By Denise Morrison Yearian
Traveling with children can be a rewarding experience, but it can present challenges, too. To help make your summer vacation enjoyable and memorable for everyone in the family, consider these quick tips:
- Get your child’s input. After determining your vacation destination, find out what your child would like to do and see. Tell her the sites you want to visit and let her choose some places to go. The trip will be more enjoyable if she has some input and prior knowledge before leaving home, so check out library books and websites related to the area.
- Build excitement. Make a countdown calendar so your child can mark off the days until vacation starts. If traveling by car, get a map and show him the route you plan to take. Let him use markers to highlight roadways. As you pass through major cities or states, give him stickers to add to the map.
- Pace yourself. It can be tempting to want to take in as much as you can, but kids like to move at their own pace. Rather than frustrate yourself (and your kids!), create a cushion of time for your child to explore even the simplest of surroundings before rushing to the next activity. When traveling by car, build in time at rest stops so your child can run around and play. Many roadside rest areas have playgrounds, but pack a ball, bubbles, jump rope, Frisbee, and other small items that can be used for physical activity.
- Tailor the trip to your child’s needs. Most kids get bored standing in long lines and visiting scenic spots day after day, so look for activities that will appeal to everyone. If you really want to visit a site that isn’t kid-friendly, go early while your child is rested, then reward her in the afternoon by doing something she will enjoy. Most important, be flexible. While it’s good to plan your itinerary, don’t be too rigid. If your child is getting restless, switch it up and have a picnic at the park or take a leisurely nature hike.
- Pack age-appropriately. Younger children require different gear than older kids. For infants and preschoolers, take along extra clothes and laundry detergent, in case they get wet, dirty or messy along the way. Other items to consider packing include a night light, flashlight, extension cord, small sewing kit, scissors, masking tape for reclosing disposable diapers, outlet covers, handy wipes and trash bags for the car.
- Get personal with backpacks. Give your child her own backpack to put belongings in during the trip. This can carry their toys, books and other things they want to keep handy. Of course, you may want to do a quick inventory before leaving home to make sure he hasn’t packed unnecessary bulky items that could take up space or weigh the backpack down.
- Pack for easy access. When packing the car, think through items that need to be accessible at all times. Decide what will you need during the trip, and what will you only need at your destination. Make diapers, wipes, snacks and small toys accessible at all time. It’s also a good idea to keep swimsuits, towels, an extra set of clothes, toothbrushes and toothpaste close at hand too.
- Take emergency information. If you haven’t already entered your doctor and dentist’s contact information into your cell phone, do it before you leave home. Take a photo of your child’s vaccination records to save on your phone, and have a supply of medications, carsick bags, first-aid kit and a thermometer on hand to save you from looking for a drugstore in unfamiliar surroundings.
- Wrap up surprises. Before leaving home, prepare little packages for your child to open while traveling. This can be some fun items from the dollar store or even simple snacks. When she gets restless or needs a reward, let her choose an item to unwrap.
- Stow away snacks. Granola bars, trail mix, fruit, bagels, crackers and cheese cubes are easy to keep fresh. Pack water to quench your child’s thirst. Avoid sweets as it could cause a sugar rush.
- Go for the games. Pack a collection of games and toys you can hand out every so often. This includes small coloring books, stickers, word searches and board games in travel sizes. Plan to play “I Spy,” “20 Questions” or the “Alphabet Game,” where everyone finds a letter or combination of letters on signs, billboards or license plates. Also include some stories and sing-along songs on CD or a phone app to help pass time in the car. Of course, you can always rely on some kid-friendly apps on your phone.
- Keep a travel journal. Have your child take pictures of things that interest him. Although you may think the mountain ahead is picture worthy, he may want to take photos of flowers, rocks and bugs. In between destinations, encourage him to draw pictures and write about interesting things he has seen or foods he’s eaten. When the trip is over, the photos, writings and drawings can be made into a memorable scrapbook.
- Prepare for post-vacation blues. A fun way to help children cope with post-vacation blues is to have them write postcards to themselves telling where they went that day, what they had to eat, etc. When they get home, the postcard will be waiting for them or show up shortly thereafter. This will be a great souvenir for them to show their friends.
Denise Morrison Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children and six grandchildren.