3 Tips for Less Stressful Travel with Little Kids

Vacation season is in full swing and I thought this might be an appropriate time to repost these tips for an easier road trip. I’d love to hear any tips you’ve found helpful in the comment section, as well.Β  I know I need these reminders!

Our family has gone from a low maintenance two adult caravan to a five person traveling circus in the past five years. Traveling to and staying with family is something we look forward to, but we know it’s not easy anymore. Besides the minivan overflowing with kid gear, some of the additional luggage can include junk-food-filled-tired-whiny-off-their-schedule kids.

Over the years, I’ve learned a few tips for making these trips a bit easier and more enjoyable for everyone…although, I must admit that I’ve got a ways to go to a fully peaceful vacation (I don’t know that is even a possibility??).

1 – Set Realistic Expectations

Tips for Traveling with Small KidsWhen we used to travel to my parents’ house, I spent a lot of time worrying about if/how/when/where my first baby would sleep. If he didn’t sleep well at night, I spent the whole next day trying to figure out how to get him back on a schedule. I was more of a basket case than he ever was.

Now, three kids in…my expectations are much more realistic and helpful, I think. The #1 thing we do now is set low expectations. We recognize upfront that none of us will get much sleep during travel. Knowing and resigning ourselves to this reality makes the vacation time much less stressful.

Tips for Traveling with Small Kids

The other thing I’ve discovered is that lack of sleep doesn’t kill anyone. Kids (and parents) can handle a few days of a messed up schedule. And, grandparents and family members really do understand when someone is a bit crabbier than usual. No big deal.

2 – Bring Healthy Foods That Your Kids Like…But Be Flexible

You know me. I like to feed my kids well because I know that they behave better and feel better when they do. So, I make a trip to the store before we travel for some of our favorite healthy snacks and other food options. That way, our parents don’t have to worry too much about the kids’ food preferences, and I can feel good about what I’m feeding my kids most of the time. In addition to healthy convenience foods or fresh produce from the store, I usually bring things like Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins, Powerball Cookies, homemade popcorn, and trail mix from home for easy, healthy snacking on the road.

That being said, I also set low expectations for and try to be flexible about how my family will eat on the road. I’m okay with the occasional fast food stop or unhealthy meals/snacks at grandma’s house. I know it’s only for a short time, and it helps to know that they at least will have a few healthy things that I bring along.

3 – The State of Momma’s Heart is the State of the Holiday Travel

Tips for Traveling with Small KidsOk, big confession here. Travel has always brought out the worst in me, even before having kids. I like control, efficiency, and promptness. And, I hate waiting on others. God knew this about me, and so he gave me a husband who is opposite of me in this area. My hubby is deliberate, thorough, patient, and more laid back. He doesn’t mind taking his time packing or making an extra stop for something fun. Honestly, it goes against my “let’s get going!” and “let’s get there as fast as we can!” mentality. As you can imagine, these differences have caused more than one pre-vacation or in route argument.

Over the years, one of the things I’m learning is that I really need to pray before we even begin packing. I have to ask God for patience and, as silly as it sounds, to help me love my husband and kids more than efficiency and control. I’ve learned that the state of my heart really does dictate the state of our holiday travel. A calm heart equals a calm vacation.

What are some things you do to make travel with kids less stressful?

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  1. Beth says

    We have a lot of family, but everyone is out of state. That, combined with my husband’s demanding work schedule, led to many (many many) flights for me and our two sons – currently ages 2 and 3. I’ve learned a few things along the way that have been super helpful –
    YES to setting realistic expectations. I procrastinate… But NOT when I travel with the boys. It’s not fair to be short and stressed because I didn’t leave enough time – and it is totally unrealistic to expect them to “hurry”. Leave ample time and realize that watching planes take off at the airport is a special event for a toddler.
    Do not bring a stroller. I will say it again, because it goes against the grain for many, but it’s not worth it! I have two goals – be hands free (so I can treat myself to a latte, of course) and give the kiss a place to sit when I need them still. Depending on ages, any combination of the following worked fantastically:
    – baby wrap (infant as long as you can). The best.
    – hiking backpack, mine is by Kelty. We found ours second hand for $60 and have used it that much… It has wheels and can convert to a stroller when it’s convenient for you. It’s not a great stroller, but for a 1-2 year old, it keeps your hands free.
    – a roller wheel car seat dolly. They sell these on Amazon (again, around $60) and it straps onto the back of the car seat quickly, then the telescoping handle allows you to pull the car seat singlehandedly like a roller bag. You bring it on the plane and put it under/over your seat, so no waiting for the gate checked stroller.
    Don’t carry on!!!! Just you, a diaper bag, and the kids – the tools above have been fantastic for us.
    Thanks for your posts!!!!

    • Rachel says

      Beth, this is awesome! Thank you for the great tips!

  2. Pingback: Tips for Traveling with a Toddler

  3. Kelley Wampler says

    Okay peeps, at the risk of being made fun of because this sounds anal, I am going to post what we did in the car on the way to Florida when my kids were 3 and 5. The attention span was shorter then and even a long movie for the 3 year old was a stretch so I rotated what we did to keep everyone happy and not bored. We got some of our new travel things from Cracker Barrel. They have a ton of small sticker books and interesting activity books that are reasonable. Also, Children’s Orchard or Ann’s Teacher store has these Melissa and Doug car bingo, hangman, and I think license plate games that are great and have the pieces permanently attached to the board (so no lost pieces πŸ™‚ We always hit up the library for new music and books on tape. There is a fun one called Wee Sing in the Car that has a bunch of fun kiddy songs and tongue twisters and comes with a booklet that has car games in it (I pack my suitcase, A-Z billboard game etc.). Finally, I made a small art box with crayons, paper, etc. that we brought to get the creative juices flowing. Hope that helps!

    Kids Travel Schedule
    Morning Devotional/books-30min.
    Leapster – 30 min. (Got a new cartridge for each kid)
    Art – 30 min.
    Snack/Music – 30 min.
    Games – 30 min.
    Movie – 90 min.
    Free Choice – 30 min.

    Book Time – 30 min.
    Book on tape – 30 min.
    Art – 30 min.
    Leapster – 30 min.
    Snack – 30 min.

    Highlights Book,Invisible ink books,Sticker books,Mazes book,Search and find,Spot the Differences book

    Car Bingo,Wolly Willy,Perfection,Go Fish,Old Maid,Tic Tac Toe
    Read Pilgrims Progress

    **Map of states we are going through with stars to mark where we are

  4. Rachel says

    These are great suggestions, friends. I’m heading to the dollar store and library before our vacation this year!

  5. Carla says

    I definitely agree with your ideas Rachel and struggle sometimes with how much my attitude and expectations affect the outcome for our family of things like vacations.

    And Darcie’s suggestions are many of the same things I do. I have definitely found that they enjoy ‘new’ things every so often on the trip. Sometimes, I bring a snack that I wouldn’t normally allow or we spend money for a snack that we wouldn’t normally. And the $1 spot or Dollar Tree are great place to get little items. You have to keep your kids in mind. My artist loves a new box of crayons or a new notebook. My son would rather play games or watch the DVD player.

    I keep my eye out all year long for different kinds of travel games on clearance and then pull them out for our big trips.

    Redbox has definitely made it easier to pick up something new on the road, but I have also found that my local library has a ton of resources and even though they DVDs and CDs can only be checked out for a week, you can renew them via email for another week. Many of my kids favorite TV shows from PBS or other places have longer movie-esque DVDs, which has been great.

    They also get a kick out of books on CD whether they have the book in front of them or not. One of our favorites was a Dr. Seuss CD from the library that didn’t have books with it, but had a few people reading in very funny voices. They loved listening to it over and over.

    Another big hit for us was a travel dry-erase board. Ours is made by Crayola, but their might be others out there. The cool thing is that the dry-erase part is clear plastic. So, you slip in worksheets or coloring pages or pre-drawn games (like tic-tac-toe or the dot game) and then once you’ve played or colored, you wipe it all off and start again or someone else gets a turn.

    As far as things outside of driving, the main thing is be flexible! Be flexible with bed times and nap times and everything in between. Try to really see what your kids are enjoying and do more of that… don’t stay at the zoo longer because it cost money if no one is having fun, etc.

    We always bring a few beloved toys or blanket/pillow-type items as well as our bible. These remind us of home even when we are far away. We try to keep the same bedtime routine with reading and prayers even if it’s later than usual. That seems to help everyone wind down when it’s time.

  6. Darcie says

    Great post, Rachel. There are a few things I’ve learned w/traveling with my 4 young kids. First, I hit up the dollar spot at Target and pick out a few “road trip” gifts without my kids seeing them. Then I pull them out once we’re on a long journey. Second, we occasionally wrap a few gifts for them to open in the car. Their very favorite gift on a long drive to Hilton Head last summer was finger flashlights. They LOVED getting them out once it got dark. I always take a headlamp for my oldest because he likes to stay up reading long after the others fall asleep. We also rent a movie at the Redbox that they haven’t seen — easy to take back anywhere in the country. πŸ™‚ We have a Melissa & Doug wooden hangman game — that’s a really fun one in the car.
    This link below has some road trip printable games – I just have them tucked in to my travel folder in my home office — easy to pull out when we’re jumping in the car.