I recently traveled to a couples therapist workshop for work which required me to fly. It had been awhile since I had flown by myself and something just didn’t seem right. I realized I wasn’t traveling with kids!
I have two children who are 3 and 5 and have traveled with them to visit family in many parts of the country. These trips over the years have included driving in the car as well as flying.
Anyone who has attempted to travel with small children can attest that it can be a very challenging experience. In many of these situations we were all tired, sick, hungry, crying (including me), and just trying to survive. Never have I thought I needed couples therapy as much as when I was traveling with the kids.
As I sat on the airplane by myself I couldn’t believe how relaxed I felt. I had no one to worry about but myself. I could just sit back, watch a movie, eat a snack, and have a drink.
As wonderful as it was, I realized those experiences might be few and far between in the next 15 years. Most of my traveling, whether driving or flying, will include my children.
Over the years and in my work with other couples with children, I have learned some strategies that have helped me feel prepared. I have started acting on some of these and it has already made for a much better travel experience.
These tips for traveling with kids have enabled my wife and I to significantly reduce our stress and actually enjoy the experience of traveling long distances with our kids.
It has been extremely beneficial for how we feel about each other as well. I can imagine that it is easy to blame your husband or wife when things get stressful. That’s why number 6 on this list is probably the most important.
6 Tips for Traveling with Kids
- Be prepared
Do everything you can to be prepared as possible. Make lists, download movies, make sure you have snacks, etc. It’s great if you can start packing a few days in advance.
Communication between parents is key. Be very clear with each other about who is responsible to accomplish which things on the checklist. Don’t assume anything.
- Accept that you will forget something
If you forget something, don’t worry. It doesn’t have to ruin your day. Go into the travel experience knowing that there are going to be issues. When problems occur try to take them in stride. How to feel more control of your emotions.
It is never, ever going to be helpful to direct stress towards your husband/wife in these situations! Focus on solutions, not on blame. Remember you are there to support each other even when he does forget to pack snacks for the kids.
- The experience is part of the fun
Don’t just pretend this is the case for the kids sake, try to actually enjoy the process. Whether you are flying or driving, try to have fun with the new experience. If you seem like you are having fun, your kids will be more likely to relax. If you seem stressed and anxious, your kids will be more likely to be emotional and cranky.
Have a list of games or activities that are age appropriate for your kids. It could be actual board games you pack, apps or videos on your phone, or something as simple as playing 20 questions.
- Plan more time than you need
This one is pretty straightforward. It applies to the days leading up to the trip as well as the actual day of traveling with kids. If you are planning to make a list on Tuesday, do it on Monday. If you think you should start packing on Wednesday, start on Tuesday.
On the actual day of traveling with kids give yourselves a lot more time that you think you’ll need for every leg of the journey.
- Don’t forget to take care of yourself
Of course you have to make sure the kids get what they need, but don’t forget to do the same for yourself. Make sure you do those things that are going to make you feel your best on the travel day.
Some ideas for this are:
- Plan a date night (click to find the time)
- Get a workout in the day before
- Get as much sleep as you can leading up to the trip
- Make sure to have a book audio book or music for yourself
- Don’t forget to eat
- Give yourself time to take a shower
- Go to couples therapy if you need it (it can’t hurt)
- Your partner is your ally
Most importantly, never forget that your husband/wife is on your team. You will both probably let each other down and that is ok. Keep blame and passive aggressive comments out of the interactions.
If your husband forgets to pack the diapers and you are in the middle of an airport and the baby poops, it is not going to help the situation by getting angry at him. It is time to think about what can be done to address the situation.
Relax and Support Each Other
Hopefully these six tips will be helpful to you the next time you are traveling with kids! At the heart of many of these tips is to accept that not everything is going to go how you want it to. If you start feeling stress, ask yourself if there’s any way getting angry is going to help the situation.
Make sure to be as prepared as possible and also to try to look at the situation as a fun experience.
Shane Birkel is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with offices in Dover and Portsmouth New Hampshire. He works with couples and individuals who want to improve their relationships. He loves traveling with his 5 and 3 year old children, but can become stressed in these situations. If you are interested in counseling please check out shanebirkel.com for more information.