The Truth About Traveling With Kids

We recently traveled as a family on a grand adventure to Kissimme Florida which included many firsts.  While the trip down wasn’t a first, the exception being our 6 month old son, the way we did it very much was so.  We decided to play things a little crazy and flew down from Buffalo, New York.  After enjoying our week or so down south we then returned by driving our rental car and returning it in Buffalo and retrieving our van.  Despite the logistical nightmare this suggests, it went very smoothly and turned out to be a pleasant way to do it.  It helps that my wife loves to fly and I thoroughly enjoy driving so, between the two of us, one of us was in our element.

One thing I noted is the number of reactions we got when traveling with our group.  My wife and I both come from families of six, each with three younger siblings, so our family of five almost seems a bit small by comparison.  You’d think we were the Duggar family or something.  Most people seemed to pass on sympathies or compliment us for our bravery.  My wife and I usually exchanged confused glances after each one.  Did these people not have children or did and simply left them at home?  Traveling as a couple is by far and above easier than traveling with kids.  Traveling with kids, however, is nowhere near as bad as people seem to make it out as.  I’ve since realized there are a lot of stigmas around traveling with toddlers and infants.  Many stem from anecdotes which seem to confirm them.  I believe, with appropriate planning, these cases should be the exception, not the norm.

My wife showed exceptional skill in preparation for our trip.  She had activities and creative things for the kids to do from the hotel in Buffalo all the way to the moment we arrived home.  Here’s some proof that not only can it be done, it can be done with your sanity intact.

Kids can fly.  They fly long time.

As parents we heard this one the most leading up to our flight: flying with kids is a huge pain.  Our twin near-as-makes-no-difference 3 year olds and 6 month old infant had never stepped foot on a plane.  Flying is a staple when it comes to travel and, frankly, their first has to come sometime.  Fortunately at slightly before 3 years they are old enough to understand the basics of what you tell them.  Unfortunately, they’re also equipped with short attention spans and active minds.  Unlike driving, you can’t simply stop the plane to let everybody out mid-trip to run around and burn off steam.  Combine the restrictive nature of flying sardine cans with the unusual sensations experience during take-off, landing and turbulence and you have a recipe for some very cranky kids.

Unless you’re ready for it.  Kids are old enough to understand what’s going on.  They’re also VERY aware of what mom and dad are doing.  If you’re stressing out about the flight, they will too.  Prepare them WELL in advance by talking about the flight, what they’ll feel and what happens.  When arriving to the airport and boarding the plane stay relaxed, light.  Let them explore a bit and run (safely) around.  It’s a good reason for you to stretch your legs too.  Make boarding fun and keep the whole experience light.  When accelerating act like it’s the coolest thing in the world.  The fear on your kids faces’ quickly turns to joy when they see you loving it.  Have snack foods that require chewing or sucking to clear the ear pressure during ascent/descent.

Full credit goes to my wife for the next part: keeping them occupied.  With extensive use of sites like Pinterest and advice from friends who have traveled, as well as her own brand of ingenuity, one of our carry-on bags was stocked with more than enough travel activities.  The key here is more than enough.  I’m a minimalist when it comes to traveling and packing, in this case it would have left me woefully under prepared.  Preload tablets (Windows Surface, iPad, Blackberry Playbook) with kids games.  Pack colouring cards.  We even had little cups they could colour and add stickers too.  These cups were then used to hold the snacks the airline handed out during the flight.  Even our 6 month old was the star of his own little show for the row behind us.  Whenever I got stressed and the kids started acting out my wife reminded me: change activities.  She even packed little gifts – hot wheel cars, squishy dragons – as treats for the kids to open en route.  They loved it.  All told our kids barely got through half the flying activities and landed like pro stars.  All we got from fellow passengers was glowing reviews.  And for this stressed out flyer (really, I don’t like it) it was a breeze.

I may have even enjoyed it.  Maybe.

Driving with kids does not mean frequent stops/meltdowns

In case anybody out there is wondering, the drive time from Kissimmee to our home in Ontario is nearly 20 hours.  It works out to about 9 hours and 50 minutes of driving time over two days.  That’s driving time.  Once you include gas and rest stops as well as eating you’re well into the 12 hour range.  This means early outs and long 3 hour stints stuck in the back seat of a minivan.  While our departure from the resort in Florida was straightforward, we left late of course, our departure from the hotel half way was not.  Issues with the rental vehicle put us over an hour behind and meant we had to take a slightly longer route home.  It included a stop for vehicle switch which added another unplanned half hour do our day.  Couple that with very heavy snow once we hit Canada and it’s plain this leg was less than ideal traveling for kids.

The first key here is obvious: DVDs.  When renting I requested a vehicle equipped with one.  We were given a Chrysler Town & Country, a vehicle I’m very familiar with, which is mercifully equipped with a DVD system.  People may suggest this is a cheater’s route – we didn’t have such things growing up – but in truth we rarely used the DVD player.  But when we did it provided an excellent moment of respite and entertainment for the kids.  The rest of the trip was, again, thanks to the preparedness of my wife.  The long winded morale of the story is BE PREPARED!  With games, activities, colouring books and snacks the kids were (usually) easy to travel in their seats.  We did have moments of fits, but they were generally near the last hour of traveling and happened well past their bedtime.  An extra two hours of slow, nearly blind snow driving didn’t help either.

Another key is in splitting up the driving.  I’ve heard tales of families making the drive in one go.  While I have done it, and it CAN be done – technically, seriously don’t.  The drive is a huge chunk of time for kids to be trapped in the back of a van.  It’s a long time for any breathing human to be stuck in any kind of vehicle.  Doing so will leave you with a day (at least) required to recover and throw your kid’s schedules off so badly your sanity will very much be at risk.  Book a hotel around your halfway point.  Spend a little extra for a nicer place that features a breakfast and maybe even an indoor pool.  If you arrive in good time it will provide a respite the kids will love.

People also seem to think you’ll be stopping a lot with kids.  While there were a couple emergency feedings for our infant, most of the trip the kids out-lasted the adults.  Our toddlers are no longer in diapers and we were accident free both days.  I’ll confess we stopped a couple times simply because the adults were tired of traveling or our coffees had given us a very urgent reason to pull into the rest stop.

We loved our trip to Florida as a family.  Our kids were champions and their mom a shining example of how planning makes perfect.  I take back all my bemoaning for the “over packing” having seen its value.  Travel safe, travel well, but above all travel with your kids!

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