Traveling over the holidays is hard enough as it is — at last count, AAA expected about 50 million Americans to travel for Thanksgiving alone. Toss into the mix a child or two, and the rigmarole has all the trappings of a drama that’s sure to spike your blood pressure. But the experience doesn’t have to be stressful. With a few simple tweaks to your approach, it can even be pleasant, year after year.
My wife and I travel with our three daughters pretty much every holiday season, so we’ve learned some family travel hacks from experience. Here, then, in no particular order, are 10 things to keep in mind.
1. Leverage the lap child
Most airlines allow parents to fly with babies at no additional cost until the kids turn 2. The airlines require that kids travel on their parents’ laps, and refer to these passengers as “lap children.” As hideous as this word is, the concept behind it is a great perk, especially when you consider the alternative is paying an additional $500 or $600 for a separate seat.
We’ll keep it real: Riding with lap children gets less comfortable as the kids get older and larger and squirmier. But if money is even remotely an issue, this is a good perk to leverage for as long as you can.
2. MacGuyver the gear
Moms and Dads are suckers for kid and baby gear. If a manufacturer markets a product as something that can make traveling easier, we’re even more inclined to throw money at the dream. In most cases, however, specific gear for family travelers is nothing more than a waste of money.
Want to latch two booster seats together? Jerry-rig some hair ties. Want to protect your car seat before you check it? An oversized lawn bag works just fine, no matter what some random manufacturer says you need.
3. Embrace the apps
Sleeping away from home can be difficult for even the most intrepid kid. Unfamiliar sounds! Darker-than-usual rooms! Any one of these things could keep a child up all night (and, by extension, you). Instead of schlepping sound machines and night lights from home, pick up your Smartphone and shell out a few bucks for useful apps.
Two popular pieces of software with our crew include White Noise from TMSoft, which has more than 50 different sounds, and Night Light from DeviMob, which includes a lullaby feature. The former costs $2.99; the latter is free.
4. Stick to schedules
Children are creatures of habit, which means that traveling really can throw them into tizzies. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to avoid meltdowns by adhering to schedules as best as possible. Stick to snack times between meals. Maintain bed times that are within 30 minutes of the norm. If your child naps, try to incorporate that into the away-from-home routine, too.
If you’re traveling within the same time zone, none of this should be too difficult. If you’re heading to another time zone, prepare your kids by flexing their schedules accordingly for a week or two before you leave.
5. Get healthy snacks
Kids love to snack when they travel, which means the goodies you carry are a huge part of the family experience. Just remember that some noshes are better than others. Sugary treats likely will make the kids crazy, which will put you in the uncomfortable position of having to rein them in.