Herald Journal Columns
April 18, 2005, Herald Journal

Tips for traveling with children


It’s that time of the year, when families will be heading to their cabins, lake homes, to the beach, or to some other destination for a family trip.

Family trips are wonderful ways to create lifelong memories and traditions with our children. But family getaways can be stressful if we don’t remember that we are traveling with energetic, curious people – our children.

It takes planning, but not over- planning, to have a wonderful family vacation. Family vacations should be relaxing, too.

It seems some of the best family trips are when some preplanning is involved (such as the destination), but when some of the activities involved are underplanned and when room is left for spontaneity, and you “go with the flow.”

The purpose of a good family vacation is to reduce stress and promote family togetherness, the website www.all.traveltips.com said. When you plan every second of a vacation, there’s never a moment to relax and enjoy the family, and vacation is for the children, too, the website reminds us.

Children get tired. Tired children get fussy, and fussy children can irritate parents. Suddenly, the family vacation is not so much fun, the website cyber.parent.com said. The website also recommends leaving room for spontaneity and flexibility, and urges families to not overplan for a family vacation.

Don’t plan every second, so you won’t need a vacation from your family, or a vacation from your vacation (which probably has happened to all of us at one time or another). The best family vacations are kick-back, casual, and spontaneous, the website said.

Letting children take part in planning the vacation also promotes family togetherness, and prepares the child for what may be in store while on vacation. Show them a map of the route that will be taken. Children enjoy following a map.

Show your children travel brochures or possible places you will be visiting and check out some books from the library about where you will be going. Make a homemade “travel passport” for each child to carry while on vacation to the different destinations.

The website www.cyberparent.com recommends giving each child five wishes as to different places or things they would like to see or do while on vacation, and try to grant at least one wish for each child. In this way, the children will really feel like they are part of the planning process, and we know that when children have some ownership, things go smoother for everyone.

Preparing a homemade memory book for each child, with pages for each day you will be gone, is an idea from www.travellingwithchildren.com. Write the date at the top of each page. As you travel, your child can fill in what you are doing that day, draw pictures of interesting things you see or do, paste brochures or ticket stubs on the page, and even get autographs of the waiter or other people that you may meet while on vacation. The book will be a great thing your children can share with others when they return home, and a great keepsake of the vacation.

When traveling in a vehicle, always remember to add enough time for extra stops, for bathroom breaks or just to release some pent up energy. Look for a place to stop and play – be it a McDonald’s play area or a park. The rule of thumb is about a 20-minute break for every two hours on the road, www.alltraveltips.com said.

The time you leave may depend on your mode of transportation, but if you have some control over departure time, drive at night when the little ones will sleep. Or leave just before nap time, which is better than leaving when they just wake up, are full of energy, and don’t appreciate being strapped in a car seat for any great length of time.

My husband’s family has a cabin in central Wisconsin, which is about a five-hour drive for us, but we make the trek a few times each summer, and we almost always try to leave just before bedtime, so the children (and my husband or I, too – depending on who is driving) can sleep in the car. It makes it a peaceful drive for everyone involved, and the kids think it’s cool to have a kind of “sleepover” in the vehicle.

Also, plan to return home in time to get ready for work and school, etc. without a stressful rush. Leave a day for sleeping in, unpacking, resting, and enjoying your children at home before returning to the regular duties of work and school. I have found this piece of advice to be very helpful.

The pace of your travels will be at the mercy of your children, because children can get bored with sitting still or sightseeing for too long, needing time to run around, as well. Accept the pace, and don’t fight it. Keep plans simple and flexible, and everyone will be happier.

And if your children are really enjoying an activity, before it’s time to leave, make sure you give them a countdown notice: “10 minutes, five minutes, it’s time to go.” This preparation technique works well for having to finish or depart lots of activities.

Leave some time for exercise for everyone. Children need time to expend energy, and it’s good for everyone. Just as it is important to have some time for children to run around, it’s also important to spend some quiet times together with each child when the vacation destination is reached, the website www.travellingwithchildren.com recommends.

“Musts” to bring along

Of course, there are certain items that “must” be brought along while traveling, to make it smoother for everyone.

• Hand sanitizers that don’t require water, and/or baby wipes are a must for cleaning sticky, dirty hands, especially when you can’t find a restroom or while in the car, plane, etc. Baby wipes also work great for getting stains out of clothing (I discovered that tip on a trip, myself).

• The website www.alltravel.tips.com/children recommends having current pictures of your children in your purse or billfold in case you get separated and you need help in finding your children. That’s a great tip! (While at Camp Snoopy at the Mall of America, a little girl that was riding behind my daughter on the merry-go-round got lost after getting off the ride, and her parents could not find her. They had a current picture of her and showed it to various people and security personnel, and within a short time, the girl was found near another ride).

• It is also important to talk with your children about what to do if they get separated from you or get lost. The website also recommends writing down the name, address, and telephone number of the place you are staying on a piece of paper, and “I’m lost, please call my parents,” or something of that nature, and have your child carry it in his/her pocket. Talk with them about someone that may be appropriate to show it to.

• Snacks, beverages, and a garbage bag are also “musts” for traveling farther distances.

• This may not be a “must,” but it is a fun item to purchase and bring along for each child so he/she can capture his own vacation memories. Buy inexpensive cameras for each child to allow them to take pictures of vacation scenery, etc. Children love taking pictures!

Next week, I will include more family vacation tips and “must haves” to tote along to make traveling smoother and more enjoyable for everyone! If we remember that family vacations are for our children, too, it will make the traveling and the vacation more relaxing for everyone.

Happy vacationing!