potty trained takes some extra considerations. Bring along extra underwear and a change of clothes. You may also want to have your child wear a pull up so there are no accidents at a time and place where you can do nothing about it. Airplanes do not have change tables and they do not appreciate you changing your child at your seat.

Most of the newer planes have individual TV screens for each seat. Bring headsets that fit your children and are comfortable for them; purchasing headsets each time you get on the plane will start to add to your travel cost.

Airports are becoming much more child-friendly. Indoor playgrounds that are found at many Canadian airports are a fantastic way for children to expend their energy, especially if their flight is delayed.

A backpack on wheels – filled with a few of the child’s favourite items – is a fantastic way to encourage independence. Sharing the load is a valuable lesson for children to learn, and it’s a lesson that they’ll take with them as they grow.

Traveling with children can be a whole new way to experience the world. Planning and preparing ahead, being flexible, and setting them up for success is the key to a fun time everyone in the family. Whether you are traveling only an hour from home, or half way around the world, there is no better life experience than exploring the world that exists outside of ours.

Bon Voyage!

Aly Pain, CPCC, ACC, is a team and relationship coaching specialist. She works with couples, families and corporate teams to move them beyond “who is doing what to whom” and over to “what is trying to happen.” Aly shares this powerful paradigm shift with audiences in her upcoming book “Marriage and Medals”.