The practical mom’s guide to traveling with children.
My sister and I take a 2 weeks with our 4 kids (sometimes more) each summer to travel someplace new. Each year we both get reactions from people who are shocked or surprised that we are “so brave” to travel so much. I don’t quite understand what’s so brave about it. It’s not scary. It’s not hard. For those that are intimidated by the idea here are some tips we’ve learned along the way.
There is nothing wrong with just hanging out by the pool all day and letting the kids swim. I spent an entire spring break in a local hotel with a pool. It was 10 miles from my house but the kids loved it. We ate pizza, swam and watched cable television. We can get so wrapped up in itineraries and places to see that we forget to just enjoy the time together. Expensive and expansive is not the point.
Letting them play is essential for them having a good experience. We went camping and hiking in Arches National Park one summer. While we were there for a couple days we came back to the very first arch and let them climb around and play until they got hungry. They nicknamed it jungle gym arch. They had so much fun and the kids ask to go back.
Let them plan a day. Ask them what they want to do. Go through options of places to visit and let them decide on where to go and what to eat. Letting each kid make a decision empowers them and makes them curious and more open to what the others want. They also learn patience. I choose a couple places, my sister chooses a couple places and each kid gets a couple. Then we plan the logistics around the geography and locations of them.
Use public transportation. First, it’s a great skill to learn. Teach them how to read a subway map and how to buy the fare tickets. This gives them some confidence which is important when one of the kids has anxiety, like mine. We would go over the map and they would have to tell me where we were going and how many stops until we arrived at our destination. It also helps them see people they might not otherwise see. Don’t be afraid of letting them ask people questions because isn’t that the entire point of traveling?
Plan times throughout your day where the kids can have some time to blow off some steam. Let them run around crazy at the park your passing on the way to the next place. Or, as pictured above, stop when you see a cool spot at a river and toss them in.
Pack a first aid kit with a couple doses of every medicine you have in your cabinet at home. I have one kid with crazy allergies and another who has the most sensitive stomach on the planet along with mild asthma. Pack the anti-diarrhea, pepto, allergy meds, Benadryl, Ibuprofen, and Lactaid, etc. You can always buy more if needed but when you are stuck someplace for a while you’ll want to treat the ailment ASAP. Don’t forget band-aids.
Challenge them to look around. They carry mobile phones and love to take pictures. Encourage them to find stuff, make it a scavenger hunt. Play the alphabet game or something.
We pack clear Gatorade and water in the vehicle. CLEAR! We always have a stash to make simple sandwiches, granola bars and a couple pieces of fruit. There was this time I had stopped and allowed the kids to get whatever candy they wanted. They chose some blood red gooey stuff. While I’m traveling down the highway I notice stuff floating around me. I look back and the kids have accidentally torn a hole in my feather pillow. It looked like there had been a cock fight in my car with feathers sticking to blood red goo all over them and my car. Don’t do that one. Censor the snacks and treats.
Decide on what type of souvenirs they want beforehand. I decided I wanted magnets from places we visited. My oldest wanted to buy hats and caps while the other one wanted toys. This helps keep them away from the candy and crap and helps prevent you from going broke hitting every single gift shop in site. Give them some spending money. Let them be in charge of it.
Don’t eat at any restaurants you already know. My kids are not adventurous eaters but during the day, we explore and if they refuse to eat anything “weird” then they can have granola when we get back to the hotel room or they can help cook dinner at the campsite. I’m not going to bend over backwards trying to find the nearest Subway because one kid doesn’t like the bread at the other one.
Give them some responsibilities and chores. Have them take turns cleaning up the camp site or hotel room. Remind them about checking to make sure they have all their belongings. It helps them feel in control of their environment. But always bring the extra chargers and cords because one of them will lose theirs.
Take a break. Let them have a lazy morning or a lazy evening where all they do is play videos games on their phone. It’s okay. It’s vacation. Have a drink and read a book. We spent several days in Yellowstone with no service whatsoever. So we were all excited to have internet, data, and cell service again. When we got out of the dead zone my phone started going crazy with update notifications. We spent the next day “recovering” from our hikes and treks. Go ahead and schedule those days into your itinerary if you need to.
Have realistic expectations. The kids are going to drive you crazy and they are going to drive each other crazy. Don't force smiles in photos and you don’t have to do everything together. You can split up and go in different directions. That’s just fine. They will have something to talk about over dinner and so will you.
There’s no rush. Slow down. If you can take turns with another adult take long sections of the drive at night. Put the kids in jammies with blankets and pillows and make the long haul while they sleep. This works because even if you are driving through the dessert and the car breaks down, the kids won’t roast in the heat while you wait for assistance. Although if they are old enough it could be a great chance to teach them how to change a tire. They’ll be driving age eventually. Include them into the conversation when the age is right.
Which brings me to the next tip. If you rent a car, familiarize yourself with it well before leaving. Know where the jack and spare tire is. If this isn’t something you think you’ll do, then check your car insurance or with the rental company for roadside assistance. We had 2 hours on the side of the road in the panhandle of Texas one morning. Thankfully, it was nice outside. We had to unpack the back of the SUV to get to the stuff we needed. We hadn’t considered needed the jack and spare when we were loading. We got it taken care of and we had several offers of assistance,despite the crazy hour. And 2 of the kids slept through the whole thing.