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The holidays are upon us! For many, this means traveling to see family. The mere thought of holiday travel with kids in tow can cause some people’s stress levels to rise to critical stages. But, it is possible to travel during this busy season while maintaining your sanity. Here are some tips for stress-free holiday travel with kids.
The biggest tip for stress-free holiday travel is to not procrastinate. Start thinking about your trip a couple weeks before your departure. Make a list of things that you need to do before leaving. Create a packing list to make sure you don’t forget anything. (If you don’t want to make your own, you can get our Ultimate Family Packing List, which is perfect for every trip! See the box at the bottom of this article for details.) Instead of waiting until the night before you leave to do your packing, start a couple days in advance. By preparing for the trip early, you will be able to start your journey in a calm frame of mind. This will not only start you off in a good mood, but it will also have a huge effect on the moods of your spouse and kids.
Give Yourself Plenty of Time
Whether you are making a cross-country trek or heading to a neighboring town, give yourself plenty of time to get there. Add in some extra time to account for any unforeseen delays or stops. If flying, plan to arrive at the airport earlier than you think you should. If driving, leave home 30 minutes to an hour sooner than you ordinarily would. This way, if you hit traffic or run into long lines at the security checkpoints, you won’t be thrown off track. And, if you have no delays along the way, you will arrive with time to spare.
The Earlier the Better
When it comes to traveling, the earlier you leave, the better. This is true not only in terms of giving yourself plenty of time, but also in terms of the time of day you leave. If flying, the earlier in the day your flight is, the less likely it will be delayed. An early morning flight that gets delayed for 20 minutes can snowball and cause a late evening flight to be delayed for hours.
Similarly, when driving, by leaving early in the day, you can get a head start on a lot of the traffic. When we make long road trips, we prefer to leave during the wee hours of the morning. This lets us miss a big part of the traffic and gets a couple hours of driving behind us before our son wakes up.
Another great tip for stress-free holiday travel with your kids is to plan ahead. When packing for your trip, think through the entire journey. Will you be on the road at dinner time? If so, where will you be? What about at naptime? Plan ahead so you will be ready at each step of the way. If you will be in midflight during your child’s normal bedtime, throw some pajamas in your carry-on so you can get him ready for bed before boarding the plane. This will help him fall asleep during the flight. Pack some snacks if you will not be able to get food when your daughter gets hungry. (Check out my best snacks for airplanes and road trips for what snacks to pack.) If you know that you will have a long layover, bring along some toys or books to keep your kids entertained. The more you plan ahead, the better prepared you will be to fend off the crankiness of your children. A happy child makes for a less stressed mama.
Expect the Unexpected
Part of planning ahead for stress-free holiday travel is to expect the unexpected. Pack as if your flight will be delayed for several hours. Plan for traffic jams and flat tires. Expect meltdowns and fights between your children. If you are expecting these things to happen, then you won’t be caught off guard when and if they do. Then you can deal with them appropriately.
Expecting the unexpected means packing things just in case. This includes a flashlight, more snacks than you think you need, an extra set of clothes, and a blanket. Make sure you have a basic first-aid kit with you, or at least throw some bandages and pain reliever in your bag. Also, carry a small amount of cash with you in case you find yourself in a position to need it, such as at a tollbooth or vending machine.
Check the Weather
Let’s face it, in December, you never know what kind of weather Mother Nature is going to send your way. Starting a week or so before your trip, check the weather on a regular basis. If they are predicting a storm in your path, you may want to adjust your plans. You may need to leave a day earlier or stay an extra night. The sooner you know about bad weather, the more time you will have to plan for it. Your trip will be much less stressful if you are traveling before or after the storm than if you are stuck in the middle of it.
Pack Comfort Items
We all know that sometimes all a child needs to calm down is their favorite lovey. Make sure you have these comfort items at the ready. This can make your entire trip much more bearable for everyone. Not only is it important to have a comfort item for your child, but it is equally important to have one or two for yourself. Whether this is a cup of Starbucks coffee or your ipad, give yourself permission to enjoy a treat along the way. This can help to calm jangled nerves.
Pack Your Patience
This one should be obvious, but so many people forget to pack their patience when traveling at the holidays. Realize that this is a time when many people are traveling. A lot of them only travel during the holidays and aren’t adept at it. If you go into the trip knowing that the lines at the ticket gate will be long and there will be heavy traffic on the roads, you may find that you are not as impatient when the going gets slow. Try to remember too that everyone is just as tired and irritable as you are.
Don’t Fight Your Kids
Traveling during the Christmas season is stressful enough as it is without causing undue problems for yourself. Know your kids, their personalities, and their limits. Instead of fighting them, avoid their meltdowns by staying one step ahead of them. For instance, my son gets very cranky when he is hungry. So, when we are traveling, I try to make sure we take a break, or at least have a snack on hand, when he gets hungry. It is much easier to feed him than it is to put up with his fussiness. If your child has meltdowns when she gets tired, try to coordinate your travel plans around her sleep schedule. Think about how frustrating traveling during a busy time is for you. How much more is it for your kids? You can’t control everything, so control what you can. It will make it more pleasant for everyone in your traveling party.
Make a Game of It
Kids are notoriously bad at waiting. Unfortunately, travel during busy times involves a lot of waiting. So, put on your creative hat and make a game out of the waiting. If you don’t have a game on hand or aren’t in a place where they can burn off some energy, then make one up. This can be something as simple as awarding points for each person wearing a red shirt that your kids spot. Or see who can count the most cars in a 2 minute period. Anything can be turned into a game if you are clever enough. If your kids are entertained, then you will have one less problem to deal with. Plus, you will find that they are much more cooperative if they are having fun. For more game ideas, see my screen-free activities for road trips and airplanes.
Ship Necessary Items Ahead of Time
Instead of lugging all of your packages and other necessities with you, why not ship them in advance? Many people think about shipping Christmas gifts in advance. But, you can also ship things like diapers, pack ‘n plays, and other things that you will need while away. This means less to carry for you. Another option is to just wait until you arrive at your destination, and then buy what you need.
Enjoy Your Family
Finally, remember the reason for your travels is to spend time with your loved ones. Don’t let the frustrations that come with getting there get in the way of enjoying your family! Take a deep breath, take a few minutes for yourself, and be present in the moment. The memories you make with those closest to you will last longer than the temporary stress of travel.
I hope these tips for stress-free holiday travel with your kids help to make your trip this holiday season much more pleasant. And remember, the more you travel, the easier it will get for you and your kids. So, don’t wait until the holidays to have an adventure! Get out there early and often. For more stress-free travel tips, see stress-free travel with your spouse and what to do when things go wrong. Happy travels!