My Tips for Traveling with Kids

Almost a year ago, I discussed a few brief tips on traveling with children during a Noggin Notes podcast episode. Since then, my oldest child has aged (he’s now four) and the youngest is now toddling on his own far too much for my liking, so I figured an update was due.

About a month ago, my family and I journeyed to South Dakota where my wife’s parents live, and we went through Omaha, where her brother’s family lives. The drive from Omaha to Aberdeen is a comfortable six hours via Toyota Sienna, and the reason we do that is because flying from Reno into any nearby airport other than Omaha (e.g., Sioux Falls, Minneapolis-St. Paul, or Aberdeen itself) ranges anywhere from 60 to 300 percent more. So we drive. Plus we get to visit family along the way and the kids all get to spend time with one another in the minivan.

The Layover

If you are new to traveling with small children, two big planning concerns are a) how much time will be spent in the aircraft, and b) how much time you have between connecting flights. Nobody wants a mile-high blowout – and sometimes they simply cannot be avoided – but we want to make all available attempts at avoidance. Multiple shorter flights and longer layovers may be a business traveler’s bane, but for parents they are a necessity.

Being cramped into a narrow (and sometimes family-separated) seating arrangement begs for relief upon arrival at the next airport. The last thing you want is a 20-minute window to change diapers, shovel food into the stomach, burn off energy, and still make the family boarding call for the connecting flight. While it may result in some spousal eye rolling at the day-long travel commitment by adding in a couple hours’ worth of layover, it will be worth it.

Managing Stress

The next pro tip comes from the angle of dad-as-a-therapist and it pertains to emotional management.

Because my wife will likely read this and because I want to be as authentic as possible: yes, I also lose control of my own emotions. That is because I am #human.

That being said, however, parents need to understand their own emotional functioning if they want to moderate that of their children. Put another way (and because I am a fan of metaphors), you have to know how you tick if you’re going to fix someone else’s clock.

Validating a child’s emotional state is critically important to managing the stress that they you will experience during travel. To learn more about validation, you can read an earlier post in a series on distress tolerance. For now, suffice to say that simply being present for your child while he or she is struggling will usually calm them down. Don’t try to pull them out of it – I repeat: don’t try to pull them out of it – instead just acknowledge what’s going on and say things like, “I get that you’re upset. It’s okay, I’m here and I’m not going away.”

Key, of course, is to believe your own words, so don’t roll your eyes when you say it.

Spend Extra Time

Finally, if you plan to travel with children, align your expectations with reality. Allow more time than you think is necessary for food stops, pee breaks, and just extra sightseeing of things you may not think are interesting. I find fish fascinating, but if we go to the Omaha zoo, my kids would rather stare at giraffes all day. I have to build that kind of thing into my schedule because children don’t know what they like until they see it and we have to remember that they’re walking the earth for the first time. So give ’em a break and make the trip about them, not you.

All in all, a relaxed attitude and adhering less rigidly to the itinerary will beget a more enjoyable experience, whether you’re traveling for pleasure or for necessity.

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