Traveling with Kids and Loving It

When you’re traveling by car with your kids, be ready for spontaneous detours from your planned route. (Photo by Leio McLaren on

“Are we there yet?” “He won’t stop looking at me!” “I have to go potty right now!” “When are we going to get there? I’m bo-ored!” “But she pinched me first!”

“Don’t make me stop this car!”

Sound familiar? Traveling with children by plane or car can be challenging, but it can also be a fun and rewarding adventure. With some planning and preparation, traveling to your vacation destination can be as enjoyable as being there.

Before You Leave

• Be flexible when planning your trip. Whether you will be traveling by plane or car, keeping in mind that young travelers have different needs than adult travelers will help ensure that the whole family has a good time.

• Let your children know what to expect. Making transitions and encountering new places and situations can be challenging for some children. If you are flying, explain what will happen in the airport and on the plane. Let children know how they will be expected to behave in the air or while on the road.

• Take care of those pesky details ahead of time. If you are traveling by plane, confirm your flight before you leave the house. If you are traveling by car, have your car checked out thoroughly before you hit the road. For international travel, find out what documents you need and make sure you have them all. Contact your insurance company and find out what your coverage is while you are away from home. Above all, allow yourself lots of extra time.

What to Bring

The most important thing to bring is an adventurous and flexible mindset. Being ready to have fun whatever happens is the key to a successful trip. Other things that will help make your journey a happy one:

• Healthy snacks. It is tempting and far too easy to ply your children with sugary treats to buy their good behavior. Resist! This method is guaranteed to backfire as soon as the sugar high wears off and the crankiness sets in. Fast food is convenient and quick, but greasy, heavy food can make motion sickness worse. Instead, pack convenient, healthy foods like baby carrots, whole grain crackers, nuts, and fresh fruit. Bring water and juice boxes along for drinks.

• Entertainment. A new toy, books, paper and crayons, magnetic games, music, and DVDs are all good for keeping children entertained. I will often hold back half of the toys to be brought out later in the trip when the first batch has become boring.

• The right clothes. Pack for all kinds of weather. You may be expecting one kind of weather, only to encounter the opposite. On one memorable camping trip I took with my two daughters in early August, temperatures dropped down into the 30s. We sure were happy to have the jackets and long-sleeve shirts I packed but didn’t think we would need. It is also a good idea to keep a change of clothes for everyone handy. Just because your child spills their lunch on both of you is no reason to wear pasta salad for the rest of the trip.

• A first aid kit. And don’t forget cream for bug bites, tissues, paper towels, sun block, antibacterial wipes, and remedies for colds and upset tummies.

• Something familiar. A favorite stuffed animal or blanket can make sleeping in strange places much more comfortable.

Traveling By Car

So you’ve made sure your engine is in great shape, checked the air pressure in your tires, planned your route, packed the trunk with all the assorted things a family needs to get from here to there, and you are ready to hit the road. Let the fun begin!

• Get ready to detour! Children need frequent stops (about every two hours), so why not take advantage of this and make the drive to grandma’s or the Ozarks its own adventure? Go on, stop to see the world’s largest ball of string or take that scenic route!

• Stop at visitor centers. One of my family’s favorite things to do when we first cross the border of a new state is to stop at the welcome center and pick up a free state map and information on state parks. Then we choose a park—preferably one with a playground or a beach—that is not too far out of the way to make a pit stop. One memorable time we stopped at a park in Missouri with a beautiful beach. After lunch and a refreshing swim, the children were worn out and slept or played quietly in the car for the rest of the drive.

You can also pick up coupons for hotels at visitor centers and rest stops. This allows you more flexibility in deciding when and where to stop for the night while enjoying the discount rates you might get by booking ahead of time on websites like Hotwire (

• Make time while the children sleep. I make it a rule never to stop the car if my children are napping. If you are pressed for time and need to cover a lot of distance that day, consider leaving very early in the morning or driving late at night. This way you can make good time while the kiddies snooze, and still have time for stops to give the kids a break from the car when they are awake.

Traveling By Plane

Plane travel with children is faster but still can be much more intense than car travel. Getting through security at the airport becomes more onerous everyday, and once you are on the plane you can’t get off until you reach your destination. Here are a few ideas to help your family have a fun flying adventure.

• When booking your flight, request that your family is assigned seats together. Although it is not required, consider booking a separate seat for any children under two. This will give you a break during the flight.

• Make sure you are up to date on airport security regulations. Visit the Transportation Security Administration’s website. Give yourself plenty of time and let your children know what to expect when going through security.

• Take care of last-minute details. While you wait to board, exercise your children by trotting them up and down the concourse, and make sure they use the bathroom before getting on the plane. Take the opportunity to remind your children how you expect them to behave, i.e., no kicking seats, quiet voices, listen to the flight attendants, etc.

• Let your children know what to expect at take-off. Explain ahead of time what will happen. Help older children avoid ear pain by giving them gum to chew. Younger children or infants can have a sippy cup, a bottle, or the breast.
• Help your children behave. It’s a long time to sit in a small space. Read quietly to them, offer some crayons, or play them a movie. Take them for frequent walks up and down the aisle. This might annoy some passengers, but they will be more annoyed if your child starts whining or crying, so ignore them.

Bon Voyage!

Here’s hoping your family enjoys a successful vacation adventure this summer by using these tips for traveling with kids and coming up with your own. Don’t forget to take every opportunity to have fun together. After all, you’re on vacation!