Tomorrow we leave for another of our frequent eleven hour drives to visit my in-laws. Because we have family spread across Canada, we've spent many long days and nights travelling by car, plane, and bus to spend time with loved ones, right from the time our babies were tiny little things.
With Thanksgiving on Monday in Canada, next month in the United States, and Christmas the month after that, chances are you might be travelling with young children soon as well. Below are ten things that have helped our day-long travels go as smoothly as can be expected; please do share your own travelling-with-children tips as well!
We once arrived at our destination and found the baby covered head-to-toe in stickers, courtesy of his big brother. It was well worth the silence during the long drive, let me tell you! Stickers are our number one go-to activity when travelling with children. You cannot bring too many stickers.
To save money, check out the office supplies section. There you can find packages of stars, circles, numbered stickers, and coloured labels, each with hundreds of stickers instead of just a sheet or two of the same few licensed characters. Sticker activity books are great alternatives as well.
2. Crayons and bound paper
Second on our must-have list is Crayons and bound paper. Crayons are preferred over markers because of the lower mess potential, and bound paper (a ring-bound notebook, a colouring book, or a pad of paper clipped into a clipboard) works far better than a stack of loose paper.
3. Ink-less drawing tools
Various ink-less drawing tools have also been brought along with us over the years. Etch-a-Sketches, Aqua Doodles, Magna Doodles, and so on provide excellent non-consumable entertainment, especially for the younger ages when they aren't as proficient with Crayons.
4. New toys
I once attempted to wrap a number of small surprises to hand back to the then-three year old once every hour along the way. Bad idea. This is probably a great idea with younger ages, older ages, or very patient three year olds, but halfway through I gave up from the incessant "is it time for another surprise yet??"
A new small toy, however, is still a great trick to be able to pull out of your bag just as everything begins to go south. Naturally, avoid toys with small parts or many pieces. Our favourite travelling toys are cars and Schleich animals.
5. Audio books
Children's stories on CD can hold their attention for a while; we often bring a few of these along. Even better, however, is a family-friendly audio book that everyone can enjoy. Our family favourite is the dramatized version of The Chronicles of Narnia.
6. Embrace the mess
Embrace the mess - or at least accept it. Crumbs will happen, toys will be strewn around the car, ice cubes will be dropped in airplane seats, bottles of water will be dropped on bus floors and promptly roll all the way to the back of the bus. Accept that mess will happen and it won't be so stressful when it does.
7. Minimize the mess
That said, do what you can to minimize the mess! Avoid stickiness or stain-potential. Stick to drinking water. SnackTraps can be an effective way of minimizing snack spills. Bring along wet wipes and facecloths to clean hands and mop up spills.
8. Pack intentionally
I used to be a terrible packer. If it was in the house and we had used it even once within the past six months, it was probably something I needed to bring along. I've since learned how to pack lightly. Even with children's activities for the trip, less is often more. Filling the seat beside him with bags full of toys always resulted in chaos; a few well-chosen items in a small backpack goes a lot further.
So choose carefully. We often try to bring our small portable booster seat because the stress it minimizes is worth the space it takes up. Our stroller, on the other hand, stays at home, as I prefer to use a baby carrier and have two hands free to deal with luggage and the older siblings while navigating the airport (often husband-less, as too many of our travels must be at this point in our lives!).
9. Push when you can, stop when you need to
If things are going well, we push through for as long as our gas tanks and bladders can possibly last. When things start going hairy and our other distraction tactics are failing us, a brief but well-timed visit to a park or open field does wonders for everyone's spirits.
10. Keep it simple
This is the time to make use of the convenience items that have wormed their way into far too much of our daily lives. I used to travel with a small suitcase dedicated to our cloth diapers; I've since switched to disposables during our travels. We break out the ultra-exciting (100% fruit, no sugar added) fruit snacks that our deprived children never get at home. We bring a Klean Kanteen filled with water for the kids instead of dealing with juice boxes or pop bottles. Keep it simple.
Above all else, remember that attitude is everything. When you can let go and accept what is, things flow far more smoothly than attempts to micromanage every last detail. Happy travels!
What are your best tips for travelling with children?