04 Jan 2011

Suggestions for staying sane while traveling with kids

We’ve gypsied around a lot with our kids. A lot. And we’re currently going on two weeks away from home as I type this. Jackson has probably clocked more international miles than most adults. I’ve been through three passports. Eighteen hour plane rides – check; 16 hour car trips – check; running out of diapers at 30,000 feet – check.

And somehow we’ve managed to get through most of it with our collective senses of humor in tact, even when everything that could possibly go wrong, does.

So, here are a few of the ways we try to maintain family sanity when we are on the road:

#1: If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy

I can’t emphasize enough the power a mom has to set the tone for any trip. There’s no situation that can’t be made worse by a crabby, stressed out mom. And no situation that can’t be soothed, laughed at, and embraced than by a go-with-the-flow mama. So when you’re stranded on the tarmac, when your kid has to pee for the 6th time in two hours, when the hotel room has no heat in mid-winter, or when yours sons try to plant carrots in the grandparents’ potted plants – try to find the funny in the moment. Or at least, resist the urge to inflict bodily harm on all and sundry. Because if mom can joke about it, pretty much everyone else will be able to exhale and make it through as well.

#2:¬†Routine Still Matters, Except When It Doesn’t

There are some things we try to maintain when we’re traveling – like bringing along blankie, a favorite sippy cup, and getting in kiddie naps. However, we’ve also learned over the years that sweating bedtimes, militant nap times, the food the kids eat (not to mention the snacks and desserts), and how much TV they watch can end up driving us all around the bend.

Sure it’d be nice if they still went to bed at a decent hour or didn’t eat chocolate cake for breakfast – but heck, we’re on vacation. And I think it does us all good to kick back during those times, recognize there’s something special going down, and allow our kids to savor it just as much as we like to ourselves. I’ve had too many trips in the past where I’ve been sweating bullets at bedtime, yelling like a banshee during bath time and forcing weeping children to stay put when their cousins were still up to think it’s even remotely worthwhile.

Sure, routine is good. Familiarity is good. But so is joyful freedom. And we find including our kids in it leads to delicious memories, more family connectedness, and a willingness on their parts to finally crash when they’ve exhausted the usual bedtime by a good couple of hours.

#3: White Noise Is Better Than Benadryl

One of the biggest issues we’ve faced when on the road is the noise factor at bedtime. Kids finally interested in sleep? The next-door-neighbor will crank up his snow blower; the wedding downstairs will kick into overdrive; or the snoring relatives will shift into high gear. My secret weapon? Music. I plug in my phone, tune into Pandora and treat the kids to the Christian music station they are used to listening to at home. It’s enough to lull them into a false sense of familiarity no matter what air mattress, pull out sofa or hotel bed they might be sleeping on. A fan, air conditioner or radio will do the same trick.

#4: Set Expectations Before You Set Off

This one is something I just read before our most recent trip – and boy was it ever a game-changer. I wish I could remember whose blog I got it off, but the general idea is to make a wish list for each family member. What are the top things each person would like to do while on vacation. For example, before this trip Jackson said he wanted to go sledding, Micah wanted to play Barbies with his cousin (I know, right?), Pete wanted a lunch date with his brother, and I really, really wanted a movie night out with an old friend from college.

Knowing what will make the vacation for each family member helps us deliver. For parents and kids alike. And this time around it’s made a big difference in terms of overall satisfaction ratings.

#5: Map Out The Beginning, Middle, and End

All good things must come to an end. And kids like to know when that end is. We found that letting them know what day it was, how far into the trip we are, and when we’re going home again really helped them maintain their bearings and attitude throughout. Especially with our three-year-old. He’s a home body to begin with and giving him a virtual road map for whose house we’d be at when, what the plan was for each day, when we’d be going home and with what mode of transportation (sometimes it’s cars, sometimes planes) really helped him keep his bearings. And more importantly, his temper.

I could say a lot more about number of outfits to pack per number of hours in the air, how to clean up after an upset stomach in an airport, and what to do when your kid insists on being naked during a long, awkward portion of the flight. But luckily none of those life experiences were called into play this time around. The list above, however, served us well.

So what about you? What are some of your best suggestions for staying sane while traveling with kids?

I’m all ears!

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Comments

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  1. 2

    Was just wondering how old your children are, are they in school yet? And what will happen once they reach school age with your travels? Having a boy in kindergarden currently and would love to travel as much as you do, how would tht be possible ? I am not the homeschooling type and with my son that would not work for him and I.

    All the best, Cheri

    • 3
      thegypsymama says:

      Hey there Cheri –

      Our kids are still pretty young – 5 and 3 – which makes travel more flexible. However, when Jack starts Kindergarten this fall we’ll need to stick more with schedules. And most of our big trips we plan for over breaks – summer and winter. But I do have family who’ve taken their kids out for longer stretches if there was a home schooling option for while they were away that the school approved or if they could enroll their kids in an international school for a semester or so. It always amazes me how flexible kids are when it comes to travel.

  2. 4

    This is such a great list, and number 1 is SO true. I have to check my attitude before we head out all the time, as it does indeed set the tone for whatever adventure we’re on!

  3. 5

    These are wonderful tips, Lisa-JO. I love finding out the the that would make each family member’s trip complete and then purposing to make it happen. Awesome!

  4. 6

    You’re such a good Mama.

  5. 7

    Hi Gypsy Mama,

    We are technology gypsies. No matter how hard we have needed to relocate for large technology projects.

    I went overseas with a 3 year old who didn’t sleep or eat well. It was an 18 hour plane trip with a 3 AM transfer with the connecting flight in another part of the airport. This means the stroller was checked and I had my sleeping child and all our carry on to run to the connecting flight. Wow!

    I found putting in a favorite CD cartoon video in the laptop really helped him relax. He never like busy work or books on a plane unless I was reading it. I did this one time and the people next to us got really tired of hearing his books read out loud.

    I think the songs and or white noise would work if your child was used to using headphones to go to sleep at home or at naptime. This would really work well on those long trips.

    For long car trips I try to plan something to look forward to on long car trips. A rest area in a neighboring state is an oasis to a figiting little boy who wants to stretch his legs. When I know the trip will be longer than a few hours I let him pick something to do or stop with in reason. When we travel through St Louis he loves to stop and see the arch even if we don’t have time to go to the top. We take pictures and make it a big deal.

    As a Homeschooling Mom I pack a lot of audio cds for us to listen to on the trip. I have Story of the World 1-3, sermon series, books on cd and music. He is now 11 and we love the sermon series that stay on a specific topic. I also pick up regional books and do field trips to zoos, art galleries, parks and local holiday events. The world is a big wonderful place if you can stop, learn and wonder. Our fears of the unknown keep us from adventures that God has for us.

  6. 8

    We do 8 to 12 hour car drives a few times a year. I’ve traveled both of these ways:
    1. leave at 4 in the morning. the kid stays awake for a few hours then crashes for most of the trip!
    2. leave at nap time, plan for stopping at a rest area for at least 45 minutes of running around and NOT SITTING!

    Other tips:
    A. always pack at least one of your meals if you can. you can stop if need be or you can eat in the car if the kid happens to be sleeping at lunch time. you save money and your waist line!
    B. we use traveling white boards. they are creative and fun. use for practicing letters or for drawing pictures. we do contests: draw a dog in 40 seconds.
    C. and plan on car games, singing, motions, telling stories. Traveling by car is a great time to sit and listen to your kids with no distractions! Or, if you’re tired of their voices, turn the music up and sing together!

  7. 9

    “White noise is better than Benadryl” made me snicker! May be never have to clean up after an upset stomach in an airport. Please, Lord Jesus!

  8. 10

    Wise, wise words! I needed to read these before our Christmas vacation (ha!). I’ve found most of them to be true myself, and need to put into practice the first principle more often. Even today, our first day back into the routine of things I’m allowing to be a little lax to ease us back into it. So we’re watching a movie. :) Tomorrow, it’s back to the real stuff. . Hope the rest of your travels go well!

  9. 11

    Your point about having everyone list his or her expectations ahead of time hit home with me. I often get disappointed at the end of a break because I didn’t get to accomplish what I wanted, yet if I really think about it, I’m not sure if I verbalized my expectation or prioritized the random list that came out of my mouth.

    I’m glad your trip was a good one and that your kids kept their clothes on in the plane! :)

  10. 12

    Planting carrots in the potted plants? Priceless.

    Love these practical suggestions given with typical gypsy flair! :)

    Our longest trip was 1 month long in which we traveled by trains, plains and automobiles. We slept in 6 or 7 different beds, I lost track! And my hubs was deployed then, so I was doing it solo. None of my tips are revolutionary and won’t work for all ages, but they are tried and true for our family:

    1. Carry travel entertainment like activity books or books on tape that you can pull out at different intervals.
    2. Travel bingo games. I’ve seen them at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com.
    3. Lots of energy-burning stops at restaurants with play areas or rest stops/parks.
    4. Snacks, snacks, snacks!

    Enjoy your time back on the homefront. Happy New Year!

  11. 13

    We haven’t traveled by plane with the family, so I can’t even imagine…

    But we do a lot of car rides. I think #1 plays into the entertainment aspect too. It makes a huge difference if I can come up with games, songs, or we even do relaxed letter/number/ drills and talk about school stuff when they start getting antsy. If I just annoyed too, things fall apart quickly.

    I think #4 is good too, but I would even say to talk about your expectations for the travel time itself. My husband is not a planner, but I go to him before we leave to talk about when/where we’re going to stop for lunch and/or dinner, how many “stretch the legs” stops I think we have to make, and any ideas he has about stopping for antiquing, etc. along the way. That way he’s not annoyed when I “suddenly” need an hour for lunch at Chick-Fil-A’s playground and I have plenty of snacks for the kiddos while we browse a roadside flea market.

  12. 14

    Lisa-Jo! If I could, I would hug you right now!! I love your ‘stories’ and that you help me have perspective…and remind me that we ‘gypsy’ together…I read, ‘On the Go’…oh man! what a trip!!

    We were 27 hours start to finish coming home from Hungary this summer…there’s a picture of the four of us sleeping in crazy positions at the gate during our 8 hour delay at Dulles (this airport has never been kind to us) before we boarded our last plane at midnight…

    I loved your suggestions esp. #4 that you said you had just found before this trip–we did this in an informal way this time and it is so good…

    My biggest thing to add is PRAY! PRAY! PRAY! We are those missionary types who have the benefits of a ‘Core Prayer Team’ that we always e-mail before trips, but coming home this last trip, we weren’t able to, and I texted and also knew we had the prayers of the faithfuls in church we had just seen…if people don’t have others regularly pray for anything else, THIS is about tops! (life-threatening things of course, more important…but travel is life-threatening;) There are so many things about our trips that went so beautifully and we credit it all to prayers to a good God.

    well, thanks for being you! you bless me so! hugs:)

    • 15
      thegypsymama says:

      Yes, prayer for sure! I have this tradition of always calling my dad from the airport before we fly for prayer. I should have added that to the list too!

  13. 16

    Wish I’d read this before I had the giant Mommy Meltdown on the airplane a few years ago as we sat stranded on the tarmac and my toddler threw a Defcon-5 tantrum…on New Year’s Day, when half the plane was hung-over and MAD at us for being so dang loud on a 7 a.m flight! I wept, and my husband loving told me to, “Get it together” which made me weep harder.

    My kids are older now — 5 and 9 — so it’s gotten easier. But I’ve also lightened up. This summer on a visit to my sister’s house in MA (we live in NE), I discovered my 5-year-old racked out on the couch with SpongeBob blaring on the TV. I was just glad he was getting some rest!

    • 17
      thegypsymama says:

      I promise it will make you feel better to go read my “on the go” post linked above. Def-Con 5 plus diarrhea. Oh yes, a traveling dream come true!

  14. 18

    Great tips, Lisa-Jo and commenters! Our son is 8 1/2 months old and we have made three car trips (5-10 hours each) and six plane trips (one to Alaska from TX). It’s harder than before a baby but totally do-able and we are thankful to have introduced him to all of his living great-grandparents and to have spent great time with family and friends. He has enjoyed some great social time with cousins and families with bigger kids we have stayed with who have just doted on him. He has enjoyed time outside and getting to spend lots of time with mama and daddy. Sleeping has been rough and I’m excited to try your white noise tip. I am also considering taking bumper pads with us. Our little guy sleeps with the top of his head up against the soft pad so no wonder the metal hotel crib wasn’t working so well for him. :) Kelly

    • 19
      thegypsymama says:

      Yea, white noise is key. And we always traveled with bumper pads too for borrowed cribs. And whatever else makes the sleep environment feel familiar. Good luck! Sounds like you guys are experts already!

  15. 20

    Hmm… I’m convicted by the bit about momma keeping a sense of humor. I married my husband partly for his easy-going humor, but sometimes my attitude gets in the way of his easy-going take on life when I’m in a bad mood. It’s true that my attitude is often conducive to fun or …. the other way around.

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