Yep, the holidays are upon us. In addition to the fun part – decorating, eating, and partying – it’s also time for the dreaded torture otherwise known as traveling with your children. Whether it’s by airplane or by car, dealing with a bunch of kids trapped in a metal container for hours can turn any parent into a Grinch. Hopefully the tips below will make the journey a bit less harrowing!
Let’s hit the hardest first. Prep your young kids for the whole airport experience by telling them each step of the process – leaving the car, giving someone their bag, going through security, etc. The Atlanta airport can be pretty intimidating even for seasoned travelers – imagine if you’re 4 years old!
You’ll probably wind up getting to your gate a good hour or two before you need to load. If you have little ones, use that time to wear them out! Consider skipping some of the train between security and your terminal. You can ride the moving sidewalk and let the kids race down the hall. Find an empty gate and let your toddler run around and roll on the floor (douse them in hand sanitizer then they’re done). Take them to look at some of the art and other exhibits on the concourses.
- If your child still uses a stroller, strongly consider using it to haul the kid and all your stuff to the gate. You can gate check it (the stroller, not your kid) when you get to your departure gate and the airline crew will have it for you when you disembark.
- Don’t forget about the TSA liquid restrictions. Breastmilk, formula, and juice for kids are exempt from the restrictions but any other liquid (water to make the formula), purees (baby food), and gels (hand sanitizer) are all subject to the 3oz rule. They must be put in a clear plastic bag and presented at security.
- Medication is also exempt from the liquids rule (and of course, should never be packed in your checked luggage). However, to prevent any problems, keep medications in their original bottles, especially if it is a liquid or a controlled substance like ADHD medication. Oh, and if your child is prescribed a liquid medication before a trip, ask us for something that doesn’t have to be refrigerated!
- Bring snacks, snacks, and more snacks! Remember, you will generally get little to no food on the airplane and even if you do, it’s guaranteed to be the one kind of cracker your child won’t eat.
- Bring whatever your child likes and can be used as a bribe for good behavior – now is not the time for a nutritional analysis!
- It really goes without saying, but bring things for your child to do. Coloring books, travel games, books, Mad Libs, whatever you think will keep them occupied. Bring some new stuff that you can surprise them with when it’s getting rough. And if there was ever a time to let your child be mind melded by electronic devices, this is it. Make sure your phone, tablet, and laptop are fully charged and pre-loaded with games, movies, and books and that you have headphones for everyone. Do not, I repeat, do not count on there being in-flight entertainment (don’t ask how I know this) – be prepared!
- Bring extra supplies – more diapers and wipes then you think you’ll need, an extra set of clothes (for everyone – what if someone gets airsick on you?), comfort items, extras of comfort items, hand sanitizer, and absolute necessities in case your checked bags get lost. Attach the lovey, the bear, and the pacifier to something so they don’t get lost. You do not want to go there.
- Be nice to the people around you. You know they’re not happy they got stuck in the row in front of your 7-year-old so don’t let him kick the seat. Encourage the kids to keep the yelling to a minimum. You can’t do much if your two-year-old cries for an hour but people will generally give you a break if they see you’re doing what you can.
After all the above, the car is looking pretty good, isn’t it? One of the big benefits of traveling by car is the flexibility and increased space it allows. Of course, the kids are still strapped in their seats for hours and you’ll still need to do some preparation.
- I know you know this, but the Safety Doc in me compels me to remind you that everyone in the car should be properly restrained at all times. This means booster seats for those older kids who need them, even if they pitch a fit. Check out www.thecarseatlady.com for proper child restraint seat use.
- To minimize arguments over the temperature in the car, dress everyone in relatively light clothes and then bring sweaters. The kids would probably love to have a blanket and pillow as well – bring one for each kid! Asking them to share a blanket is guaranteed to make your head explode at some point.
- Take advantage of the (hopefully) extra space and bring a cooler with snacks and drinks. You may be able to do some research and find some places along the way to have a picnic and skip the fast food.
- Stop every few hours for a bathroom break, whether the kids say they need it or not. It’s worth looking for a place with a little space so you can let them run around and get the wiggles out before strapping them back down.
- Make your life easier and have an easily accessible bag in the car and/or trunk with extra clothes, diapers, wipes, comfort items, etc. so you don’t have to unload the entire trunk to find something to change your carsick child into.
- Again, bring individual things for the kids to do like coloring books, sticker books, and actual books. Depending on the length of the trip and your car’s electronic gizmo set up, be careful about counting on electronic devices to keep them occupied the whole time. Batteries can run down quickly when playing movies. Again, make sure everything is fully charged and pre-loaded before the trip – some things can take hours to download. And make sure you have headphones for everyone unless you want to listen to “Frozen” for five hours.
- However, one of the perks of car travel is that you don’t have to worry about the kids being loud. Take the opportunity of the enforced family time to talk, play car games like License Tag Bingo, have a sing-a-long, etc. One of my strongest childhood memories is driving with my cousins from Mississippi to Georgia and listening to nothing but The Sound of Music and Barry Manilow Superstar the entire way. (Yes, I’m dating myself and, to make it worse, we listened to it on 8-track! We all still know every word of both albums.)
Planning ahead and preparing for likely eventualities like whiny, hungry, or sick kids can really make the difference between a miserable travel experience and one that makes you think you might actually visit your relatives again some time. Of course, we haven’t even touched upon how to handle your relatives – that’s a whole different story!
Cobb Pediatrics wishes all of you a happy and safe holiday season!