Whether you’re planning a day trip or a longer summer vacation, if you’re the parent of a young child, you already know that traveling with children can often be challenging. The two most important pieces of advice are to be prepared, and to be flexible.
If you’re traveling by plane with a child three years old or younger, bring along her car seat. It’s familiar since she’s used to riding in it, and you won’t have to worry about her squirming out of a conventional seat belt.
If you’re traveling with an infant, carry a fully stocked diaper bag with 50% more diapers than you think you need, extra formula, baby food and snacks and at least one (but ideally two) full changes of clothing. If your child uses a pacifier, be sure to travel with at least one extra one, in case one gets lost or rolls under the seat.
Let older children each pack a backpack or tote bag full of toys, books and crafts to play with en route.
Additionally, you should pack a bag with small treats and surprises to use when the going gets rough. Some ideas: removable stickers are great on the windows (it’s like a giant Colorforms board); new boxes of crayons are always a hit; books on tape, available at your local library, are a good source of entertainment. When my kids were little, we had “purple car totes”, plastic boxes with handles that we stocked with pads, crayons, markers, plastic figures, and a small snack. Because they were used only for long rides, their novelty did not wear off, and the kids were always excited to see what new surprises had been added to the box.
Other must-haves for traveling: plenty of wet wipes, lots of tissues, Purell, and a stash of juice boxes and portable snacks for when the “I’m hungry’s” hit.
To keep items your child’s things organized in the car, consider either an over the seat storage bag or use a seat belt to secure an open plastic bin next to the child to keep books and toys close at hand. Extra supplies can be kept in a plastic tote in the trunk.
One family I know uses car time to assemble their family albums. The kids take turns selecting photos and attaching them.
Increase your repertoire of car games. While classics like “I pack my trunk” are always fun, consider various storytelling games that get the whole family involved. One such game is to take turns coming up with two characters that the next person has to use in a story. Another story game is to have one person begin telling a story and after a few sentences the next person continues the narrative, and so on. The stories are usually pretty funny and can go on for quite a while. There are many books on travel games available at your local bookstore or library.
Before you leave, buy a lined notebook for each child and let him make a travel journal. Pre-writers can dictate their entries to you. Let your child buy a postcard at each site or city and paste it into his journal. This is a wonderful way to keep your trip alive long after you’ve returned.
Remember, when the children are happy, everyone is happy! Have a wonderful trip!