Traveling with Children: How to Make it Fun
For many parents, traveling with children is difficult, especially if they are flying as part of their trip. Some parents choose to leave their children with another family member so they can go on vacation. This is certainly a valid option for some trips, but there are many benefits to taking your child with you on vacation. Not only is it a good bonding experience for your family, but traveling with your children, especially younger ones, has been shown to positively impact their intelligence. I know from my own personal experience, that flight time often offers up a time to communicate in an unhurried way. My phone is switched off, work gets put on hold, and my son gets my undivided attention for the duration of the flight. Our flight time becomes quality family time.
While there are many good reasons to travel with your kids, it is important you prepare in advance to ensure both your travel and vacation are a fun and positive experience for your family.
Bring Activities for the Plane
The hardest part about traveling with your child is keeping him, or her entertained on the plane. Nobody wants to be the parent responsible for a loud and restless child. Even if you are going on a relatively short flight, you must bring something to keep your child entertained. Keep in mind you want activities not only for the flight itself but also for the time you’ll spend in the airport. When you are traveling with children, you typically want to arrive early at the airport. Factor in wait and boarding time, and you may end up in the airport for an extra hour or two on top of however long your flight is. It is easy for children to get bored during this wait time, which can make them even more irritable once the flight begins. Other children may find the process stressful, so having activities helps to distract them. When my children were younger one tried and true activity that kept them distracted from the boredom of standing in queues at the airport was a good old-fashioned game of I Spy. And I always had a deck of cards in my purse for a few rounds of Snap or Go-Fish while we were sitting at the departure gate.
You want to bring an activity to occupy your child without disturbing any passengers nearby. Fortunately, this is much easier thanks to the number of electronic toys available. Consider bringing an iPod, Kindle, handheld videogame console, or a portable DVD player. Make sure to bring headphones so your child does not bother other passengers. Also, make sure the devices have enough battery life remaining before you board the plane. My youngest son and I enjoy trivia games. There are many free age-appropriate apps available to download, and it’s an activity both you and your child can play together.
Not all children want to play with electronic toys. Non-electronic options are just as viable as electronic devices. Coloring books are an excellent way of keeping artistic children occupied during a flight. Puzzle books and sticker books are also great options. Some children are comforted by having their favorite stuffed animal accompany them on the flight as well. Older children can also bring a book to help pass the time. The key to bringing a non-electronic toy is simplicity. You do not want to pack anything that is too large or overly complex.
Activities Are Not Limited to the Plane
For many parents, the biggest challenge of vacationing with a child comes in the evening. Adults have a much easier time decompressing in a hotel. Children are usually much more energetic, especially if it is their first time traveling. While it is good they are so excited about the trip, it can be stressful when you are all cooped up together and trying to rest. Even if you are lucky enough to have a child who is completely fine on flights, or you avoid flights altogether on your trip, make sure to pack a few activities to keep your child entertained during the slower moments of your trip. An interesting book you can read together is perfect for winding down the energy level.
Do Not Forget Snacks
Another useful tip both for traveling and your actual vacation is to bring snacks. Many children can go from being perfectly well behaved into having a temper tantrum if they are hungry. I’m not immune to becoming a little tetchy myself when I’m hungry! While you are traveling you may be able to stop by a restaurant or a store to get something to eat, but this is not always an option and can sometimes bleed into your vacation spending funds. Instead, carry small snacks with you. Crackers, fruit, and granola bars are all excellent options. If you are going on a longer trip, consider bringing a water bottle or juice box as well. Make sure you pack moist towelettes or compact hand-towels for cleanup.
Keep an Eye for Family or Children Days
A big concern for parents is finding vacation activities good for both adults and children. When you are planning your trip, try to prioritize locations that have family or children days. This is a great choice if you are planning a museum trip. Many children have a hard time in a traditional museum. Lots of museums counter this by having special exhibits specifically for children. These exhibits often feature hands-on activities to keep even the most energetic children entertained. These locations often have discounts available as well, usually in the form of reduced prices, but sometimes children even get in for free.
Factor in the Wait Times
One of the quintessential family vacation destinations are theme parks. There is no shortage of rides and games to keep your child entertained, but depending on when you are traveling, these activities may also have long wait times. For some children, this is not an issue. Others have a harder time waiting in line, especially if they are excited about going on their favorite ride. Some parks have special passes available where you go in a VIP line with minimal wait times. However, these passes can be expensive. If you know your child has a hard time with long lines, try and schedule your vacation outside of the usual vacation seasons to reduce the number of visitors at the park.
Like the plane or hotel room, you may be able to keep your child entertained with another activity while you wait in line. However, this is usually harder since you do not want to carry a bunch of toys with you into a park, and a line is just not an appropriate spot for certain toys.
Flexibility is Key
It can be frustrating, but when you travel with children you do not want to stick to a rigid schedule. With younger children especially, it is important to have a flexible schedule. Your child may end up enjoying the first location you visit and get upset if you try and go anywhere else. The opposite can happen as well, where your child is unhappy with a destination and wants to go someplace else. Bad moods can carry over for the rest of the day and put a damper on any other activities you have planned. It is strongly encouraged to plan out multiple locations or activities for each day, but do not be afraid to speed through or even skip things outright to keep everyone happy. Include your child in selecting the activities. Whenever possible, I offer my son a variety of options and find, more often than not, that he is more inclined to enjoy those excursions that he participated in choosing.
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