To some traveling with kids seems like torture, and, sure, we admit, it can be a challenge. But we have found traveling as a family, with our small children, to be very rewarding. In no way do we claim to have this down perfectly (tears are just a part of the journey, and sometimes that includes us parents! 🙂 ). But here are 7 tips that can help any family more fully enjoy traveling kids:
1. Take lots of snacks.
We let each child pick a snack for the journey. This supplements nicely the many healthy snacks that include carrots, apples, string cheese, and guacamole and whole-wheat chips. When traveling by car we always keep a cooler up front and stock it with plenty of ice.
In addition to packing snacks, we also make sure to stop by a Costco or Trader Joes whereever we go. We always find popular restaurants in the area, but have found great success when we stock up on extra bottles of water and snacks that we know our kids will eat from Costco. This helps us travel on a budget too.
Packing for a family of five often feels like we are packing everything we own, especially on our recent two-week, east-coast extravaganza. For the kids, we put each of their outfits in a Ziploc bag, that way we don’t have to scour the suitcases looking for their stuff. We also make sure to pack various clothes so we can layer if there’s inclement weather. Even going to San Diego we found it a tad chilly in the mornings, so having sweatshirts and light jackets was a good idea.
3. Wisely use technology
We are all for technologies–iPads, iPhones, Kindles, Nooks, Nintendo 3DS,–but within reason. While it’s very easy to hand a child and iPad, which will occupy their mind and keep them quiet for hours on end, we don’t want them to miss out on the traveling experience, the sites and scenery. With that said their and our sanity is important, so periods of down time where they can keep distracted is o.k., but we try to set limits.
We definitely see a difference in our kids behavior when they use electronics for long periods of time. So, we typically will allow them to play, watch, or use their device for a set period of time–usually 30 minutes to an hour and then we take a break. We have two types of games on our devices: 1) educational, and 2) entertainment. When we allow them to play we typically have them play 30 minutes of entertainment, take a break for an hour or so, and then 30 minutes of educational games. We’ve compiled a list of our kids’ favorite tried and true apps here.
We also recommend DVD players which helps distract the kids for 1 1/2 to 2 hours depending on the movie. I always wonder how we traveled as kids without the technology? And somehow we managed!
Don’t forget the headphones.
4. Games and mind-stimulating activities.
One of the reasons we enjoy traveling with our kids is it gets out of the norm and our day-to-day routines. Depending where we are, we prefer the kids to take in the sites and the moments. For example, in D.C. there are so many interesting and unique buildings, monuments, people, etc. that we would encourage them to keep their eyes open and look for cool things that we are driving past. With that said, when you drive across states like Wyoming or Kansas, you’ll definitely want a distraction, otherwise you’ll start hearing “Are we there yet?” sooner than you prefer.
Before a trip we also visit Target’s dollar aisle or the Dollar Store and pick out a coloring book, stickers, or another activity, and then save them for the trip. This gives the kids something to look forward to.
5. Learn before you go.
We always look for opportunities on these vacations to expand our kids’ minds. The library is a great source of information. Prior to our trip to San Diego and SeaWorld, we checked out books on sharks, whales, and other sea animals. That way when we were seeing and interacting with the animals, they had a much better understanding, especially for our older kids. Prior to our trip to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Boston we watched Liberty Kids, read Rush Revere, and other books and videos on American history. Even prior to our trip, we were stunned when our mall featured the Lego creations of Old North Bridge, U.S. Capital, among other historic sites, and our 10-year-old knew exactly what the buildings were as well as what happened in each.
While on the trip we quiz each other on state capitals, U.S. Presidents, and other history facts and dates. I still remember when I was a young kid being quizzed on state capitals by my dad. Good memories.
6. Learn when you return and solidify memories and events.
We take a lot of pictures. Correction, I (Jeff) take a lot of pictures. One of the reasons, I do is to help my kids remember the experiences they’ve had. When we return, we always create a home movie of pictures and videos and the kids will sit and watch (and hopefully retain) what they learned. Returning from our East Coast trip, the kids were impressed, and thrilled, when they were in school and the subject of George Washington came up. Our kindergartner even raced home one day and declared, “Mom, we talked about George Washington and I knew all about him!”
When we first took our kids to Disneyland they were at very young ages–6, 3, and 1. We are huge believers in taking your kids to Disneyland at any (and every) age. We knew that they would have a hard time remembering much, especially the younger two. By creating a movie-slideshow with all the pictures, the kids have “remembered” their first trip to that magical place. And they still watch that DVD often to this day, and beg to go back. And honestly, when we watch it with them, we are in total agreement and we look forward to returning in the not-too-distant future.
7. Recognize the need for breaks.
While driving I always like to keep the car on cruise control on our way to our destination. Even a 10-minute break stops the progress, but I’ve learned that a quick little pit stop gives us a chance to use the restroom and stretch our legs which makes the rest of the trip more bearable.
Those are our tips, but we’d love to hear YOUR secrets. How have YOU successfully traveled with kids?