Admit it, last year’s vacation photographs showing a sarcastic preteen and a cranky toddler don’t exactly resemble the picture-perfect image you had in mind for an extended road trip. Learn how to put a smile on everyone’s face with these tips on traveling with kids.
Kids Are Different
When it comes to taking a road trip, many people forget that kids are not small adults. Understanding how kids think is the first step to avoiding frustration, boredom and cranky-kid syndrome.
- Short Attention Spans: The younger the child, the shorter the attention span. Part of the problems many parents experience is nothing more than pent-up frustration when children are bored. Although the adults in your group might find a given object utterly fascinating, don’t automatically expect children to share your enthusiasm; even if they are interested, they would prefer to keep moving once they’ve had their fill.
Tip: Create a schedule that includes different activities throughout the day; make sure each child is supplied with age-appropriate entertainment, toys, books and other items of interest.
- New to Them: Don’t be surprised to find that the same child who impatiently races through a museum can spend hours laughing in sheer delight at a simple playground fixture. Remember, what is old news to you is brand new to them. Since children have a tendency toward “doing” rather than “viewing,” even the most mundane activities can elicit hours of enthusiastic enjoyment.
Tip: Play is serious business for kids — it’s how they learn! Take time out for a trip to the playground when you stop for the evening. It will help burn off some of the pent-up energy and stress from a day of driving. As an added benefit, physical activity will help children sleep better in new situations.
Children communicate differently than adults, so it’s important to brush up on “kid-speak” before hitting the highway in order to avoid mishaps and miscommunication. Here is a fun guide to interpreting what your children are trying to tell you, and great tips to prevent or fix the problem.
Phrase: “Are we there yet?”
Interpretation: I’m bored or hungry.
Tip: Switch activities by having children select a new item from their personal fun box or snack. It is also a good idea to assign each child a special job such as “tracking the map,” watching the time to change schedules, handing out treats, cleaning up or doing other tasks appropriate to his or her age and ability.
Phrase: “I have to go to the bathroom.”
Interpretation: You have one minute or less, so hurry up and stop.
Tip: Stock a travel cooler with fresh fruits, juice and bottled water instead of caffeinated drinks and salt-laden snacks to reduce the frequency of restroom stops.
Phrase: “Stop bugging me!”
Interpretation: I need a little space.
Tip: Recognize that children also have their own personal space and need a little downtime. Portable video or music players provide a quiet way for children to relax and unwind even while sitting next to a sibling. Be sure to allow each child to select a favorite movie or music selection in advance.
Phrase: “I’m tired.”
Interpretation: I’m bored or I really am tired.
Tip: Children don’t always sleep soundly when traveling. In addition to exercise, it is a good idea to bring a white-noise machine, favorite music or other comforting item to help children sleep better when away from home. To prepare for the trip, begin using the device before leaving — that way children are familiar with the noise and will respond better on the road.
Phrase: “Why can’t we stay longer?”
Interpretation: Bingo! You have successfully piqued your child’s interest and enthusiasm.
Tip: Keep schedules flexible so you can spend a little extra time participating in the things your children really enjoy. By doing so, you’ll see the world through their eyes once again. One great way to preserve the memories is to purchase an inexpensive camera and personal scrapbook for each child. Not only will putting it together help extend the fun, it’s sure to become a family heirloom he or she will love.
Kid Fashion — What to Pack
Innumerable fights begin with the subject of fashion, especially if the vacation or road-trip involves a visit with family or friends. Nothing horrifies parents more than their children’s concept of “cool clothing,” while the fastest way to cause a complete melt-down is by making your teen wear the new outfit Grandma sent last year. Here are some practical fashion tips to dressing your kids for comfort and convenience during the next road trip.
- Lots of Layers: Whatever the age of your children, make sure their clothes can be layered as temperatures change. Long-sleeve shirts, long johns and slacks are standard items. Keep a change of clothes available for each child in addition to a light jacket or blanket should they become cool when resting.
- Pack With Your Children: In addition to comfortable travel clothes, bring a nice outfit for dinners or shows, casual pants or slacks and other items that may come in handy depending upon your destination.
- Protection: Include a hat or cap, sunglasses, rain jacket and other protective wear for each child.
- New Shoes: Properly-sized athletic shoes or sandals are a must. Purchase in advance to avoid blisters during the trip.
Motion Sickness: Children who suffer from motion sickness are often reluctant to travel — and with good reason. The resulting nausea, vomiting or overall feeling of sickness is not pleasant for the child or others in the car. A few things to keep in mind when dealing with car sickness include:
- Be Prepared. Be Prepared. Children can develop car sickness suddenly. Even children who’ve never experienced a bout of car sickness in the past can suffer from it in certain situations. Carry a leak-proof bag, stain spray, disinfectant wipes and other quick cleaning items in the event of illness.
- Walk It Out. Once car-sickness starts it can be difficult to get rid of it. At the first sign of illness, take a break and try to walk it out.
- Focus. Some children are prone to motion sickness when reading or playing games — provide a variety of alternatives to break the monotony of the trip while reducing the risk of illness.
- Medications. Many children respond well to over-the-counter motion sickness remedies while others require a prescription. Be sure to talk to your pediatrician before your trip.
Basic First Aid: From blisters to stubbed toes, splinters to scrapes, kids tend to suffer more than their share of minor injuries when traveling. Bring along a well-stocked first-aid kit to quickly clean and care for small abrasions, blisters or other injuries.
Travel Illness/Diarrhea: Children are particularly susceptible to travel-related illness including diarrhea. Introduce new foods slowly to make sure they respond well and keep plenty of bottled water on hand.