I have the travel bug, always have. I grew up driving cross country in the back of my parents’ sedan, with no air conditioning, pestering my kid sister – seat belts long forgotten — on our family vacations. And while the journey itself was not the voyage I would recommend, the destination was always unique, educational and eye opening. And one might think that for a child, this would be boring, but I loved seeing new perspectives on life lived — plus, the theme parks weren’t bad! Over the years, I’ve tried to understand what my parents did to inspire this love of learning through travel. My sister, now in her late 30’s, also has the travel bug, having spent years living and traveling around the world. I hope to instill this same love of travel in my children.
Traveling by myself is easy, with my husband is simply fun, but traveling with kids…takes on a whole new meaning. Yes, I want to get them out into the world, but it is so much work sometimes, seriously. I now have a 13-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son. And as if traveling with kids isn’t hectic enough, my oldest is allergic to too many foods to list in this article and has a compromised immune system. But we didn’t want our daughter’s health issues, a hyper-active little boy or the general stress of traveling with kids to prevent us from enjoying our trips. Years of traveling with a child with a compromised immunity have prepared me for COVID in ways I would have never imagined. This is just a way of life for us. I’ve read travel tip blogs that are very helpful, but I hope to go beyond those blogs with tips that help take the stress out of travel and keep you safe, something we all need right now in this new age of traveling. So here are my tips to stay sane and safe when planning your next adventure.
Practice Makes Perfect – The art of the day trip (or half-day trip)
Get used to getting out. If the idea of traveling with kids stresses you out, start small. These short trips act as your “dress rehearsal” for longer trips. Is it getting out the door that is stressful? Keeping track of the kids while you’re out and about? Think about what worries you and take on that challenge in a small and manageable setting. During the spring, we try to do as many day trips as possible and visit places near our home we haven’t been to or haven’t been to in a while. Whether it is a theme park, an easy hike or a family day walking around the park. Our kids understand expectations of them when we travel and we are more confident preparing lists for the day and getting ourselves out the door. This is also an opportunity for us to enjoy ourselves, stop and appreciate the experience (especially outside of the house for those of us who are quarantining at home).
Location, Location, Location!
Where you go can make all the difference. When you plan your trip, consider what types of activities you want to do that are available right now. I remember the first trip my husband and I took only a few months into dating. He picked me up, destination unknown to me, and handed me a stack of papers of area attractions and said “let’s go have fun,” with no real schedule. Today, a laissez faire approach to travel, especially traveling with kids, could backfire quickly.
Are you traveling internationally, or even to Hawaii? Know what the testing or quarantine requirements are for your destination. Also remember these requirements can change. Other considerations include your current COVID status (take a copy of your COVID vaccination card of proof you are COVID negative) which can affect your ability to participate in activities once you arrive.
The Art of the Double Check
More than ever, now is the time to call ahead to make sure all the amenities at your resorts are open and ask if there are limitations to how many can access each amenity. Do you need to pre-book an activity you want to do? Pre-COVID, this might not have been a consideration, but now you even need to pre-book state and national parks up to 1-2 months in advance. You may want to think of a plan B. I had a friend make a trip to a mountain town in the Rocky’s this summer and because of steep restrictions in the area, they have very few options and the kids spent most of the time watching TV instead of the pre-planned activities they intended to enjoy.
Once you’ve called, make a plan, schedule what you are going to do for most days and pre-book as often as possible. BUT…don’t over schedule. Allow yourself time to deviate and explore as well. By not over scheduling, this also allows space in case situations arise that need to be addressed (you have to take a work call, you get a flat tire, you find a cute shopping strip you must visit).
As soon as each of my kids was old enough to carry a small backpack, I put one on their back for both day-tips and full-fledged vacations. I recommend backpacks or cross-body bags (as they are easier for kids to carry) that are proportionate to the size of the child. We fill these with toys and activities to keep them busy on flights, in a car or in between our family activities.
Packing the kids’ activity bags is a joint effort. We pack a variety of activities. I hit the dollar bins at Target or discount dollar type store to get new activities that can be tossed/donated before we head home. I encourage them to play with these items first. This makes room for any souvenirs my husband and I most likely have been conned lovingly into purchasing along the way.
And here are some activities we do that don’t take up any space. Simple games like “find something that is green,” and have everyone in the family find something of that color – proceed through the rainbow. Or if you are driving, have them try to find all 50 license plates as a team. If they do, reward them. You can also use numbers, letters, or colors to find objects in plain sight. This requires nothing you have to carry and gives our children’s eyes a little rest from screens. It also encourages them to interact with us as parents or if you have more than one child, their sibling!
Don’t forget chargers for any electronics, but also consider a portable charger (or 3) to extend the life of that video game, cell phone or e-reader in case your flight is delayed and you can’t access an outlet in the airport. But once you’ve arrived at your destination, don’t be afraid to make screens disappear, at least to the bottom of their bag until family time is over.
Don’t Wing It — Food Planning
Planning when, where and what we are going to eat is a major component of our travel. Our daughter is allergic to lots of foods, so we don’t even pretend she’ll be able to eat food at an airport. And there are only a handful of restaurants we know of that can accommodate her. We have found that you can bring food (not liquids) through airport security if you have a medical need – or a baby! Note, breastmilk and medication are exceptions to the liquids rule.
Drink lots of water leading up to your trip and during your trip — being hydrated is so important to our immune system. Keep up your normal routine of vitamins and meds, including the time of day. Good ‘ole soap and water to wash hands is always best; however, everyone “old enough” in our family carries and we all use hand sanitizer at just about every turn. It actually becomes a little excessive, and quite routine, but we don’t always have access to a hand washing station. Every time we get in the car my youngest automatically puts his hands out for his little squirt of hand sanitizer, which you should always have on hand when traveling with kids.
Masks are also sticking around for a while. You may have your favorite reusable masks, but pack some disposable masks in case your mask falls on the floor, or in case you wash it in the evening and it isn’t fully dry the next day. I like to fold them and put them in snack size plastic bags and stash them in each kid’s bag and my purse.
Let go of the small things…if your baby cries on a plane, don’t worry. If your plan gets derailed, hit Google to find another option, or go to a nearby outdoor monument or park. Think about what is most important to you. Is it the time you spend with your kids making memories? Is it introducing your kids to a new culture? Only you can decide that. For us, it is the time together. At the end of the day, we ask our kids what their favorite part of each day was, and it has to be something that we couldn’t do at home. Yes, we’ve had just about every type of travel hiccup you could imagine, but we have also loved every trip. Whatever your reason for wanting to travel or to start traveling with kids, get out and go. But most importantly, remember to enjoy your time away from your everyday life.
Do you travel with your kids? What are your favorite tips and tricks? Let us know in the comments!
About Ariel Romell
Ariel Romell was raised in an Air Force family moving every few years, which was the catalyst for her love of traveling and learning about
other cultures. Ariel graduated from Southwestern University in Texas, and has lived in Austin for the last 26 years. She spent 20+ years working with nonprofits on volunteer management, board
development, marketing and other strategic planning concepts.
In mid-2020, Ariel made the decision to stay home to be more available to
her family during these unpredictable times and take on only intermittent contract work. Ariel and her husband are proud parents to a 6-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter.
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