Dashing through the airport, with a few small children in tow. O’er the security line of passengers, onto grandmother’s house we go. Laughing turns to crying, as our children scream. Traveling with little ones is really not as nice as it may seem.
Stuck in traffic or on the airport runway, kids clinging to us like hot pieces of coal, or yelling from the backseat that they want out of the carseats — and now! Did someone turn up the heat or is the stress of managing holiday travel with kids causing excessive sweating? It’s at that moment, you realize those candy cane dreams of matching fair isle sweaters and hot chocolate in heirloom teacups is maybe not worth the amount of cheese puffs your child just squeezed onto the floor of your car.
I’ve been there. Living seven and a half hours away from our immediate family made holiday travel a necessity if we wanted to celebrate with our loved ones. From winter weather advisories to car troubles and lots of traffic jams in between, we quickly learned the rules of traveling with kids — including how to keep them occupied when you really just need to focus on the final destination.
Prepare like Santa is watching
Young kids and toddlers are the most challenging group to travel with during the holidays. It’s difficult for them to understand why they have to be seated in a car or on a plane for long periods of time. This is where preparation comes into play. With routines changing, it’s a good idea to talk about the upcoming trip with your kids, possibly creating a calendar countdown or discussing the expectations that are going to happen in the coming weeks. Answering questions like what’s on the agenda, who we’ll visit, and what we’ll eat are all ways to ease travel trepidations and build excitement. As much as we feel overwhelmed preparing for our trips, kids also feel over-stimulated by both travel and being around extended family.
Pro tip: Try making a checklist of everything you need to pack ahead of time to relieve some stress. Also, forwarding packages — whether they’re Christmas presents or baby food and diapers — to your final destination is a space saver. Allow your kids to pack their own travel backpacks with their favorite items: blankets, stuffed animals, and books. This helps them prepare for the trip, while also including the much needed travel companions.
Snacks, snacks, and more snacks
Food is the ultimate distraction when it comes to traveling. Growing up, snacks in the car were only allowed on our special road trips. Pre-packaged snacks are perfect for trips as they’re easy to hand back when driving or bring in a carry-on when flying. Packing these items are key to keeping hunger tantrums at bay and also serve as a fun treat when the car comes to a halt with holiday traffic.
Pro Tip: Find snacks that feel out of the ordinary to bring some excitement to the trip. Individually packed rice krispie treats or gummy packs will keep kids munching, while pre-packed crackers or pretzels will keep their tummies fuller on longer stretches. Keep kids entertained with their snacks by packing them in a clean and empty bead container. Placing small snacks like M&M’s, mini chocolate chips, popcorn, etc. in each small divider will make for a fun distraction while snacking.
Bringing small arts and craft items for your trip is the best way to lessen the amount of times you hear, “are we there yet?” Stock up on plain notebooks, crayons, stickers, and coloring books at places like the Dollar Store. Throw these items in a backpack or carry-on for a quick form of entertainment when there is traffic or flight delays.
Pro Tip: Things like Wikki Sticks, play dough, and window cling stickers are easy to transport and can be used creatively without making too much a mess. If crafts are a no-go in the car, try packing small bags of legos, and ask your kids to participate in a “create challenge,” where they spend 30 minutes building their own creation. Or, print or make your own BINGO boards — everytime the kids find something on their board, they can mark it down and hope for a prize at the end. (Fingers crossed that their window-watching will inspire a nap as well.)
Surprise Balls may be a last resort on the plane or in the car, but they sure are fun and fairly easy to make. Created from crepe paper, the idea is to hide little treats inside the crepe paper, and as kids unroll the surprise ball, they find trinkets in each layer.
Pro tip: You can purchase Surprise Balls from places like Etsy or the party planning store Meri Meri, but these items are just as easy to make. Find small pieces of candy or plastic figurines to place under the layers of crepe paper — these items don’t have to be expensive to be fun, Dollar Store trinkets work! If you are traveling for Christmas, consider adding some holiday-esque treats into the wrapped ball. Or, place strips of paper under the crepe listing the special outings that will occur on your vacation!
Tech the halls
Screens aren’t necessary per say, but tech devices on long road trips or plane rides are truly the gift that keeps on giving. Depending on your level of comfort when it comes to screens, bringing an iPad or Kindle on a trip is definitely helpful when travel is expected to continue for hours on end.
Pro Tip: Preload the apps or shows you want your kids to watch before your trip. Finding movies that inspire the season or apps that add some educational component will keep both you and your kids happy. Make sure you download Netflix shows or movies before your trip, since the internet is never guaranteed. Also, by downloading a screen time app, you can set limits on the amount of time your child plays, keeping overstimulated tantrums at bay for the duration of your travels.
With a bit of planning and some parenting magic, traveling during the holidays doesn’t have to be stressful. Even though it’s the destination, and the family and friends that await you, that matters most, preparing kids for the traffic jams, detours, and airport delays will help you smooth out the bumps along the way.