Travelling with kids can be daunting. Kids ask repeatedly if you’re there yet. There can be tears, whining and fighting. Quickly, the start of your vacation can go from exciting to painful. Here are effective strategies for peacefully travelling with kids perfect for flight or road trips.
My heart was in my throat but I did my best to fake a smile. My aunt, uncle and husband were chatting pleasantly. Meanwhile, I was ridden with fear.
Sensing my worry, my aunt rubbed my arm. “You’ll do well, honey. Don’t you worry.”
I was in line to check our baggage for our first flight with a baby. Though I had travelled countless times before having a child, the prospect of being the person with the crying baby on the plane made me feel physically ill.
I did my best to deep breathe and use self-talk: “Inhale: let, exhale: go. It’s going to be okay. I’m going to be okay.”
We would be in the plane for five hours. If my fourth-month-old started screaming, I didn’t know what I would do. I didn’t want the plane ride to be miserable for everyone on the plane.
Related reading: 15 tips for flying with infants and toddlers
Travelling with kids – the good, the bad, the ugly.
Thankfully, that first trip went off without a hitch. My daughter didn’t sleep, but she also didn’t cry. So I chalked that one up as a win.
Since then, I have travelled with my kids a lot. In fact, I’ve travelled solo with them more times than I can count. We’ve gone on long road trips, airplane rides, and on the ferry (of the three the ferry is by far the easiest).
But not all of my trips have gone as well as the first.
My first time flying with two kids, my 18-month-old screamed more or less the whole time. She arched her back, pressing her head into my chest in the hopes that I would let her walk up and down the aisle.
When we moved across the country, I hoped my kids would sleep on the plane. They did, but every time my two-year-old son tried to stretch out, he would cry uncontrollably. Then he would settle, fall back asleep, try to stretch out, and scream crying again. The cycle continued for hours.
The man sitting beside us was furious.
On my trip last year, the baby knocked my coffee out of my hands and it landed all over me. Two hours later, as he slept, I tried to get some caffine into me again. Only a couple of sips in, my four-year-old came rushing back from the bathroom and knocked my coffee onto my laptop frying my computer.
I spent the whole trip praying that my work was salvageable.
Then, of course, we’ve had flights where my kids have whined, “Are we there yet?” on repeat.
The good news, amidst all this chaos, is that I’ve become a bit of a pro at travelling with kids.
Travelling with kids – Effective strategies to for a peaceful trip
Days ahead of time, start explaining what the duration of the trip will feel like in age-appropriate terms.
For instance, “When we go through the secuirty, we will find a play structure. You can play and climb until we have to go through our gate. Once we get into the plane, you’ll have to sit for a long time. You can get up to go to the bathroom but that’s it. Sometimes, it will feel too long and may be frustrating. When that happens, you can use your tablet to watch Pokemon.”
You can use a similar social story for road trips addressing the length of time, when you’ll stop for breaks and how the wait will feel.
Related reading: How Social Stories Will Help Your Child in the Heat of the Moment
If you’re flying, check out the airline’s policies.
If travelling with a stroller, you’ll want to make sure yours is approved to be brought to the gate. You will also want to find out the airline’s policy for travelling with kids – some require additional payment to get assigned seating with your child. Also you need to know if meals are being served, how payments are accepted for snacks and if there are video screens at your seat or not.
Involve your kids in packing goodies for the trip.
Before a flight or long road trip, we go to the dollar store or bookstore to purchase brand new activity books.
We love this activity package you can print off from Etsy. You can check out some other favourites of ours below.
Load up on foods your kids love that are also easy to eat. For instance, my kids love mini carrot sticks, individual hummus packages, Clif bars, and a candy or two.
Get devices ready.
Charge your tablet or phone’s battery, get over the ear headphones, and download your kids favourite shows and apps. If you’re travelling by plane, again, you’ll want to see if there will be tv screens on your flight or not.
When the going gets tough, you’ll want a device ready to buy you some peace and quiet.
Be uber organized.
Have a set place for all your travel documents. If you’re flying with kids, make sure all of your carry-ons are organized in a manner that you can almost blindly go through them.
This also helps you feel in control and calmer.
If you think your kids will sleep, have travel pillows and small blankets on hand.
Also, having hoodies dressing in layers helps if they get too hot or too cold.
Use a point system to positively reinforce good behaviour.
Research shows that rewards decrease intrinsic motivation. However, positive reinforcement is a strong motivator. And, when you’re trying to get from point A to point B as peacefully as possible, it works incredibly well. If the going gets tough or if you’re worried that your trip may go poorly, use a points system to incentivise good listening.
Here is what we do:
- I predetermine a set amount of points the kids can work towards and we establish a prize for the end of the trip. It’s usually ice cream.
- Asking for a point precludes them for getting a point.
- Each time they’re gone an extended period of time without arguing or complaining, a point is rewarded.
- Points cannot be taken away just take longer to get.
You can read more about this strategy here. We haven’t used this on flights, but on road trips, it has been my saving grace more than one.
Of all the strategies for travelling with kids, I have to say the most crucial are feeling organized yourself, explaining to the kids the trip will be long and your expectations of them, and staying calm and accepting what happens as it happens,