Travel can be a lot of fun, but most parents dread and even avoid traveling with young children. They have to adhere to a sleep schedule that includes naps. The sheer volume of necessary stuff that comes along for the ride is overwhelming enough to plead that the grandparents to hop a plane instead. Exposure to new culture, music, food, and ways of living is part of the fun for many adults, but it can prove too much for many children.
Still, with a good deal of planning and thought you can travel with young children – here are some of the latest tips we found from traveling parents.
1. Know your child
Ultimately, no trip – even a short one to the grocery store – is going to be successfully if you don’t know the particulars about your child. Travel stretches a person’s comfort zones and if your child needs a strict bedtime in order not to have meltdowns, find ways to make that happen. Every child is different, so take note in the weeks and days prior to your trip so you can be prepared to help them adjust and enjoy the trip.
2. Loosen up on flights
Flying is hard on the human body – even adults struggle with the cramped conditions and fight the good fight against boredom. Treating flights as special time – especially long flights – and loosening some on the parenting reins is one way to get through with everyone’s sanity intact (other passengers included). Your normal routine has been left in the dust, so why fight it?
The myriad of kid-friendly movies and games on personal screens are a huge help. Airport playgrounds during layovers are a great way to burn off built-up energy. A bag packed with individual treats – especially since the airlines have gotten so greedy about them – doled out over time can help too. You can get back to a healthy eating schedule when you get on the ground.
3. Try to eat like a local
One of the hardest things about traveling with kids is striking just the right balance between what’s challenging and what’s comforting, what’s strange and what’s familiar. Unless you’ve got a kid with a food allergy, it’s a good idea to try to eat like a local. Not only will you save a lot of money (and room in your bag that would otherwise be stuffed with backup mac-and-cheese packets), you’ll expose your kid to trying new things with a good attitude – especially if they see you doing it too.
4. Update your travel medical kit
Your travel medical kit may have been ideal for when you were traveling pre-kids, but it definitely needs a shake-up now. You do not want to be without children’s medicines in a foreign country when your kid is running a fever in the dead of night.
Much like your adult travel medical kit, the kids’ version should include all the things your child might need if they get sick on a trip, including:
A good supply of any medicines your child takes on a regular basis.
Any medical equipment your child needs (even occasionally), like a nebulizer for a child with asthma.
A pain reliever and fever-fighting medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
An antihistamine for allergic reactions.
Some cough or cold medicine.
If your child needs any specific medicines or medical equipment, be sure you understand how to get those through security. A doctor’s note may be required for injection needles, etc.
5. Update your travel medical portfolio
This is even more important when traveling with a child. If you are in a car accident abroad and your kid is fine, but you are not, your child isn’t going to be able to speak up and get their health needs met. They also cannot speak for you, so a simple travel medical portfolio should do the ‘speaking’ for your family.
See these topics for more information:
- 4 Tips to Create a Simple, but effective, Travel Medical Portfolio
- Prepare for Travel Medical Emergencies with a Personal Travel Medical Portfolio
6. Something familiar goes a long way
If you’re traveling some distance away from home and everything looks, feels, smells, and sounds different, a little familiar can go a long way. Have your child’s favorite book, toy, or blanket along for comfort. If you regularly play music at home, take your soundtrack along on your MP3 player and some travel speakers. Look around and find things that are familiar and comforting to your child and be prepared to recreate that feeling on your trip.
In some cases you may find that eating like a local is just too much for your kid to handle. Having a little familiar food on hand can be a lifesaver.
7. Go easy on the schedule
When you traveled sans child, you may have been used to getting up early, eating quickly and packing in as many sites as possible. This is a recipe for disaster when traveling with a young child.
Kids need time to adjust to the new environment and they can’t process things as quickly as you can – they don’t have that level of experience yet. A packed schedule with little wiggle room is going to leave you and your kid too tired and cranky with each other to be any fun at all.
Try for one or two sites per day with a break in the middle and a good lunch and you’ll both be far happier in the end. You may not see as many things, but the ones you do you’ll see more completely.
8. Standards are not universal
In the U.S. we have strict rules about the width of balcony bars, safety regulations for cribs and play yards, exposed wires in hotel rooms, etc. Those standards are not universal, so it’s important to keep a close eye on the conditions of the hotel or other lodging, the tools you are using for your child, etc. If you have any doubt about a crib or other item provided for you by the hotel, ask for a different one or consider another option such as placing the mattress on the floor and surrounding it with cushions. Keep an eye on your child while swimming as pools and beaches may not be as safe or have lifeguards. Road travel can be very hazardous in some countries, so let your driver know you’re not in a hurry and that you reward safe driving – and buckle everyone in!
9. Know what travel insurance can do for you
Whether you’re traveling across country or around the world, taking a moment to think about your insurance needs is critical. The last thing any parent wants to think about is their child in need of help and no-one to be found.
Many travel insurance plans offer free coverage for kids traveling with their parents, and even traveling with their grandparents, so the cost of the plan is not a concern for parents.
Travel insurance plans include a few benefits that are helpful especially for parents, including:
Trip cancellation coverage for school year extensions
Emergency medical care for travel injuries and illnesses
Return of minor children if you are hospitalized
24/7 travel assistance services to help you with travel emergencies and finding local medical care
If you’re taking along your child’s friend with you on a trip, check out the 3 Risks of Taking Your Child’s Friend and plan accordingly.
Special tips for international travel with young children
If you’re traveling internationally with young children, there are a few extra things you need to know:
Check with your pediatrician to verify whether they need additional vaccines or if the schedule for certain vaccines should be speeded up. Outbreaks of measles, rubella, and polio reported by the CDC in several countries prompted traveling parents and their pediatricians to make some changes to protect kids heading abroad.
Get your passport early to save money. You can expedite the process to have it delivered more quickly, but it’s expensive and that cuts into your travel money.
If you’re not traveling with your child’s other parent, the government officials in other countries may require a notarized letter from the other parent saying it’s OK. Essentially, this is to cut down on parents kidnapping their children from other parents and setting up house in another country.
As a parent, a trip abroad is a good time to double-check your own vaccinations too. If you haven’t had a tetanus booster, or a flu shot, it’s a good idea to dose up before heading abroad. You’ll be encountering lots of people, cultures, and environments that are different from what you’re used to and it’s best for your body to be as prepared as it can be.