Chevy Chase wasn’t the first parent to find out that taking a vacation didn’t guarantee perfection. Spring Break, summer adventures, weekend getaways, or holiday pilgrimages are supposed to be times of laughter, relaxation, and exploration, yes. But we all know that when your travel crew involves little ones, life can never be as predictable as an episode of “The Bachelor: Women Tell All.”
For the traveling family, each age has its own challenges, but you can amp up the enjoyment and dial down the frustration by strategizing about how to go on the road while accomplishing your goals: Getting away, spending time together, and seeing the world. And for more amazing travel advice, check out these 20 Ways to Make Travel Less Stressful.
Don’t Leave Home Without
Wipes, baggies, rubber bands, a roll of electrical tape, #allofthechargers. And you should definitely bone up on the 30 Airport Secrets Only Insiders Know.
Free Your Digits
Moments of peak frustration happen when your responsibilities out-number your hands. Delegate as much as you can away from your toddler-wrangling fingers: use ear buds for your phone, a backpack for your carry-on, your brain for remembering the gate, boarding time, and seat assignments. Also, don’t forget the 10 Travel Essentials Worth an Extra Bag.
Power Ranking: Know the 5 Best Ways to Occupy Your Kids in the Car
5. Favorite movie on loop
4. Snacks on loop
3. Drive at night
1. Free their data!
Power Rankings: The 5 Worst Ways to Occupy Your Kids in the Car
4. Expecting them to appreciate your rendition of “Margaritaville”
3. The license plate game
2.Unlimited questions from you
1. Unlimited liquids for them
Simple > Grand
One time, after a multi-day trip to Disney World, my wife and I asked our boys what their favorite part of the trip was. Their answer: The big escalator in the hotel. Kids don’t need elaborate and expensive entertainment to have fun, and you don’t need to feel pressure to make every hour a gargantuan experience. They can be happy with hotel pools and subway rides. And for more travel must-haves, check out the 9 Best Compact Cameras for Trips.
Find the Teaching Moments
Travel is the perfect time to teach how and when to not talk to strangers—and how and when you should.
Child Truth 1
Excursions that involve looking at/touching/swimming with animals are better than excursions that involve monuments. And consider avoiding the 15 Most Haunted Places in America altogether.
Child Truth 2
The triumvirate of tantrum-triggers—hunger, fatigue, boredom—are formidable foes. Your vacation success hinges on your ability to outsmart them before they attack.
Child Truth 3
They’ll remember—this one time—you let them jump on the bed.*
* Be the spotter
Make Them Assistants, Not Always Tagalongs
At their core, children are mini-Sherlocks. They want to have some kind of quest, which means you can make every outing one. “Help me find” 3rd Street, or Gate B9, or a pizza place” will go a long way in keeping their minds going while you are. And if you’re looking for some amazing travel #inspo, here are the 10 Most Stunning American Resorts Under $150-a-Night.
See the Light
In her blog Suitcases and Sippy Cups, Jessica Bowers, writes that one of the best come-in-handy items that can turn into a toy is a mini-flashlight. For hotel rooms, you can use it to play “I Spy” or make shadow animals.
Rules for Souvenirs for the Kids
1.Give them a budget for the trip so they can make choices about what’s really important.
2. Make at least one of souvenir something small that they can collect everywhere you go (keychains, postcards). Even if they go in a box after every trip, it’ll be one place (other than Instagram) where they can rewind their life a bit as they get older.
3. Maybe read this if your tween wants a shot glass.
Wait Just a Minute
A long line shouldn’t always be a deterrent to not do something, as long as you’re not spending more time waiting than doing. Studies show that children who are more patient have better outcomes as adults. And if you need to relax during your trip, check out The Best Way to Do Yoga on an Airplane.
Less is More
Instead of filling the day with everything you can do, pick one big thing you all want to do. Then down-shift. Misery quickly comes when you treat your vacation schedule like a work one. And for more amazing parenting advice, here are the 40 Parenting Hacks for Raising an Amazing Kid.
Do Not Bring
Their favorite blanket or stuffed animal. It. Will. Get. Lost.
Do Not Let Them Touch
All the elevator buttons.
Treat Them Like a Piece of Luggage
If you have small kids and will be in crowded areas, attach your cell number to them: A tag on their wrist, or even with a marker on their arm.
Nobody will judge you if you want to make sure you, too, have a “sippy cup” on hand with “mommy’s juice” or “daddy’s milk.”
Include Them in On the Prep
As you’re gathering up everything you need to bring, take some time and let them choose a few things they “need,” too. It could be stuff from the dollar store, new socks, really anything that helps them share in the build-up of the excitement trip.
If You’re an A+ Organizer (or Know You Should Be)
Packing cubes are worth it.
Plan a Variety Show
A high-quality itinerary should be like a high-quality playlist: You don’t want to hear the same song over and over, and maybe you don’t want to do the same kind of thing over and over. Depending on where you’re going, you’ll keep your kids (and yourself) most engaged by mixing it up between nature, attractions, structured events, unstructured ones, walking, taking buses, go time, down time.
Patrol the Legs
Most of your fellow passengers will tolerate and sympathize about a crying baby. They will not do the same about a tyke who kicks the seat.
Jason Greene, founder of One Good Dad, encourages his kids to order food in the native language when they travel internationally. It’s an opportunity, he says, to teach them how to think independently, how to navigate unfamiliar situations, and to try new things—all life skills that they’ll use in the future.
Chicken fingers in Spanish: Pollo empanizado y frito.
In the End, This Matters Most
The most comfortable place for their head is up against your shoulder. For more parenting tips, check out The 30 Funniest Pieces of Celebrity Parenting Advice.
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