August is when many families pack up and head off – whether it’s a planned trip far away or just a day at the beach, pool or water park – anything to keep kids and tempers cool.
As a single mom who has traveled solo across multiple continents with two kids since they were babies, I’ve learned a few things about traveling with kids that also keep me sane. Here are my basic and very realistic rules:
Rule #1: STICK TOGETHER!!! We have one rule that supersedes all others – stick together! Back it up with ‘if you can’t see me, I can’t see you’. This applies to museums, airports, parks, shopping centers and always, always around water. For infants/toddlers in the water this means staying within arm’s reach. As they get older, within 10 feet in a pool but closer if open or unfamiliar water. If your child is a competent swimmer (I define this by ability to do full laps in deep water using a proper stroke) AND is in familiar water, you can lengthen the distance – but always within eye-sight and a distance you can easily navigate. And always swim near a lifeguard when possible. Once they are old enough to let them out of sight occasionally, have regular check-ins – and not minutes, use ‘every two songs’ or ‘every two times down the water slide’. Oh yes, I’m mean, they don’t check in, we leave. Period.
Rule #2: Set expectations. Be brutally honest when you get ‘how much longer?’ The correct answer is ‘the whole day, as long as you are awake’ or ‘six episodes of Scooby-Doo’ or ‘the length of time it takes to get to Grandma’s house’. Don’t be afraid to say ‘longer than you can imagine, so don’t bother asking again.’
Rule #3: Toys. Forget that bag of perfectly entertaining toys that you so carefully chose to enrich their formative minds that you will bring out every half hour to divert them while you all bond happily. Let them choose one toy at the airport or before you leave on your car trip, make sure they know that batteries aren’t allowed to be used in the car/plane, and don’t cringe when they choose something vile, cheap and not even remotely educational. The fact that they chose the toy will mean it will probably occupy them the entire trip. Trust me – I saw a remote control plane and battery-operated kitten occupy my then 2 and 4 year-olds for an entire 9-hour flight – with the batteries removed.
Rule #4: Pack snacks. When it was just me I’d have my bottles of water and mist-bottle to stay hydrated and fresh, an assortment of reading material, make-up to freshen up and heavens knows what other ‘essentials’ in my carry-on bag. Now I have snacks. Pre-packaged is best. Annie’s Fruity Bunnies, Twisted Fruit, and Z-bars are firm favorites. And this would be a good time to go natural, they are hyper enough with the travel, ditch the chemicals. Plus the fruit/fiber helps in other areas. In terms of quantity, a good rule of thumb is ‘one snack every hour of travel’, and at least that for drinking juice or water. Follow this up with forcing everyone to use every clean public bathroom whenever you find one, whether they need it or not.
Rule #5: Have a ‘travel bag’ for each kid. MIne started with a small duffel bag I could carry and graduated to Land’s End rolling backpacks. Make them personal and special – our bags are only for travel. Let them pack what animals/toys they think they need (not what you think they should take) and remind them to leave room for souvenirs. If they can’t carry it, they can’t take it – whether we are traveling across town or across countries.
Rule #6: Whatever it takes. I’m a stickler for good manners in public places, but I also know I ask a lot of my kids with the traveling we do, so leave some rules at home. Electronic devices are my BFF on long trips. We have a tradition now that on one night we order room service. It’s not a luxury, it’s a sanity-saver. The kids revel in sitting on the floor eating nuggets and fries watching a movie. I have adult food, a glass of wine, and a good book. And we all RELAX!
Rule #7: RELAX! The stories that get re-told until they become family lore are frequently the ‘do you remember when….’, when things didn’t go exactly as planned, and especially when you messed up big time – those times will be the highlight of their childhood memories.
Travel is an education and an adventure in and of itself, so chill out and pack your bags!