Thursday 6 October 2011

Tips for travelling with young children

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!

1. Stickers

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?


  1. Great tips! We did all of these things on our epic car trip this summer and they really did help things go more smoothly.

  2. We do most of these with our daughter. But by now, she's such a frequent flyer, that she hardly needs anything. She sits herself down and takes a nap, then 'reads' the inflight magazine.

  3. Wow, what a GREAT list! We have only travelled once with our wee little one (she's approaching 4 months now) and it went pretty well (she was still in the sleep-all-the-time phase). But my husband and I are roadtrip-takers by nature, and we're aching to do one next summer, so I'll keep these tips in mind.

    I also just wanted to say I TOTALLY remember having my sticker books on roadtrips. ; )

  4. Great tips! It's certainly challenging isn't it.

    We just did Australia to the USA with a 6mo and 2 year old. 4 aeroplanes and about 48hrs travel each way. They actually did much better than expected!

    I had one wrapped new present each aeroplane. It really helped when, after the first few flights, she was tired and cranky and didn't want to be strapped in.

    Something I didn't consider, was that because we had to leave home so early in the morning (like, before 5am) the kids were already tired even right at the beginning. That meant that my 2 year old wasn't as capable of imaginative play and focused concentration as she normally would be so some of the toys I'd brought weren't very useful - even though they would have been had she been fresh and well rested.

    Something that worked out really well was the 'aeroplane necklace' i made my daughter. We gave it to her as soon as she was seated on the first plane. She loved it and I think it really helped things get off to a good start. I did one for the return journey too. I made it with a ribbon threaded with fruit loops (cereal like cheerios but coloured). Obviously not something I'd normally ever give her but it was brightly coloured and fun and she loved it.

  5. Bron, I absolutely love that airplane necklace idea. Perfect!! I will definitely include a couple of those in our carry-on for our Christmas flights. Thanks for sharing!