The start of a new school year is just around the corner but you are wondering if there’s still time for a last minute family vacation.
A family vacation should be a fun, exciting experience, but traveling with children to any destination can easily become a daunting experience once you factor in their age, needs and desires or unplanned activities.
There are simple, easy strategies, however, that you can follow to make sure you and your children have a good time – whether your trip is nearby or 100 miles down the road, by air or by sea – while you explore and create new experiences and exciting adventures for all.
“Safety and security should be a top priority,” says Doni Spiegel, Public Relations Manager at AAA Central Penn. “It only takes a split second for things to go wrong.”
Keep them engaged
Get the family together and figure out what you do and don’t want from the trip before you start to research and plan your trip.
If your children are new to flying and traveling in general, talk them through it. Let them know what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen. They will know what to expect, and as a result, will be more comfortable with what’s going on around them.
Safety and security
If you are driving, keep your attention on the road by pre-programing GPS devices and adjusting seats and mirrors before driving. Enlist the help of passengers and don’t use handheld or hands-free cell phones while driving.
Plan frequent stops, about every 100 miles or two hours, to remain alert. Make sure everyone is restrained by seat belts or a child safety seat to prevent injury in case of a sudden stop, swerve or crash.
If you are flying, book an early morning departure. These flights are your best chance to avoid delays at takeoff and landing, and are usually less crowded.
“It only takes a second for a child to wander away in places like airports,” says Spiegel. “The best thing to do is for one parent to handle all the documentation and other important things at the airport, while the other parent watches the children.”
It is important, Spiegel says, for children to know how to contact their parents and where to go for help in case of an emergency.
“If a kid is old enough, they should know their parents phone number. For younger kids, it is a good idea to write the parents’ telephone number on a small piece of paper and put the paper inside their pocket or shoe. They should always have a connection to their parents,” she says.
Here are some things you can do before you go to make traveling easier and more enjoyable for everyone.
• Don’t over pack - If you have a tendency to pack everything your kids use at home, think again. You don’t want to be carrying a hundred pounds of luggage. If you find you’re missing something you need, you can always buy it at your destination. Remember to put a change of clothes for each person in a carry-on in case of lost luggage.
If you are travelling with a toddler, consider switching your regular-size stroller for a light stroller. They’re easy to travel with and can be taken right up to the gate at the airport; they can be used as a temporary bed for afternoon naps; they’re light and breathable but can also be insulated with blankets and a rain cover; and they’re good on almost all terrain.
For road trips, pack healthy snacks for kids, especially if you can’t stop for a full meal while traveling. Pack books, games, or music for the ride, and a pillow. Bring information on your destination to keep kids and other passengers entertained.
• Pre-plan - You might be used to showing up at a destination, getting a feel for the town, and picking a place to stay. This is not a good idea if you are traveling with kids. You run the risk of not finding lodging, or paying too much. You should know where you are staying before you arrive, especially if it has been a long journey to get to your destination.
• Be trip ready – Take your vehicle to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out on a road trip. In case of an emergency, always carry a flashlight, extra batteries, warning devices such as flares or reflective triangles, jumper cables, a first-aid kit and extra water.
If hitting the road, consider leaving earlier or later than the typical travel times to avoid heavy traffic. Same goes for air travel, and be sure to arrive at the airport at least two hours before scheduled take-off. Pack so that items that need to be removed during security checks can be easily reached.
Single parents or guardians traveling with children should ask what documentation, such as a letter of permission or medical proxy, are needed.
If you are flying with little ones, takeoff might the perfect opportunity to feed them to prevent the inevitable popping sensation when the air pressure changes which is a major reason for crying. Be advised some airlines require mothers to use a forward-facing seatbelt attachment for infants, which makes breastfeeding impossible during those takeoffs and landings.
Consider withdrawing a little extra money from the ATM, and then relax, knowing that you can grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant, find fun things to do or stay at a hotel if necessary.
What could go wrong?
Write a list of everything that could go wrong, from meltdowns mid-flight to missing the flight entirely, and figure out how you’d cope. Running through situations before they happen will help you be mentally prepared. Responding in a calm way makes it easier on you and your family.