Traveling with kids for school vacation week

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  February 18, 2009 02:06 AM

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There are plenty of things you can do, and things you can bring, to make traveling with very young children go more smoothly. Some of those things work -- in theory. In practice, though? Well...

In theory: Taking an 8:10 p.m. flight -- right at bedtime -- would mean that my youngest kids would sleep on board and we'd tuck their sweetly slumbering selves into their beds at my in-law's home on the other end of the trip.

In practice: Not so much. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that I would have loved to give a set of noise-canceling headphones to each and every passenger before we even took off.

Here are some of the things that actually work (for me, at any rate):

1.) Pack snacks. They don't have to be anything elaborate; in fact, it's better if they're not. Single-packets of instant oatmeal are great (filling, relatively nutritious, and you can get hot water on the plane). Sticks of string cheese are easy to find in the dark and still taste good if smushed in transit -- ditto for granola and cereal bars. Gum or lollipops will help your preschooler clear her ears and they also double as bribes. Nursing (or drinking from a bottle or a sippy cup) with help your baby's ears when the pressure changes. I usually scoff at "100-calorie" packs, but this is a great use for them (or simply fill small zip-top bags with cereal or tiny, trademarked, fish- or teddy bear-shaped crackers).

2.) Hit the drugstore. Personally, I'm not a member of the give-them-Benedryl-and-they-will-sleep school of parenting (though plenty of people are). There are a two things you can find at most drug stores, though, that can help. EarPlanes are small silicone ear plugs that help equalize pressure during takeoffs and landings (they cost about $5 a pair, and come in small and large sizes). And Sea-Bands apply pressure to an accupressure point in the wrist to help control nausea and vomiting.

3.) Use specialized transportation. I can't gush enough about our Sit 'n' Stroll. It's a stroller! It's a carseat! It's fantastic. Once you're at the airport, the distance between Point A and Point B seems to increase with every TSA announcement, and it is much, much easier to cart a tired toddler to the gate in one of these. Once there, you push the handle down, pull the wheel mechanism up, and put your kidlet -- still strapped in the five-point harness -- in his or her seat. We use it as a stroller when we travel by car, too, and leave the regular wheels at home.

4.) Improvise.
Don't carry a stack of bibs for your baby; instead, use Bib Clips (or jerry-rig your own) to turn any scrap of napkin into a baby's bib, and you don't have to carry around a food-splattered cloth afterward. You don't have to bring the baby gates with you to your in-laws; barricade the stairs some other way.

5.) Pack a stash of quiet, reusable toys. Paint-with-water books or toys trump traditional crayon-and-coloring book combos. For one thing, the fewer pieces you have, the less chance you have of losing them. (Crayons roll. Enough said.) For another, anything reusable is fantastic because you can't run out of it mid-flight. Need another reason? If he's painting with water, it doesn't matter if junior decides to decorate the tray table -- or his baby sister.

6.) Embrace technology.
If you have an iPod Touch or an iPhone, download free apps that will amuse the kids. My 10-year-old boy is partial to iFart (and what 10-year-old boy wouldn't be?), but iSteam, Whack 'Em All, and Whiteboard are big hits with my younger kids.

I'm always eager for more ideas... what do you have (or do) to make a trip go more smoothly?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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9 comments so far...
  1. We got an inexpensive portable DVD player that we use on any car trip that is going to be longer than a movie and have even brought on a plane once. It keeps everyone sane and limits (thought does not eliminate) the inevitable "are we there yet?" and "how much loooooonnnnnggggerrrrrrr?" We're driving from Massachusetts to South Carolina in the spring, so this should be a life saver! And if the kids will sleep in the car or on a plane, travel neck pillows can prevent some stiff necks. I got ours at Target.

    Posted by finny February 18, 09 10:12 AM
  1. If your kids are very small, don't travel outnumbered...for our only plane-trip vacation, my in-laws and brother-in-law joined us, so we had five adults and three small kids. With that many helping hands around, the vacation was actually relaxing for my husband and me and not just an endurance and logistical challenge.

    Posted by Jen February 18, 09 02:05 PM
  1. I'm a big fan of dollar store playsets. There are all sorts: little jars of playdough with one or two molds included, packages of plastic figures with a few household items for them to interact with, tea sets, toy food with a few cooking utensils, etc. Packing them is simplified if you pre-open the packages and drop every set into its own little baggy. Voila! Hours and hours of never-seen-before-toys, and you don't need to stress if pieces get lost or broken.

    Posted by BogeyPup February 18, 09 02:19 PM
  1. Two words. Auto Bingo!

    Posted by KGF February 18, 09 04:14 PM
  1. If you're going to bring a portable DVD player on plane, bring headphones! You can even get "splitters" so more than 1 person can listen!

    Last June, I ended up trapped for 2 hours on the tarmac at Logan. None of the parents with DVD players had headphones. I was literally surrounded by screaming babies and 4 different movies, 2 of which had a lot of explosions. It was the flght from Hell. Nothing could be done about the babies, but there was really no excuse for the lack of headphones.

    Posted by Liz February 18, 09 10:19 PM
  1. Tell kids what is going to happen before leaving, so they know what to expect. Nothing's worse than a four year old who's never flown before demanding to get off the airplane mid-flight.

    Posted by JK February 18, 09 11:41 PM
  1. Essential for road trips and plane trips alike - audio books. I bow down and worship JK Rowling and Jim Dale for the peace, quiet and entertainment they have given our whole family. Audio books are particularly good for road trips because they let us look out the window and see the world go by while keeping our minds occupied. Thanks to Harry Potter, which introduced me to audio books many years ago, I always have an audio book in the car for myself now and it makes running errands and driving to work much more pleasant. Even really little ones will pipe down and listen to age appropriate stories. Visit your library and see what they have!

    Posted by Cordelia February 19, 09 07:59 AM
  1. I take 7-hour car trips to PA several times a year with my now 7- and 10-year olds. Books on tape or CD have been great and they can be fun for the whole family to listen to. They could be used with a portable player on airplanes and even purchased in digital format for an MP3 player. Many public libraries have a great selection of books on tape/CD, both long and short -- and they're free!

    Posted by Momek February 19, 09 10:53 AM
  1. Hello all! I'm Paul. I'm visiting this place periodicaly.
    And always glad to find new info i need!
    Thanks to author for a great web site :)

    Posted by paul22 June 21, 09 12:57 PM
 
9 comments so far...
  1. We got an inexpensive portable DVD player that we use on any car trip that is going to be longer than a movie and have even brought on a plane once. It keeps everyone sane and limits (thought does not eliminate) the inevitable "are we there yet?" and "how much loooooonnnnnggggerrrrrrr?" We're driving from Massachusetts to South Carolina in the spring, so this should be a life saver! And if the kids will sleep in the car or on a plane, travel neck pillows can prevent some stiff necks. I got ours at Target.

    Posted by finny February 18, 09 10:12 AM
  1. If your kids are very small, don't travel outnumbered...for our only plane-trip vacation, my in-laws and brother-in-law joined us, so we had five adults and three small kids. With that many helping hands around, the vacation was actually relaxing for my husband and me and not just an endurance and logistical challenge.

    Posted by Jen February 18, 09 02:05 PM
  1. I'm a big fan of dollar store playsets. There are all sorts: little jars of playdough with one or two molds included, packages of plastic figures with a few household items for them to interact with, tea sets, toy food with a few cooking utensils, etc. Packing them is simplified if you pre-open the packages and drop every set into its own little baggy. Voila! Hours and hours of never-seen-before-toys, and you don't need to stress if pieces get lost or broken.

    Posted by BogeyPup February 18, 09 02:19 PM
  1. Two words. Auto Bingo!

    Posted by KGF February 18, 09 04:14 PM
  1. If you're going to bring a portable DVD player on plane, bring headphones! You can even get "splitters" so more than 1 person can listen!

    Last June, I ended up trapped for 2 hours on the tarmac at Logan. None of the parents with DVD players had headphones. I was literally surrounded by screaming babies and 4 different movies, 2 of which had a lot of explosions. It was the flght from Hell. Nothing could be done about the babies, but there was really no excuse for the lack of headphones.

    Posted by Liz February 18, 09 10:19 PM
  1. Tell kids what is going to happen before leaving, so they know what to expect. Nothing's worse than a four year old who's never flown before demanding to get off the airplane mid-flight.

    Posted by JK February 18, 09 11:41 PM
  1. Essential for road trips and plane trips alike - audio books. I bow down and worship JK Rowling and Jim Dale for the peace, quiet and entertainment they have given our whole family. Audio books are particularly good for road trips because they let us look out the window and see the world go by while keeping our minds occupied. Thanks to Harry Potter, which introduced me to audio books many years ago, I always have an audio book in the car for myself now and it makes running errands and driving to work much more pleasant. Even really little ones will pipe down and listen to age appropriate stories. Visit your library and see what they have!

    Posted by Cordelia February 19, 09 07:59 AM
  1. I take 7-hour car trips to PA several times a year with my now 7- and 10-year olds. Books on tape or CD have been great and they can be fun for the whole family to listen to. They could be used with a portable player on airplanes and even purchased in digital format for an MP3 player. Many public libraries have a great selection of books on tape/CD, both long and short -- and they're free!

    Posted by Momek February 19, 09 10:53 AM
  1. Hello all! I'm Paul. I'm visiting this place periodicaly.
    And always glad to find new info i need!
    Thanks to author for a great web site :)

    Posted by paul22 June 21, 09 12:57 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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