With the holidays approaching, I am surprised at the number of travel horror stories I’ve heard from parents — and it’s not even Halloween season.
Since I don’t want parents to have travel nightmares, let me provide a few tips to make travel with kids something that will result in pleasant dreams for all involved.
If traveling with your baby by air, be prepared. Pack something for your baby to suck on during take-off and landing — either nurse your child or give the baby a bottle or pacifier. And have plenty of extra diapers for the flight.
If you are traveling in a rental car, make sure the rental agency has an appropriate car safety seat if you are not using your own.
Let your children know what the travel plans are: how long the journey will take, your time of arrival, and how many stops will be made and when, so “how long till we get there” is already answered.
Have a set of rules for family travel that can be reviewed each morning to avoid power struggles during the day. Pack some of your children’s favorite CDs, books on tape, or have a bag of small surprises like little games or puzzles that can keep them busy while en route.
When traveling by car, stop every hour or so to allow everyone to stretch their legs and use a bathroom. Doing this along with some light but frequent snacks may help prevent motion sickness.
If you will be dealing with jet lag, consider adjusting your family’s sleep schedules a few days before you go so there is less fatigue when you arrive. Keep your kids hydrated during the flight, too. It helps prevent jet lag.
It’s a good idea to put together a travel health kit that contains any medications your child is on, an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen, Band-Aids and an antiseptic ointment for cuts and bruises, sunscreen, insect repellent and alcohol-based hand rubs for when soap and water are not available.
Praise your child if the trip goes well and do something-extra special as a reward, such as a swim in the motel or hotel you are staying in (if there is a pool) or a visit to your child’s choice of restaurant.
Remember that this is a great opportunity to spend some quality time with your children, so rather than view travel as an ordeal, look at it in a positive fashion. Focus on the fun, and you’ll be there before you know it.
Hopefully tips like this will allow you to pack just the right stuff and route you in the right direction the next time you want to travel with your children.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.