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Thanksgiving Travel: Tips for Traveling with Kids

Hopefully you can use some of the following tips to help create a stress-free situation when traveling with your children over Thanksgiving, whether you are traveling by plane or are driving.

If dogs can sense fear, you better believe your seven-year-old can. If you get stressed when you can't find your hotel, your kids will get stressed too. When you think of it as "exploring the neighborhood," everyone will feel better.

-Travelwithyourkids.com

The statement, “stress free traveling with kids,” may sound like an oxymoron but I am a firm believer that if you plan for the worst you will always be pleasantly surprised!

For several years, my husband, two kids and I have driven to Florida to spend Thanksgiving with his brother’s family.  It is the highlight of our year.  Surprisingly, the 27-hour road trip was a fun sort of adventure. 

My over planning has made for smooth travels thus far.  For example, the first year we decided to brave the open road with a 2 and 4-year-old, I had the whole ride mapped out and a trunk full of provisions. 

Our scheduled departure was 5 p.m. and I had made the kids chicken nuggets and french fries to eat on their car seat lap trays.  (By the way, the lap trays were one of the best purchases we ever made!)

The plan was for them to eat and watch a brand new movie until they fell asleep.  Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans…

The DVD player broke before we even left Massachusetts!

Before my husband and I both had full-blown panic attacks, I pulled out their Leapsters that they had just received soon before we left.  While, I am a strong proponent of “disconnecting” kids, there is no better time for using electronics than when traveling. 

In fact, for families like mine who limit the amount of screen time, electronics are a logical choice for traveling.  They are a novelty and the Novelty Factor is HUGE.  Another beautiful aspect is that, we as parents can allow all the screen time we want and still rein them in immediately after returning.  The trip establishes clear boundaries, avoiding the adoption of a “too much T.V. norm”.

Unfortunately, there is no electronic distraction to keep a kid from getting carsick, (though Snuggies’ do make good tarps, as we discovered on our last road trip). That is where the Iacobucci family’s new adventure began…air travel. 

While we have flown once before without major incident, I’m not willing to tempt the TSA gods with cockiness.  No, I will stick with my, “expect the worst, hope for the best” philosophy and over prepare.

I am hopeful that those of you traveling with little ones this Thanksgiving, find at least one of the following tips helpful.

***

Traveling by Car Tips:

Expect the Unexpected

* The DVD players will break, kids will get bored with the “cool toy” in 5 minutes, so pack extra activities, click here, here and here for ideas.

Necessities

* Baby Wipes (even if your kids are done with diapers)

* Hand Sanitizer (you’ll thank me for this one after you see some of the restrooms along the way)

* Lots of small bottles of water

Strategically load the car

* Snacks, medicines, etc. closest to the lift gate

* Use the back pockets of the seats for kids activities

* Be sure the spare tire is accessible (no one wants to unload the car on the highway. Changing a tire in an unknown locale is stressful enough!)

Consider buying/bringing

* Car Seat Tray Tables

* Portable DVD player

* Sea-Bands

* A nightlight for the hotel room

* A list of Dunkin’ Donut locations (there’s an app for that and you’ll be surprised how much you’ll miss a good cup of coffee!)

* Always have a plastic bag and change of clothes accessible (this is one tip not to take lightly, I can assure you).

Traveling by Car Don’ts:

* Do not expect your kids to keep their regular sleep patterns, especially at hotels.

* Do not expect the kids to behave—travel is exciting for all of us, and even more so for children.  They are on sensory overload and they will show it.  If you anticipate this everyone will be better off!

* Do not allow your kids to ride unbuckled; they will adjust to sleeping in the car.

* Do not bother getting shoulder strap pillows; neck travel pillows are best.

Air Travel Tips:

Carry-On Luggage

* Verify permitted items on the TSA website.

* Invest in quart size, zip-top clear bags for all carry on liquids (click here for more TSA specifications as well as the protocol for formula, breast milk and liquid medications).

* Pack only what you know you'll need in flight (toys, snacks, diapers)

* Pack what you cannot survive without at your destination (your child's inhaler, passport, money, etc.) in case your checked luggage is lost.

Airport Screening

* Wear flip-flops or step in shoes

* Remove young children from strollers in advance

* Take electronics out of their bags as soon as possible to expedite the screening process

On the Plane

* Bring gum to relieve ear pressure during take off and decent (pacifiers work well for babies and toddlers)

* When in doubt, break out the snacks.  Pack lots of snacks, snacks and more snacks.  Kids will love to munch, you’ll love the 5 seconds of quiet, and snacks also aid in reducing ear pressure.

* Always have a few extra activities up your sleeve; click here for ideas. 

Misc. Tips

* Walk the kids through the steps of air travel; kids always do better when they can anticipate what will happen next. 

* For preschoolers, you can create a quick visual checklist for them to check off as they go.

* If your child has the sniffles, be sure to give them a dose of decongestant about 15 minutes before take off—this will ensure their congestion does not become a factor.

* Be sure to make a “potty run” right before take-off!

Air Travel Don’ts:

* Don’t bother bringing questionable items since they will get tossed if TSA deems inappropriate. (For example, my daughter’s crochet hooks.  I don’t know what TSA would say but why chance it.)

* Don’t bring half full bottles that are bigger than 3.4 oz., regardless of them only containing that amount.  They will be thrown away.

* Don’t think that the kids will have the self-control to sit for the entire flight (even if it is just an hour).

* Don't expect your kids to keep their regular sleep patterns, especially at hotels.

* Don't expect the kids to behave, travel is exciting for all of us, and even more so for children.  They are on sensory overload and they will show it.  If you anticipate this everyone will be better off!

* Above all, don't expect other passengers to be sympathetic to your traveling with kids. Remember, that no matter how many sighs or scowls you receive, that you will never see these people again so let them be as impatient as they would like! 

***

No many how many meltdowns you endure or how many unexpected stops that are needed, I wish all of you SAFE travels and a Thanksgiving filled with great food and even better company!

Some additional resources:

***

cecelia December 05, 2011 at 09:15 PM
I have traveled with my 4 children in car, train, and plane. The plane rides were only one hour, but they never misbehaved or had melt downs or sleeping problems. I had a small overnight suitcase with toys they only used in the car or train. They were quiet and extremely well behaved. They hated the plane rides because they had to stay seated, they loved the car and the train rides.

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