Last May, I was scheduled to attend a work conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. My husband and I decided he and our then 1½-year-old daughter would join me a few days for a mini vacation.
The hotel room was already covered, so we only needed to book air travel and arrange ground transportation. That’s where we ran into a problem—traveling with a toddler, we had to find a safe way to get her from McCarran International Airport to the hotel.
I asked friends who had relatives living nearby if they had a car seat and would pick us up. We looked into taxis, shared rides (with a car seat), public transportation, or even making the two-mile trek on foot—in the hot southern Nevada desert we’d surely get plenty of sun (even with sunscreen) and could probably even skip our vitamin D supplement for the day.
Deep down. I knew the easiest and safest option—although the most expensive—would be to bring her own car seat and rent a car. So that’s what we decided to do.
We had a plan. We were prepared. Then, a few days before the trip, my daughter got sick. She caught a nasty bug—and gave it to me.
Thankfully, I recovered fairly quickly, but we thought it was best if I go on the trip solo. My daughter wasn’t completely over the sickness, and the last thing I wanted was for her to throw up on plane. She, and we, would be absolutely miserable—and humiliated.
And I would know.
My mom worked for a large airline. One of the perks was we were able to fly as standby passengers for free, as long as there were open seats. When I was 10 years old, my dad, sister, and I were flying home from a trip to Pennsylvania. The flight was pretty full, and we were assigned seats away from each other.
It was dark out, and about 30 minutes from landing at the Salt Lake City International Airport, I felt my dinner making its way back up. Unable to get out of my seat fast enough, I blew chunks all over the bag and shoes of the man sitting next to me. They called my dad over the intercom, and he switched seats with the other passenger while we cleaned everything up.
In my defense, there was no barf bag in my seatback pocket. And now I always look for one before every flight.
This horrifying experience has stuck with me. I would never want to put my daughter in a similar position. Yet, I understand, now more than ever, that kids are absolutely unpredictable, especially when they’re away from a familiar environment.
Still, families frequently travel. Taking a trip with your kids can introduce them to new places and cultures, give them a short reprieve from their current day-to-day schedule, and help them do better in school if you throw in some educational destinations.
Here are a few tips to make traveling with kids just a little bit easier.
Make a Plan—and a Backup Plan
OK, that may be overdoing it a bit, but you really should have some kind of plan—at least the basics: where to stay, how you’ll get there, and what activities you’d like to do.
Whether you’re looking at a destination vacation or planning a quiet visit with family, find ways to occupy your time in advance. While it’s sometimes fun to just explore, knowing what attractions to hit (amusement parks, museums, or tourist spots) before you head out can save a ton of time, and even money. Look to see if discounted pricing is available for specific days of the week, or search for special incentives online.
Always consider the time of day you plan to travel. When is the best time for your plane to take off (perhaps during a typical naptime for younger kids), or to head out in the car? What do you need to pack? Where do you plan to stop for meals (and those much needed bathroom breaks)? The more planning you do ahead of time, the more time you’ll have to enjoy the scenery—instead of being tied to your phone, plotting your next stop.
Take it Easy
If traveling with a baby feels nerve-wracking, seeing family is the perfect inaugural trip to take—especially if they can ease the packing load by having items on hand.
The first trip we took with my daughter she was six months old. We flew to Portland, Oregon to visit my sister and her family. Since my sister has a daughter the same age as mine, all of the typical baby stuff—crib, extra diapers and clothes, and feeding supplies—was already there and available for us to use. It made the whole trip so much easier.
A weekend trip to see grandparents or cousins is another great way for parents to ease into traveling. Or try an overnight camping trip close to home, so you can take off should the adventure prove too much for your kiddos.
Give Yourself Extra Time—and Patience
Children take forever to get ready, and their unpredictability doesn’t help. If your kids tend to drag their feet, allow extra time no matter if you’re traveling by plane or car. You’ll also want to muster as much patience as possible and know they’ll go at their own pace.
Explain the Journey
If your kids are old enough to understand their surroundings, talk through the trip, where you’re going, what’s expected of them, and have them ask questions. Look at photos of the plane, airport, destination, or attractions you’ll be seeing to get them excited and help them prepare mentally.
Go with the Flow
You may have to throw your plan out the window and see where your travels take you. Just know that your usually easy-going child may pick the most inopportune time to have a full-on meltdown. Remember, all parents have probably dealt with a similar incident. Plus, you can laugh about it when they’re an adult.
Vacations are supposed to be fun—enjoy yourself! Kids can sense their parents’ emotions, so if you’re having a good time, chances are they will, too.
About the Writer
Missy Bird once reviewed movies for a living, but traded it in for corporate life in internal communications. She’s married to a current film critic, the human mom to a strong-willed and precocious little girl, and a dog mom to two adorable mini Dachshunds.