This post is sponsored by Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company), and I have received financial compensation.
My kids (like the rest of us…) often forget how blessed we are to travel as much as we do. They’ve been on dozens of flights and spent countless nights in hotels; they’re really great little travelers, but we learned something early on that has always proven true: travel days can be exhausting. Thankfully, we’ve learned a number of things along the way – many of them the hard way – to keep kids happy even through disrupted schedules and long days of planes, trains, and automobiles.
How to Keep Kids Happy on Long Travel Days
Give yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going.
When my husband and I traveled before we had children, we’d pretty much time our airport arrival to park the car, get through security, and walk up to the plane about five minutes before it was time for our boarding group. When we took road trips, we knew we could knock a chunk of time off of what Google (or, you know, our printed Mapquest directions) told us the trip would take.
Everything changes when you have kids, doesn’t it?
Now it takes us a little bit longer to get through the airport, no matter how well we all know the routine. A 10-hour road trip takes at least 11, and that’s if we drive mostly at night. Potty breaks, car sickness, squabbles, and other “emergencies” seem to happen exponentially more frequently as you add children to your family.
The good news is, even the smallest things along the journey can be fun for kids. They’ll almost always be able to find something to look at or do if you end up at your gate a little earlier than you may have liked.
Keep toys set aside for travel only.
Whether you gather up new toys for the kids to open during a long drive or have a special stash that only comes out on a plane, we’ve found that the simplest things can keep them occupied for much longer on the road or in the air than they do when there’s a lot more to choose from at home.
We have an entire tote of items that truly only come out when we’re traveling. Some of our favorites include these crayons that don’t roll of airplane trays quite as easily, Wikki Sticks, and Invisible Ink books.
If you have younger kids, the “special toys” come even more easily. I used to pack a zipper pouch full of small, cheap spools of ribbons, stickers, post-it notes, and other similar items. They’d keep my toddlers busy for hours! If your kids are little bigger, it helps to have them carry their own small backpacks full of toys and activities. It’s much less disruptive to help them pull something out of their bag versus talk (and pass items back and forth) across and aisle or from seat to seat in the car.
Tip: If giving each kid their own bag isn’t easier, consider taking pictures of the fun things (or snacks) that you have in your bag. They can flip through the photos and pick something out much easier than trying to describe – and hope they remember – their options.
Pack snacks and light jackets in your carryon.
Even if a flight provides food and beverage service, it almost never seems to happen as soon as my kids would like. It’s hard enough sometimes to keep kids happy when they feel stuck on a plane or in a car – especially if they had to wake up early or aren’t eating on a regular schedule. Meeting basic needs quickly, including hunger, thirst, and warmth will go a long way.
Tip: You’re probably aware that you can’t take liquids through security (except medications and infant formula or milk). If you don’t want to buy drinks for everyone closer to the gate, be sure to pack empty water bottles or sippy cups. Taking drinks not only alleviates thirst, but can help with ear popping on takeoff and landings.
Keep kid-friendly medications on hand.
You’re going to pay a premium for any over-the-counter medication or toiletry you have to purchase at an airport newsstand or gas station… but at least just about everything you might need is readily available. It can be much harder to find children’s medication and dosing tools when traveling. You may also want to consider travel insurance, if it will give you the peace of mind to travel knowing you’re not taking a huge financial risk if something comes up when you’re away from home.
Don’t hesitate to bring a stroller, carseat, or other baby gear if it will make your trip smoother.
This tip is going to be perhaps the most kid- and family-dependent item on the list. We travelled with my twins’ stroller until there were about four-years-old, depending on the destination, but by the time my son was two it was often easier to carry him in a backpack. Many families buy seats on planes for their infants even before the required age (usually 2-years-old), in order to put them in a carseat. We held ours until they needed their own seat, then utilized these harness restraints for a little while after.
Whatever you decide, just make sure you actually take a minute to decide. Rather than just assume you’d prefer to hold your 18-month-old for a long flight versus pay for a seat, or that you’ll just a rent a carseat when you land rather than lug your own along, look into your options and decide what will actually make your trip easier.
Keep in mind that even as airlines charge more and more for (decreased) luggage allowances, almost all baby gear is excluded from said allowances. We’ve always checked carseats, strollers, etc without any trouble (except for the occasional, “Oops! we sent it with the luggage versus gate checking it.” kind of stuff).
Travel as lightly as possible.
I know, I just listed half a dozen things to bring in your carryon luggage alone; I’m just asking you to pack smart.
When I was in junior high and high school, I was definitely the girl with at least two too many suitcases on every youth group or class trip. I brought basically every shirt and pair of shorts that I owned (as long as I didn’t totally hate them), because I didn’t know what I may want to wear. It was a nightmare… and yet it’s what I see parents do even more often.
You should absolutely bring an extra pair of clothes for your kiddos, especially if they spill or have potty accidents. You should not bring every outfit they own; I assure you that if push comes to shove, you’ll be able to wash their clothing if you truly run out. Bring some diapers, but unless you’er going to some remote location in Africa you’re better off buying almost all of those kind of things at your destination.
This is definitely more a tip to keep parents happy, but if you’re like our family good (and bad) moods spread. My husband usually drops the kids and I off for quite some time to get luggage checked while he parks the car. Instead of having to guard a mountain of luggage while wrangling the kids, I have found it so much more enjoyable to throw a bag on my back or maybe pull one suitcase behind me, as we find a place to sit down and grab a bite to eat or play a game while we wait.
Download a movie or other entertainment while you have a good internet connection.
If you’re used to streaming all forms of entertainment every day, like we are, it’s easy to forget that there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself in the air or on a back road somewhere with no access to the show or story you counted on having to entertain the family. Thankfully my kids never cared to watch the same movie over and over – the one we ever managed to download in time – but it definitely went better when they had a few to choose from.
Lest you end up with a chorus of “I’m bored”s, don’t forget to brush up on some fun family games for the road!
Have the kids keep a Travel Journal.
Some of the best reasons to travel, in my opinion, are making family memories and learning new things first hand. As soon as your kids can write – or honestly, as soon as they can scribble a little and dictate what they “drew” – encourage them to do so during your trips. It’s incredibly fun to see what stood out to them, and even more enjoyable to look back on at a later date.
Stick with your home routines when possible.
We have found that as our kids get older this isn’t as important, and I know some families that think it’s crazy at any age. But for my money, it’s worth it to keep everyone’s sanity by staying close to a familiar schedule. Even if this means we only catch a nighttime event once or twice during a week long trip, the trip as a whole is much more meaningful than it is when we keep everyone late, skip naps run them ragged, eat dinner too late, and rush them out of bed the next morning to do it all again. That’s a recipe for disaster – especially with little kiddos – and the cause of the infamous line, “I need a vacation from my vacation.”
Similar steps can be taken when planning travel days. If your kids will sleep in the car, drive at night so as to minimize interruptions. If they won’t, then plan to arrive somewhere where they can sleep at nighttime. Red-eye flights can be tempting, but if you’re going to add a super late bedtime to jet lag, you might reconsider.
Not only can kids’ legs get tired more quickly than ours, but they want to see the playgrounds you walk by and play in the fountains. It’s tempting to try and cram in all the sights and tourist destinations – especially when your vacation is costly. We have learned though, that trips and subsequent memories are so much better when the kids lead a little.
On a recent road trip, we saw a sign for the “World’s Largest Rocking Chair”, so naturally we decided it was a good place to stop for gas. It turns out, the same small town also had the world’s largest knitting needle, wind chime, and golf tee, too. It’s a stop we’d have never planned, but one we won’t soon forget!
…but don’t lose sight of some semblance of a plan.
My kids know who is in charge of a trip’s itinerary, and the next steps all along the way. They have learned to trust that maybe we pass a ride or choose not to get a certain restaurant for the time being, because it’s better to do so later.
We leave plenty of room for spontaneity, but always at least have a general idea of what we’d like to accomplish in a day. If you don’t have a sort of skeleton plan, you’re more likely to find yourself on a subway with no snack or no idea where to find a bathroom when you need one.
Share YOUR tips – and win money for your next trip (or whatever else you’d like to spend it on)!
Allianz has partnered with TravelingMom to share the internet’s best travel hacks, tips, and tricks. We’re giving away two $250 gift cards on Instagram this month!
To enter, follow @travelingmom on Instagram and share your favorite photos and travel tips with the hashtag #TMOMAllianz. The sweeps runs from July 5th-14th, and you can enter every day with a new tip! Prizes will be awarded by TMOM and Allianz. You can also follow us here, for more of our favorite tips and trips!