Have you ever traveled with kids? I have. But the real question is, “Have you ever successfully traveled with kids?” I can honestly say I do successfully travel with kids.
Traveling internationally to see extended family, my biggest fear is always of getting separated from one of my children in an airport. My second biggest fear is that one of my children will start screaming mid-flight and refuse to be comforted. I never want to be “that” parent. Here are some of my best travel tips:
Nap Time: When I travel with my toddlers, I try to manage itinerary schedules so that whenever it’s nap time, we are settled in whatever vehicle we are traveling in, whether plane, train, bus, ship or automobile.
Pack For Distraction: Good diversions to pack: books, dolls with only a few accessories (NO tiny accessories), ear buds to use for technology, suckers to alleviate flight take-off ear pressure, coloring books with crayons (NO markers or colored pencils).
Security: I opt for the old fashioned metal detector putting everything through the X-ray machine conveyor belt if I have a stroller. The full body scanner never seems to work out well with the stroller issue. If I’m traveling with the older kids, we love the full body scanner. It’s a great way for the kids to poke fun at my soft, round body. It’s also a time and task saver.
Stroller: Speaking of strollers… I know that many of moms enjoy fancy strollers that have every feature but the kitchen sink. Save yourself a lot of trouble and be considerate of other travelers and transportation staff. Take a simple umbrella stroller. It’s lightweight, uses less space, stows easily, and, it’s inexpensive and can be easily replaced.
Prepare An Exit Strategy: My plan is always that nothing goes as planned. Flights get cancelled. Trains get delayed. Buses get diverted. Moms make mistakes and arrive at the airport or depot late. Plan B back up involves being aware of any other travel options and schedules to get from point A to point B. Also, be familiar with the layout of the airports, depots and stations you will be traveling through in case you miss a connecting flight and have to hustle to another gate to catch a substitute. Often, we know every nook and cranny of our hometown airport but are totally lost at all the others. This also helps a traveling mom with kids in tow know where all the bathroom and snack bars are. That’s very important!
Check-in: Security guidelines often require arriving at airports, stations and depots hours ahead of departure time. Before you can get to a terminal waiting area, we usually have to go through check-in lines which can take quite a bit of time. Standing in lines with kids can become a disaster if mom is unprepared. First, feed kids a meal or snack just prior to leaving home. Immediately before getting in the check-in line, have everyone take a bathroom break.
Simplify the check-in process by packing smart. My simplest solution is to never have checked baggage. This is why: you never have to worry about the one item you desperately need being packed in the bag that is in the cargo hold; you never have to worry about arriving at your destination only to find your luggage is in Tahiti instead of Tuscon; you can cut out one more airport hassle and time sucker, the luggage carousel.
Also, I rarely use suitcases. I prefer backpacks and duffle bags. On the return trip, if we come home with less than we took, I can roll up a bag and stuff it into another, creating fewer bags to manhandle.
Pre-Departure Wait: Break out the blankies and horseshoe travel pillows. Select a section of chairs near a window. Reserve a whole row for your family if possible. Make a cozy nest for the little ones if they are tired. Minimize snacks and drinks at this time because you don’t want to be in the bathroom when the boarding call goes out.
Security: Everyone wears the same color of clothes when we travel. Everyone has a passport pouch with identification of who they are, who they belong to, and contact information along with family photos.
At every airport or station, the first security agent I see I introduce the children so they are familiar with the uniform. This serves to break the ice so the kids will be less hesitant should the need arise, heaven forbid, to ask a security officer for help.
Travel Tasks: I involve the kids in travel responsibilities. This is very important so they don’t feel like they are just another piece of baggage and it helps them stay engaged.
My youngest is the “receipt taker”. She stows away every receipt in her passport pouch. Many of them I really do not need but this helps her feel very important. I also assign tasks such as the “chronicler” who journals everything we do;and the “updater” who keeps track of arrival times, delays, etc. Everyone has a camera, the older ones their smartphones, the little ones disposable contraptions.
These are just a few ideas that really smooth out the process of navigating airports, stations and depots. Airports, stations and depots are the launchpads for adventures that create some of the greatest family memories. It shouldn’t all begin with a stressful nightmare.