Travel with Kids made easy

22 Mar

Back when I was single, road trips and holidays were pretty simple. I’d pack my bag with my stuff and head out. I could leave whenever was convenient for me and stops along the way were only dependent on my appetite and my bladder. Since becoming a parent, things have gotten a bit more complicated when I travel with kids.  My husband and I have three kids, aged 10, 6, and 3 as well as two very different work schedules.  Still, I have learned a few things that are helpful for other parents about to travel with kids on the road.

Planning and Packing

First, I’ve discovered that a lot of the planning discussions are best kept out of little one’s earshots. Internalizing the passage of time requires some higher level thinking that kids younger than 6 or 7 just aren’t capable of. In layman’s terms, if you mention an upcoming trip to a six-year-old, you are likely to hear, “Is it time to leave yet?” every hour for a week (or longer). On the other hand, some kids need more preparation for changes in their regular schedules and routines. You know your kids best, so just think about their personalities and temperaments before you mention that awesome trip to Disney World three weeks before you leave!

When it comes to packing, I typically leave it until the night before. Part of that is procrastination, but part of it is because of what I mentioned above. Each of my kids has their own suitcase. For road trips this works out quite nicely. (If you are traveling by air or rail and you are subject to baggage limits, you’ll have to take that into consideration.) I lay the suitcases out in the living room floor and have the kids gather to help pack.

My kids are old enough to dress themselves and put away their own laundry, so when it comes to packing that can be quite helpful. I name an article of clothing and give them a number. For example, “Bring me six pairs of underwear.” They can each do that independently, although big sister does offer littlest brother some help. I usually take the number of days in our trip and add one for each item of clothing. For newly potty-trained kids, I’d add two or three, and I always overestimate on the underwear!

I don’t ask them to pack more than 7 of each item, because if we are going to be gone that long, it’s usually worth it to wash clothes some time during the trip. Plus, most of our long trips are for visiting family anyway.

As the kids bring me the required number of clothes, I pack them neatly into the suitcases. When all the clothes are packed (don’t forget PJs, and other special occasion items like church clothes or swimsuits if needed) I allow the kids to add some toys, books, or loveys to their suitcases. We have a travel bag with toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, and other toiletries that is perpetually packed. I double check that all the supplies are full and then that bag gets placed in the emptiest suitcase. Then they get zipped up and go straight into the car.

Road trips with kids

When it’s time to get the kids in the car, I let them bring one special item with them to the vehicle. My van already has a bin of travel toys in it, so that’s something I don’t have to pack, per se, but it is nice to have in there when we need it. When we travel with kids, our travel bin is actually a canvas storage cube filled with coloring books, crayons, puzzle books, and small toys that the kids don’t regularly get to play with. Their favoites are old Highlights magazines, Magna-Doodle type drawing toys, and an assortment of little figurines from the Dollar Store.

There are also some fun “car BINGO” games you can print off from various websites before you go. My middle son, especially, likes just looking out the windows at all the different things going by. Some people also swear by DVD players, but we don’t have one and my kids have always traveled just fine without them. We do have smart phones and iPads that we occasionally let the kids play with in the car.

If you don’t remember it from your own childhood, I’m sure you’ve seen or heard jokes about it recently, but make sure everyone goes to the bathroom before you leave. Despite that precaution, though, someone always has to use the bathroom at some point during a road trip, so just know that it’s going to happen. And if one person has to go, then make everyone give it a try. You don’t want to have to stop every ten minutes!

Another thing kids (and adults) will often need on long car rides will be food. Different families have different rules about food in the car, but we have found these things to be great for car rides: water bottles that can be refilled along the way, gummy snacks, applesauce pouches, cheese crackers, and granola bars. We also keep a supply of gum in there for my daughter who has ear issues when there are hills to be transversed. Just remember, what goes in, must come out, so prepare for bathroom stops.

Rabias kids traveling

Reach Your Destination

What time you reach your destination will depend, obviously, on what time you leave. Personally, I find that leaving right after work/school makes for a late evening, but a quicker trip as the kids tend to be tired aleady and will often fall asleep in the car. If that’s the case, the kids will often change into their pajamas before they get in the car. When we’ve tried to leave early in the morning, we always seem to get sidetracked and behind schedule. If leaving early in the morning works for you, I recommend packing the vehicle the night before.

Your schedule on vacation is never going to be the same as your regular schedule. You might as well just get used to that now. Kids get overwhelmed with lots of new things and may get more cranky than usual. They don’t often sleep as well in an unfamiliar location, so being tired during your trip is to be expected. It’s really important not to overwhelm your plans with an intinerary that is packed from rising to bedtime. You are just setting yourself up for disaster.

Another thing that happens to us is that kids who are normally in sync when it comes to meal times and bedtimes will fall out of sync with each other while on vacation. This means that our earliest riser at home might often sleep in and our first to sleep at home may become a night owl. Children, like all other humans, are individuals, so how travel affects them will be different from how it affects their siblings.

I am typically a very optimistic person, while my husband is the pessimist. When we travel with kids, I tend to adopt his “expect the worst and you’ll never be caught off guard” mentality. That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy traveling with my family. It just means that I try to imagine the ways that things could go wrong, and that helps me to be prepared if they do.

When it comes time to leave, do what you can to make your homecoming easier. When we stay at my parents’ or in-law’s houses, I wash all the dirty clothes the night before we leave. I pack them all in the biggest suitcase, and then pack the other suitcases with like items; toys in one, books in one, etc. Instead of packing for your destination, think of it as packing for putting it away. It’s nice to come home with just a small bag of dirty clothes instead of suitcases full of them. If washing clothes is not an option, then sort your loads into your suitcases: white in one case, colors in another, towels/blankets in a third, etc. Then when you get home, one case can go straight into the washing machine.

After you get home, whether it was a trip to visit family, a camping trip, or a whirlwind Disney vacation, it’s nice to sit down together as a family and talk about the trip. What were the best parts? The funny parts? Who did you meet? What would you want to do if you went back again? Responses can be written down in a thank you note to Grandma and Grandpa, a family scrapbook, or a blog post. Recording those special family moments together will help them last.

When did you travel with kids last?  

What trip are you planning for?

Rabia can be found blogging on her family’s website, The Liebers, when she isn’t packing for her next trip.  Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and give her a “high five” for these amazing travel tips!

Rabia Liebers family

20 Responses to “Travel with Kids made easy”

  1. Janice Trinh September 2, 2015 at 4:00 AM #

    We don’t travel very much, but there’s been times when we have had to pack. I really like your advice about “packing to put away” for going home. How come I never thought of that?! Sorting them in the luggages – clothes in colors, like items, etc… that is just genius! I will have to remember that next time we go somewhere! Thanks!
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  2. Crystal September 1, 2015 at 1:03 PM #

    It’s been 3.5 years since I last flew with the kids (they were just four and almost 2 at the time), and we had a great time. I was on my own with them on the return journey, but they knew what to expect and well-behaved even after 24 hours. I hope we can travel together again.
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  3. Scarlet August 31, 2015 at 9:06 AM #

    Great tips! I like you have your kids help but supervise the packing!
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  4. L.E. Mastilock August 31, 2015 at 1:06 AM #

    That’s great that you get the kids involved in packing. I also give the kids a number of days, usually one extra just in case. I ask them to pack, reminding them of some items, like socks, underwear, and pjs they might not want to leave out, and then leave them to it. I check to see if they got everything, they’re always excited to show me. I don’t even have to check my 8 year old’s, he doesn’t forget a thing, but still likes me to look. My 5 year old often fills hers up with toys and forgets to pack any pants, so we work on what is practical to bring together. I like to give them the opportunity to try first. They are so proud as each time they do better

  5. Lena August 30, 2015 at 10:37 PM #

    So many cool ideas! I Need to set some rules, because my road trips are complete mess
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  6. Nicky August 30, 2015 at 5:33 PM #

    These are all great tips. The kids like to be involved in planning and they help me pack whenever we travel. I always double check what they pack when they aren’t looking to ensure they have everything they need. When they were younger, we didn’t mention travel because like you mentioned, they’d ask every day when we were leaving.
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  7. Anne Campbell August 30, 2015 at 3:42 PM #

    Travel with kids is a challenge–but the experience in the end is worth the effort. Thanks for such wonderful tips to make the whole process more fun and less stressful for everyone!
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  8. Sharisse August 29, 2015 at 12:50 AM #

    I really like the tip about packing to put away when it’s time to leave. Such a time-saver for when you get home and just want to unpack as quick as possible and relax. I have a detailed packing list I print out every time we travel so I don’t forget anything!
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  9. Jill August 28, 2015 at 10:50 PM #

    These are super. We’ve drug our kids all over the planet and it’s a challenge. You just have to get in front of it a little…but I have to say…last minute packing would make me twitchy.
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  10. Kerith Stull April 4, 2014 at 8:14 AM #

    As our kids got older, we found doing SIMPLE crossword puzzles together helped pass the time and connect all of us. We actually started looking forward to time in the car because of it! We also keep an emergency stash in the car at all times that includes all of the essentials for any medical, messy, money shortage, or any other unexpected event. (Visiting from Publishing Bloggers!)
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  11. Amy Kathleen Kelsch March 26, 2014 at 9:06 PM #

    Hello,
    Dropping in from Small Victories Sunday Link-Up! I am new to your site. Love it! Your title and logo are super fun! This is a great post- really helpful ideas with some humor and honesty thrown in. Thank you!
    Amy Kathleen Kelsch just posted…Darling Spring and Easter Dresses for Little OnesMy Profile

  12. NoMinivanMom March 24, 2014 at 6:54 PM #

    I love it! I will have to remember for our upcoming trip to the safari place coming up in a couple months!

  13. Rach D March 23, 2014 at 12:32 PM #

    This is great! I have traveled with four or five children quite a few times now…and let me tell you: it can be SO stressful! These are great tips to keep everything & everybody organized, focused, and on track. Thanks for posting 🙂 PS we have a disney trip, hopefully, within next couple years…will need these tips again then!!!
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  14. Holly S. March 23, 2014 at 11:56 AM #

    Great article. I am a total listmaker though when it comes to packing. I make a list of all items needed for each person and take it with us. That way, we can check off the list when we’re getting ready to come home to make sure we haven’t left a iPod or swimsuits hanging in the bathroom.

  15. Katy Blevins March 23, 2014 at 9:17 AM #

    We have a huge trip coming up in a few months…our first plane ride! We did an 8 hour drive several months back with great success, but the idea of the airport makes me dizzy with everything we’ll have to pack. Lots of great tips in here. Thanks!!
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  16. Bonnie Way March 22, 2014 at 1:00 PM #

    Great tips! We do much the same… although our kids are younger, so we play more verbal games with them than writing/reading. Thanks for sharing!
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  17. Rabia March 22, 2014 at 11:08 AM #

    Thanks! It looks great! We are actualy getting ready to pack right now because the kids are going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for Spring Break!
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