I stepped onto the plane with my three little children in tow ages two through six. They each had their little backpacks filled with carefully curated items to keep them busy and quiet for the three-hour flight. They knew the routine. We picked a row where they could all sit together with me directly across the aisle from them. They didn’t like having to sit next to a stranger by themselves, so I always opted to take the adjacent end aisle seat to supervise them when we traveled without my husband.
The row directly in front of them had a man already seated in the window seat. He discreetly stood half hunched over to move a few rows back. By then, the plane was filling quickly and by the time we all got settled, I noticed another family with little children had sat right behind him.
The flight was uneventful and by the time we deplaned, the man caught up to us as we made our way to baggage claim. He casually quipped how he would have been better off staying in his original seat. He actually apologized to me as he knew I noticed his change in seat selection. I smiled because I knew why. Most people assume that children will be loud and unruly while traveling. He complimented me on my children’s character during the flight and wanted to know my secret to keep them so well behaved.
I won’t forget that exchange. My kids had plenty of practice in doctor office waiting rooms to sit still and be quiet that I think to make the transition to traveling, has been somewhat seamless. We have practiced and figured out what has worked for us and what doesn’t.
I’ll start with a little caveat here though. What worked for our older four, has not worked as well for our youngest. He’s still a great traveler, but we more likely resemble the parent running through the airport with a toddler in tow via a football hold with limbs flailing. True story. He’s learning, but it’s more of a wildcard when we travel with him. It keeps things interesting!
Even though we have taken many trips with our kids at all stages of parenting, we have never taken a vacation with just our immediate family. Most of our traveling the last 20 years has been to visit family or attend weddings or funerals all over the country. Last month, we took our first official vacation traveling with our children without extended family. (although, we were missing our adult son.)
Let’s face it. Traveling with children, no matter the age can be stressful. To focus on our family and alleviate stress, we’ve kept things simple over the years. After traveling with children for over two decades both via air and car, there are plenty of tricks we’ve learned to make it easier. Here are just a few.
- Pack light. For this trip, we didn’t have access to laundry facilities, but we still managed to pack 3, 30 lb suitcases total for all 6 of us and a small carryon each. We were able to rent a smaller car because of our light packing.
- Bring a refillable water bottle. To save on expenses, we each carry a water bottle that can be refilled.
- Pack snacks. Whether it’s for the car or the plane, lots of snacks help keep little ones (and not so little ones) happy. We usually allow them to pick out some items we normally wouldn’t buy at home.
- Keep some surprises. It was fun to see the excitement on their faces as we surprised them with some of their bucket list items as we traveled.
- Allow plenty of time. There are bound to be delays, disappointments, and disasters. If there is enough downtime and margin planned into the trip, it makes it less stressful all the way around.
- Special travel pack for younger children. I typically have special toys and activities I pack specifically for travel for our children under the age of 8. It’s new and exciting and will usually keep their attention for the car or plane ride. Once we’re home, it gets packed away until the next trip. I then adjust the pack as they get older. (all of this fits in a small backpack the child carries – from age 2+)
- Pray. In our travels, when the unexpected is bound to happen, we always put God first. We pray for safety, health, and relationships strengthened.
What travel tips do you have? Share them in the comments!