To go or not to go: How to make traveling with young children enjoyable
Once new parents pass that initial shock of caring for an infant and have mastered their daily routines, they may consider venturing out with their little one on their first trip. Whether it be a family wedding, an overnight trip to the beach, a first trip to Disney, or a road trip for the long weekend, taking young children anywhere can bewilder even the most-seasoned traveler. Here are some suggestions to make your travels as successful as possible:
- Do your research. Many destinations have family-friendly attractions such as children’s museums, parks, or festivals. After choosing a location, spend some time figuring out the logistics before you arrive to minimize in-the-moment decision-making stress. For example, have a plan for arriving at your hotel, consider car seat requirements, reserve tickets in advance, and make reservations for restaurants. The more work you do at home, the more in control you will feel at your destination. Children are used to their parents “knowing everything.” Seeing parents confused and flustered will impact their behavior.
- Be prepared. It is difficult to be over prepared when traveling with young children. Regardless of how many extra snacks, toys, and clothes you pack, the youngest travelers always seem to need more. It is especially important to take medications, diapers, bottles, creams, etc. Even if you are traveling within the U.S., finding the exact sippy cup your toddler prefers can be challenging in a new destination, so it is always a safe bet to take your child’s most preferred items along for the trip.
- Enlist help. Traveling with extra adults can make a stressful situation more tolerable. Those fortunate enough to have involved grandparents, siblings, or a trusted babysitter who is willing to tag along for the ride should consider extending the invitation if possible. Traveling with other families of young children can also make vacations more enjoyable for both the kids and the adults. In case you are a solo adult traveling with young children, don’t be shy about asking others around you for help. Most people are willing to help when asked, but hesitant to overstep.
- Routine. Plan as much as possible around your children’s natural sleep and eating schedule. Tired, hungry, cranky children make terrible travel partners. Don’t forget that lovie, blankie, noise machine, night light, or whatever it is your child can’t sleep without.
- Flexibility is key. Even the most prepared parent will encounter the unexpected during their travels. Weather, traffic, delayed luggage, and/or missing a nap will all alter your perfectly researched plan. It is important to remember this is a vacation meant to be enjoyed and sometimes those unexpected detours can make for the most memorable moments.
- Set realistic expectations. Traveling with young children often results in a slower pace and a shorter timeline. You and your child’s expectations need to be set accordingly. Don’t make promises that may not be kept and keep your own goals realistic. Everyone will have a better time if they are well fed, rested, and stop for breaks, even if that means you only saw two attractions instead of three.
- Distractions. No matter where your travels take you, you will be waiting. Waiting for the plane to take off, waiting in line, waiting for the rest of your party to join you. Traveling equals waiting and young children are not known for their patience. Stickers, cards, and trivia apps on cellphones are all simple ways to keep children engaged and distracted while making wait times more tolerable for all involved.
- You know your child best! When planning your travels keep in mind what works for your family. For example, some parents can book a red-eye flight and know their children will sleep the whole time, while others report that there are too many distractions and prefer an early morning flight. When it comes to predicting your child’s behavior, you are the expert.
Lastly, only agree to travel with young children if you are interested and committed. Often times, young families feel pressured to travel when they are not yet ready, which results in a negative experience for all involved. At what age and where you are willing to take your children is a personal decision. Other times, it is also recommended to leave the children at home. Go away with your spouse or friends. Sometimes we need a break from our children to be the best version of ourselves we can be.
For those of you brave enough to travel with young children, you are likely to make lasting memories or at least will have some funny stories to share when they are older. Happy travels!
Dr. Elizabeth Pulgaron is a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the Mailman Center for Child Development within the University of Miami Health System. She is also the mother of well-traveled 2 and 6-year-old girls. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.