Traveling with Kids? Sometimes my first thought is more like a sigh with a groan attached. Then I take a deep breath, start mentally gearing up, and make lists for what we can do to make it as smooth as possible with the constant realization that disaster may hit at any moment. I’m not talking about an earth-shattering true disaster. I’m talking about the everyday kinds of disasters like multiple children screaming and being unconsolable in their carseats when there’s no safe place to stop or having to sit on the airplane for 3 hours while they decide whether or not the airplane is truly safe to take off.
Here are some of the best ideas I have:
1. The Perfectly Packed Diaper Bag
Every mom learns that it’s essential to pack well and be prepared. See my diaper bag packing list here.
If our kids are hungry, even if we think that it’s impossible for them to be hungry yet, their mood and behavior will slide. Sometimes my kids completely fall apart and they don’t say they’re hungry. I’ve just learned that they have to have substantial, healthy snacks at certain times of the day (mid-morning, mid-afternoon) to prevent the very predictable meltdowns. Sometimes they’re hungry at other odd times during the day as well and we have to go with it.
Some experts say that meals and regular snack times should include protein, carbs & fat. If their blood sugar has already dropped and seems to be the culprit for a current meltdown, some orange juice or boxed apple juice might buy you some time to prepare a snack or finish the ride home safely. Don’t be afraid to open one in the grocery aisle and pay for the empty bottle up front.
I keep a fold-up cooler in the car so that I can quickly throw a few snacks in it if needed, whether I use ice too or just want to keep it from getting too hot on a quick trip around the corner. It’s also handy for a couple of frozen items on the way home from the store.
One dilemma we have on road-trips is trying to reach 3 kids in the minivan to pass out snacks. I came across this site the other day and they came up with a pulley system to pass out snacks and toys. I question the safety of it (ropes in the car with young children?), but I admire the creativity of it all. I wonder if there’s another system that might not be as entertaining, but safer. My oldest daughter in the back of the van can now be in charge of her own snack distribution at least for 1/2 the day or so. The same site also has some great ideas for snacks as part of the entertainment and more road-trip tips.
Always bring water. It’s supposed to be one of the biggest health secrets and it’s really no secret. I try to pack rice milk or an extra beverage if our kids are used to it at the time that we’ll be gone (i.e. rice milk before bed or milk with their breakfast at the hotel). Don’t forget your own large water bottle. Take care of yourself too – sometimes we’re so focused on them, we forget!
For the car or errands, I prefer easy-to-pack and easy-to-track toys and usually not their very favorite, irreplaceable toy. I don’t want to have to collect Barbie shoes from the bottom of the mini-van or have tears because they got dropped in Target. We’ve brought Kelly dolls without their shoes sometimes for that very reason. We also have conversations about how their favorite stuffed animal that they sleep with might get refried beans on it at the Mexican restaurant. They usually happily agree to leave it at home so it doesn’t get lost or messy. Sometimes we put it in their car-seat to wait for them while we go in somewhere. It’s a no-tears solution.
We love bringing books, even before our kids can read. They’re entertaining and it teaches them to love books. Sometimes I’ve been the story-time lady from the front of the van while my husband is driving (rather uncomfortable, but it worked for a bit). My oldest daughter can read from our iPhone or Amazon Kindle now, in addition to her chapter books. That makes for less to pack, when the Kindle contains all kinds of book titles and the older classics are free!
One lightweight, small, entertaining toy we discovered are Wikki-Stix. The first time we saw them was at a restaurant, given to entertain children. They’re great for different ages (as long as they don’t eat them), can be bent into all kinds of shapes and letters, and did I mention they’re small & lightweight?
Stickers are always a big hit for our kids: stickers with tiny note pads, sticker books, making a card for grandma or a friend – amazing. One thing to watch though is that they’re choking hazards for small children, so avoid them unless you’ll be right by them supervising carefully.
Here are a few other toy ideas for the car: magnetic toys on a board (if they’re old enough not to ingest them), small magna-doodles, toy cell phones, and note pads or activity books with a few Crayola washable markers (crayons can melt).
On that note, please remember that balloons are choking hazards and while everyone loves balloons, we don’t love the idea of anyone choking on one on the way home or on a roadtrip far from medical help. We’ve heard scary stories from ER nurses. Be the party-pooper. They’ll be okay.
5. First Aid Kit
At minimum, it’s a good idea to carry a few band-aids & anti-bacterial wipes around town. I started carrying around ice packs and am working on a first aid kit for the car. Here’s a list for a complete first aid kit from the Red Cross. You can also order a pre-made kit from them or buy a pre-made first aid in your area that will be a very basic kit, but it will require less searching. The Red Cross stresses checking expirations dates on first aid kit medications and supplies often on any kit.
Here are a few additional items I try to keep in the car: a large bag/baggie (airplanes have barf bags, why shouldn’t we?), wet wipes, and a clean, small towel in a resealable bag.
Next I’m working on the car emergency kit which can include a gallon of water, fire extinguisher, flares, blankets, rain poncho, a flashlight and I found a more complete list on the Red Cross website here.
6. Preparing Your Kids
We start talking about trips in advance and get the kids involved in picturing it and planning. We usually let them each pack a small mom-approved kid-sized backpack of toys to play with in the car or bring (in addition to back-ups that I bring). They each get to pack books, one small animal, crayons/paper, a blanket and a few favorite toys.
7. Entertainment in a Pinch
For easy play-anywhere game ideas to entertain kids, see my post here.
8. Extra Diaper Bag
Really? 2 Diaper bags? Yes. I try to keep a small diaper bag in the car that just has wipes, diapers, extra outfits for young kids, socks, a blanket, and anything else we might need in that stage. I’ve put extra snacks, an empty sippy cup, an empty bottle, and emergency snacks in it before. I don’t want to have to lug around a diaper bag that has 7 diapers for the day, a pound of wet wipes, and my preschooler’s extra outfit if we’re stopping at a restaurant. It streamlines things every day (something should be streamlined!) yet still makes me feel prepared.
9. Your Sense of Humor
We were supposed to go on one simple flight from our city to visit the grandparents. We had a late evening flight planned and hoped our then 2 young children would eat and then peacefully fall asleep on the plane. We hoped to gently lift our sleepy kids into their beds while we scrambled to unpack at our destination. It turned into some kind of Amazing Race game with no million dollars at the end. After waiting for a very long time on the plane, had a chance to get off the plane, got back on for a while, only to be told to get off again, our flight was cancelled. We kept getting re-routed and ended up on 4 different flights, an airport bus, and a tram all in the middle of the night. Soon into the night, the airlines lost our baggage and we were on a completely different airline. We were flagged as suspicious because we had no bags, so it was really difficult to get through security at the 2nd or 3rd airport. I think that was in Vegas where we were literally running to make our next flight and where our then 1-year- old daughter got patted down by the security specialist. I’m not kidding. I think my jaw actually dropped as I stood there speechless. I was so thankful I’d packed about 3 times the amount of food I thought we’d need, just in case. My then 5-year-old daughter was a brave, persistent, look-on-the-bright-side little girl. I tried to frame it all as a big adventure – “Look! We get to go on a bus!” – at about 3 a.m. It worked. She had the best time ever being dragged through airports all night – 14 hours. We even took a picture with her new “friend” that was also re-routed on almost every flight with us. Our oldest loves travel, adventure, and people and can make anything fun.
I know: LAND THAT PLANE a.k.a. get to the point. There are times when NOTHING goes as smoothly as you want it to. Your baby won’t stop crying. Your child knocks down a display at the store. Kids get sick on trips. Even worse – you all get sick on a trip! Try to take a deep breath, laugh about it to yourself or out loud, or at least tell yourself that someday, you’ll look back on this and laugh. : )