When traveling with small children
Everybody grumbles when they see babies or small kids on a flight. I thought I knew a lot of tips and tricks, but when I asked my friends about what they do, I received MANY great ideas! I feel more confident traveling with little ones now than ever before!
General Travel Tips
Learn to keep realistic expectations. The kids still need to nap and maintain a routine so we are going to be limited on what we can do in a day, just like at home. You will still need to feed them at a regular hour, clean up after them, change diapers and run them to the potty. Little kids do not get the concept of laying on the beach all day and vegging. With little ones, the stuff we do on vacation is really similar to being home, but with a change of scenery.
- It’s OK to deviate from the normal rules. Eating habits are not going to be the same, and rules like “limiting screen time” become more like suggestions when you are away from home. It’s OK. It’s vacation!
- If you are OK with screen time, load your device with tons of stuff to watch ahead of time and let them binge or do short increments of screen time so they have something to look forward to. One friend loads movies onto the ipad for her kids, plus some apps. This is a special treat because our kids do not play with phones/pads at home.
- Pack more snacks than you could ever possibly use and pack treats the kids don’t normally get.
- Want a sleepy kid? Try children’s melatonin. I have used Zarbee’s Children’s Melatonin Supplement with only moderate success. It just seems to calm my kids, not necessarily make them sleepy. But each kid is different.
- REALLY want a sleepy kid? Give them Benadryl, but talk to your pediatrician first.
For driving long distances during the day
- Give children’s Dramamine for motion sickness, but it should not be used with the hope of making them sleepy. I learned this the hard way when we flew about 12 hours to and from California last year.
- Accept it is going to take probably twice as long to get anywhere. Don’t be in a rush and stop every few hours if you need to.
- If traveling during waking hours look at the map ahead of time and check out where there are parks and playgrounds to visit along your route. Check out the PlayPlaces Kids Road Trip App which maps all the fast food places with playgrounds.
- Go with what works for you and use technology to your advantage. Chick Fil A has playgrounds at most restaurants and an app that allows you to order ahead of time, press a button when you arrive, then you can find a table and they’ll bring your food to you. No standing in line! I’ll never order at the counter again! I basically plan my routes around Chick Fil A.
- Download audiobooks with the Overdrive App. It can be synced to your local library to get audiobooks and eBooks for FREE. It’s just like a library book; they get ‘returned’ after 14-21 days.
For driving long distances at night
- Start your driving time when your kids would normally sleep. I’m naturally a night owl, so I don’t mind starting a journey in the evening. I get home from work, pack up the car and we’re on the road at 6pm. Their bedtime is 7pm, so it once we’re on the highway I tell my kids, “We’re going to be in the car for a looong time. You might as well get comfortable and close your eyes to get a snooze.”
- Limit fluid intake if you don’t want a lot of bathroom breaks. My kids are not at risk of dehydration if they don’t have water for a few hours.
- Limit adult fluid intake too, but keep energy up by eating chocolate-covered coffee beans instead of drinking coffee.
- Try to schedule flights during your kid’s normal nap/bedtime. Coordinating with natural sleep-rhythms helps ensure sleep on the flight.
- If it makes sense, arrive at the airport early and go to an empty gate or a play area to let the kids run around and burn off energy before going into the confined space of an airplane. Walk up and down all the terminals. Little kids are not typically “sit-and-wait at the gate” people. [Side note: Akron Canton Airport (CAK) has an amazing play area sponsored by Step 2 with a really nice private nursing room next to it.]
- Flights are often cold, so ring a lovey or small blanket to keep the little ones comfortable and happy.
- Pack empty water bottles in your carry-on. Many airports now have water bottle fill-up stations. Avoid spending extra money on water and fill your empty water bottle once you clear security (water fountains work well for this too).
- Come with a ton of activity books/small toys from the $1 store. Dole these surprises out slowly so they have something to look forward to. This is also incentive for good behavior!
- Bring something to drink or suck on during takeoff and landing to help ear pressure. If you are breastfeeding, putting baby to breast during takeoff and landing is the best way to handle the pressure and comfort simultaneously.
- Look for non-messy activities like painters tape (which can be easily removed), Melissa & Doug On the Go Water Wow! Water-Reveal Activity Pad, and Search & Find books like Where’s Waldo.
- Give kids an old camera or old phone to play with.
- Sit strategically where parents can switch seats mid-flight to increase entertainment time. For example, one parent can in a window seat and the other on the aisle in two different rows. Sitting across the aisle from one another is a nice option if you have kids who want to walk.
At your destination
- If staying at a hotel, book suites with separate sleeping spaces. This means once the kids are in bed, the adults can hang out in the other room. Be sure to grab everything you need from the little ones’ sleeping space before you say goodnight because popping in and out to grab a bottle opener may not be an option with light sleepers.
- Make sure the suite you book is a true suite with walls between the rooms and not something like a studio or “junior suite” which is still open.
- Get a room with a kitchenette, you’ll be amazed at the meals you can create (and money you can save) using a sink, mini-fridge, single-serve coffee machine (aka water boiler), and microwave. Mini-fridges offer a place to keep milk (breast and cow).
- Consider renting a vacation home through VRBO.com or AirBnB. I have used VRBO for our family vacation in California and Michigan the past few years and I’ve had wonderful experiences every time. We got all the comforts of a full kitchen, multiple bedrooms and bathrooms at a really nice price (considering how much it would cost to get a multi-room suite in a hotel). Before the trip, we have talked to the owners about providing a pack ‘n play and they did (one less thing to fly/drive with)! There are lots of little bonuses like a place to park, excellent TV/movie options, toys, books, games for kids, hot tub/jacuzzis (for adults), access to great outdoor space with a backyard for kids to play in, grill, and fire pit, even access to members-only beaches. The perks have been great. Also, owners are proud of their vacation homes, so they are happy to share “locals-only” knowledge like the best restaurants, and nearby sites and activities related to what you are personally interested in seeing (we like wineries, breweries, and historical stuff).