If you’ve ever vacationed with kids, you know what puts the "crazy" in the crazy days of summer. Are-we-there-yets, poorly timed poops, airborne temper tantrums, lost pacifiers, and headlong races down airport terminals (while dragging luggage and a screaming baby) are enough to drive anyone insane! By the time you’ve traveled to your destination and back again, you may find yourself thinking that vacationing with children is no vacation at all.
No parent wants the fun of vacation to be spoiled by the process of getting there. The good news is, with the right information and a willingness to think ahead, you can put most of your energy toward playing in the pool instead of kid-wrangling on the road. If your fast-approaching summer plans are sending you into panic mode, take a deep breath: Summer travel doesn’t have to be complicated when using the following eight tips:
1. Plan ahead. And plan some more. In other words, make a list and check it twice. Write down everything you’ll need while you’re away from home, and do so as far in advance as possible (then put the list in your suitcase so you can use it as a guideline when you’re repacking to come home). Give yourself plenty of time to consider your travel schedule and think through all possible scenarios (e.g., will there be naptimes and mealtimes? If so, how many?) and what you’ll need to handle these situations.
For example, if you are going to be mid-flight during naptime, make sure you have sleep essentials like a favorite stuff animal and a distraction like a portable video player in case sleep doesn’t happen and you have a cranky kid on your hands. It’s also a good idea to check any connecting destinations for restaurants or kid-friendly areas so that you can refuel and kids can burn off energy in between flights.
2. Travel light(ish). Yes, this is definitely easier said than done—but it’s not impossible. I advise packing everything you can a day or two before departure, perhaps while the kids are asleep so that you can focus. Use the list you made earlier and don’t second-guess yourself. Remember, there are probably plenty of stores at your destination if you forget something. If you’re visiting relatives, you might even call ahead and ask Aunt Sue to pick up a few things like extra diapers and formula so you won’t have to travel like a Sherpa. Consider whether there are items you can borrow or buy once you get to your destination.
If you’re checking most of your bags, don’t forget a carry-on with extra outfits for the kids and maybe even an extra shirt for you in case of spills or spit-up!
3. Organize your Mary Poppins purse. All moms have mastered the art of traveling with a seemingly bottomless bag. The trick is to do so without contracting, "I’m lost in my handbag" syndrome! First, find a bag with plenty of separate pockets and compartments so that you’ll be able to store documents, snacks, baby gear, wipes, etc. Make sure the things you’ll need most often and/or quickly (such as pacifiers, bottles, and snacks) are most easily accessible.
Pay special attention to travel documents. If you fly, you’ll have to whip them out while checking in and going through security, so think about storing them in a separate, brightly colored wallet or folder if there isn’t a convenient compartment in your bag. And when I’m traveling by plane, I also make sure to pack a carry-on ziplock bag with medications my kids might need. There’s nothing worse than being trapped on an airplane with a fussy child who’s feeling bad.
4. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. You may be thinking, "Duh! Every amateur knows that!," but the advice bears repeating. It always takes longer to get out of the house than you think it will. Traffic jams tend to pop up at the most inconvenient times. Airport lines can be mind-numbingly long. Road construction can force you to take a confusing detour. And you never know when a tantrum or dirty diaper will erupt.
Thinking back on my family’s many trips, I don’t believe there has been even one that went without a hitch. And that’s normal! Make sure your time margins are as wide as possible with at least a a half-hour or more buffer.
5. Ace airport security. The thought of navigating airport security can strike fear into the heart of even the bravest mothers. While you can’t bypass TSA completely, you can make the process as painless as possible. Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind.
* When possible, use the "Green Circle" lanes, where you will be allowed extra time and assistance to get through the lines.
* Know the latest TSA regulations and pack your carry-ons accordingly. The following tips are based on August 2014 guidelines:
- Gels, aerosols, and liquids should fit into one quart-sized ziplock per passenger. Maximum container size is 3.4 ounces.
- Liquids like medicine, baby formula/food, breast milk, or juice do not have to be in baggies, and can be higher than the 3.4 oz. regulation amount. You do have to notify the TSA officer that you are carrying these extra-fluid items.
* Dress for a Magic Mike night out. Before you get all hot and bothered, what I mean is that your family should wear easy-to-slip-on-and-off shoes, jackets, and belts (children under 12 can leave their shoes on). Be sure your little ones aren’t wearing anything metal that could set off beepers. Be prepared—if you are carrying your baby in a sling, you may get an extra pat-down, even if no alarm goes off.
* If they are old enough, prepare your children beforehand as to what they can expect when they go through security. Explain to them why they need to stay close and follow instructions, and not to be afraid if the beeper sounds.
“If they are old enough, prepare your children beforehand as to what they can expect when they go through security.”
6. Fill their bellies. What’s worse than a tired baby? A hungry one! Make sure you have plenty of snacks (e.g., infant formula and finger foods) for your little ones to enjoy for the duration of your travel. If you’re flying, have a baby bottle ready for take-off and landing. Swallowing will help your baby’s ears adjust to pressure changes. For older children, a low-sugar lollipop works great.
Don’t forget to fuel yourself, either. You won’t be doing anyone, especially your kids, any good by bottoming out your blood sugar. Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and eating snacks when the kids do. A stop at the airport coffee shop won’t hurt, either!
7. Make time fly with entertainment. Whether you’re traveling by plane, train, or automobile, chances are you’ll have a lot of downtime to fill. Buy a new toy for the trip, and bring books, a tablet computer, pacifiers, a pony—whatever it takes to keep your children from reaching octave levels that break the sound barrier.
Having a few "new" things will keep kids occupied longer. Be wary of bringing anything that makes too much noise (think of the other passengers and yourself!). Music is a great soother, so perhaps some kid-friendly headphones would make a great investment. If your children are older, get some books or apps about your vacation destination so they can learn all about it. Don’t forget comfort items like a favorite teddy, sleep pillow, or soft blanket.
8. Map out your road trip. Just because you may be traveling America’s roads in the trusty family vehicle doesn’t mean you should neglect planning. Traveling by car with pint-sized passengers can be just as stressful as flying the friendly skies. Many of the same rules apply: Be sure to have plenty of snacks and toys on hand to keep your children occupied, and make sure you can get to them easily. Also, consider a video player and headphones to keep parent sanity intact (and to cut down on the “Are we there yet?").
Look at your route ahead of time and plan stops at locations that will allow little ones to burn off energy, like a park. In a pinch, a fast-food restaurant with a play area or even a rest stop with an open grassy area will do. Also, be sure to have lots of extras on hand—I’m talking about diapers, pacifiers and wipes. You never know when something might get dropped under the seat, or when sticky hands or spills might make an appearance.
Summer vacation is supposed to be fun! Making it there and back in one piece—and with a smile on your face—is simpler than you think if you plan, prepare, and know what to expect. So travel safely—and enjoy making sunny memories together!
Ivana is the author of "A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year," which was co-written with her mother, Magdalene Smith, and her sister, Marisa Smith. Their blog, Princess Ivana—The Modern Princess, is a blend of humor, practical advice, and lifestyle tips on the essentials. Ivana is also a featured blogger on Modern Mom.