‘Tis the season for summer travel and boy does it look different for me these days than when my college bestie Sarah and I flew from Pennsylvania to Hawaii to run a half marathon during spring break when we were in PA school. I think we decided maybe a couple of months beforehand that we were going to trek all the way from the East Coast of the United States to Hawaii… I had NO idea at the time how far Hawaii was from California. Seriously, we had changed planes in Cali and then I thought it would be like… an hour… to get to Hawaii… not true. We got in at like 2 am the DAY of the half marathon, we slept for approximately 15 minutes and then we were up and lacing up our sneakers for the race.
We walked several miles to the start line – this was pre-uber days or at least before we knew about such things – not thinking that we’d have to walk BACK to the hotel after we ran. I was approximately 200 degrees and 300% humidity that day. Sure, we’d been training but we also had been attending rotations and studying for tests and living our best 22-year-old lives at the time.
We came. We raced. We might have vomited from exhaustion and overwhelm. We ran 13.1 miles but honestly, it felt like 50. We were SO tired afterwards and we then had to walk the several miles back to our hotel. It was not the finest moment of planning, but boy what a great trip.
Once we recovered from the jet lagged state, the overwhelming lactic acid in our muscles, we could finally relax and enjoy ourselves. We chilled in lawn chairs, we hiked to waterfalls, we explored volcanoes, we did the touristy luau – the whole nine yards.
We read books and sipped cocktails – in short we had nearly zero responsibilities, we sat on lawn chairs, we talked about all the things, and enjoyed the sand, sun, surf. We ate delicious food and slept soundly and, even as I’m describing this I can feel what that felt like…
Because traveling with kids is not the same as traveling with adults. Mainly… because you mostly know how the adults are going to behave. Whether it’s by land, sea or air, traveling with kiddos and enjoy vacation with littles is, hands down, 180 degrees different than traveling alone, as a group or as a couple of adults.
We just returned from a family vacation – we trekked 500 miles with the kids in the car to visit my family in rural Maine – we hung out at the lake I grew up on. The kids were able to swim, kayak, explore, catch frogs, try to catch fish, ride in Pop Pops motorboat and more. This trip was in stark contrast to the trips I’ve taken before little ones showed up… but here’s what we’ve realized. We want our kids to experience different places. We want them to see different parts of the country, different cultures and different countries. We want them to know how to navigate the airport and what it feels like to finally reach your destination after a long day of travel.
We want them to develop the tools so that when they leave our home, they are comfortable and confident to explore the world that is near and far, if they choose to do that.
Today I’m sharing my best travel tips for families!
1 – Air Travel
When you are flying with young kids there are so many things to consider.
Carseats – getting carseats through the airport and onto the plane is a headache. We found these carseat travel cart – essentially it’s this black folding thing that collapses – you strap your carseat through it and you can wheel it through the airport. Yes, we travelled when our kiddos were little – both with infant carseats and with convertible carseats that we strapped into the plane.
I know, a lot of people have kids in their lap under the age of 2, but having them in their own seat gave us breathing room and I felt infinitely safer during takeoff and landing to have them strapped into a secure and safe FAA approved carseat than in our arms. Here’s the way I see it – I wouldn’t drive to the corner pharmacy in our town to pick up cough medicine with a kiddo in my arms, so why would I want to be in an aircraft during takeoff and landing with them in my arms. Call me crazy, but that’s what we did.
It’s a pain to get the carseats installed on the plane, so take advantage of preboarding when they ask about families traveling with young children.
When we flew we had a backpack for the kids with snacks and toys. We had a separate backpack for us with changes of clothes, diapers, wipes, etc.
The best advice I have is to pack all the snacks for the plane. I’ve never done this but I saw someone share the other day to get a big pill container with different openings and put tiny finger foods that your kids like in each pocket – kind of like a non-perishable charcuterie board and a fine motor activity topped with the fact that your kids will be entertained and fed – it travels well and kills time – that’s a win-win-win in my book.
For toys we tried to have a couple of new toys for each kid – something small, magnetic, entertaining, and relatively quiet. Things that have worked well for us: books, coloring items, magnetic color boards that erase, tiny magnets you can build things out of, rubber ducks, and the like.
Also – with little ones nursing or having them have a bottle or a cup of water, that swallowing motion can help with ears. For older kiddos working on teaching them to pop their ears with the change in pressure is something that we worked on at home – either having them chew, open their mouth, or hold their nose and blow to help relieve that pressure.
Oh, and one more note on air travel – kids make noise. Yes, we did our absolute best to keep it down to a dull roar, as my dad would say, but they occasionally cried or yelled or just generally weren’t thrilled and that’s OK!
2 – ROAD TRIPS
Road trips always seem like so much fun when you see them in movies/on TV and I’ve realized why – that’s a highlight reel. Think about it – if you are watching a movie with a road trip, the only time that they’re going to show you anything is if there’s action involved. In real life? There’s a whole lot of passing time in between things like stopping or a kid pooping. Trust me.
We try to always manage expectations as best we can before days of travel. The older our kids get, the more they can understand how long we’ll be traveling and what to expect.
When we drive to visit Maine – it’s about 500 miles to get from our home to where my parents and sister live – it takes us, on average, 10 hours to get there. The kids know this and, as they get better and better at time, math and understanding, we share more and more with them.
When we were driving this time the kids could see the navigation system and the number of miles and time left until we arrived at Grammie and Pop Pops lake – we would do math problems and celebrate things like we are halfway there and only 2 hours left! We try to make it as fun as we can.
As with air travel the two saving grace things that we pack in a place where we can reach or the kids can reach are snacks and toys. We don’t tend to do a ton of technology, although if your kiddos are into tablet games or old enough to watch movies and be engaged with them on their own, that’s a great way to pass the time.
During this most recent trip we had – reading time – our oldest was able to read to himself for an hour while the younger two colored with crayons – we had snack time where I handed out snacks. I’m not above making snacktime notable by asking them who can make their gummies last the longest or having them count how many bites it takes to get to the bottom of their pretzel stick.
We stop frequently for things like bathroom breaks and to stretch our legs. No joke – we were at Wendy’s getting lunch on the way north this time and I took the kids over to the corner of the seating area and we did stretching, marching in place, jumping jacks and played a very small, very tame game of walking freeze tag. It’s HARD to sit in the car for 10 hours in one day and I’m an adult. Helping them to move their bodies and get some of that energy out makes for a more pleasant ride.
Not all of our kiddos are napper but we do, after lunch when it’s Rae’s naptime, have quiet time. We turn on spa music and declare no talking for an hour. This is not 100% effective and, of the trip to Maine and back to Pennsylvania we had approximately a 50% success rate, but it’s better than zero and it made for less cranky kids when we arrived.
Here’s the bottom line about traveling with kids – it’s not as fast as traveling with adults – you need to leave more time for fun, more margin for error, and plan for more stops and more entertainment and more snacks. I used to be able to make that 500 mile trip to my parents house home from college in 8 hours – one time I made it in 7.5 hours which I feel comfortable saying because I don’t think they can retroactively pull you over for speeding more than a decade later – on those 8-hour trips I would leave at 3:30 or 4am to make sure I avoided traffic – I would stop ONE time to get gas, pee, and grab something to eat about 300 miles into the 500 mile trip. I would blast music or listen to an audiobook – on CD rom, thank you very much – and just cruise.
No one asked for a snack. No one was potty training. No one had questions about if 18-wheelers truly had 18-wheels or why there are different brands AND different colors around us. No one cried because their “sock was wrong”. It was a different set of conditions entirely and it would be unreasonable to expect that with three young kids in tow, I would be able to do the same thing.
Speaking of what time you leave – if you are traveling in the car – try to figure out what works best for your family. We are a crew of early risers and we like to be pulling out of the driveway no later than 5am, if we can swing it. We like to get on the road, drive into the daylight, but some people like to leave at dinnertime and drive through the night – it depends on you and your family.
So, there are my tips on travel – by air and by land – with little ones in tow. The best tip I have – whether it’s during the travel part of the vacation or the vacation itself – is to give yourself and the kids grace. They are out of their element and routine and the same is true for you – expect delays and slip ups an imperfection and you’ll do great.
Whether you are listening to this on a road trip, while you wait for your flight or you are simply dreaming of the next trip you take, I would so appreciate if you took a moment to head to iTunes and leave a 5 star review – it’s like a virtual high five of thanks and it helps other moms like you to find me! If you are catching this on YouTube – I would be so grateful if you’d subscribe, like and share this episode!