Ask Sally: Traveling With Your Young Kids & How Not to Hit the Skids!

Traveling With Your Young Kids

It’s summer and somewhere along the way, your family will likely be hitting the road or flying in the skies. How to make sure “the journey is half the fun” (or at least not an exercise in torment!) when you’ve got young children in tow? Sally Tannen, director of 92Y’s Parenting Center, offers some tips when it comes to traveling with your young kids.

Need some travel inspiration on where to take the family trip? Take a look at where our New York Family writers have been for the perfect getaway by car and plane: Hershey Park, Coney Island, Catskills, and Miami!

Traveling in General:

  • Traveling with your young kids can be full of last-minute surprises/needs. New parents, in particular, should factor an extra hour into travel plans.
  • Involve your partner in packing, so you both have ownership over what it takes to get ready to travel with the kids. Think of a vacation with young children more as a “relocation” and you’ll have adjusted your expectations!
  • If staying at a hotel with a baby, call ahead to order a crib, but bring your own crib sheet so the scent and feel are familiar.
  • Pack a small backpack or travel bag for each child. They’ll delight in having their very own stash of entertainment, snacks, etc.
  • Be generous with the snacks! Pack a variety of foods, including baby carrots, clementines they can peel themselves and other healthy nibbles. And always bring plenty of wipes.
  • Pack toys/games that don’t have lots of small pieces. Familiar toys and activities are great, and a few new surprises are greater still.
  • Children love homemade books. Staple together some white paper to create a book, make a cover, and your child has their own book to scribble or draw in. Bring a small baggie with their favorite crayon colors (no markers) or a magnetic doodle or drawing pad (ideally with the stylus attached).
  • If bringing your child’s favorite lovey on the trip, make sure you have an extra one at home, in case it’s lost during your travels.
  • Reserve your kids’ screen/electronics time for when you’re actually on the road or plane. Load a couple of new kid-friendly apps onto your phone or download a few movies onto your iPad before you set off, so the kids have something fresh and unexpected to entertain them. And remember to bring portable chargers.
  • Help your kids become observers of their surroundings! Give school-age children a journal so they can write about their experiences and/or draw the things they see. And give them easy-to-use cameras to memorialize their trip.

Traveling by Plane:

  • Research your airline’s restrictions and allowances ahead of time in regard to gear and such. Carriers have different guidelines for how they handle strollers, baby food, etc. If you’re interested in a baby bassinet for a long flight, reserve one as early in advance as possible.
  • Pack lightly! If you’re visiting family, there will be a washer/dryer available. If you’re hotel-bound anywhere but a truly remote place, you’ll be able to rent/borrow/buy anything bulky you might need. Or, order items online and have them shipped to your destination so they’ll be waiting for you when you arrive.
  • With babies and toddlers, pack an extra outfit for them — and for yourself — in carry-on luggage, so you’re prepared in the event of anything messy.
  • While most airlines encourage early boarding for families with young children, I recommend the “divide and conquer” approach: Either you or your partner should board the plane as early as possible to claim the overhead bin space you’ll almost certainly need. The other should wait at the gate with the kids for as long as possible so they can stay active and to help keep them from getting antsy before you’ve even taken off.
  • Try to sit toward the back of the plane — the kids will disturb others less, you’ll be close to the bathrooms, and you’ll have greater access to the flight attendants.
  • Headphones are a good investment for kids old enough to use them — airplane earbuds aren’t made for little ears.
  • Give your baby a bottle (or an older child something to drink or chew) during take-off so their ears don’t pop, which can be painful, confusing, and upsetting.
  • When you land, let other passengers deplane first.

Traveling by Car:

  • Plan to start a long trip at night, if possible —  children will often sleep much of the way. Dress the kids in their pajamas so they’re cozy and can sleep en route or be ready for bed if you stop for the night.
  • In addition to bringing along your child’s favorite toys and diversions (and something new to help ward off boredom), make it a point to have active family time while you’re all together in a small space, and play some classic car games. From “I Spy” to the license plate game to “Geography,” car games are a fun way to pass the time together on the road. Need inspiration? The Google Play store offers Road Trip Travel Games with free apps and more.
  • Similarly, find a radio station everyone likes, or listen to a book on tape together. It will be much more rewarding than individual activities, and you’ll be creating meaningful memories.
  • If you have a child who is prone to car sickness, be prepared with a child-safe medication, but also be vigilant about the triggers that can exacerbate the problem, from greasy food to focusing on a book, movie, or game, which can increase nausea.
  • Make your rest stops about more than a bathroom break and a quick bite. Let your kids run around to let off steam before everyone piles in the car again.
  • Lastly, remind your kids to look out the window! Unlike a plane trip, in a car, you’re able to fully experience the getting from “here” to “there.” Kids may eventually want to tune out, but they should start by tuning in.

Director of 92Y’s Parenting Center and Grandparents Center, Sally Tannen has been supporting parents of young children, building community, and creating and offering activities and classes for babies, kids, parents and grandparents for thousands of NYC families for more than 25 years. A mother of four and grandmother of three, Sally’s personal experience continues to enrich and inform her work.