12 Tips for Long-Haul Travel with Small Children

12 Tips for Long-Haul Travel with Small Children

With the holidays in sight, I know that many of you, my wonderful friends are planning to travel to see family. Those trips may be longer or shorter, but mostly they may add to your stress levels even more than the pressure of coping with your extended family’s desires and habits.

We recently traveled to visit my husband’s family. The trip was an eleven-hour night flight (cause why wouldn’t we start this way) followed by a three-hour drive (cause why wouldn’t the airport be closed).

Here is what helped me get through it:

1. Permission slips

This is probably the most important addition to my travel routine. I learned this from Brene Brown, a teacher I adore. Often, we are our own harshest critic. We create a thought pattern that makes it impossible for us to enjoy any process. Permission slips just state the things you give yourself permission to do or fail to do during the trip.
During this particular flight, my permission slip had this on:
“I give myself permission to go to the restroom and cry when I feel overwhelmed.”
“I give myself permission to not lose my mind when none of these kids of mine sleep.”
“I give myself permission to embrace the chaos.”
Once we acknowledge and then give ourselves permission to fail, be less than gracious, or just be silly, we will have a new perspective on the experience.
I wrote mine on a post-it note and had it in my pocket the entire time. Amulet-like.

2. Make your children part of it all

Children as young as two can help with the trip preparation.
My kids are involved in the following:
-putting the clothes I selected in a suitcase
-choosing the toys they will take with them
-packing their favorite bedtime story
Also, we use a calendar in which we mark the day of the trip. My oldest daughter marks each day that is left until we leave. It builds excitement.

3. Label each child

Individual personality differs, however in a new and busy environment such as the airport or the plane, most children stay close to what they know to be familiar – their parents. There are times however when they might get distracted by the balloons in the duty-free shop and wander off. It can happen to the most vigilant mother, a reason for which I prefer to have my children wearing an ID bracelet with their full name and my phone number.
If the kids are frolicky and would take off their bracelets, put a sticky label on their back.
“My name is Johny. If I’m lost, call my mom at +507123456. Please don’t judge, she’s lovely.”

4. Wear pants with deep pockets

This is probably the most useful tip I can give you. There won’t be many chances to reach your bag. You want as many things as possible ON YOU. Unless you are adventurous enough to wear a fanny pack, deep pockets are your best friend.

5. Pack smartly (standard lists)

I haven’t slept properly in 5 years. My brain is so slow, I can barely count on remembering to put on socks for my kids (weirdly enough, sleep deprivation did NOT seem to affect the fact that I can still perfectly lip-sing all the greatest hits of 1989-2004.)
These days, I almost never make decisions on the spot unless I have to make them.
I decide in advance many of the things in my life. Packing for a trip is one of them. I use Reminder Lists on my iPhone, and I have a different list for:
-Diaper bag in the plane
-Carry on
-Activity kits
-Kids’s big suitcase
-Adults’ big suitcase

6. Pack snacks

When I’m hungry, I get grumpy. This extraordinary personality feature seems to have been genetically transferred to my beautiful children. I have so many snacks in that carry-on, we could live on a deserted island for a week. Magically, they all disappear after a 16-hour trip.

7. Use toys and games they haven’t used in a long time

For the activity kits, I use games and toys they haven’t seen in a while. Colors, stamps, stickers, drawing pads, card games, tiny animals.

8. Pack surprises

This is courtesy of my friend Deb, who regularly travels between Australia, Panama, and Europe with her two young girls.
Buy some new small toys or use some that the kids haven’t seen in a long time. Wrap them in a paper. A little bit like Santa-mom is visiting during the flight.
When s#*t hits the fan (and it will), take out a little present and give it to your kids. The time it takes them to unwrap, play and forget about their issues, might be enough for you to regroup your brain cells or cry in the bathroom.

9. Plan for rockbottom

Having positive thoughts about this experience is crucial, but so is planning for disaster. There will be times when you feel you’re done!
Moments when you feel you simply can’t find the energy or ability to cope with the demands, the noise and the fact that you are 40000ft up in the air with no alternatives. Overtired babies hanging on you, toddlers crying on the floor, husband nagging (or watching his 3rd in-flight movie with noise-cancelling headphones), fellow travelers shooting poisonous glances – what then?
Mine is:
-box breathing
-a secret stash of chocolate in the bathroom and
-asking for help

10. Connection plan

In my household, everything works smoothly when we all feel connected to each other.
Be intentional about connecting with your kids with a silly game (such as hide and seek in the waiting area, dancing, singing or running after each other), tight snuggles or reading a book on your lap.
Give a big hug to your partner, or at least a low-five. “We are doing great honey!” is sometimes all you need to reestablish the connection.

11. End of the trip treat and debriefing

Thank your kids for being patient, cool and cooperative during the trip. Offer a few words of appreciation and a very specific example of what they’ve done well.
“Remember that time when we had to wait in line to get on the plane? When I asked you to stay next to me, you did. I appreciate that.”
Have a special treat for the end of the trip. A piece of chocolate, a smoothie pack, anything that is special for your kids.

12. No expectations

The more you expect things to go a certain way, the more disappointed you will be if they don’t.
So when it comes to your trip, expect absolutely nothing in the following areas: no expectations or schedule regarding sleeping, eating, sharing, being polite, watching cartoons, airline schedule, weather conditions, luggage, the kindness of random strangers or the actual time you will be on the road.

With this in mind, holidays are supposed to be fun, a time of togetherness and joy. You will get there!

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