Simon Says: Stress-free travel tips for families

Walking through the airport
Children pick up on stress- prioritize your calm during travel

“Of course our 8 yr old son can watch a full length orchestral concert, he grew up doing it.”

I remember hearing these words with wonder and great hope.  The idea that any child can become used to anything that is the norm in a family is a tantilizing one.  From the time I heard my professional musician friend utter these words to when I finally had my own baby, I schemed about what things I wanted our child to “grow up” doing: being tidy, skiing, bike-riding, going to concerts, and flying in airplanes.  Although I failed in some (such as reflexively putting toys away, Montessori education not withstanding), we succeeded in others, including raising an easy traveller.  With five grandparents in three states, flying from an early age was a given for us; by the time our son was 3 he had been on an airplane more than a dozen times.

However, what I learned in the last 6 years is that the child being “used to it” is only half the story- the other half is the parent learning what works and what doesn’t.  The musical family knows that good seats, which bathrooms have short lines, and how early to arrive at the performance are all important for creating a positive concert experience.  Similarly, our family has learned tricks and essential points for travel.

Travelling with babies or children can be one of parents’ great stressors; a source of such fear that many of our friends talked about putting off vacations or visits that required flying “until (s)he’s older.” However, air travel with young ones does not have to be hard.  Take it from two parents prone to anxiety who have learned to fly without stress (or nearly so), by doing the following:

For kids, air travel is an adventure
For kids, air travel is an adventure

1) Plan ahead: We reduce the number of decisions and effort needed on the day before and of our departure by figuring out as many details as possible ahead of time, including what to pack. We used to forget things but now we have a packing list document in the computer that we add to as things come to mind, even weeks before, and re-use each trip; it gets better and more complete each year.  The day we pack, we print it out and check off each item as we go.  This list can be used again when returning.  “Where’s Teddy?!” is not something you want to hear the first night of your trip… or the first night back home.

2) Think “less is more”: I had to learn this the hard way; I am a person who wants to be prepared, who likes my particular “stuff”. But every item you have with incurs a real cost of time and energy- so its inclusion must repay that and then some. If you doubt this, consider that every item is something you will need to carry at some point, could get lost, and will make finding something else harder. Our rules:

  • We bring as few bags as possible; ones that nest (like being able to put my son’s bag of books and toys into the big one I carry) or ones that can attach to each other (like the Eddie Bauer 3-in-1 bags we use that become one large rolling bag) are huge energy savers.
  • I question everything that is packed, reminding myself that I can buy more sunscreen (or at an earlier time, diapers & wipes) when we get there. I only bring two pairs of shoes (athletic and nicer) plus flip flops (or slippers if is a ski trip) and plan my wardrobe around them. Even if it will be checked, I aim for LIGHT. Do you really want your laptop on vacation?
  • Our carry-ons all have a backpack option (including our son’s violin) so that we can move through the airport hands-free. When he was small, we wheeled the stroller to the gate (checked there), and later, rigged up his airline-approved car-seat to a baggage cart (until we discovered the Fly-Safe buckle). For some reason, not having to carry anything in your hands minimizes stress.

3) Divide and conquer: This is a mantra in our household that is especially apt during travel.  We have our clearly defined roles: I pack the family items and am in charge of our 6 yr old’s things, Fran is in charge of the tickets, boarding passes, and travel logistics. This role-designation is especially important while going through security; even though we are now pros, we casually review roles while in line: “Who is getting out the liquids?”, “who will take JB through the metal detector?”, “who has the video camera?”. If we are relaxed, so is he.

Not carrying anything in your hands minimizes stress
Not carrying anything in your hands minimizes stress

Our son’s many years of flying mean that he generally knows what is going to happen and what is expected of him. But mainly, we’ve found that his attitude and behavior is directly correlated with our degree of calm, making our emotional state as parents an even higher priority goal during travel. If we are stressed, so is he, which increases our stress, and thus the snowball effect ensues. Fortunately, the inverse is also true.

We have a much longer list of particular tricks (such as how to pack a fun take-along bag for the kiddo); perhaps the subject of another blog posting! But the point of all of this is to take the stress out and make the journey exciting.  The process of getting there isn’t a necessary evil- it should be half the fun.



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1 comment

Wholesale Escapes

Very good article and great tips regarding stress free travel.During travel with family one should be stress free so that you and your family enjoy travelling.

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