Summer Travel with Kids
Whether across the province or the country, in a car, boat or plane, travel with children can be an “adventure” before you even leave your driveway. In our experience with our own families and the thousands we have coached, the most important thing to bring along on any trip is realistic expectations for your kids and for yourself. Once those are under control, the rest of the trip will fall into place.
Why are expectations so important? Unless you’re very unique, the perfect family vacation in which everyone spends all the time together and everyone gets along isn’t going to happen. Realistic expectations help us to set all family members up for success both in the planning stages and in the day to day realities of your trip. Knowing what your kids can and will do and knowing how you will respond can be helpful when things are going as planned and absolutely essential when the trip falls off the rails. Here is a checklist of things to take into account when planning your trip and when you are on your way:
1. Know what your kids can handle.
• Do your kids love to walk and sight-see or are they more interested in the hotel pool and the closest playground?
• How do they do with sleeping in a new environment?
• Are they keen to try new foods or do they only eat what they know?
Better to plan for these things in advance rather than letting them attack when you finally arrive at your destination. If your kids love the hotel pool but you want them to see the sights, plan to divide up your time – go see the sights in the morning and then hit the pool after lunch. Bring along familiar items to help your kids get to sleep in the new bed and account for time-changes as well. Pack healthy foods that you know your kids will eat or pick them up at a local grocery store. Waiting for restaurant reservations when your kids are starving can be a recipe for disaster.
2. Involve your kids in planning your trip
• Preschoolers or younger: show them pictures of the hotel and some of the main attractions you will see.
• School-age: get them involved in researching the area or ask them what they want to do.
• Teens (reluctant to join the family trip) may feel better if they can plan a portion of the experience;
several mornings or an event. This gives the teen some power in the situation.
• Plan how you will solve disagreements that happen on the trip BEFORE you leave. Will you flip a coin?
Will you act as a family, taking turns and staying involved in all activities?
Keep your own excitement level realistic as well. We want our kids to look forward to the trip but if we keep building it up to be an amazing event, the actual trip may leave everyone feeling a bit disappointed. While you are on the trip, be aware of power-struggles that arise when one family member wants to do one activity and the others don’t. This is a perfect opportunity to involve your kids in the problem-solving process. “Ok, we’ve got a problem here. I want to go to the Science Museum and you guys want to go shopping. How can we solve this together?” Maybe two groups head in two directions for the morning and meet back at the pool after 2.
3. Assign Realistic Responsibilities based on your kids’ experience and abilities
• If they are new to packing a suitcase, involve them in making the list of things to take
and be sure to check after the case is packed
• Involve them in the choice of items to take in the carry-on BUT please check it before you leave the house.
It is not fun when airport security finds a toy gun in your child’s bag!
• If your kids are old enough, get them their own pack to carry water, sunscreen and a book.
REMEMBER – if they can’t do it, you know who will be juggling 3 back packs on your walk.
4. How much together time can your family really handle?
• If your kids don’t get along very well, create opportunities for them to do things separately on holiday
• If you are staying with relatives on your trip, plan to be out of the house at least once every day.
This gives everyone some down time.
• Plan in some time for one parent to be with the kids and the other to go off and explore, read a book or shop
5. How are you going to respond with respect when things don’t go according to plan?
Plan to keep some tricks in your back pocket so that your behavior doesn’t add to the chaos.
• If you are in public, get you and your misbehaving child to a private place
(bathroom, change room, behind the building) where you won’t feel that other adults are judging you.
• If it is parent versus child, turn it into parent and child versus the situation.
• Express your feelings calmly: I am feeling frustrated… I am disappointed with how this is going…
I know we can make this work…
• Don’t fight emotion with logic.
If any family members are emotional (scared, excited, mad, disappointed) use empathy to get through the
emotion and get everyone to a place where they can calm down (perhaps in separate rooms).
Once things are calm, then work on solving the problem
It is no big surprise that little things blow up into big things on vacation. Sleep is often compromised, junk food and excitement are often present in higher doses than before and everyone is in cramped quarters. Knowing what you will say without blaming and shaming your kids will keep you feeling capable about how to handle bumps in the road when they occur.
6. Here are some other quick tips that our clients have used again and again:
For car travel, print maps so that your kids can follow along.
Then they can tell you the answer to “Are we there yet?”
Cookie sheets generally fit across a lap and car seat as a desk.
They work with magnetic letters and the edges of the cookie sheet can stop pencils and crayons from rolling off.
Bring snacks whether traveling by car or plane.
Unexpected delays tend to happen around mealtimes and having something with you will save you
the hassle of “low blood-sugar” moments for parents and kids.
Carry wipes or a wet cloth in a sealed bag for clean ups.
Carry an extra change of clothes for everyone in resealable bags.
If there is a spill or someone gets sick, the clean clothes are ready and the mess gets sealed in the bag.
Whether travelling by car or plane, take advantage of every opportunity for movement.
Help your kids to get the wiggles out. Play a game of follow the leader in the airport or
play tag or hacky sack in a field at the side of the road. Everyone will benefit from the movement and fresh air.
Explain to children ahead of time that whenever there is an opportunity for a bathroom break,
everyone will need to try.
Keep those expectations realistic and enjoy your trip!