Before children, I was quite the traveler. I raced to catch airplanes, spontaneously jumped off cliffs, and slept in dozens of airports…all by the ripe age of 22! I was unbridled yet adaptable and loved the thrill of the unknown.
I assumed motherhood would feel a lot like international travel; and in many ways, it has. Yet I found that I didn’t want to run and catch airplanes with three kids in tow. I only wanted to take a big fat nap. (Anyone else know what I’m talking about?!)
Sleep deprivation turns all of our adventures into catnaps. But the “tired mama years” don’t last forever. I promise. Eventually your circadian rhythms do normalize and your thrills widen beyond slam dunking dirty diapers. And when that happens, I want you to be ready. So here are a few of my favorite travel tips to prepare you for life on the road, wherever that may lead…
10 Tips for Traveling with Kids
(1) Surprise bags: I used to make these for my kids when they were little by wrapping up toys and snacks in tissue paper (with lots and lots of tape so it would take them longer to unwrap!) But this year I made them create their own bags for each other, which was a great way to keep them busy AND thinking of one another. Then when they opened their bags? Well, let’s just say it sounded like Christmas in our car. (NOTE: Make sure you make a few for the ride back. That’s when you’ll need them the most!)
(2) Pack creatively and pack light: You want to bring things your kids can do in the car or airplane as well as in the hotel or VRBO. One of my kids’ favorite things to do is create “people” out of tongue depressors. No joke. They color and make characters on these sticks and then play “family” for HOURS!
(3) Bring plastic bags: Target bags are great for garbage, wet swimsuits, stinky shoes, or puke. (Yep, puke.) Ziploc baggies are good for picnic sandwiches and snacks, storing leftovers and little treasures (like rocks and leaves), and they’re great for lost teeth. (For whatever reason, my middle daughter ALWAYS loses a tooth when we travel!)
(4) Carry “stomach support”: My kids get stomachaches when we travel. Some of this is constipation, some of it motion sickness, but generally it’s because they’re excited and haven’t learned the difference between nerves and gas. Therefore, I always carry dramamine and peppermint oil in my purse. They’ve never needed the dramamine, but knowing it’s available calms them down. Plus, the peppermint smells like heaven and wards off nausea.
(5) Stock up on Kleenex or wet wipes: These are not just for boogers and butts. They’re perfect for sticky faces and fingers AND unexpected toileting needs (like when TP isn’t present or a toilet isn’t either!). Carry hand sanitizer, too, and you’ll be good to go.
(6) Provide incentives for hard parts: In South Dakota, we got the rare privilege of climbing to the top of the Crazy Horse Memorial. It was a 10k hike and my kids were 10, 8, and 5 at the time. We knew the trek would be brutal for all involved unless we gave them incentives along the way. Thus, we shelled out Skittles at every rest stop and also pledged them $1 for every mile they hiked. Bribery works, people. Use it!
(7) Wear your mini Quiet Hat: You will need this. Guaranteed. Recently on our western road trip I found myself lamenting that I didn’t bring mine, because I SO needed it!!! Sometimes you just can’t respond to any more questions; sometimes you just need a break…only you can’t get one because you’re stuck in the car with your minis for HOURS! Buy your mini Quiet Hat on Amazon today and learn more about how to use it HERE. (You’re welcome. 👒)
(8) Remain structured: Everyone loves to unwind and let their hair down on vacations, which is obviously a good thing…just not if you’re a little kid. Children still need boundaries and structure on the road, so whatever you do for naps / snacks / screens / discipline at home, try to do that while traveling.
(9) Know your kids’ limits: We should never treat our vacations as “last chance” moments because this doesn’t teach our kids the fruit of patience and self-control. Therefore, instead of packing in every last thing into your itinerary, slow your roll so your kids will enjoy the moments more. Doing so will also allow everyone to invite God into the experience, which makes traveling that much sweeter.
(10) Plan things that everyone will enjoy: I’m not a Disney person. (Sorry, I’m just not.) I may take my kids there one day, but if I do, you best believe I’ll be finding something that I want to do too (which will likely involve a beach. NOT the theme park!). Likewise, we can’t expect our kids to love all-day hikes or visiting countless museums or shops. That’s why it’s important to create a balanced checklist involving everyone.
Above all else, try to remain flexible and creative. Unexpected traveling snafus WILL arise, so if you can bust out your greatest Aladdin soundtrack impressions while standing in a 3-hour airport security line, you’ll be the better for it. (And I speak from experience. 😉)
Jonna Meidal is a mother to three girls who seeks to parent them by the fruits of the spirit (and her Quiet Hat). She’s been to 20 countries (yay!), loves to write & laugh (a LOT), and can’t get through the day without eating popcorn (duh!). You can read more of what she’s been up to at jonnameidal.com or follow her adventures on Instagram @jonnameidal.