As promised, today’s blog is part two of our Traveling with Children series. Every time we go home to Kentucky, we have a two and a half hour flight. Then, because my parents live in a rural area, we all get to then pile into a car and drive for four more hours. You can imagine how fabulous this is after we’re all travel weary already. Ashley and Lisa also do a fair amount of car traveling with their little ones, too, so I think we’ve come up with a pretty good list of tips and tricks we use to keep our kids happy.
When we’re traveling, media time goes out the window. I know it might not be great, but my goal on travel days is just to keep everybody happy. Period. A real lifesaver for us on the airplane has been the iPad. You can’t connect to the internet while on the plane (unless your flight is equipped with WiFi), but for $15.00, we downloaded an entire season of Ian’s favorite show, Caillou, and every time we fly, he watches all ten episodes straight through and is entertained. There are also a lot of games that can be downloaded for kids of all ages. One of Ian’s favorites is Bugs and Buttons ($1.99 to download). It contains a lot of fun educational/developmental games for preschoolers and keeps Ian busy sorting buttons by size and color, working mazes, and picking out ABC’s. He also loves the interactive version of “The Monster at the End of This Book” and any of the games produced by Duck, Duck, Moose. When he was younger, around two years old, Pat the Bunny was a favorite for a while. These are all available for the iPad and the iPhone.
Another great item is the Leap Pad. These are aimed solely at kids ages 3-5 years. You can buy games, activities, and your child’s favorite shows for the Leap Pad. Ashley says Jude was entertained by the Leap Pad for a large part of their recent journey.
Once we are out of the plane and in the car, we have a DVD player for the car that we take with us. If you are renting a vehicle, some mini vans also have them for no extra charge. We rented a Chrysler Town and Country during our last trip and were pleasantly surprised to see a DVD player drop down out of the ceiling. Movies are often better than a DVD of their favorite show just because they last longer. The first trip we took with a DVD player, I didn’t think about this and spent quite a bit of time restarting a 30 minute video and changing the DVDs. With a movie, you have at least an hour and a half of uninterrupted entertainment. Monsters, Inc and Cars have been big hits with Ian. Lilly was uncharacteristically happy during her last trip from Tennessee to Kentucky when Lisa turned on The Lion King. This is one instance where I personally think it is worth borrowing one from a friend if you don’t have one of these for your car. We don’t leave it in the vehicle all the time, but the DVD has become a necessity for us when we’re in the car for more than a few hours!
It’s also a good idea to have non-technology reliant activities and entertainment to keep everyone busy. There is a small window of time when the plane first takes off and before it lands when electronics are not allowed and even in the car, eventually watching a screen will get old. Ashley’s kids like to look at pictures of people, so she carries some small photo albums with her. I also take a few lightweight books with us, too. Story time always calms Ian down when he starts to get restless. His travel backpack also usually includes some hot wheels cars, crayons and a coloring book, his favorite stuffed animal (Blue Bear is really another family member in our house), and a small blanket. Lately, a small etch-a-sketch type toy has come into favor for traveling as well. We also usually pick up a small new toy that we hang onto and only introduce when it looks like trouble might be brewing. This is usually just a little dollar toy like a new car. I’ve even used the toys that come from Happy Meals. It’s always something small, but just enough to get his attention as new and cool when a meltdown is on the way.
Snacks are also important. We try to stick with items low in sugar since they don’t need any extra energy when they can’t really run around. It’s also important to remember that if its summertime and you’re going to be leaving things in the car from time to time, you should stay away from anything that will melt and cause a gooey mess. We learned this the hard way with fruit chews that melted everywhere last summer. Snacks like goldfish, pretzels, and applesauce pouches have always been a big hit with Ian. Also, last summer when we drove the 21 hour trip to Kentucky, I discovered that Horizon makes these handy milk boxes that do not have to be refrigerated until after they are opened. They were perfect for such a long trip! We didn’t have to worry about sippy cups and stopping for milk every time Ian said he was thirsty. Along the same lines, if your little one is formula fed, be sure to pack plenty of extra formula. Flight delays, roadwork, and construction can be very bad news if you’re running low on bottles.
Rest areas are also your friend when you are traveling with little ones. During the same 21 hour trip, we found that it was very helpful to stop at one every three or four hours just to let everybody stretch. For meals, we would stop and buy our food and then take it to a rest area. Most of them have picnic tables and plenty of grass. Letting Ian eat and then run for 30 minutes might have added a little extra time to our trip, but it kept him, and therefore us, much happier. I was also seven months pregnant so getting out and stretching was key for me, too. The fresh air was good for everyone and the games of tag usually resulted in a nap when we got back in the car.
Always pack extra clothes that are easily accessible. We pretty much never make it through a trip without one of the boys having a complete wardrobe change at some point. For this reason, I also suggest keeping a few plastic bags in your carry on (if you’re flying) or in your car. The boys have peed through their diapers, spilled milk all over themselves, and fell in the mud. When these accidents happen, you’re going to need somewhere to put those dirty clothes! If your child is newly potty trained or has accidents while sleeping, it might also be best to put him in a pull-up instead of underwear. Ian does a great job telling us when he needs us to stop so that he can potty, but if he falls asleep, he will almost always have an accident. He very rarely wakes up first, so a pull-up is still a necessity on long trips.
Here is an important one. Even if you don’t have room for an entire outfit, pack at least an extra shirt for yourself. Ian was about 16 months old when I flew to Houston with him by myself for the first time. It was a rough flight and about halfway through, he had a blowout while I was holding him. Luckily, I had extra clothes for him. Unfortunately, I got off that plane smelling rather gross with a nice stain on the front of my shirt. I would have done a lot for an extra shirt at that point.
I hope these tips are helpful. They all seem like common sense, but when you’re traveling with small children, it’s hard to think of everything and anything can happen! Happy travels, everyone!