Traveling with Kids: Five Ways to Avoid a Travel Meltdown

A little rest on the trip helps everybody. Genna Grace liked her naps on the beach during our summer vacation.

I’m often asked by other parents, who are fraught with dread over traveling with their children, to give them some tips for a successful family vacation experience beyond how to get the best airfares and the best hotels for families. They want to know how to make sure things go smoothly during their trips.

We’ve all heard the stories and probably could tell a few ourselves of a time when a child, perhaps our own, was temporarily possessed by some demonic force and screamed their way through a dinner, or worse a flight with 300 passengers held captive on a plane for four hours. The whole family can avoid those times with a little preparation and practice before leaving on a family trip.

As I recently shared with in the article 11 Ways to Ruin a Summer Vacation, I’ll share with you now Five Ways to Avoid A Travel Melt-Down.

1. Make sure your child is well rested BEFORE you travel. This may seem counter-intuitive but the excitement and newness of a trip whether by road or by air will not induce sleep but prevent it. I like to travel first thing in the morning after a good night’s sleep or after an afternoon nap.  Children who are overtired are also often impossible to reason with or console. I once took my 18-month old son on a business trip with me and because of scheduling he missed his nap. What ensued ranks #1 on my list of worst travel experiences ever. He couldn’t sit still, he screamed, he was SO tired and I was to blame. My normally easy to manage son was unrecognizable and there was very little that I could do (and I was trying everything). I take full responsibility for his behavior that day and still feel so badly that I put him in that position. He finally fell asleep under my feet on the floor of the airplane and the flight attendant let me leave him there. Yes it happened but it will not happen again.

2. Involve the whole family in the trip planning. I’m sure you have heard me say it before but getting the whole family involved in planning vacation activities can definitely reduce conflict later. Once you have chosen the vacation destination, build some excitement and anticipation by learning about the trip together. Check out books at the library and search online for great activities for all ages. By allowing each member of the family (no matter how young) to choose something for you all to do, even as simple as selecting a restaurant for dinner, you give each person an equal stake in the trip’s success. It’s a great way to turn that apathetic teenager into a somewhat eager participant and to help a younger traveler understand that everyone is going to have a great time

I try to give them choices when choosing fun activities so they feel like they've helped in the planning too.

I try to give them choices when choosing fun activities so they feel like they've helped in the planning too.

3. Plan for no plans. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you can’t see it all in one either. Trust me! I know how fantastic it is to be on vacation, but take time for some rest and relaxation. Allow some downtime for the baby to rest at the hotel where it is cool and quiet. Babies absorb everything around them including new sights and sounds. Help keep the baby happy by not overdoing it. Even if you are the type to go, go, go, you never know when you’ll want to spend some additional time in a museum, taking in local entertainment, or simply hanging at the hotel’s pool. Even older children need their rest. The trip will go more smoothly by giving everyone a chance to relax and rebuild energy.

4. Embrace tween independence: Tweens enjoy vacations that allow them some independence in the midst of the family vacation. Whether it’s a ski vacation and they are allowed to meet up with their parents at the end of a run, or on a cruise where they can have “tween time” in the kids program. Being a tween is all about being “capable” so finding activities and opportunities for them to do this will help your trip to be more enjoyable. Vacations are a great way to give tweens a taste of autonomy in a fairly controlled environment.

5. Keep the kids busy. This is not to contradict #3 but when you are on a trip, in particular around other travelers such as on an airplane, make sure that you have plenty of what you need in your carry-on: diapers, wipes (which are great for a multitude of things), medications, change of clothes, lots of snacks, and a few secret activity/coloring books. Often times it is the boredom that begets bad behavior so keep little ones busy and keep everyone happy.

Traveling with kids can be so easy and enjoyable. Just like anything else, a little preparation goes a long way to staying calm and having a good time. After all, travel is a gift we should all experience. Providing opportunities for our children to experience other places, people and cultures will not only help broaden their horizons but give them perspective as they develop into the remarkable young people we hope that they will become.

Planning an upcoming family trip? Tell me about it and let me know your best family travel tip!



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