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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