10 Tips for Traveling With kids

Traveling with kids isn't always easy or fun.

  •  But we spent four days in the car driving to & from Tennessee in less than a week.   
  • We have taken more than 10 different 3 hour long plane with our kids (during which they all have ranged in age from infant in arms to 10 years old).  
  • We have driven a little under three days to and from North Carolina with three kids in car seats.  

I can't claim we know it all when it comes to travelling with kids but I have found that being prepared and having a plan goes a long way in making a trip run smoothly.  

In all of our many, many family vacations we've never had any major problems.  Sure there was the trip the 9 month old cried 50% of the plane ride because he refused to nap even though we specifically picked a nap time to travel during. There was the time we lost a full container of wipes by leaving it behind in a public restroom (and never realized it until it was time for the next dirty diaper change).    

Mostly though we have had some great travels and I'm sure while part of that was luck I do have, what I think, are some fool proof ideas for traveling with kids:

1. Electronics--  Pretty much anything goes on the road and for my kids the biggest distraction is electronics.

When we traveled with toddlers and preschoolers I relied solely on our portable DVD player (that I picked up for $50 at Target; 6+ years later it's still going strong).  We had one that attached to the back of the car or could be taken out of the holder and laid flat on a plane tray.  It has both speakers and headphones.  

As the kids got older and their electronics more varied they also brought their Nintendo DS's, portable DVD player, MP3 players, Kindles, a laptop (for a second movie screen), or even played with apps on both my phone and my husbands phone.  They all have their own headphones and I'd say it was totally silent for at least 50% of the trip down to Tennessee last year!

2. Snacks-- We spend one day picking out snacks to bring. When they were little I'd pack their favorite snacks and a few new ones to try as novelty treats.  Now that they're older they can pick them out themselves.  My only rule (if we're traveling in my car) is that it can not be chocolate or anything else that would "melt" in the car.  

I do allow them to buy food that I would not normally buy them.  We often pack things like pop tarts, Oreo cookies, Twizzlers, peanut butter cracker sandwiches, Pringles, and fruit roll- ups.  We manage to go as far as 4 hours at a time between stops.  It makes for a huge time saver! 

I also pack a box of ziploc sandwich bags in the food bag to help divvy up the snacks and keep the mess in the car to a minimum.

3. Audiobooks (if traveling by car) or Downloadable books (our library has many available through Overdrive to download onto MPs players and like devices)-- my kids LOVE them and since they have to be fairly quite to hear what is going on I find this is best to pull out toward the afternoon when they're getting restless in the car.

4. Bag of toys-- I have each boy pack a backpack or bag with all their favorite things to do (when they were younger I'd pack toys for them and usually threw in a few new/novelty toys that I thought would hold their attention).  

The boys are old enough now where I can tell them they're responsible to pack anything they might like do or must have with them on a trip.  They usually pack their favorite blankets, stuffed animals, coloring books or dot to dots with colored pencils or markers (no crayons since they tend to melt if we're going in the car), and small handheld toys like action figures or trucks.  It's where my boys put their DS, Kindle, DVD's etc. too so that everything they'd like to do for the day is right at their fingertips. 
5. Travel time-- we usually decide to wake the boys early and head out first thing in the morning  hoping to avoid a lot of traffic and get a head start on our day.  We know they can sleep in the car if they need or want to.  

We picked a less traveled route in the hopes of minimizing traffic; something I often attribute more to luck than anything else.  But I think it all comes down to knowing yourself, your kids, and your family.  We have family that swears by leaving at bedtime and driving through the night; my husband and I would fall asleep but I know that works for many people. 

We also try to travel the most distance our first day driving and make it a shorter day of travel the second day when the novelty of a car trip is wearing thin.  

6. Comfy travel clothes-- Our boys are allowed to stay in their pajamas if we are driving or else we have them get dressed in comfy clothes.  Sure we get some looks as we get out of the car at our various stops for bathrooms and food but so what.  If that's all it takes to have happy, cooperative, quiet boys I can deal with looks.

7. Car games/ Airplane games-- we play a few games (though not many-- the boys were content to play with their electronics most of the time). 

Now that the boys are older we'll handed each of them a blank U S map and they can color in the states as we passed through them; marking our route, or else they can color in the states of all the license plates we see on other cars around us.  

We play I spy (a great game even for preschoolers), Hangman, Bingo, etc.  Often if you Google car games or airplane games you'll find a lot of easy ideas.

8. Know your limits-- and know your kids' limits too.  When the boys were younger and we traveled we made frequent stops so they could stretch their legs and run around.  I used to keep small balls and frizbees in the car to have something to chase around and get all their energy out at pit stops along the way.  It's not ideal but little kids can stretch their legs walking up and down airplane aisles if it's really necessary.  

No one can sit forever. Anytime we stop for anything-- gas, food, bathroom, etc. we make everyone get out and walk around a bit. 

As soon as we stop for the day and check in at a hotel we usually have the boys change and we hit the hotel pool for an hour or so or else we walk around and tour the hotel. If we're flying we'll take our time walking to baggage claim and try to find empty stairs or hallways where they can skip or jump.  

I try my best to exhaust them and help them expel their energy.  

I challenge them to race one another from one end of the pool to the other on top of the water, underwater, using the back stroke, etc.  They had us time them doing various tricks and things and tried to beat their best times.  We'll take the stairs, and make a scavenger hunt out of finding where the ice machine is, where the breakfast room is, where the washer and dryer are... anything our hotel might have listed as an "extra."  

9. Redbox!-- This works best for car trips but can work with plane rides too as long as you have transportation when you land.  Now that my boys are older and they don't always enjoy watching and re-watching all the same movies over and over and over again we stop all along our route and find redbox movies to rent.  

They're cheap at only $1 or so a rental and we can rent one or two movies for each portion of the journey.  It's easy to find locations for dropping off and it's much cheaper than buying new movies to bring with you on a trip. 

10. Earplanes!!!-- I have one boy who is super sensitive to the change in cabin pressure on planes and often screamed at take off and landing but we found children's earplanes (special ear plugs meant for air plane travel) and it has made such a difference; it does complicate using head phones but for peace on take off and landing I think a small portable device with the volume turned low is probably less annoying.

What are your tried and true tricks??

Linking with:  Because I'm Cheap


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  1. Great tips! We are definitely on board with getting up super early and hitting the road. My kids love packing their own backpack for the trip and my only rule is they must be able to carry their own. Thanks so much for linking up with us at Spiel the Beans today!!

    Shelly||The Queen in Between

    1. Yes, they must be able to carry their own bag. My boys each have their own rolling suitcase that they are responsible for too.

  2. We are big fans of electronics and snacks for travel with kids! It works great to pack each of them a lunchbox with their own snacks. This helps so I'm not always answer cries for one more thing!

    1. That is a great idea; though I do have a few that would eat all their snacks at once or right before we went to stop for lunch so I kind of like the control of keeping all the food near me. Plus I refuse to pass any snacks back until I get the garbage from the first snack so it cuts down on the mess in the car too.

  3. These are amazing tips! All the electronics rules fly out of the window! And that ball or frisbee tip is genius!

    1. Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed them. Though I'm thinking I may need a part two since I thought of a few more tips... I am such a planner!

  4. Knowing your limit is key! And everyone else's too! We have a strict "set low expectations" rule. Any audio books you'd recommend for young kids? We haven't tried them yet but we are road trippers and this may be a great addition to our travel! Thanks for linking up!

    1. When my boys were pre-k - 1st grade we often listened to picture books on CD. Of course we needed a lot more of them to fill a car ride! Some of our favorites were Bark George, the Pigeon books by Mo Willems, Rikki Tikki Tavy, and Do Unto Otters. But I found pretty early on they could handle short chapter books like Magic Treehouse or the Boxcar Children. They really enjoyed listening to shel silverstein poems in audiobook format as they were often put to music.

  5. Things have come a long way over the years! Parents have it made today with all the electronic resources and phones, videos, ipads, etc. When I was a child, we played games like: counting red cars or counting cows on the side of the road. lol. Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful post at Together on Tuesdays :)

    1. They sure have! I can remember car rides as a kid (we drove everywhere for vacation; not matter how far) an all the games we used to play. Even then we relied a lot on switching seats at all the stops, bringing coloring books and activity pads, and playing a lot of card games with my siblings in the back seats.

  6. Great tips! I have always hated packing & travelling & it's even more stressful with kids! Always have loads of snacks and are going to increasingly need the activities as they get older, I think! #twinklytuesday

    1. I love packing and travelling and thankfully find that as they get older there is much less stuff for me to worry about packing. They are largely responsible for themselves.

  7. We don't have RedBox in the UK, but it sounds very interesting though. Thank you again for joining us on #FabFridayPost 😊 x

    1. That's too bad; we love our Redbox kiosks! For just over one dollar we can rent movies for the night and there are boxes everywhere so we can rent in one place and return in another.

  8. Snacks are always a good thing! I always had snacks in my purse when my kids were younger!

    1. I find most kids are happy as long as they have snacks.

  9. We don't do too many really long journeys but we love audio books. It's really lovely when we can all enjoy a tale. Thanks for linking up with us at #FabFridayPost

    1. We love audiobooks even for just driving around locally. They are lots of fun and it has allowed us to listen to so many more books.

  10. Great tips! I also swear on electronics, I bought them cheap second hand WII games, a cheap no name MP3 player, they can have their tablets... Need to buy extra ear plugs though! :) #FabFridayPost

  11. Thanks so much for stopping by and for your kind words!!!


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