I have had the same conversation several times recently. It goes something like this:Other Mom: “I’m just not sure I want to travel with ________ (her child).”Me: “You CAN do it!”Obviously that is the scaled down version, but the gist of the chatter is the same. I’m not an expert, but I will say that we have made our share of trips with our children. Since Bubba was just months old, we have made many, many trips. We have flown on five hour flights, driven 17 hours in one day (more times than I care to count), and taken plenty more challenges that I don’t care to re-hash this very moment. For us, traveling is simply part of being a military family. So I’ve decided to share some of my favorite tips to get through a big day of travel.
First, pack a good attitude. As the mom, I set the tone for the day. I might want to rip the head off of the security guy who caused me all sorts of frustration; but if I carry that baggage on board with me, the trip is going to be much, much harder. I say check your grief at the gate!
Also, prepare the kids for the trip. In the days and weeks before a trip, we talk a lot about waiting patiently (because I know there will be times when they will have to do just that), and we talk about what we will encounter on the trip (how exciting it will be to see the clouds from the plane or the mountains from our car window).
Rest ahead of time. I find that the trip is usually a high energy day for me; if I am well rested I am so much more likely to handle the kids well.
I pack a few things for me to do, but I plan to get none of them done. If I am planning to read a book or get some cross-stitch done, I can sometimes get frustrated the the kids are not “allowing” me to do what I want. If I plan to get nothing done, I am much more generous with my time.
Plan to eat on the go. Long car trips often start early with bagels and peanut butter for breakfast; the kids think this is a huge treat, and we don’t waste precious morning time at home. When we can, we’ll eat lunch or dinner on the flight we are taking. It might be pb&j, or we might pay the extra bucks to get a hot sandwich in the airport. Either way eating and the ensuing clean up takes up lots of time for kids. Then, of course, we snack a LOT – airplane snacks, fruit snacks, granola bars, fruit leather, fruit, carrots, pretzels . . . you get the idea!
If the flight/drive is long, hope for some “rest time.” Sometimes my kids actually fall asleep on their own, but if they don’t I’m not shy about asking them to rest for a bit. Now, this didn’t work when they were two, but it works now that they are a bit older (3 & 6). I simply ask them to rest, help them find a comfy position, give them a lovie or blankie (whatever they picked for the trip), ask them nicely not to whine, and hope for a few minutes of silence. They usually wiggle for a bit then rest for a bit; occasionally they even fall asleep.
Then there’s the bag of tricks. I have a bag hidden in our house. It contains all sorts of goodies that I’ve picked up. Some of the things in the bags are things that the kids have seen every trip, some are things they got for their birthday and I “snagged,” some will be surprises for our next trip, and some are things I got on sale and won’t be age-appropriate for another year. When we travel in the car, I wrap several of the new things for the “Road Trip Fairy” to deliver at various times throughout the trip. When we fly the new toys simply go into the secret compartment in our roll-y bag. For good measure, here are some of the things we have packed on our trips or will be packing this summer:
- writing “desks” that have a clipboard on top and open to store paper, markers, and colored pencils
- Color Wonder (can’t get enough of this stuff) and other crayola products (they have other items that are fun like Color Explosion and others I can’t recall)
- Pla-Doh (in small containers) or Floam
- Color Forms or magnet dolls or paper dolls or felt dolls (you can buy a set of these or cut out your own for a LOT less – make lots of clothes, so there are lots of outfits. Our felt dolls even have water skis, a boat, and a car!) We use a large piece of felt for the background, though your child could use the back of her plane seat, the floor, or her own pants.
- Magna-Doodle, Etch-A-Sketch
- Kids Magazines (Sesame Street, Ranger Rick, My Big Backyard, etc.)
- Travel Bingo – they sell versions for highway travel, but you could easily make a version for air travel
- Stuff to make bracelets or necklaces: beads & yarn with the ends taped for easy threading OR string licorice, Fruit Loops, Cheerios, & Gummy Life Savers (thanks to my friend A who shared this with us years ago!)
- a baggie of AlphaBits – find the ABCs or spell words
- stickers (think: foam, sparkly, velvet, color-your-own, sticker books like these!)
- Post-It notes – great for sticking all over the car/seat, better if child can draw a tiny picture on each one, or mom can draw a squiggly line on one then child can make something out of it, or you can practice writing letters and making words/writing digits and saying numbers
- plastic animals – our son will play for an hour with animals, especially if mom hid them for a month or so before the trip! (teehee!)
- small cars – found some really cute ones by Playskool recently
- tracing paper and a book
- Polly Pocket, My Little Ponies, Barbies, etc – girly things to dress, undress, and otherwise play with
- books: I-Spy are great; if you are willing to read aloud, Junie B. Jones could get a six year old to just about anywhere on the planet; math and reading workbooks found at the dollar store
- Ring Pops – the light-up ones will get you a few extra seconds of peace
- Lacing Shapes – you can cut these out of sturdy paper or felt or buy a set at your local mega-craft store
- cd player with headphones
- Chicken Socks books – I have a collection of these that I got on BIG-sale; the tape book, pop bead book, and little car book have been the favorites (though we have a highlighter book that is going to make an appearance on our next flight)
- your digital camera – let Junior take a bunch of silly pictures and view them or share the pictures that you took while you were on vacation on the way home
- DVD player or laptop with DVDs – we try to save this until the end of the trip, when the kids have almost had enough
- money – play tic-tac-toe with coins or teach your child the names of the coins then “quiz” him, rewarding him by giving him the ones he gets correct
- craft supplies – we’ve played with pipe cleaners (making animals), felt pieces, beads (sorting, making patterns), clothespins, googly eyes, and much, much more
- Leapster or other handheld video games – our three year old loves his Leapster even though he is far from mastering any of the games
- Daydreaming – cuddle up with your child and ask what she would do, if she could do anything she wanted for a whole day, what her favorite meal is, what he wants to be when he grows up, where he would like to go if this plane were a magic spaceship, what animal he would want to be, etc. – this is a great thing to do at times when you don’t want to get everything out (like when you are waiting for drinks to be served that the flight attendant is still a few isles away) but you need a diversion NOW!
- hands and feet – trace handprints and footprints and see if your child can turn them into something (think: handprint turkeys except they decide what to draw), practice counting to 20!, play “This Little Piggie,”
And my final tip is to Keep ‘Em Guessing. Don’t get more than one or two things out at a time; cleaning up takes a few minutes too! Don’t get things out simply because your child is whining; you don’t want to reward the bad behavior, and he might really just need a change of pace – take a walk, visit the airplane bathroom, peek in the flight attendants “kitchen,” let him wiggle, sing a song, etc. When he has calmed down and is acting appropriately, THEN get out the new toy! Don’t let them know how many things you have in your bag, but if you run out of “new” toys, don’t be afraid to say, “It’s time to play with something we’ve already seen – you get to pick!”