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Heading on a road trip or (cringe) a long flight with kids? We've done some road trips and long-haul flights with our 4 kids, from infant to early primary age (the hardest ages). Here are my top tips, influenced in part by ideas found online, that I have pinned on my pinterest page here.
1(a). My pre-tip before the number one tip is less about the logistics of the journey time, and more about making the vacation a success. Are there any portions of the vacation that your child(ren) can contribute to? This can be as minor as choosing to eat at McDonalds versus Hungry Jacks, to as major as the destination or activities at your destination. Everyone will have something to look forward to, and will enjoy themselves more, if they feel they've had an opportunity to contribute to the planning.
1. Routine: When routine is anything but routine, my number one tip is to stick as close to your normal, home routine as possible.
Eat snacks and meals at snack and meal times. Road trips are very conducive to constant snacking; this will not serve you well in the long run.
Nap and sleep at nap and sleep times. This may mean a shade for the back window, turning off screens and music, and even turning on some sort of "white noise" through your audio system (especially if you have some non-napping siblings).
If you're travelling through night time sleeps, it's worth the precious carry-on space to bring pyjamas, nighttime lovey, and even a favourite pillow or blanket. Do a full nighttime routine on the plane or at a driving pit stop. Read a story, have a snuggle, say goodnight. Even if your kids are "sleepers" regardless, this routine will help them to sleep longer, and get back to sleep if they wake prematurely (though I wouldn't recommend waking them for the sake of performing the routine).
2. "Are We There Yet?": Measure the trip in a tangible way. Create a timeline of sorts to help your little one(s) see how far you've traveled, and yes, "how much lonnnggggerrr?" Best to do this in kilometres rather than hours, in case there are unexpected delays. A few ways to do this:
Clip a string around the inside cabin of the vehicle. Attach small marker points that represent kilometres traveled. Use a paper clip and a paper cut-out of a car (make it like your own if you're really crafty or ambitious, or handy with your camera and printer). Move the vehicle along the string to illustrate your journey.
Prepare a clear bag of small wrapped gifts. Every x hours or x kilometres, give your child(ren) a gift and show them how many are left. This will also help with boredom.
Use a chalkboard, whiteboard, or printed piece of paper to illustrate a child-friendly map or maze. Draw (or allow them to draw) a line to each new destination that you've reached so far.
3. Incentivise: You can call them bribes if you like, but I prefer to think of them as incentives. Have a few gifts at the ready: activity books, interactive toys, magnet-doodles, magic markers, snap-dress dolls, maybe even a new game for the iPad, you get the idea. Use the items at your discretion; good behaviour comes to mind as the top motivation, but I'll leave that with you, as you know your kid(s) best.
4. Eat Healthily: I'll keep this short but sweet; everyone will feel better if you strive to eat healthy snacks and meals. As much fresh fruit and veg as possible, water to drink.
5. Favourites: Bring a nice mix of old favourites and new surprises; this applies to food, books, toys, and clothing. You never know what's going to make them uncomfortable. In case you are looking for a few new travel items, here are some of my favourites:
Pipe cleaners (chenille stems): You can even bring pipe cleaners on the airplane, and they are amazingly versatile for busy fingers.
Triangular crayons and coloured pencils: not as messy as textas, and not as rolly either.
Take-n-toss disposable dishes and bibs. Depending on the age of your kids, best save the environmental friendliness goals for another day and pack some take-n-toss lidded cups with straws (or sipping spout), disposable bibs, and a box of ziplock baggies. You do not want to have to take soiled items with you for the remainder of the trip; bin it.
Lego was my best and worst idea on a few trips. Yes, I repeated the offense. Depending on your kids' age and interests, Lego can go a long way to keeping boredom at bay. It can also get lost in an instant, creating grief and improving acrobatic skills to recover said lost pieces on an airplane. Your call. I liked the 3-in-1 Creator Mini series, affordable and small, with a hard plastic travel-friendly container, for my 6 year old son.
If you're flying with babies under 24 months, I recommend a car seat. Sounds like a pain, but when they're strapped in, they sleep better, eat better, and, well, stay still better.
Wet wipes. Lots and lots of wet wipes.
Share your tips, favourites, and resources in the comments section below.
Travelling can be a very positive and bonding experience for families. Embrace the journey. Plan for the worse, hope for the best, take lots of photos, and just keep smiling (if nothing else, it will freak out the kids). Bon voyage.