Monday, September 19, 2011

Four steps to HAPPY family travel

My husband and I share a love of travel. We work hard during the week, and often jump in the car for day trips of mini overnights on weekends. Once or twice a year, we jet off on a "big" vacation like the Canadian Rockies, Yellowstone, Maine, Hawaii, or one of many family-friendly cruises.

(Still can't believe I climbed a glacier!)

Since having Amelia join our family, we have altered our travel style a bit. But only a bit. We still travel annually and on many weekends. We continue to enjoy grand adventures here, there, and everywhere. However, we keep her needs in mind by shortening any selected hikes, making sure our hotel has a pool, keeping our eyes peeled for playgrounds, and scheduling child-friendly down time.

It used to take me days to plan out our trip needs and pack everything. But these days? I can get us in the car in 30 minutes flat.

Want to know my secret?

After stressing out before many vacations, I finally realized something. I can keep Amelia happy as long as I address four major needs. If you cover your bases on these four questions while packing, you will be sitting pretty. On an airplane or in a car, ready to enjoy that break from home and some extra-special family time.

(1) What if the child gets hungry?
One extremely important key to maintaining a happy child travel companion is this: snacks. I make sure to have a lunch tote or backpack full of snack options. Goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, granola bars, and yogurt raisins are some of our favorites. I always throw in a special treat as well - something she doesn't get very often, like M&Ms or Skittles. And I save those, snuggled down in the bag, until I she really needs a pick-me-up.

(2) What if the child gets bored?
Long car or airplane trips can be boring for adults, and they are torture for active preschoolers like mine. Even she gets tired of the iPad after a while. I always pack several entertainment items, such as coloring books with crayons, an egg of silly putty, books, a favorite toy, and/or stuffed animals or dolls. I have also found that the $1 store can work miracles in this type of packing situation. Five bucks at the dollar store means five activity surprises for your tiny travel partner. And just like the special treat, hide these in the bottom of the goody bag and dispense one at a time as needed. A brand new toy goes a long way towards entertainment. (One note: If you are headed for airplane travel, avoid any toys that make noise! The people sitting in front of your child will thank you.)

(3) What if the child needs to go potty?
This is a crucial part of the trip planning. If your little traveler is in diapers, then just make sure you have at least double the amount of diapers you would normally need during the travel time frame - and several extra outfits. Excess is good here, because you will inevitably face blow-outs or leaks when you least expect it.

If you have a potty-trained preschooler like I do, be aware (as in, never-ending high alert) of any and all bathrooms nearby. Similar to the diaper blow-outs, your child will most certainly beg to go potty once you've passed every available facility for miles. On a road trip, try to stick to roads that have plentiful gas stations, fast food restaurants, or hotels. For air travel, be aware of your flight time and get that child in the bathroom right before the captain requires you in your seat for the 30-minute approach and landing procedure. Fitting both of you in an airplane bathroom is an adventure in itself... but it is optimal compared to having to explain to a flight attendant why your child's seat is now soaked.

(4) What if the child gets tired?
This is the point we had to focus on the most. We enjoyed many active child-free vacations in our early-married days, but these often do not translate well to child-friendly adventures. Before we commit to any hiking trails or outdoor excursions, we have to put ourselves in Amelia's size-11 (and glittery) shoes. Can she walk that far? Is it possible to bring a stroller? Is there a height/age requirement for the activity? We have put some of our favorite excursions aside for now, but it is a sacrifice we are willing to take just to have her at our sides. She experiences new things with such shine and wonder in her eyes - and that is a sight I never want to miss.

Now I am ready for our next big trip!

How about you? Where do you want to take your family?

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