Our kids were traveling champs on our recent trip to Southern California. At the ages of 10, 7 and 4, we weren’t quite sure how things would go, but we were ready to give it a shot. With a 4:45am alarm set on day one, we knew we might be pushing them a little more than they were ready for. But they surprised us.
We can’t remember them complaining about flight times or all the time we spent in the rental car in traffic. They were just along for the ride, and seemed to enjoy everything as much as Andrew and I did. Maybe it’s to their credit and not to ours, but here are some of the things that seemed to help us. Maybe it will help stress levels on your next family vacation.
1. Keep Expectations Low
This is more like my life philosophy than a travel tip, but it works in this case too. I find my life more full of joy when I keep my expectations low. This is not my natural state – I tend to expect way too much of everyone all the time – so it takes a little effort on my part, but lowering my expectations helps me eliminate frustration and actually enjoy the people around me. Remember as you travel with your kids, that they are kids. They may not appreciate things like you do, they may not have the patience you do, but you are teaching them those things along the way.
2. Give them Responsibility
Make them carry their own bags! Ensure that they’re a weight they can handle, and let them load them in the car and pull them through the airport. Our older two, Johnny and Charlotte, obviously had an easier time with this. One of the sweetest things was watching Johnny help Charlotte and Brooks load their bags on the airport shuttle when they were having a little trouble. There’s no need for mom and dad to carry all of the weight. Let your kids share the burden as well.
3. Pack Snacks
This is kind of like Momming 101, but snacks are key. I packed mostly healthy snacks but a few sweet treats too. I am not above bribery while traveling. Whatever it takes, Mama!
4. Choose a Family Anthem
If you’re having a rough morning or maybe some of you just need a reset button, we’ve found that music does that for us. On our California trip, we chose a family song (Coldplay’s I Want Something Just Like This) and every time we put it on, the music went up and the windows went down. That song was the soundtrack of our trip. We all couldn’t help but sing along and let go of any bad vibes as it played.
5. Emergency Plan: Headphones!
When everything else isn’t working, hand over a tablet and a set of headphones to silence the noise. We really only did this on the plane, but it solved the boredom problem every time. We kept the electronics captive until moments when we really needed them, so we did it guilt-free. We had a rule that they couldn’t use them in the car because half of the fun of Southern California was the unexpected views of the Pacific and the beautiful canyons as we drove the freeways. Whatever your rules may be, communicate them clearly to all adults and children so you’re all on the same page, and make their usage a privilege and not a right.
Maybe it was just a fluke and we got lucky, but this trip showed us that our kids really are capable of traveling at a young age. We want them to see the world early, and now we know they’re ready! We’re preparing for a big return trip to Ethiopia next summer and maybe a big city like New York the following year. We love our annual trips to relax at the beach, but hope to adventure to other exciting destinations while they’re young!