Tis’ the season for holiday/vacation travel…whether by plane, train or automobile! I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I was once that person that dreaded sitting by a child on an airplane. Yes, I was the person that shook their head and rolled their eyes when a baby would cry non-stop, or worse, whine non-stop. Not anymore! Parenthood does that to you… makes you discover depths of patience and humanity you never knew you had. Airplane, car, train, or boat…there is no perfect mode of transportation–at least in my humble opinion. So, since my wife and I love to travel and have family in Asia that we typically visit ever year or two, becoming parents over 4 years ago has not stopped us from traveling…it has slowed us down, but not stopped us! With our experience behind us and the holiday travel season ahead of us, I thought sharing our survival tips would be timely. So here we go: Car – We went to Door county a couple of years ago, a mere 4 hour drive from Chicago/, and I have to admit, it wasn’t so bad. We left relatively early, our then 2-year-old was able to nap on the way there and we drove straight through…coming back though was a different matter entirely, as stomach flu hit our toddler! We had to stop two times before we realized our only savior was getting home – and quick. Now, with a 4 1/2 year-old and an almost 1 year old, road trips have taken a whole new meaning. Plus our move to another state meant a couple of 11+ hour (each way) drives a year back to Chicago to visit family and friends (I will spare you the details). Here are some of the things we do to make the road trip not so devilishly hard.
- We bring new toys and books that our kids have never played with before (or at least haven’t played with in a while) – I would say this gives you roughly 2-15 minutes per new toy (haha) – but I guess it depends on your child’s attention span or how much they like the toy! You can get some decent stuff at a dollar store or in clearance racks from stores like Michael’s or Target (love the $1 section by the entrance!). One favorite is Silly Putty, and another is the trusty Slinky. Also, don’t forget to check out children’s books and CDs from your local public library – nothing beats free and getting something for your tax dollars. My preschooler loves I-Spy and Maze books!
- Plan child-friendly stops ahead of time — children’s museums, interesting restaurants, playgrounds, etc. all help. We asked friends who had family at our destination for tips, and I looked into affiliated children’s museums and mapped it out in google maps. Some rest stops have nice playgrounds (weather permitting) where everyone can stretch their legs and the kids can release some energy!
- Familiar music helps keep the kids entertained. All the good old standby’s like “itsy bitsy spider’, “Old Macdonald”, “When you’re happy..” you know which ones I’m talking about…just get ready to hear “twinkle twinkle” about 100 times before you reach your destination! Our infant/toddler love the Wiggelworms CD, and some of our preschooler’s favorite music is by Laurie Berkner, Dan Zanes, Milkshake, Bill Harley and Justin Roberts. Land of Nod also has some great CDs as well!
- If you are driving at night (and this is for the non-chewing older kids) those glow in the dark sticks do wonders as well as a small flashlight.
- Last but not the least, for the last stretch we whip out our iPhones… yes, it may be a cop-out but I tell yah, the last 30-60 minutes of silence feels like a blessing from heaven. Our favorite kid apps saves the day!
My frame of reference has focused on my older daughter when she was almost two-year old to now at 4 1/2 years old. You’ll notice no mention of a DVD/video player — I have nothing against it, but we try to avoid using that “weapon” as much as we can lest (our biggest fear) it loses its effectivity when we actually really need it. When doing a road trip, we place most of the coloring books, crayons, small toys, books, and things in a plastic tote (like an old-fashion milk crate) in-between the two car seats and secure it with a couple of stretchy cords. This way, our preschooler can choose her own activity, access the stuff and the co-pilot up front is not always twisted backwards to get a new activity out every 4-20 minutes! This has worked pretty good for us! Plane– With my wife being a stay-at-home mom, when we travel overseas, she and our daughter(s) usually go earlier than me so they can spend more time with family and friends (the working dad only has so many paid vacation days a year). So on our trip to Asia a couple of years ago – what my wife dreaded the most was the plane tri as she was going to be traveling alone. with a 17 month old. She was still breastfeeding, but was not quite sure if the “power of the boob” was going to suffice. Here is what worked for her.
- Change of environment – even slightly different “space” is good! At one time when everyone was sleeping and our toddler wasn’t, my wife walked to the back of the plane where all the flight attendants and other passengers were hanging out. We were able to get some distraction from the monotony of just sitting in your coach/economy seat (helps too when other passengers found her cute).
- Lots of “special” snacks – new snacks or special snacks do come in handy! They are also useful when your child is hungry, but the plane personnel aren’t serving meals yet. Variety is key, especially on long trips. (first time my toddler had pirate booty – WOW worked like a charm! Also was where she had her first lollipop, which the sucking can help with pressure in her ears.
- Yes, a DVD/video player. I have to say though, it was nice to have the buffer, but she only watched maybe two hours worth out of the entire 10+ hour flight. When we first bought a portable DVD player, we selected the one with the longest battery life!
- Arts & Craft stuff – play-doh, crayons, coloring book, one of those mini magna doodle-things worked wonders. These things actually worked better than the video (at least in my case. Sticker books were wonderful too.
- Okay, as lame as this sounds my wife even brought a puppet. No, she didn’t use it, but she was going to use it as a last-ditch effort to remain sane.
- Just a note – if you have stop overs, especially in foreign countries, with big airports it helps to look them up online. We were able to find a little play area in Singapore’s International airport this way — and the cool thing is that she got to make some new friends as well :o)
Last but not the least – enjoy the journey as much as you can. It usually turns out better than you thought and your child may end up surprising you! And worse case if the trip is a nightmare – you have something interesting to talk about when you get back. The “I survived” stories always end up more memorable and funny at the same time.
Safe travels! If you have some other ideas and tricks to share, please leave a comment! Thanks!
- Air Travel with Children: How You Can Survive It! (delta.com)
- Ten Tips to Navigate Flying with Small Children (kleenexmums.com.au)
- Whoops….Ten Tips I Forgot to Tell You About Traveling With Toddlers. (superherounderpants.com)
- 7 Tips For Flying With Kids (mylittlemr.com)
- Children on Planes (4mothers1blog.wordpress.com)
- Road Trip with Toddlers: Tips, Products and Ideas (sippycupchronicles.com)
- Flying with kids is…fun? (mama-raw.com)
- Our guide to hassle-free road trips with children (confused.com)