Monday, September 24, 2012

Traveling with young kids

Before we had kids, DH and I used to travel extensively, like we had wheels under our feet and our friends kept warning us that it’ll stop as soon as a little one enters our life. Guess what, not just one but two little ones have entered our lives and people now ask how do you do it, traveling so much with kids. Well, the first and the foremost is if you really love it, you’ll find a way to do it and the other that they (our kids) inherited our travel genes.

I decided to put together a questionnaire for everyone who loves to travel but hesitant to travel with kids.

When do you start traveling with kids?
It’s never too soon to start, the earlier the better as they get a bassinet to sleep in the plane before they are 29” long but if your baby is 32” don’t let it deter you, no body measures the baby before they assign you a bassinet. Also, they fly for free before they are 24 months old, so make use of it. Don't worry if they don't consciously remember the trip, that's what pictures are for.

How do airline people accommodate with the needs of a baby?
I possibly have been really lucky but I have always found air hostesses to be very helpful with kids. That said, “You have to be well prepared and not depend on them for all your needs”. On the planes, I let the kids sleep as much as they want, never wake them up because its meal time. I ask the air hostess to save their food for later. All long distance plane have 1% milk so if you have cheerios or fruit loops or any of your kids favorite cereal, a substantial meal for a kid can be ready in no time. I haven’t yet seen microwaves in the plane and so the air hostess uses hot water to warm up baby formula or milk, so don’t catch them at a time when they are just beginning their service to regular passengers, try to do it before or after the regular service rush.

How about traveling by car?
When the kids were young or even before we had kids, we usually started our trip very early morning or late in night, however you chose to look at it. Starting a road trip at 3:30am-4:00am, is perfect as the roads are practically empty and you can head out of the town before the morning rush starts. Also, the kids are peacefully sleeping in the car seat and will continue to do so for at least another three hour and by then you’d be ready for your first pit-stop anyways. Cozy blankets are highly recommended.

Do televisions in Car help?
Well, it’s against our gut feeling to sit kids in front of the television to distract them just so that we can get on with our tasks and that applies for traveling as well. That said we do have a portable DVD player that we had carried once on a 6 hours road trip and I can’t say it was particularly helpful but it helped some. Now the DVD player is attached to my treadmill and the iPad has taken up the entertainment responsibility but only for restricted time. We mostly play games or do homework on it but don't watch TV program or movies on iPad.

How to keep kids engaged during traveling?
Like I said, it is probably the genes and that we got lucky with kids who are good traveler but we try very hard to keep them engaged.
A couple weeks before the trip, we go to the library and get books about the destination and kids do their research about it so they kind of know what to expect on the way and once we reach. They also figure out our traveling route on the highway maps, its not always most accurate or the fastest but that's not the point anyways. For my younger one I usually do the research and print out coloring pages related to the destination. Crayons and sketch pads are a lifesaver.
Food always helps, but make sure its not too sugar loaded else we'll have a period of hyperactivity which is not practical for car rides followed by a sugar crash and a meltdown. We allow kids to eat at fast food restaurants only when we are on the road so that is also that something they look out for, mile markers and then the next McDonald's or Arby's to keep them engaged and tracking the miles.
My younger one (5) has a shorter attention span so we have to make up games on the go... like who sees most red cars traveling in opposite direction, or I love game - where each person just keeps saying what they love/like from chocolates to beaches and everything in between. Singing songs also helps keeping the kids engaged and stress levels down.

Hope this helps and if you are just starting out always remember one very important thing, you know where you are going and what is so exciting about it; and you need to communicate it to a person who gets excited about a puddle in the road and doesn't quite understand the need to drive 8 hours to have fun. Make it fun for them and not too stressful, if it becomes a happy memory they'd want to do it again, start with couple of hours of drive and then slowly build it up; be patient, slowly they'll get it.
Now that we have gotten the kids used to long drives and camping trips, we are slowly working towards building their stamina for an all day hiking trip. I think we should get there in the next year or so...

Will share more pictures soon but here's an instagram collage from our most recent road trip to South Dakota.


  1. This is a great post!
    I have learned not to set my expectations too high when traveling with the kids.
    And I don't mean that in a bad way.
    I just kind of roll with the punches :)
    But I do pack lots of activities and snacks. And it helps that now that Evan is ten, he can pack his own activities to keep him busy :)

  2. Nice tips Shalini! Just in time for an upcoming trip :)