How to Survive Travelling with Tots over the Holidays

With half term breaks, U.S. Thanksgiving and the winter holidays just around the corner, travelling with tots is a reality many parents face. But how survive, let alone enjoy lengthy travel is a bit of an art form. We’re heading into the year’s busiest travel season with line ups, delays and inclement weather.

Fret not, friends! Family travel doesn’t have to be a painful experience. Here are some tried and true ways to make your holiday travel as pleasant as possible.

airplane, runway

5 Tips for Travel by Plane

  1. Check-in online. If you haven’t paid for seats all together, you’ll want to check in as soon as you can (usually 24-hours before your flight). Besides getting seats together, you’ll save major time at the airport if you check-in prior.
  2. Pack strategically. Divvy up your belongings between all your suitcases, so in case one goes missing you’ll have a clean pair of undies.
  3. Maximize your carry on. You never know how long you’ll be stuck on board so best make like a Girl Guide and be prepared. Bring more snacks than you think you’ll need, an empty water bottle (so you can fill it up after going through security), your own headset and of course, an iPad should the in-flight entertainment break down. Tote a travel size pack of wet wipes, so you can disinfect surfaces, deal with spills and clean sticky fingers when a sink is too far away. Occupy kids with cards, colouring pages, sticker books and magnets. And be sure to bring a spare set of clothes for the little ones (and maybe for you, too) should they be prone to spills.
  4. Don’t dope. I’m not a proponent of drugging kids with cough medicine in the hopes they’ll sleep through the flight. That’s dumb ass. But if you have a child with the sniffles, you’ll want to minimize their discomfort, especially with the change in cabin pressure. Pack familiar medicine, gum and hard candies to encourage their ears to pop.
  5. Get situated. Before sitting down on any flight I take everything out of the seat pocket and stash it in the overhead bin, so I’ve got more room. Once little ones are belted in, I whip off their shoes. That way if they happen to kick the seat in front of them, it’ll have less of an impact. And before using the tray as a work surface, I disinfect it with a wet wipe.

food on a plane

Road Trip Rules

Travelling by vehicle can be a cheaper, more convenient way to get to your destination, but being confined in a tight space with the same group of people can also make you go mental. Make it less taxing by sorting out a game plan before getting in the car.

blurry headlights

Take a look at the map together as a family and decide where your stops will be. Some families believe stopping is for gas and green spaces to stretch your legs. Others like to suss out quirky roadside diners. What ever you decide, it’s a good idea to make a rule that whenever you stop, everybody tries to go the bathroom, whether they feel like it or not. Unless you want to listen to the Frozen soundtrack repeatedly, decide who gets to play DJ.

How to survive the actual drive time?

  • Buy, download or borrow (from the library) some audio books. Try to pick something everyone will enjoy listening to.
  • Pack a cooler filled with healthy foods, drinks and a few treats. Long strands of licorice never fails to please the troops.
  • Surprise kids with goody bags. Pick up magazines, sudoku puzzles, bingo sheets and Dollar Store items and dole them out one by one. Wipe off activity cards are the bomb and you won’t lose crayons if kids use rimmed cookies sheets as lap trays.
  • Save electronics for later. It’s easy to hand over the iPad the minute you get in the car, but it’s better to save devices for the last few hours, when nobody’s fresh anymore. Doing so also reduces your risk of running out of battery. 
  • Research for fun games you can play in the car. I’ve got a ton of them in this winter driving post.

When You Get There

Break out the champagne, you’ve arrived! Not so fast. You need to set expectations accordingly to minimize disappointment. If you’re staying with friends or relatives, let them know your needs. Do you require a separate bedroom for each child? Must bedtimes be strictly observed? Is it OK if you (or your kids) help themselves to whatever is in the fridge, whenever? What happens if your kids misbehave?

hot mom playing with kids

If you’re at a hotel, can the TV be turned on anytime? Will you jump into the hotel pool as soon as you’ve checked in? Is room service an option? What should kids do to occupy themselves if they wake up and everyone else is sleeping? Believe it or not, kids are comforted by boundaries. Discussing how you’re going to eat, sleep and behave during your trip gives them a sense of control in an unfamiliar environment.

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romantic appetizers
A roaring fire, a little cheese, a lot of wine, who knows what might happen?

Wherever you travel, try to schedule in some downtime. Older kids need a break from their parents and siblings, parents need a break from the kids (and each other) and the wee-ones need a break from all the new stimuli. Let your hosts know you’ll be carving out time each day to recharge. And if you can swing it, arrange for a babysitter so you and your partner can have a little adult fun.

Do you routinely travel with your kids over the holidays? How do you manage it?


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