Family vacations can be one of life’s greatest pleasures, but traveling with children can be painful for all involved. Rather than grinding through a journey with little ones, try our 10 tips for traveling with children and arrive ready to enjoy that well-earned R&R.
1: Plan ahead and include extra time for every leg of the trip.
Regardless of how old your children are, everything takes more time. Everything. When planning logistics — even minor travel legs like walking from the parking lot to the airport terminal — assume it will take more time. Build in several extra minutes to keep stress down and spirits up.
2: Bring enough to be prepared, but don’t over-pack.
When packing, strike a balance between bringing every comfort from home and over-packing. When you have a kid in tow, you may end up carrying their backpack, their food, or junior himself, so make it easier on yourself and opt for less. But – be sure and include that one special stuffed animal, blanket, or toy. Travel can be stressful and bringing that one special thing can reduce your child’s anxiety along the way.
3: Pack over-the-counter and prescription medications.
It’s bad enough when junior comes down with a fever on vacation, but having to find children’s medication in a foreign country can easily add to the misery. Be sure to pack travel sizes of over-the-counter medications for fever, congestion, and motion sickness.
If your child takes a prescription medication, pack enough for the trip plus an additional day’s worth in case of delays. If possible, make sure the prescription is in its original packaging (with the prescription clearly indicated). If not, bring a copy of the prescription itself (even a photo is better than nothing) in case you need to get it filled while you’re away. Also, check to make sure that your medications can be brought to your destination without special permission.
Finally, pack all medications in your carryon so you have them even if your checked baggage is lost.
4: Check what (if any) proof of identification is required for your destination.
Depending on where you’re headed, you may need to present identification for your child. When traveling with an adult in the U.S., a child generally does not need to show identification. However, we recommend checking with TSA to confirm.
If you’re traveling internationally, providing identification for your child will be necessary. A passport may be sufficient, but not always, especially if you’re traveling without your child’s second parent or with someone else’s child. Some countries require a copy of the child’s birth certificate to establish parentage, for example. Check your destination’s government website for specific requirements.
5: Keep track of your child – at all times.
This may seem obvious, but children have a way of wandering off when you least expect it. So, keep a close eye on them. Do not allow anything to distract you so you lose track of where junior is. Hold his/her hand if necessary, or at the very least, consider a GPS tracker that can be attached to a shoe or belt. These can vary in price, but are valuable; this one is a bit of an investment at $129, but it’s highly rated and can be clipped on the clothing or shoes of even a small child.
6: Ensure your kids have your contact info.
On the outside chance your child gets lost (see #5 above), make sure they have your contact information with them. This would include your name, cell phone number, email address, and local address. If you’re traveling overseas where another language is spoken, include it in the local language as well. Translate.google.com provides basic translation in over 100 languages.
Include the information in the inside pocket of a jacket, in a shoe, or in a safe location on the child. If the child is old enough, show them where it is and explain why they are carrying it. If your child is older and can memorize the information, all the better. Information can also be put in their smart phones (we know kids are rarely, if ever, separated from their phones).
7: Bring snacks, snacks, and more snacks.
It’s hard to overdo the snacks. You never know when you’ll need them and what will be available where you land. Pack your own; this way, you’re prepared for delays and will have something your picky eater will actually eat. Also, snacks are more expensive at travel hubs so you’re saving money as well by bringing your own.
If you’re forced to get something at the airport, go for it. In most cases, it’s better that junior eat — even if it’s expensive junk food — rather than go without. Traveling is not the time to try and find the perfect snack if your kid is unraveling. Eat healthy at home and do what you can on the road.
8: Pack appropriate entertainment.
Long haul flights and delays can test anyone’s patience, but a bored child mid-journey can make you wish you’d stayed home. Avoid this by loading up those devices with plenty of content. Download your favorite TV shows, movies, apps, and other content ahead of time – you’ll be ready even if there’s no WiFi available. Oh, and don’t forget junior’s headphones.
For younger children, bring a new toy or book for the trip, or purchase small toys along the way to keep them interested so you can get back to enjoying your vacation.
9: Invest in some decent travel gear.
When traveling with children, even the smallest details can make a difference. That slightly heavier travel stroller didn’t bother you when you used it to go down to the local coffee shop, but when you’re late for your connection and have to run up the terminal stairs with the diaper bag, car seat, stroller, and kid in tow, it matters a lot. Get the best equipment you can afford and keep it on the lighter side. You’ll thank us later.
10: Print out an explanation of your child’s special needs in the local language.
If your child requires a special diet or support in other ways, it can be challenging to explain it in a foreign language. Instead, print out an explanation in the local language and have it laminated. Rather than trying to get your point across with choppy communication, present the card in restaurants, hotels, flights, or wherever – and relax knowing that your child’s needs will be understood.
BONUS: Don’t panic; it gets easier.
Finally, rest assured that, though traveling with children can be stressful, everyone is learning from the experience. Like anything, it gets easier each time. For now, relax, follow these tips, and have a great family vacation.
Do you have other tips for traveling with children? Send them to use at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add yours to the list.