5 Tips for Traveling With Children

[The views expressed in this post are my opinion.]

Now that school has started and summer is “unofficially” over, I’ve spent some time reflecting on our family summer travels and contemplating how we managed to survive them. Don’t get me wrong, we had an awesome time on our trips, but that didn’t come without some blood, sweat, and tears. Here are some tips on how to find joy in traveling with kids, all while surviving it too!

1. Lower your expectations. Seriously.

It’s family vacation time & you are ready!

The cutest outfits have been packed, you’ve researched kid-friendly places, you’ve got Pinterest activities ready to whip out, and a backup bag of tricks. In your mind, you are about to set off on your “perfect” family vacation and generate a ton of picture worthy moments and happy memories for a lifetime! Fast forward to a flight delayed, your car rental is the size of a smart car, your kids decide to need a bathroom every 5 minutes, and then you realize you forgot a bottle for the baby. The reality of actually traveling with kids sets in, all too fast, as chaos and unplanned events occur. All it takes is one kid to barf on a boat to make you think “was this a good idea??” – but don’t despair!

There is a simple solution here and it’s the first point of this whole post: LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS.

If there’s anything I’ve learned now having traveled with my children, it’s that you need to plan and expect for things to go wrong. Just because you are on “vacation”, does not mean chaos and stress disappear – at least not when you have young kids by your side. Getting from point A to point B will still be a challenge. Whining and tantrums have both booked their own roundtrip tickets, so they’re tagging along whether you like it or not.

Now, with that said, your vacation will have golden moments of joy and happiness, with fun adventures and great family memories. Despite the stresses of travel with kids and all the things that can (& will) go wrong, you will inevitably be glad you did it & thankful you survived it! Your kids’ smiling faces and excitement for new experiences will all overshadow any pitfalls of travel. But just know in the moment of disaster you’ll likely want to give up, have a panic attack, and seriously question if you will ever leave the house with your kids again. With a healthy dose of reality and starting from the bottom of the barrel in expectations you’ll find your vacations will be amazingly successful – even if it just means everyone is still breathing at the end of it.

2. Play places & playgrounds!

This one is really simple. Google map the shit out of local play places (think McDonalds playland), playgrounds, and anywhere you can stop for your kids to get their wiggles out and eat (see point 3). We take an annual trip to a family lakehouse and it’s generally a 7+ hour drive. On our way down we usually are overnighting the drive so we stop a little less, but coming home can be brutal with daytime driving. Yes we try to time for naps, and have the minivan stocked with movies, but inevitably little legs grow antsy. We found a perfect midpoint at a local McDonald’s that has the biggest playland possible!

Now I know, some of you may cringe at the word McDonald’s, but when traveling with young kids you need throw some caution to the wind and embrace a happy meal for a happier car ride! We also take advantage of finding playgrounds. During summer travel popping over to any local elementary school is usually a safe bet because school isn’t in session and the playgrounds are well equipped! So if you have a long drive ahead of you or a long pit stop/layover in a new place, take some time to research local playgrounds – it’s a sure win for the kids, for your sanity, and it’s FREE!

*Bonus: Have food for playground visits and it will add much value to the stop.

3. Endless supplies of food – think IV drip, constant flow.

If your kids are anything like mine, they require a constant supply of food. Three meals a day is a fucking joke. I’m serious when I say my kids would be happy if I could just sit and fill their mouths with food all day (which I sort of feel like I do). Food, particularly snacks, take on a whole new level when traveling. The little peanuts or pretzels on airplanes have saved me when I’ve been totally unprepared! When it’s been Defcon 1 in the back seat of the smallest rental car possible, goldfish packs have acted as a peace treaty. If you’re a new parent, you will quickly learn the priceless value of snacks on hand.

(Side note for husbands/adult travel companions – please don’t eat the snacks OR yes you will get the death stare. Those snacks are weapons that will fight off tantrums that include biting, crying, whining, screaming, and kicking – so lay off and get your own damn snacks! Thanks for listening, we love you.)

4. It’s not a vacation – it’s a trip.

I learned this saying from a friend, who learned it from her mother-in-law. It’s clearly something worth passing down to future parent generations. I’ve used the word vacation rather loosely above, because in all reality traveling with kids is not a VACATION, it’s a trip. The best way I can explain this is to compare it to your first child versus any children after. With your first baby, you read books about what to expect, you plan for sleepless nights and the lifestyle change of caring for another human life, BUT it’s not until the baby arrives that you really begin to understand and comprehend this change (and the immense sleep deprivation that comes with it). By the time second (third, fourth, etc.) baby comes around, it’s a different mindset. There’s still some planning, but ultimately you KNOW now what it’s going to feel like, and just how tired you really will be. For me it was easier with each go-round because I knew what was coming (granted there were new things to learn with multiple kids), but the general basics of caring for a baby came relatively easier each time around. Apply this to vacations [now trips].

Your first “vacation” with kids, in your mind is a certain way, but it’s not until after that first time that you realize VACATION is no longer the right word. It’s a trip. It may be a trip of a lifetime with family, it may be a trip you survive, but nonetheless it’s a trip. You are away from your home, your comforts, your securities that all offer aid to taking care of, and being responsible for children. Leaving these things for new experiences (while fun and thrilling) also bring with it stress and chaos at times. Now, when I say I’m taking a vacation it means KID-FREE, and me-time or couple-time is happening! This also now fits for even a trip to the grocery store without someone shouting at me for fruit snacks or the smell of a poopy diaper on a kid who just couldn’t wait until we got home…

Once you come to terms with this tip you’ll savor true vacations and you’ll be better equipped for family trips!

5. Ignore public opinion.

Think “zero fucks given” at any point on your trip when things are going to hell in a hand basket. Case in point: I walked a good quarter of a mile with a 3-year-old thrown over my back kicking, screaming, biting me through Boston Logan airport about 3 weeks ago. I could feel the stares; how could anyone not look at this fantastic entertainment {shit show} going on in the middle of the airport?! My younger (first time mom) self would have been horrified and possibly worried someone would call authorities, but ultimately it was either this scenario OR said 3-year-old running off, down an escalator, disappearing in the middle of the airport. I think I made the right choice.

This is not the only occurrence in which my kids have put me on center stage for possibly worst parent of the year – but I have chosen not to care about public opinion when it comes to managing my children in public. I’m doing the best I can and ultimately, I’m keeping them alive. So if I have to drag them a few feet down a sidewalk instead of releasing them to walk freely into the road, I hold their hands while they scream and politely pass by others. If I have to strap them in a stroller, again screaming, to keep them from running off a boat dock, then so be it. You get my point, right?

Traveling with kids is no time to worry about public opinion, you will have enough on your plate to concern yourself with. People without kids may wonder WTF is going on & people with kids will generally be understanding and sympathetic, so there’s that.

That’s the best advice I can currently share on traveling with children. Coming from this average mom, there's probably better advice out there - but this is what I've got to offer! So get those bags packed and get ready for an adventure. After all, that’s what parenting is every damn day; an adventure, a fight for survival, and pure joy all mixed in one big bag of love and crazy!

*Affiliated links are included in this post for which I receive compensation for.

#parenting #motherhood #travel #family #kids #familyvacation #tips


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